Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hurst Castle

After a week of gorgeous sunsets & sunrises on mild rides to & from work, winter finally decided to make a little bit of an appearance on Saturday with a few degrees of Jack still lurking when I set out for a little bit of ride west to check out Hurst Castle. A few miles down the road Beaulieu was looking pretty nice in the crispness.

I continued on back roads enjoying the peace & quiet, skirting around Lymington & many yachts propped up for the winter around the marina before riding the paths through the Lymington-Key Haven Nature Reserve.  It's all very marshy and before rocksalt & transport was cheaper, it was a very profitable area for making salt. Now it's quite the habitat for many species of birds & that curious breed - birdwatchers. I did my best not to hit any of them into the marsh as they stood on the path peering skyward.  After 25 km my goal was tantalisingly close across the water, but there were still a few miles of following the shore around through Key Haven & then along the two mile-long spit which was very shingly to the castle.

Hurst Castle is lying low next to the lighthouse
It was a bit of a slog along the shingle spit, but still a lot faster than walking
The Isle of Wight is only three-quarters of a mile across what is the end of the Solent

This Hurst Castle is rather underwhelming compared to the extravagance of the last Hearst Castle I went to.  The centre part of the castle dates back to Tudor times when Henry VIII built a string of castles stretching around the south-east of England to defend against invasion as he managed to antagonise the Catholic nations. They are all similarly designed - low-slung & circular. Being in such a good position to defend the Solent, the Victorians extended the castle a long way along the shore in both directions. It's a little odd walking in & seeing just how long & narrow the castle is - definitely not your usual square keep. They put in numerous 38 ton guns, but a shot has never been fired in anger from the castle - that includes during its defensive duties through the two world wars.

At the end of the long spit on a reasonably chilly day, there weren't a lot of other people around as I clattered around in my bike shoes.  There were plenty of nooks & crannies to explore around the Tudor central section.  I wasn't exactly overdressed for the weather, so didn't spend too much time reading the exhibits.  Instead I opted for eating my lunch watching the tide creep in - if I had have brought lashings of ginger beer I could have easily imagined I was about to discover a smuggler's long forgotten treasure buried on Kirrin Island.

I avoided the circuitous route through the nature reserve on the return journey, but detoured back to Buckler's Hard after Lymington. I took a few little walking paths trying to find an obelisk, the top of which I spied from some distance.  I tracked it down along Monument Lane, funnily enough, read the long tributes to a past MP & continued down the walking paths.  It was a little weird crossing a private airfield, but I was pleased to discover that the USAF used it for a while around D-Day to fly Thunderbolts on bomber-escort missions.  Find curious little bits of history like that is one of the great things about being following one's nose in a country such as this.

Back through Beaulieu the sun was setting & as I climbed up to Hill Top I was surprised to pass a roadie struggling up the hill.  After forty miles, I was hardly fresh - this guy caught up to me on the flat, turns out he works in our head office & had ninety miles under his belt to explain my passing him.

Sunday was supposed to be a much shorter ride with Dan & Chris off-road in the Forest.  We looped around a bit & Chris showed us giant sequoias.  For the New Forest, these are big trees.  But after Yosemite & the NorCal coast last year, I was pleased just to be mildly interested.  Somehow we ended up way out west in a quaint village, Burley, with a good pub-stop to refuel on some big potato wedges.  Just as well the Forest is flat - the ride turned out longer than the previous day's at 45 miles/72 km.  Beautiful day it was too, this place must be a zoo in the summer - there were so many people out on another frigid day.

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