“Are we near the sea yet?” my son asked as we drove into the beach car park at Lepe Country Park. “Er, yes, look in front of you”. To be fair, the drive down hadn’t provided any of the tantalising sea glimpses that normally precede arrival at a beach. But now the Solent sparkled just a few metres away.
The weather forecast was perfect for a weekend outing to the seaside; a day out to capture the remnants of summer. The busy car park informed us we weren’t the only ones with this idea. Although we were missing one essential item, a dog. You cannot take a dog onto Lepe family beach during the summer months. But from the start of October everyone brings their pooches for a paddle!
Family tradition dictates that we start our days out with a visit to a cafe. Fortunately Lepe had a beach cafe, albeit heaving with ramblers, families and day trippers all making the most of the autumn sun. We shared a couple of slices of cake, fuel for our morning walk.
Our route for the day was the 5 mile Lepe Loop. The circular trail runs west along the beachfront before heading inland along footpaths and gravel tracks. It’s an easy route to follow, both in terms of terrain and navigation. The walk is marked throughout with Lepe Loop signs.
As we set off along the seafront a small flock of turnstone ran back and forth, flying off whenever we got too close only to land again a few feet in front of us. They entertained us for quite some time and I even managed a couple of photos during one of their rare standing still(ish) interludes.
The Isle of Wight looked deceptively close. So close that if it wasn’t for the busy shipping channel you could almost imagine swimming over (well, not me, I’m a terrible swimmer). There were a couple of hardy swimmers taking a morning dip closer to shore. Evidently the sea is at its warmest temperature in late summer but rather them than me.
Along the waterfront we found clumps of pampas grass. I hardly see them nowadays but I’m old enough to remember when every house in the 1970s had a clump in the front garden. Although in my naivety I’ve only just discovered that it was evidently a signal for couples who enjoyed other activities too!
Our route took us past the small, but perfectly proportioned, lighthouse. It’s officially a Millennium River Beacon, and looks much older than it actually is. Only built in 2000 its job is to steer seafarers into the Beaulieu River from the busy Solent.
We coincided our walk with high tide so followed the detour onto a country lane near Inchmery House. As we walked past we were intrigued by the extensive CCTV signs. Minutes later a police car cruised slowly by so we decided it was time to Google the owner. This turned out to be the historian and TV presenter Dan Snow. Just as interesting were its former owners, mercenary Simon Mann and the Mitford and de Rothschild families. If walls could talk!
Although high tide scuppered plans to eat our picnic on the beach we managed to find a spot on the edge of the salt marsh at the junction of the high and low tide routes. With the warm October sun shining on us and calm water lapping at our toes it was an idyllic place.
Living inland, the huge appeal of walking the Lepe Loop was the first mile or so along the waterfront. Whilst the remainder of the walk was pleasant enough I can trek through fields and along tracks almost any day. That’s my excuse for realising I’d taken lots of photographs of the beach, but none of the rest of the walk!
D-Day at Lepe
After the main walk we wandered east along the beach to look for the World War II remains. The beach was used for loading heavy equipment in preparation for the D-Day invasion, and some of the structures are still visible. There’s an information board that explains the various items; the rusty platforms below are known as dolphins and were used to help load the departing ships.
We also found chocolate bars. Don’t get too excited, they’re made of concrete and although they appear to be modelled on Dairy Milk they were actually used to strengthen the beach so the tanks could be loaded onto the departing ships.
Elsewhere in the park there is a Cold War underground monitoring bunker which is being restored. Strange to think that when I visited Lepe as a child this was probably in use.
Returning to the car park we stopped for a while to watch a huge container ship manoeuvre itself out into the Solent from Southampton. It dwarfed the Isle of Wight Red Jet ferry and reminded me just how busy this stretch of water is. Although perhaps quieter than our M3 journey home!
- We followed the route in the Lepe Loop walking leaflet. Available via the online link and as a printed copy (costs 50p) at the visitor centre in the car park.
- It cost £6 for a day’s parking at Lepe Country Park. It’s cheaper out of season although Hampshire County Council still classify October as summer. There’s a cafe, small visitor centre and toilet facilities.