This week, the stars finally aligned and we made it to Hampshire, land of our parents, for the first time since Feb 2020. And we managed to meet up with the Hollies for a glorious day in the glorious sunshine at Lepe Country Park. I’d never heard of Lepe before, despite growing up in the ‘hood, but it’s basically one of the most southerly points of Hants, straight down from Southampton and nearish Calshot. The proximity to the Equator is probably why we (spoiler) got so badly sunburnt…but we’ll get to that later.
Lepe is a happy combination of grassy picnic space at the top and shingle beach at the bottom. The car parking situation at the top is all a bit random – we ended up halfway up a verge – but the beach-side car park looked more straightforward, even if there was a bit of a queue to get in. Either way, the barrier takes note of your number plate and all you have to do is just pay through one of the machines before you go by entering your registration. The machines all take card payments as well.
So with the car wonkily parked up, we went straight to the playground at the top of the slope. Well, the kids did. I headed straight for the loos. It had been a longer-than-expected drive. The loos aren’t lovely but they’re free and the queues weren’t huge. For anyone who similarly needs to find them in a hurry, they’re next to the main building (the Lookout) but in a separate block.
The Hollies joined us soon afterwards and the kids all ran around the shady playground for a while before lunch. There’s plenty of climbable stuff and it wasn’t too crowded, even on a sunny Bank Holiday
We decided to eat before going onto the beach because we all know how messy beach picnics can get. There was a nice bench right outside the playground so we set up there with a view over the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Lovely!
There are no bins at Lepe so it’s worth taking bags for your rubbish and putting it in the car after lunch. It turned out to be quite a trek to the bit of beach we wanted so probably best we were travelling light. Eva and I also decided to go to the loos before going to the beach and this time the queue was huge. We were probably queuing for about 20 minutes but it felt longer in the heat of the sun and with Eva complaining. On the upside, Lepe was a proper doggyfneria and there were loads of dogs to look at to pass the time. There were a couple of tiny daschunds in the queue with us but they were nervy so didn’t want cuddles. Something that was crossed with a corgi pottered by on comically short legs, which caused the person next to us in the queue to strike up a conversation. I was feeling mildly uncomfortable with this talking to strangers thing until she revealed that she was from Brazil. Once I understood I was in conversation with a representative from the world’s chattiest nation, it was fine. I mean, I’ve seen my friend Cleverson in action on the tube or the bus, starting conversations with complete strangers. It’s just the Brazilian MO.
Eventually we were toileted and changed and started picking our way along the beach to where the others were. It was painful and slow going over the stony beach in flip flops and they were up by the sand pier, which seemed miles away. On the way back, we used a set of steps which came straight off the beach onto the end of the carpark and walked along the top. That was way quicker and easier, for future reference. But it was worth going further along the beach if we wanted to swim – the bit of beach right by the Lookout had a load of seaweed-covered rocks between the shore and the sea, which looked pretty hazardous. Out by the sand pier, it was an easy glide straight into shallowish and warmish waters.
I say warmish because it was oddly mixed. Parts of the water were really very warm and then suddenly, a current would whoosh by, bringing icy coldness with it. I wondered if the Isle of Wight was blocking the coldest water from the Channel and only the occasional bit slipped by. Or whether it was, as one of our party claimed, because someone was peeing in the water nearby. I hope not.
Still, it was pleasant enough to spend nearly an hour bobbing about in it and even Eva dared to join us, up to her waist and occasionally clinging onto my neck. It was sandy underfoot but she didn’t seem to trust me enough to put both of her feet down and disengage. The only time she forgot to be scared of the water was when she was gathering seaweed as an offering for the Sea Dragon. Then she quite confidently pottered around by herself but I kept her within arm’s reach, just in case. No, she’s still not a swimmer.
After so much swimming, it was time for an ice cream so we dispatched half the party to go hunt and gather, while Holly and I lay in the sun and I dried off. I had put some sunscreen on earlier but didn’t think to reapply after coming out of the water. At this point, feel free to judge me. But I would like to say that I’m suffering mightily from my lack of common sense. Two days on and I still can’t get dressed or lie down without a lot of pain. Remember to Slip, Slap Slop…don’t be like me.
The sea was getting ever closer so, in defiance of Mr Holly’s confident predictions about it turning back, we shuffled higher up the beach and found a patch that was almost entirely sandy rather than rocky. Result! That obviously made it easier for Reuben to bury his sister as well, upholding a fine family tradition of threatening to leave the youngest buried forever. Gotta be done.
Mr Holly and I decided to go for one last swim before packing up. By now the tide was so far in that the sandbar had completely disappeared and the warm bits in the water had disappeared with it. Thinking about it logically, it might have been the sandbar that made the water warm, rather than the Isle of Wight. Either way, the sea was suddenly a lot deeper and a lot colder than on the first pass. It took no time at all to be out of our depth and it was so cold my teeth were chattering. No wonder Reuben had only managed a few minutes the second time round. I didn’t last much longer – it was very bracing but I was starting to lose feeling in my feet so figured it was safest to go back in. It took a while to get my breath back, which I think definitely means it was a properly cold water swim.
All that was left to do was an awkward under-the-towel change into real clothes, a trip to the loos and a trip to the parking machines. We spent five hours there, I think, and parking was £9 which was steep but far cheaper than a day out at Legoland. I’m not sure how fun any of it would have been in the rain but on such a sunny day, it was perfect.
On the way home, we took a bit of a diversion to Lyndhurst to see some church friends who happened to be holidaying in the area. The drive between Lepe and Lyndhurst was a super-fun country one with zigzagging roads and lovely vistas to look at (I’m quite keen on the countryside when I don’t have to actually engage with it). Of course, this being the New Forest there were also plenty of daft ponies who tried to wander across the road and cause pile ups. I’m pleased to say we avoided mowing any of them down but there were a few that looked like they were planning something. Both kids liked seeing the ponies but were disappointed to learn you weren’t meant to pet them.
We met our friends at Bolton’s Bench, which was a massive expanse of open land with free parking and more of the aforementioned ponies. There was a cricket match in progress and, for that moment in time, it looked just like the kind of England that UKIP bang on about. Sunshine, cricket, thatched roofs and greenery on a Bank Holiday Monday. So let’s leave it there before we get to the bit about the horrendous traffic jam on the M3 just as the sunburn was really starting to sting. That wouldn’t paint quite such an idyllic picture now, would it?