“It’s all fur coats and no knickers”. A certain Cheshire town was always described thus by my uncle. I never really knew exactly what he meant though I generally took it to mean that he thought the folks there were “pretending to be something they weren’t.” I suspect he’d have had something to say about Lymington too. As the sailing mecca of the UK, it can’t help looking pretty with all those masts jostling for position, yet…
During the summer months it’s teeming with Helly Hansen sweatshirts, deck shoes and rows of oiled female bodies slapped on the decks of the yachts, roasting in the sun. This, however, just serves to emphasise the distinction that this is a town of ‘have and have nots’. Whenever I visit the town (which I’m fond of, incidently) something always happens to sap my spirits. This time was to be no exception, as I’ll describe in a brief post I’ll publish shortly.
One of the best views over the bustling marina is from the Royal Lymington Yacht Club. I’m name dropping of course because it’s by invitation only so no chance of simply pitching up and grabbing a table. If you are lucky enough to have a yachtie friend and once through the hallowed doors decide on a table by the window, don’t be alarmed if the Isle of Wight ferry appears to be heading straight for you. It passes so close by you can almost shake hands with the passengers.
Around the corner from the RLYC is the open air swimming baths. I decided to wander along the sea wall and check for bathers. A rather large lady radiant in fluorescent pink was barking a stream of orders to her skinny-as-a-whippet husband who moved silently about doing her bidding. These are the stories you read about – when the long suffering chap suddenly snaps and goes a bit crazy with an axe and a cement mixer.
Finding a convenient spot on the sea wall (by convenient I mean ‘all to myself’) I stopped for lunch.
A kayak lay by the wall. A few years ago I rashly agreed to a day’s kayaking course a little further along the coast on the Beaulieu river, 12 miles of tidal waterway which eventually spills into the Solent. Our instructor dispensed relevant life jackets and I made damned sure to keep my watch and phone with me so I had a good excuse to avoid the ‘kayak rolling’ manoeuvre which I suspect he had up his sleeve for our ‘end of course’ treat. We wriggled into the kayaks and bobbed around desperately trying to stay put whilst the instructor ran through the plan for the day. In brief, this mainly involved avoiding smashing into the fleet of gleaming Sunseekers moored along the banks. If we pulled that off successfully we were to be rewarded with a game of ‘kayak tag’ further down the river. Any remaining survivors would then point their craft 90 degrees to the bank and paddle furiously until lurching up into the mud and traipsing off into the conveniently adjacent pub.
As he talked, I was peering into the water. I was double checking just how deep the river was here but, ever attentive, our chap took this as a sign I was interested in the stuff growing just beneath the surface. He paddled over and snatched up a great clump of green stuff, informing me that this was sea asparagus. I’d never heard of it (I think it’s sometimes referred to as samphire) and thought he was joking at first, especially when he urged me to eat some. He passed me a bunch and the challenge was on. He was very good looking so I couldn’t possibly refuse.
I will never forget the taste. Completely delicious. For someone like me who adores seafood it is heaven. Just like the best ready salted crisps you’ve ever tasted; equally crunchy but with more vitamins and much less calories. I sat there munching away and was the last to paddle away, so smitten was I. The instructor eventually had to double back and round me up which is probably what I was angling for all along.
As I got the hang of kayaking in a straight line I relaxed and enjoyed the surroundings. There are some amazing houses along this stretch including the bizarre roundhouse owned by Mike Browne, founder of the Snow+Rock chain of ski and sports equipment shops. Confined to a wheelchair after a skiing accident, he became a passionate sailor and competed in the Paralympics. He found the house when he was looking for somewhere with a convenient mooring. The house is now up for sale.
Reflections over, I decided to continue my wander and started off towards Keyhaven, where the mudflats and salt marshes of the nature reserve are a magnet for wildlife.
I’ll be detailing my visit to Keyhaven in my next post.