The Lepe Loop
I first visited Lepe Country Park on 14 January 2015 - a fine day but with a biting wind. After pottering along the coastline with my dog for a couple of hours, I popped into the information centre, with a couple of queries. Staff are friendly and informative. I noticed a leaflet for a circular walk, and decided to re-visit when I had more time. I was able to do this on 21 April 2015 - a beautiful spring day, without wind! This article is based on my walk around the "loop"; earlier pictures come from my first visit, later from my second.
According to the leaflet, the walk encompasses 5 miles; the going is easy, at my visit, dry, apart from a short section near the end. Contexts: coastal, marine, lowland, stream, path, road, bridge, woodland, meadow, farming. Surprisingly, no livestock were seen; little housing.
Starting point: the visitor centre , next to a café . Most visitors will arrive by car; there is ample parking, pay and display. Current rates are £3.50 for four hours, which should be long enough . There are also other car parks nearby.
Our route takes us West. If your time permits, there are many WWII remains to the East. Our first feature is the Dark Water crossing, by road bridge and . Dark Water is a brook that rises in open forest, near Hill Top, under the name of Stock Water . At my visit, there seemed to be little water movement, possibly because of the high tide. A flat landscape, with reedbeds and marshland.
Back to the footpath along the coastline. We see the Watch House, according to the information board erected as a boathouse for the Coastguard; a stunning location, overlooking the Solent and Isle of Wight . Back on the road nearby, a row of former Coastguard cottages, listed by English Heritage, mostly hung with two shades of slate .
We now enter SZ4498. Just up the road, a navigation beacon resembling a small lighthouse; the plaque is not fully visible from the road, but "Millennium" can be made out .
Returning to the shore, we follow the footpath along the shingle beach and under the shallow cliff, adorned with pines . Soon, there appear fancy zig-zag wooden groynes - presumably designed to cope with the strange tides here . Soon, there are signs of coastal erosion; the boundary fence is left dangling mid-air . There is further evidence of erosion, with fallen oak trees on the coastline .
Carrying on along the permissive path on the foreshore, we enter SZ4398. The path (at high tide) makes for some scrambling between tree trunks and branches; most do not seem to have much life left . We pass a small point and cove , before joining the road for a short stretch. Look North to see a tidal drain ; again, water seems still at high tide. Continue along the road. Now, you must be careful if using OS. The footpath we are to take is to the right, according to OS after Three Stones in SZ4298. OS say that "Three Stones" is the name of an area as well as a house. Pass Three Stones, the house, and turn right at the right-hand bend (the fingerpost has apparently been broken). Carry on the track to the kissing gate , and enter woodland. At my visit, the woodland was vibrant with primroses and violets, and a few native bluebells in sunnier spots. We now enter SZ4399.
Cross a footbridge over a ditch , and continue along the path towards Haxland Pits . Walk through a short stretch of grassland , and across a meadow, with a covert left . Turn right, to see a stubble field ; pass Cump Copse . Local woodland bears evidence of shooting; presumably woodland is nowadays more profitable for shooting than for timber. After the copse, we come to Green Cottages , the only habitation in this part of the walk.
Cross the road to enter a wide, gravelled bridleway, the entrance to East Hill Farm and associated cottages .
We make a short foray into SU4300, to see timber stacked by the roadside. So, forestry is still alive . Behind the timber is a large rape field .
Return to the bridleway, and enter SZ4499. Continue along the bridleway , past a newly emergent cereal field , through the gate at East Hill Farm . Here, Hampshire County Council marks the bridleway as "Off road cycle trail", and we leave the gravel . If you are lucky, you might get a good view of the alpacas , (thanks, A-J Parker), but they were being camera-shy when I saw them. Go slightly downhill, to enter East Hill Copse, and turn right at the marker (turn left for another view of Dark Water, in SZ4599}. Go slightly uphill, till a footbridge and sharp turn left .
Leave the copse and enter open farmland , through a gap in the hedge , and cross the edge of rough grassland . Through a kissing gate , and follow the OS square boundary South.
You will pass a cattle trough with no cattle, back in SZ4598, and cross marshland associated with Dark Water, in SZ4498 This was the only space (in a dry April) where I had to tread carefully. The path brings you back to the rear of and the car park.
Many thanks to Hampshire County Council Countryside Services for devising a very pleasant amble with lots of photo opportunities!