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So near – and yet so far………..

The Hampshire Coast had always been well within reach of London. And yet, somehow, the distance seemed to be too great to indulge in a ‘day-trip’, while at the same time, it seemed too close to choose as a destination for an annual holiday break! But as the parents of a four year old son and a one year old daughter, it suddenly seemed to be the ideal location for a ‘family holiday’!

For some obscure reason we chose Lymington as our holiday base. Perhaps we felt it was within close proximity to both the New Forest and the Hampshire coastline. Or maybe it was the only place where we could find accommodation since ours was a somewhat late holiday booking, and early September was the holiday month of our choice.

We booked a self catering apartment that was purported to accommodate a family of four. Our journey by car to Lymington presented no problems, and when we reached the address where our apartment was situated, we were pleasantly surprised by the superiority of both the building and the building’s location. It would seem that we had made a good choice! Alas, appearances can be deceptive! The building comprised a block of three ‘apartments’ – one on the ground floor, one on the second floor, and one on the first floor. And ours was situated on the first floor.

The ‘apartment’ as such was perfectly acceptable. It was clean, well furnished, and seemingly ‘faultless’! But size-wise, it was undeniably ‘small’! It consisted of a small bathroom, a small ‘kitchen-cum-dining- room-cum lounge’, and one small bedroom! The bedroom had two single beds and a folding zed-bed, while a large ‘cot’ occupied a sizeable corner of the kitchen!

No doubt the owner of the apartment regarded this as the ideal accommodation for a ‘family of four’ that consisted of a husband and wife, a four year old son (who could utilise the zed-bed) and a one year old baby girl (who could utilise the cot in the kitchen!) My husband thought the accommodation was totally inadequate, and wanted to return home immediately. But I thought that our best option was ‘to make the best of a bad job’! After all, we weren’t planning to spend many ‘day-time hours’ in the apartment. It was merely a ‘sleep-over’ place – and it was more spacious than a caravan! Or was it?

Our one year old daughter seemed to take violent exception to her ‘kitchen cot! Somehow, instinctively, she seemed to be acutely aware of the fact that she was ensconced in unfamiliar and equally unwelcome terrain! And the bedroom was so small that when the zed-bed was put down for our son, it totally blocked the door that led to the kitchen! However, somehow, we survived the night, and the next day we set forth on an exploratory tour of our new surroundings.

While Lymington itself was a seaport, with a street that led down to the quay and a marina, it did not possess a beach. And we decided that we would spend the first day of our holiday on a ‘seaside shore’, and headed for Milford-on-Sea which was situated a mere three miles away from Lymington. It proved to be an excellent choice, and we fell in love with Milford-on-Sea immediately. The air was exceptionally fresh, the shore was a vast expanse of seemingly untrammelled shingle, and the sea’s roaring waves battered the beach in an unceasing cacophony of frothing foam. And beyond the ocean, clearly visible against the blue of the sky were the unmistakable white contours of ‘The Needles of The Isle of Wight’.

A small café stood at the farthest edge of the shore, and beyond this solitary building, a single path bordered both sides of the Solent, which stretched in a long straight line towards the end of the promontory, where a solitary tower stood, whose stark unmistakable contours we identified instantly as being the historic edifice known as Hurst Castle.

And the temptation proved to be too great! We felt ourselves ‘drawn’ to the castle edifice! And having partaken of a brief snack at the solitary café – our two offspring having indulged themselves in giant size ice- cream cones also – we wended our way to a small quayside where it was possible to book a boat trip that would take us across the Solent to the precincts of Hurst Castle itself. We turned out to be the only four passengers occupying the ferry boat, but the boatman didn’t seem to have a problem with this, and we skimmed across the breadth of water at a remarkable pace.

Both our four year old son and our one year old daughter seemed to thoroughly enjoy the trip, and although at times the going was ‘rough’, neither felt at all sea-sick but chewed happily at some chocolates that they’d selected at the café to complement their ice-creams! I’d read that Hurst Castle had originally been built by Henry VIII as a viewing tower to guard the Solent in the event of any possible French invasion. Additional parts were added to the building in the 1860s, and it is claimed that the castle was even used as a garrison in World War II. It certainly stood in solitary isolation at the end of the peninsula on which we landed, and was a truly impressive sight. Our boatman offered to wait for us while we explored the site, and for this we were immensely grateful for it was indeed a wild and lonely spot and not somewhere that we’d want to be left alone for too long!

Even our two children seemed to be quite awed by the spectacular sight of the towering edifice. And from here, ‘the Needles of The Isle of Wight’ looked even closer! Lymington itself was an interesting town – our only complaint being that our accommodation was so ‘cramped’! We were told that at one stage in its history Lymington’s status had been greater than that of Portsmouth. It was also once a major salt manufacturing town we were informed – hence the tidal salt marshes that apparently still existed and had been allocated the title of ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’.

Perhaps this accounted for the ‘salt air’ that was so profoundly refreshing at our favourite seaside resort of Milford-on-Sea. And we actually ‘struck lucky’ at Milford-on-Sea, and managed to procure some self catering apartment accommodation there for a future holiday. For we were determined to return to the area! And when we did, we certainly intended to visit The New Forest on our next visit…………

Roberta Crookes has worked as a newspaper journalist throughout most of her life, writing news stories, editorial features, advertisement supplements, and reviews. And in the course of her work she has interviewed many famous people from all walks of life. She has also managed to combine parallel careers in both journalism and acting, and, being Welsh speaking from North Wales, her main television featured parts have been Welsh language roles with BBC Wales.