You’ll have to allow me some artistic license here, the title should really read ‘Ferries lead to the Forest’. I thought ‘Fairies’ made for a more intriguing and magical title, sorry about that, the sea air must have got to me! The New Forest is great for cycling but most choose to drive and then ride. However, it can be reached by bike using Sustrans scenic coastal NCN route 2 with the added bonus of three ferry crossings and some lovely scenery along the way.
The New Forest National Park is 219 square miles of unenclosed pastureland on the South Coast of England. With plenty of good campsites, cafes and pubs it’s a great location for an overnight stop as part of a longer tour. It’s also fully deserving of it’s own weekend tour serving up a great mix of coast and countryside.
Your Route to The New Forest
From Portsmouth ‘The Hard’ railway station runs the first ferry of the trip. These green and white ferries cross Portsmouth Harbour to Gosport. The Ferry pontoon is alongside the train station and tickets are bought via a machine taking cash or card. An adult day return ticket on the Gosport Ferry costs £3.40 + £1.20 for a bicycle. Ferries (there’s two) run every 7.5 minutes through the day and every 15 minutes early, late and Sundays. During the short trip across you can take in views of Portsmouth’s landmarks old and new.
Gosport Cycle NCN Route 2
Directly opposite the ferry terminal is Gosport’s shopping precinct. Unless you need supplies I’d get on your way, the precinct doesn’t offer much and is a tad depressing. The road that divides the ferry terminal and precinct is Sustrans NCN2, head left here at the crossing. After a short section on this road, NCN2 leads you away from the drone of the road and smell of McDonalds along a relatively pleasant cycle path. Be careful not to miss the turn for this path, it’s immediately into Cleveland road, if you reach the one way system you’ve gone too far.
The cycle path leads you to the posh end of Gosport, Alverstoke. You exit the path into ‘The Crescent’ with it’s bright white terrace overlooking the gated park opposite. You’re then on the coast, following NCN2 along the promenade cycle-way through ‘Stokes Bay’ and then ‘Lee-on-the-Solent’. There’s plenty of shipping traffic in the Solent so this is a great stretch to sit with a bag of fish and chips and look over this busy stretch of water.
Titchfield Haven to Warsash
Where the promenade end’s at ‘Lee-on-Solent’ follow the road away from the seafront and then take the 1st left into Crofton Rd. Take the left turn at the T junction into Salterns Rd heading back to the coast road with the Solent on your left. In a mile you’ll enter Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve. There’s a small harbour to which the reserve backs onto, connecting the Solent with the River Meon. With the Nature reserve to your right and the Solent on your left there’s plenty to see and photograph. There’s a kite surfing school just before the road starts heading inland, if the winds up there’s some dramatic photos to be had.
Follow the road inland, and look out for the NCN 2 sign that directs you onto a track through Brownwich Farm estate. This follows tree-lined fields along gravel tracks. Look out for Brownwich Pond through the trees on your right. If you plan this route out yourself using ‘Ride with GPS’ or a similar plotting tool for some reason they will take you off the NCN path just before the pond and put you on a strange dog-legged track. Avoid this and stick to the much more obvious cycle route. The track is narrow, over-grown and pointless. I’ve adjusted the route that I’ve plotted (bottom of page) to avoid this.
Once you exit the Brownwich estate it’s a short ride into Warsash. Here you’ll find shops to stock up on supplies as well as pubs and restaurants. Riding on from Passage Lane take a right before the park into Thorton Avenue, keep your eyes peeled for a narrow path within a row of trees where the park ends. This path leads you down to the shore and towards the bright pink Warsash to Hamble Ferry.
Ferry No.2 Warsash To Hamble Le Rice
I had checked the Warsash to Hamble Ferry timetable but when I arrived there was no sign of it. I could see the Hamble side pontoon across the water and it wasn’t there either. A sign at the entrance to the pontoon read “call me I’m not far away”, so I did, “I’m just unloading at Hamble and I’ll be over in a few minutes”. Sure enough a small pink landing craft looking vessel emerged from the far side of the Hamble Pontoon, it was so small the pontoon had hidden it from view.
On the Warsash side at high tide passengers board the ferry via a floating pontoon but at low tide a walk down the shingle is necessary. A small channel has been dredged so the ferry nudges its bow to the shore and remains in gear to hold itself steady whilst passengers depart and board. Depending on the state of tide your bike may need lifting on so be prepared to remove panniers if you’re fully loaded. Also, load your bike forward facing so you’ve not got to unload in reverse, there’s definitely not enough room to turn your bike once on board.
I was the only passenger on both my crossings. I lent against the rusty wheelhouse and chatted to the driver as the inboard engine chugged us towards the Hamble pontoon. “What time are you running to today” I asked, “I expect it’ll be dead by mid afternoon but the board says five, so I expect I won’t get away til half five”. This turned out to be a very good thing because on my way back I made it to the pontoon at 5:20. I cheekily rang the ferry man pushing my luck, he made a final trip just for me which was much appreciated.
Should the ferry not be running or you miss the last one it’s not the end of the world. A few extra miles up river is the Swanick Bridge, although a blessing, it does carry the A27 main road which can be very busy. Do your best to avoid it and make the ferry, it’s only a short crossing but a really enjoyable one costing only £1.75 for both passenger and bike.
Hamble-le-Rice to Netley Abbey
The Warsash ferry man had said that a lot of his passengers cross only to go to ‘The Bugle’ pub but there was something in his tone to suggest that he didn’t rate it that highly, whatever the way it was too early for a pint even for me, so I pressed on. Hamble-le-Rice is pleasant in a posh ‘yachty’ type of way with shops that will fully kit you out to fit in with the deck shoe wearing locals. I wondered how many of them actually owned a yacht and how many just wanted to look as though they did whilst at the pub!
Once away from the Hamble River take a left turn from Hamble Lane on to a tree-lined cycle path that divides two sports fields. This path leads you through a small copse of trees into Royal Victoria Country Park and reveals the regal grounds of Netley Hospital Chapel. There’s some lovely views across Southampton water here, a prime pick-nicking position!
Upon leaving the park there’s a small residential section with a Co-Op if you’re in need of anything. The route then comes away from Victoria road and follows a path to Weston Sailing Club. Following this route I managed to miss the ruins of Netley Abbey. It’s only a short detour to visit the Abbey by continuing along Victoria Road, I really wish I had.
Netley Abbey to Hythe
NCN2 follows Weston Shore along Weston Parade. Keep your eyes on the Solent, in a hope you will miss the hideous tower blocks on your right. As the road bends with the coast your surroundings become very industrial and then leads on to a residential estate. Hurry through this bit, there’s nothing nice about it but you need to cross the River Itchen via the Itchen Bridge. The bridge is impressive in it’s height alone. It carries the busy A3025 but it does have cycle lanes on both sides. It also has a pavement on both sides which I did notice cyclists using rather than the dedicated cycle lane, the traffic was zooming by fast and close so maybe they were quite right to.
You’re now in Southampton proper! a short but busy ride from the bridge leads around Town Quay to the ferry terminal for Hythe. Don’t do what I did here. I mistook the red road colour of the A33 with the red line of my intended route (note to self; change route colour setting on GPS). I ended up following the red A33 road right through Southampton, to add to my misery Southampton’s biggest event was in town, ‘The International Boat Show’. I had rode five miles out of my way and crossed the River Test before I realised I was off route.
Ferry no.3 Southampton to Hythe
Anyway, providing you don’t make my mistake, the Hythe Ferry is just half a mile over the River Itchen. The Southampton side terminal is modern and in-keeping with the Town Quay area where it’s situated. The Hythe side is different matter altogether. The jetty is at the end of a long rusting old pier, the pontoon floats independently, creaking and crunching against the piers corroded legs with the constant wash from passing vessels. There’s some shabby waiting rooms at the piers end to save passengers from the elements, it must be quite cutting here in the middle of winter. On my return crossing I looked back at the pier and thought the tunnelled shelter which leads down to the pontoon looked like a railway carriage that had slipped from the piers end and rested nose first on the pontoon.
The pier itself although crying out for some TLC is full of character. A small train that appeared equally neglected runs the piers length collecting and dropping off passengers. For a fee you can have your own tribute or message etched in the piers deck boards and many have done so. I opted to walk my bike the length of the pier and I read the messages as I went but I had to give up in the end. The pier by my reckoning is nearly half a mile long and is peppered with messages along its entire length. A single fare for passenger + bike costs £8.00, a bit pricey I thought!
Hythe to Brockenhurst, New Forest
Hythe itself offers a small precinct of bars, cafes and shops. Picking up on NCN2 again is straightforward, it makes it’s way out of the residential roads of Hythe and then Dibden Perlieu. The New Forest then opens out in front of you. Wide expanses of gorse covered land only interrupted with trees and by the famous New forest ponies. Cyclists are nearly as common a sight as the Ponies in the New Forest so I found the motorists to be quite obliging. Motorists are used to being held up by the ponies who chose to graze right by the roads edge and then wander across the road as and when they see fit. Follow the signs for NCN2 and enjoy the sights all the way in to Brockenhurst. The NCN route 2 after Brockenhurst continues straight through the New Forest and out the South Western corner heading towards Christchurch.
The following NCN 2 route is also stunning tracing the South coast but try to make time to explore the New Forest, it really is worthwhile. There’s plenty of pubs, restaurants and cafes, most of which have realised the benefits of being cyclist-friendly. My trip was an ‘out and back’ day trip but I have camped in the forest on a few occasions and it’s a delight. It’s well worth taking a day or two to discover all the gems the New Forest has to offer. There are some great campsites, excellent walks and cycling to be enjoyed both off and on road. Remember, the New Forest is a great adventure but so is the journey, so leave the car behind and follow the
Fairies Ferries to the Forest!. Find out more about the New Forest here