Peter Bruce dis­cov­ers the rich her­itage of the Ham­ble as he winds his way up­river

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS -

Ex­plor­ing the hid­den Ham­ble, Peter Bruce goes up­river in a dinghy

If you travel up­stream on the Ham­ble at High Wa­ter past the mo­saic of moored ves­sels, then pass un­der the fren­zied traf­fic on the bridges at Bursle­don, the scenery soon changes to one of perfect beauty and peace. The wide tree-lined river winds through lovely coun­try­side and there is sel­dom more than the odd small craft in sight. Few peo­ple ven­ture to this en­chant­ing, di­vinely quiet lo­ca­tion where the scenery is prob­a­bly much as it was a thou­sand years ago.

Be­fore the first bridge was built in 1783, ac­cess up­river was pos­si­ble for masted ves­sels, and there are sev­eral traces of an­cient wooden jet­ties along the bank. The wood on the left side, a mile up from the mo­tor­way bridge, is called Dock Copse, which sug­gests its river­side us­age in times past. Nowa­days, one of the first fea­tures to be seen go­ing up­river, not far after leaving the last mo­tor yacht be­hind on the East­lands Boat­yard pon­toon, is a yel­low can-shaped buoy marked ‘his­toric wreck’. This shows the po­si­tion of the fi­nal rest­ing place of two war­ships be­long­ing to Henry V. The larger of these, the 600-year-old Grace Dieu, was com­mis­sioned in 1418 and was one of the big­gest ships of her time. She was the largest ever clinker-built ship; her length was 66m. Grace Dieu saw very lit­tle ac­tive ser­vice and burnt to the wa­ter­line after light­ning struck in 1439. The other ship that lies here is the 30m Holigost. Orig­i­nally a Castil­lian ves­sel named Santa Clara, Holigost was cap­tured and joined the English fleet in 1415. She was in­volved in two naval bat­tles which were sig­nif­i­cant English suc­cesses in the Hun­dred Years’ War. But Henry V’s victory meant his navy was no longer much use to the na­tion, and Holigost was laid up and even­tu­ally sank on her moor­ings.

A third of a mile above the M27 bridge around the first bend, the Manor Farm pon­toon will be seen: a beach and a land­ing place are the gate­way to some nice walks, pic­nic spots and the op­por­tu­nity to see the farm and its an­i­mals at what is now called the River Ham­ble Coun­try Park. This was near the site of the se­cret wartime naval shore es­tab­lish­ment HMS Cricket which was in­volved in am­phibi­ous craft and troops for the D-day land­ings. There are still notches in the river­bank left by wartime land­ing craft. On­ward up­river, half a mile from the bridge op­po­site Cat­land Copse, the river nar­rows a lit­tle and bends to the left and then to the right, by which time all the bus­tle of civil­i­sa­tion is out of sight. Fur­ther on, where the river turns sharply left, a beach will ap­pear on the right which is a bathing and pic­nic spot. Not far after that, the river depth be­comes no­tice­ably less and the river dries out at low wa­ter, but still gives at least 2m in the chan­nel at high wa­ter. After the next left­hand bend, a field will be seen ahead rather than wood­land and it is here, about two miles up from the bridges, that a de­ci­sion has to be made as to which trib­u­tary to fol­low.

The left­hand one, which is the River Ham­ble, is nav­i­ga­ble by dinghy an­other mile fur­ther up to Bot­ley Mills, a mill since Saxon times. On the right, shortly after pass­ing the river junc­tion, is the YMCA Fairthorne Manor boathouse. When dig­ging foun­da­tions for a pre­vi­ous boathouse near this point in 1888, a Saxon log boat made from a sin­gle oak tree dated around 700 AD was found, along with ev­i­dence of a Ro­man villa. Fur­ther on, there is one hand­some pri­vate house and the YMCA camp. The river then be­comes nar­rower with over­hang­ing trees.

The Ham­ble is one of the busiest boat­ing rivers in the coun­try, but above the bridges, a dif­fer­ent, more peace­ful world emerges

When the tide is up, the River Ham­ble of­fers plenty to ex­plore by small craft

A hum­ble in­flat­able will get you away from the yacht­ing crowds

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