43 Miles of Coast

Salt Marshes, sand, seabirds and spies. It's not what people normally associate with the New Forest because... it's a forest. Isn't it?

Here's where you're wrong. As well as the 193,000 acres of woodland in the New Forest, we also get to enjoy over 40 miles of coastline. Our coast stretches along the south of the New Forest from Barton on sea right up Southampton Water to Totton, a town not far from the city of Southampton.

The history of the coast

The history behind our coast is different to the rest of the New Forest... including stories interweaving nature, crime (smuggling), long-lost industry and the military as well as the popularity of its western shore as a beach destination.

The nature and geography of our coastline

Southampton Water is a tidal estuary which is geographically classed as a ria (or drowned valley). Flowing into Southampton Water and subsequently into the Solent are the rivers Test, Itchen and Hamble. The deep waters of the estuary have led to Southampton becoming one of the UK’s major ports and the stopping point for many luxury cruise liners. Southampton Water, and the Solent are popular locations for water sports, particularly yachting.  

The tranquillity of this coast and the inaccessibility of much of the foreshore are what keep the wildlife coming back. This includes wildfowl, egrets, herons, birds of prey and, of course, the famous New Forest Ponies who can occasionally be glimpsed rolling in sand-patches on our isolated beaches.

Read on as we explore more about the areas of our coastline…

Eling and the salt marshes

The coast towards the higher end of the Southampton Water is mainly salt marsh due to the brackish water conditions. Near to Totton you can find Eling, which forms part of the same parish. Which falls just outside of the National Park boundary.

Eling is well-known for the Eling Tide Mill. There has been a mill on this site for over 900 years and remains one of the only working tide mills in the UK and is still used in the production of flour. There is the two-mile Eling Tide Mill Experience walk that visitors can download and includes stops at the mill itself as well as to Eling and Bury marshes, a Site of Scientific Interest and a popular spot for winter birds.

Hythe to Calshot

Further south along Southampton Water, you will come to the town of Hythe with its pretty marina and the Hythe Pier Railway. From Hythe it is possible to catch a ferry over to Southampton. It’s also a great viewing place for seeing the cruise liners arrive and depart across the water.

Further along the coast you will come across Fawley oil refinery. Although not a visitor attraction, the site was used in the filming for some of “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”, where the refinery doubled up as a Moroccan security facility!

As Southampton Water joins onto The Solent, you will find Calshot Spit, a one-mile long bank of shingle and sand which protrudes out to the east. At the end of the spit is Calshot Castle, (originally built by Henry VIII) and the Calshot Activities Centre, with its dry ski slope, climbing wall and velodrome.


Further west of Calshot, you'll find the wonderful Lepe beach nearby the small hamlet of Lepe. This hamlet looks over the Solent and forms part of the parish with nearby Exbury. Lepe Country Park is located nearby and is home to a beach, pine-fringed cliffs, a café and wildflower meadows. There are regular events that take place on site here including nature walks and family days. There is also an interesting history to the area with remains from WWII and D-Day.

Not far from Lepe, the Beaulieu river splits the land with its estuary just south of Buckler’s Hard.

North Solent National Nature Reserve

One of the larger National Nature Reserves, the North Solent encompasses an area of 820 hectares and is formed mainly of coastal, grassland, woodland, heathland, reedbeds, valley mires, freshwater through to saline ditch and lagoon habitats. The area is rich in flora and fauna. Birds that can be seen here at various times of the year include: lapwing, skylark, teal and widgeon. It is also an area for finding the pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly.

Lymington to Barton on Sea

This stretch of coastline is more developed with the seaside towns of LymingtonMilford on Sea and the village of Barton on Sea, all of which come with amenities and facilities including cafes, parking and shops.

That said, there is plenty of history in the area in addition to some amazing geological features. A lot of the stretch of coastline near Lymington was used in years gone by for salt production. Today, these low-lying areas are havens for wetland birds.

The shingle spit from Milford-on-sea, Hurst Spit, is similar to Calshot Spit in that it too has a castle at the end of it. Hurst Castle was also built by Henry VIII as a strategic defence castle.

Lymington is a seaside town steeped in history, which you can learn about at St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery. From days of fishing, smuggling and more. From here you can take boat trips out into the harbour as well as the ferry over to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.

Explore our coastline for yourself

Why don't you head out to one of our many beautiful beaches and enjoy the coast on a fresh, sea air walk while following one of our many suggested coastal walking routes? Take your family, friends and even your dog out and enjoy our wonderful coast together.

The main New Forest beaches are at:

  • Milford on Sea
  • ​Barton on Sea
  • Lepe
  • Calshot

Enjoy far reaching views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and the Needles from many of our towns and villages on the beautiful New Forest coastline, just don’t forget to share your pictures with us on social media (@TheNewForestUK on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter).

For those who want to get closer to the coast still, there are plenty of companies to help you make the most of this secret coast. Escape Yachting at will help you get on the water and New Forest Activities offer canoeing tours of Beaulieu River or sea kayaking. 

If you enjoy walking, then we’d recommend looking up the Solent Way. This is a 60-mile walk which starts at Milford-on-Sea and takes in the seaside towns of Lymington and Hythe before winding its way east eventually to Emsworth Harbour, near Portsmouth. Even if you don’t have the time to walk the whole distance of the walk, you can break it down into smaller sections offering enjoyable walks such as the stretch between Lymington and Beaulieu.

Visit our secret coast...

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