‘No man ever steps in the same river twice’ observed Greek philosopher Heraclitus, which captures perfectly the essence of the energetic River Hamble. Mark Featherstone and Jo Moon revisit old haunts but discover new delights on a recent visit to this iconic maritime destination.

The charming waters of the River Hamble rise near the medieval town of Bishop’s Waltham, gathering pace as the river passes through the numerous marinas and nature reserves scattered along its historic shore, before opening out 12 kilometres later into Southampton Water at Hamble-le-Rice. The river is renowned as a sailing mecca, but this is also a fantastic destination for powerboaters to rest, recharge, generally watch the world go by or experience the teeming wildlife along its wooded shores. With deep water and easy access to the Solent at all states of the tide, the river is the perfect base for exploring the UK’s southern shores, and for those with a curious mindset, there is a wealth of history, innovation and creativity to discover.

Port Hamble Marina aerial view.

Port Hamble Marina aerial view.

The Solent has been synonymous with innovation throughout history, dating as far back as the 15th century when Henry V’s groundbreaking three-masted ship, Grace Dieu, was launched, the wreck of which is marked on the river. During the First World War, Hamble’s airfields took centre stage with the production of the Avro 504 biplane, and then, in the Second World War, the river was home to an experimental aircraft department and was later the training and repair centre for the iconic Spitfire, Lancaster and Wellington aircraft. The energy of these trailblazers lingers today, and many racing campaigns have been launched from here.

MDL Port Hamble Marina

MDL Port Hamble Marina

Jo and I spent an enjoyable afternoon recently at Port Hamble watching the Swedish team scrubbing the sleek 52ft hull of their sailing yacht, Ran, in preparation for the 2023 Fastnet Race. It brought back wonderful memories for me of helping to prepare Tracy Edwards’ iconic boat, Maiden, for the Whitbread Round the World Race with an all-female crew. These ‘super-racers’, and others like them, are on the Hamble for a reason, and that’s because the marina facilities here are second to none. Indeed, for servicing and repair work you’ll absolutely want for nothing. But on the occasion of our amble around the Hamble, we started with a visit to MDL’s Port Hamble, located right in the heart of the south coast’s sailing scene. In fact, being one of the very first ever built in the UK, this summer the facility celebrates an impressive 50th year!

Hamble Point, Port Hamble and Mercury

A friendly team awaits the visiting boats at the busy 310-berth Hamble Point Marina. The berth holder facilities are good too, with a Force 4 chandlery providing everything you can think of and some things you can’t! Local restaurant chain Banana Wharf has a varied menu from which to choose breakfast, lunch or dinner, all of which you can eat sitting on their balcony enjoying the comings and goings of the many craft afloat, including the colourful racing dinghies cheekily weaving in and out among their bigger cousins. Call ahead to reserve a berth or book online on the MDL website. Up to 48 feet in length can be accommodated, but beware, this is a busy marina, and particularly so when special events are in full swing. The fuelling berth is easily accessible, and we both enjoyed watching a video on the MDL website showing the charismatic mariner Tom Cunliffe giving his interpretation of how to use it!

MDL Mercury Yacht Harbour

MDL Mercury Yacht Harbour

MDL Hamble Point Marina.

MDL Hamble Point Marina.

MDL serves the west side of the river with two more fabulous marinas close by, namely Mercury Yacht Harbour, located a mere few minutes away upriver from Port Hamble, and Hamble Point Marina, found just a short hop downriver. Originally built by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Mercury has 360 berths and enjoys deep water at all states of the tide. There’s a holiday village here too with self-catering accommodation and a campsite, so this could make the perfect stopover if you were trailering your boat down to these parts. You can also launch from the facility’s slipway.

MDL Hamble Point dry stack.

MDL Hamble Point dry stack.

Hamble Point Marina, whose location at the mouth of the River Hamble is hard to beat, has extensive shoreside facilities, a large dry stack system for motor boats for up to 10 metres in length and a huge range of marine brokers. If you require maintenance and repair facilities, this is the marina to visit, and it’s worth noting that there is also a wide, easily accessed slipway with ample car parking and trailer storage. However, you won’t find any fuel here, and apart from the Ketch Rigger bar and restaurant, there is nowhere else to eat or to provision your boat. That said, the great advantage of Port Hamble Marina is the fact that the picturesque village of Hamble, with its many pubs, upmarket restaurants and grocery store, is literally just a few minutes’ walk away.

Marina office - Port Hamble Marina.

Marina office – Port Hamble Marina.

Hamble Yacht Services

Adjacent to Port Hamble Marina, is Hamble Yacht Services who provide marina berthing offering fast access to the Solent at all states of the tide. Permanent berths are available, while visitors will also be given a warm welcome. Storage ashore is also available as hard standing or dry stacking, with unlimited launches with only one hours notice required, great for those impromptu dashes to enjoy a few hours at sea. The dry stack is open 7 days a week (seasonal) and is suitable for craft up to 9m. There are good facilities on shore providing 24/7 security, modern showers, on-site parking and cafe.

Fuel berth Port Hamble, open every day!

Fuel berth Port Hamble, open every day!

Hamble-le-Rice 

So nice, they named it twice! The village was officially renamed ‘Hamble-le-Rice’ in 1992, but it is still known as ‘Hamble’, which is old English for ‘crooked’ – presumably more a reference to the topography of the river than the residents! Whether it got the last part of its name from the rise of land above the river or because of the rushes that abound in the surrounding area no one knows, but it truly is the quintessential English village. The period cottages tumbling down the hill are typical of the local Hampshire architecture, being built of the warm red brick made just 5 miles away at Burlesdon Brickworks, now a volunteer-run museum and well worth a visit. Hamble’s cobbled high street meanders from the square, which boasts a very handy Co-op store, to finish at the village’s charming quay and slipway built by American servicemen in the run-up to D-Day. On the way down the hill, we stopped for a very refreshing half a cider at the King & Queen pub before catching the pretty pink foot ferry to Warsash. There has been a ferry service from here since the 13th century. You’ll find its operating times are seasonal and displayed on the boards at the boarding points.

The Swedish team preparing their 52ft yacht for the 2023 Fastnet

The Swedish team preparing their 52ft yacht for the 2023 Fastnet Race

Beautiful brick cottages and The King & Queen pub, Hamble-le-Rice.

Beautiful brick cottages and The King & Queen pub, Hamble-le-Rice.

Warsash 

The east side of the river seems to offer a more laid-back lifestyle where people can slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of picnicking on the shore or taking leisurely walks. There was a friendly and convivial atmosphere in Warsash as we walked along the front, watching a jet ski being loaded onto its trailer on the wide slipway after a day of fun on the river. Boys were fishing off the pontoons and a couple of families motored alongside and headed up the gangway to the Rising Sun pub, while a group of friends sat in deckchairs on the foreshore chatting in the evening sun. The village flourished in the 19th century, with shipbuilding, fishing and farming being its mainstays. Crab was collected by boat from the West Country, and lobsters from Ireland were flown in as late as the 60s, to be deposited in the nearby fish ponds before being taken by horse and cart, along with fresh local strawberries, to Swanwick railway station. This heritage is commemorated with a fabulous lobster mural painted on the side of the iconic black and white harbour master’s building. This colossal crustacean measures 7 metres long and is part of a series of six murals that the London-based street artist ATM has created, in partnership with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, to shine a spotlight on the local marine wildlife. The River Hamble has a wealth of habitats, from the inter-tidal mudflats at Hook-with-Warsash to the salt marshes in Upper Hamble and plenty of shoreline in between. We took the footpath upstream from Warsash to Universal Marina, which took around an hour. It was easy going underfoot and we passed through the delightfully named Bunny Meadows on an embankment separating the marshes from the main estuary.

Looking forward to a fish supper at the Rising Sun in Warsash.

Looking forward to a fish supper at the Rising Sun in Warsash.

Step through the Tardis doors to the Jolly Sailor`s sunlit terrace.

Step through the Tardis doors to the Jolly Sailor`s sunlit terrace.

Universal and Swanwick

We soon found ourselves at Premier Marinas – Universal latest addition to their portfolio – a facility boasting a full-service boatyard and one of the largest dry-stack facilities on the river. High-quality facilities including a fuel berth are just what you might expect from a Premier marina, and everything’s beautifully managed by a friendly team. Coffee on the veranda of the on-site café, Mermaids, was a very welcoming experience, and from here we watched the peaceful marina comings and goings. All manner of marine services are available here, and if you are lucky enough to find yourself here at sunset, you can’t beat a crew supper atop Banana Wharf’s newly opened and very atmospheric decking, just as the sun finally kisses the horizon and the river is ablaze with calming colours.

Banana Wharf at Premier Marinas - Universal has a fantastic atmosphere.

Banana Wharf at Premier Marinas – Universal has a fantastic atmosphere.

Banana Wharf at Universal Marina has a fantastic atmosphere

Premier Marinas - Universal dry-stack facility.

Premier Marinas – Universal dry-stack facility.

Dry stacking & marina at Premier Marinas - Swanwick

Dry stacking & marina at Premier Marinas – Swanwick

Carrying along the path to Swanwick, another Premier marina further upriver, we were accompanied by a myriad of gulls. We enjoyed spotting the different species as they waded along the shore dabbling in the mud for lunch. Swanwick Marina is a perfect base for exploring the upper reaches of the Hamble. Kayaks and SUPs can be hired here, and the slipway is accessible at all tides, though car and trailer parking is on site and limited. The berth holder facilities here are well appointed, and the very lively Boat House Café has a wide choice of meals served all day from the riverside decking. Just to the north-east lies the famed Elephant Boatyard, named after Nelson’s flagship, HMS Elephant, which was built here in 1786. The surrounding woodland has contributed much to the yard’s boatbuilding past over the centuries too. If it’s history that floats your boat, we recommend a visit to the most iconic of Hamble’s pubs, the Jolly Sailor, which also has visitor tender moorings on a high tide and was even built before HMS Elephant! A charming brick facade hides a cheeky personality with something interesting to look at wherever you sit, and although the real star of the show is, of course, the river, here at the Jolly Sailor you’ll find plentiful waterside seating to take full advantage of the vista.

Premier Marinas - Swanwick during the annual British Motoryacht Show

Premier Marinas – Swanwick during the annual British Motoryacht Show

 Hamble Common WW II gun emplacement built to protect Southampton and the oil terminals

Hamble Common WW II gun emplacement built to protect Southampton and the oil terminals

Deacons

This is a great marina for exploring the northern shores of the river and has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, with the quirky Seahorse Bistro keeping crews well served with toasties and gorgeous cakes. One of 11 boatfolk marinas on the south coast, this facility welcomes visiting craft of up to 13.5 metres LOA. Book on the website or call ahead and the team here will organise maintenance if needed – and in addition, a great little chandlery is provided on site too. A short walk under the bridge from Deacons is the Chandlery Barge. We thoroughly recommend this if you like a rummage! Based on a World War Two vintage concrete barge, there are treasures to be found here, both new and old, with helpful and knowledgeable staff on hand to assist.

boatfolk - Deacons Marina.

boatfolk – Deacons Marina.

boatfolk - Deacons Marina.

boatfolk – Deacons Marina.

Looking forward to a fish supper at the Rising Sun in Warsash

Looking forward to a fish supper at the Rising Sun in Warsash

Upper Hamble

The upper reaches of this historic river are fringed with ancient woodland interspersed with mudflats and salt marshes where sea lavender grows in purple profusion. The river at this point is very shallow and is best visited from about an hour before first high water until three hours after. You’ll need to navigate beneath the A27 bridge, which has limited air draught, so it’s perfect for tenders and small RIBs, kayaks and SUPs. The river is navigable, though, as far as Botley, which was once described as ‘the most delightful village in the world’ by resident William Cobbett, the 19th-century champion of traditional rural England. It is indeed charming and well worth a ramble along the high street and on around the main square, where there are plenty of opportunities to stop for refreshment. The River Hamble Country Park on the north shore is a great family place to visit with its new visitor centre, where one can learn more about the local wildlife, walking trails and BBQ areas. From their pontoon, you will spot the yellow nautical marker where the wreck of King Henry V’s ship, Grace Dieu, lies, and a short walk through the woodland will lead you to the remnants of HMS Cricket, which was built to provide accommodation and training for crews involved in the 1944 D-Day landings.

Busy weekends at Warsash on the wide slipway

Busy weekends at Warsash on the wide slipway

Eastlands Boatyard is also located on the upper reaches of the River Hamble. Offering 70 berths together with up to 40 dry-storage spaces and hardstanding for up to 200 boats, the yard also has use of a private slipway. There are toilets and showers, ample car parking, and its location enjoys stunning Hamble views from the yard’s picnic and barbecue area. If you require special launch and recovery services, a Roodberg state-of-the-art boat mover is on hand for craft up to 14 metres in length.

Look out for the cheerful yellow Hamble Harbour Patrol boats.

Look out for the cheerful yellow Hamble Harbour Patrol boats.

Time for reflection

Watching the Fastnet fleet stream downriver with their joyful orange jibs providing a colourful spectacle, we could feel the excitement and anticipation of their voyage that started on the beautiful River Hamble. A place of rich maritime history and natural wonder, this is not only a dream location for seafaring adventures and family holidays, but also a great place to spend downtime on the waterfront enjoying a seafood platter and glass of Chablis while mulling over one’s next visit to this river of discovery.

Premier Marinas - Universal berthing and pontoons.

Premier Marinas – Universal berthing and pontoons.

Approach by sea

The Hamble offers all-weather shelter, but beware of southerly and south-westerly winds at the river mouth. On the approach from Southampton, look out around Hamble Spit and make sure the Hamble Beacon Cardinal Mark (Number 2) is visible. Depending on the state of the tide, shoaling occurs to the north of the beacon. Once in the river proper, stay to starboard and keep a good all-round watch as the river is invariably busy at all times.

As for tides, the river has a double high water (stand) that lasts for up to two hours, which means strong ebb tides, particularly at spring tides (over 3 knots on the spring ebb).

Deck shoes off, walking shoes on!

The shores of the River Hamble are a walker’s paradise. Bring your binoculars and camera to catch the incredible birdlife along the way. Here are some of the highlights:

The Hamble Peninsula Trail, which includes the Strawberry Trail to Burlesdon, where horse-drawn vehicles once loaded their baskets of strawberries onto the Strawberry Special trains to London.

Netley Abbey, the most complete surviving Cistercian monastery in southern England, founded in 1239 and painted by Constable. It was also the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Royal Victoria Country Park, with its beautiful park grounds and café, where you can visit the landmark chapel for the Royal Military Hospital.

Burlesdon Brickworks Museum – the UK’s sole-surviving Victorian steam-driven brickworks.

The Solent Way, Warsash to Hill Head. This is a 5-mile section of the 60-mile Solent Way, taking in two nature reserves along the sand cliffs of Hill Head. A must for birdwatchers.

Hamble and the D-Day landings

Nearly 3,000 commandos embarked from the Rising Sun pier in landing craft bound for Gold Beach on D-Day. The men were accompanied by the eerie sound of Lord Lovat’s personal piper, which was relayed through loudspeakers, setting the troops cheering from the decks of their transport. Later, the pipes played the 1st Commando Brigade across the fire-swept beach and as they advanced to the now famous rendezvous at Pegasus Bridge in Bénouville.

Useful Info

River Hamble Harbour Authority: 01489 576387

Water Patrol: 07718 146380

VHF: Ch 68

Marinas VHF: Ch 80

Overnight berthing on visitors’ pontoons, midstream and walk ashore.

mdlmarinas.co.uk

Hamble Point Marina: 023 8045 2464

Port Hamble Marina (MDL): 023 8045 2747

Mercury Yacht Harbour: 023 8045 5994

premiermarinas.com

Universal Marina: 01489 574272

Swanwick Marina:  01489 884081

boatfolk.co.uk

Deacons Marina: 023 80402253

eastlandsboatyard.com

Eastlands Marina: 01489 889177

hambleyachtservices.co.uk

02380 201501

We strongly recommend that you get hold of a copy of the River Hamble Handbook & Directory. It’s the boater’s ‘bible’ for the Hamble and has a list of all the marinas and their facilities along with important pilotage information. You can pick up a copy at the Harbour Office in Warsash and at most of the river’s marinas.

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