Sunday 13 December 2009

Hurst Castle

One of our favourite spots on the Solent, just five miles from home, is Hurst Castle. Approached by ferry on a Summer morning, it looks delightful.

When the winter sun is low over the Salterns, the ancient saltpans from which Lymington made its fortune, the prospect is altogether more threatening.

Charles I was moved here from Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight around this time of year in 1648. He was allowed to walk on the shingle spit which connects Hurst to the mainland; but it must have been a bleak and dispiriting prison, not least because after his failed escape attempts from the Isle of Wight he knew his next prison would be the Tower. Even today, seen across the Western limb of the Solent, you can get some idea of its isolation. In the image above, the lighthouse stands out, a 19th Century replacement for earlier lights on Hurst Spit. Where the land falls away on the right are the Needles, Westernmost tip of the Isle of Wight. Less than a mile of water separates the Island from the mainland here. Behind the lighthouse is the grey bulk of the Castle, built by Henry VIII to defend the approaches to Southampton from French or Spanish attack. The stone he used to build it came chiefly from Beaulieu Abbey... so he was not only into re-forming the church, he turned ploughshares into swords and monasteries into fortresses.

The land was especially wet today, and here is Jane, known affectionately as the Flying Buttress because she propped up a flying bishop, picking a cautious path along the causeway.

This afternoon, the light was changing every moment, and the calls of birds were all around; oystercatchers, curlews, gulls, ducks and wading birds of every sort. Then, as we headed home a great flock of Plovers flew over. They are on some endangered lists; here on the former saltmarshes they are flourishing - a hopeful sight for a dark and chilly time of year.

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