The Lepe Loop

Creative Commons License Text by Mike Faherty, April 2015 ; This work is dedicated to the Public Domain.
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.

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 SZ4598 : Lepe, information centre by Mike Faherty, next to a café SZ4598 : Lepe Beach Café & Shop by Mike Faherty. 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 SZ4598 : Lepe, car park by Mike Faherty. 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 SZ4598 : Lepe Bridge 2) by Mike Faherty and SZ4598 : Lepe Bridge 1) by Mike Faherty. Dark Water is a brook that rises in open forest, near Hill Top, under the name of Stock Water SZ4598 : Lepe, Dark Water by Mike Faherty. 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 SZ4598 : Lepe, The Watch House by Mike Faherty. Back on the road nearby, a row of former Coastguard cottages, listed by English Heritage, mostly hung with two shades of slate SZ4598 : Lepe, former Coastguard cottages by Mike Faherty.

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 SZ4498 : Lepe, Millennium Beacon by Mike Faherty.

Returning to the shore, we follow the footpath along the shingle beach and under the shallow cliff, adorned with pines SZ4498 : Lepe, footpath by Mike Faherty. Soon, there appear fancy zig-zag wooden groynes - presumably designed to cope with the strange tides here SZ4498 : Lepe, zig-zag groynes by Mike Faherty. Soon, there are signs of coastal erosion; the boundary fence is left dangling mid-air SZ4498 : Lepe, eroding cliff by Mike Faherty. There is further evidence of erosion, with fallen oak trees on the coastline SZ4498 : Lepe, fallen trees by Mike Faherty.

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 SZ4398 : Lepe, coastline by Mike Faherty. We pass a small point SZ4398 : Lepe, point by Mike Faherty and cove SZ4398 : Exbury, cove by Mike Faherty, before joining the road for a short stretch. Look North to see a tidal drain SZ4398 : Exbury, tidal drain by Mike Faherty; 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 SZ4398 : Exbury, kissing gate by Mike Faherty, 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 SZ4399 : Exbury, footbridge by Mike Faherty, and continue along the path towards Haxland Pits SZ4399 : Exbury, footpath by Mike Faherty. Walk through a short stretch of grassland SZ4399 : Exbury, footpath by Mike Faherty, and across a meadow, with a covert left SZ4399 : Exbury, copse by Mike Faherty. Turn right, to see a stubble field SZ4399 : Exbury, stubble field by Mike Faherty; pass Cump Copse SZ4399 : Exbury, forestry track by Mike Faherty. 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 SZ4399 : Exbury, Green Cottages by Mike Faherty, 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 SZ4399 : Exbury, bridleway by Mike Faherty.

We make a short foray into SU4300, to see timber stacked by the roadside. So, forestry is still alive SU4300 : Exbury, timber by Mike Faherty. Behind the timber is a large rape field SU4300 : Exbury, rape field by Mike Faherty.

Return to the bridleway, and enter SZ4499. Continue along the bridleway SZ4499 : Lepe, bridleway by Mike Faherty, past a newly emergent cereal field SZ4499 : Lepe, new crop by Mike Faherty, through the gate at East Hill Farm SZ4499 : Lepe, gate by Mike Faherty. Here, Hampshire County Council marks the bridleway as "Off road cycle trail", and we leave the gravel SZ4499 : Lepe, off road cycle trail by Mike Faherty. If you are lucky, you might get a good view of the alpacas SZ4499 : Llamas in field by J W Parker, (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 SZ4499 : Lepe, fingerpost by Mike Faherty (turn left for another view of Dark Water, in SZ4599}. Go slightly uphill, till a footbridge and sharp turn left SZ4499 : Lepe, footbridge by Mike Faherty.

Leave the copse and enter open farmland SZ4499 : Lepe, footpath by Mike Faherty, through a gap in the hedge SZ4499 : Lepe, hedge by Mike Faherty, and cross the edge of rough grassland SZ4499 : Lepe, footpath by Mike Faherty. Through a kissing gate SZ4499 : Lepe, kissing gate by Mike Faherty, and follow the OS square boundary South.

You will pass a cattle trough SZ4598 : Lepe, cattle trough by Mike Faherty with no cattle, back in SZ4598, and cross marshland SZ4498 : Lepe, marsh by Mike Faherty 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 SZ4598 : Lepe, former Coastguard cottages by Mike Faherty and the car park.

Many thanks to Hampshire County Council Countryside Services for devising a very pleasant amble with lots of photo opportunities!

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