Things to see and do in Lee on the Solent
PUBLISHED: 10:45 13 September 2016 | UPDATED: 10:45 13 September 2016
Hampshire Kitesurfing Centre
It's all about the waterfront in this coastal town, says Emma Caulton
Hit the beach! The waterfront at Lee on Solent stretches for miles, from Hill Head in the west to Stokes Bay in the east, with promenades, shingle beach and lots of wide open spaces, such as Salterns Shore and Monks Hill, perfect for games and picnics. Simple pleasures include children searching for shells and fossils, views across to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and busy waters with ships making their passage to and from Southampton, yachts scudding along, and the high jinks of kitesurfers.
This is traditional seafront. At Hill Head there’s a line of beach huts, mostly painted dark green with the occasional one in shocking pink, while at Stokes Bay children throng on their bikes, making for the adventure play area and splash park with slide and fountains.
For watersports enthusiasts, these waters, sheltered by the Isle of Wight, are ideal. There is a trio of family-friendly sailing clubs, including Lee on Solent Sailing Club, offering RYA courses and free ‘try a sail’ sessions, Hill Head and Stokes Bay Sailing Clubs. It is also popular for windsurfing and kitesurfing as conditions are considered the best in the area. The Isle of Wight boosts any south-west breezes, and a sandbar kicks up good jumping waves in a strong wind.
For old fashioned family fun, have a go at the Mini Golf at Stokes Bay, but you can play the proper game, too, at Lee on Solent Golf Club (with a challenging course) or Stokes Bay Golf Club (with views over the Solent).
Head into Lee on Solent’s centre for lunch in one of the excellent clutch of cafes. Including The Tea Party, a vintage tea room and not to be confused with The Tea Room, although they both serve good cakes and sandwiches, have friendly service and a retro, candy-colour vibe. New kid on the block, Maison where you sit on pews and eat at butchers’ blocks. Popular Caffe Lee, which wins plaudits for its cakes and coffee, and Laneway Cafe which specialises in gluten-free and dairy-free cakes and sandwiches and features monthly pop-up dinner nights.
While you are here have a browse around the shops. These include the expected, such as a beach store with buckets and spades, and the unexpected: White Dog Gallery with colourful prints, Made By Me where you can paint your own pottery, Eltikki jewellers making bespoke pieces, and Hidden Treasures’ collectables.
If you want a bite to eat on the beach, try Bayside Cabin Cafe at Stokes Bay with good food and great views or The Shack on the beach at Hill Head.
Don’t miss Titchfield Haven, one of the finest nature reserves on the south coast, with a landscape of fens, meadow and reedbeds crossed by boardwalks, and paths alongside the River Meon. It is home to dragonflies, butterflies and wildflowers, but best known as a sanctuary for birds, and a great place to get up close to wildlife with eight observation hides. Children may also discover fairy doors on the east side of the reserve or hear the plop of Ratty disappearing underwater - water voles were introduced here in 2012. The visitor centre includes popular Haven Cafe, opposite idyllic Hill Head Harbour.
Want to learn about local history? There’s a number of intriguing water-themed museums in the area, including the world’s only museum dedicated to hovercraft (open Saturday and Wednesday), accessed via a slipway in Lee on Solent. It is run by a small group of volunteers with 65 craft on display including James Bond, Scrap Heap Challenge, military, racing, commercial and home builds.
Another museum to discover is The Diving Museum, Stokes Bay Road (open weekends and bank holidays from Easter to October). This is the country’s premier historical diving museum and exhibits the best range of military, commercial and recreational diving equipment anywhere in Europe. Gosport is considered home of the global diving industry as the co-inventor of the diving helmet, John Deane, lived there from 1835 to 1845, during which time he discovered the Mary Rose. The museum is housed in a Victorian battery and was voted one of the top six family-friendly museums in the UK last year.
Book a table with a view at Leon’s Bistro on the Waterfront. It’s popular with a relaxed approach to dining. There is everything from eggs Benedict for breakfast, traditional ploughman’s for lunch, cream teas in the afternoon, and mussels with chorizo in the evening. There’s also live music every Thursday. Staying over? Try The Old Lodge at Alverstoke, a lovely, comfortable hotel with a tasty menu.
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