Enjoy a sea swim with a picture-postcard view along the Hampshire Coast. Angus McChesney of Iconic Swims is your guide.
Everyone loves a lighthouse, especially one where you can swim. Let me guide you along the mile or so of shingle spit out to Hurst Point where its lighthouse stands sentry next to Hurst Castle, marking the western entrance to the Solent.
The lighthouse was built in 1867 to guide ships safely through the narrow gap between the mainland and the Isle of Wight. Back then the castle’s powerful guns made sure only friendly ships were able to pass.
Being so close to the popular beaches of Milford-on-Sea, and because getting there involves taking a few more steps, this is a less popular swim location than you might expect. Once you’re there you’ll find it is a lovely spot, especially on a midsummer evening with the sun beginning to set across the Keyhaven salt marshes.
How to get to Hurst Point
It is possible to park free of charge on the road on either New Lane and Saltgrass Lane, on the west side of Milford-on-Sea. Just watch out if the tide is coming in as occasionally Saltgrass Lane floods at high tide.
Crossing the small bridge over Danestream, known as the crabbing bridge, you may have to politely squeeze your way past children dangling their lines into the water below.
Once on the other side, climb half-left up onto the spit and begin the mile or so walk in a southeasterly direction out to Hurst Castle. You’ll have the English Channel on your right and Keyhaven Estuary on your left.
The tide ‘stands’ for a few hours in the estuary, so when the tide is going out you can sometimes notice the water level slightly higher on the estuary side than it is on the Channel side.
At the end of the spit you’ll arrive at Hurst Castle. Passing the castle on your right, you’ll see the main entrance opposite the foot passenger ferry. The lighthouse is in front of you. English Heritage manages the castle so remember your card if you’re a member as it is worth a look inside.
In front of the lighthouse there is a shingle beach facing the Solent where the best swimming can be found.
By far the safest direction to swim here is north along the beach towards Keyhaven River entrance and back. Or, if you prefer just to bob and enjoy the views, make sure you keep the lighthouse near as there are tidal currents and often boats moving around further out in the deeper water.
On no account consider swimming on the Channel side of the spit at Hurst Narrows. By all means go and take a look at the end of the spit – you’ll see why the narrow strip of water between the mainland and the Isle of Wight has a reputation to match the Corryvreckan or Menai Straits.
The beauty of swimming at Hurst is that it is protected from the prevailing SW wind, so you can almost always find flat water here unless there is an EW blowing down the Solent. If there is a SW wind then you’ll find the flat water next to the shelter of the beach. On a still day you can double-dip back in Milford-on-Sea at one of the several beaches there.
Safety point: check the tide
It is always wise to check tide times before swimming in tidal water. Although swimmable at all states of the tide, the best time to swim at Hurst Lighthouse is around high tide. Not only will you find plenty of water to swim in, there will be far less chance of experiencing any tidal current then. Check tide times for Hurst Point for the week ahead at tidetimes.org.uk
Milford on Sea is served by the Wilts and Dorset X1 service from Bournemouth to Lymington. Download the full timetable at morebus.co.uk. A passenger ferry runs from Keyhaven to Hurst Castle, so if you’re tired after your swim you can always enjoy a ride by boat back to near where you parked.
Angus McCheney is a swimming guide with Iconic Swims.
Click here for guidance on sea swimming.