31st December 2013 – New Year’s Eve
Cast your mind back, if you will, to that awful weather in the run up to Christmas, all over Christmas, through New Year, and on into…oh, yes, it’s nearly the end of March and we’re only just now really coming out the other side of it (…and I sincerely hope I haven’t jinxed the rest of Spring with that comment!)
But if you can remember the weather back then, it was windy, it was wet, and ferry cancellations on the Irish Sea were becoming the norm, rather than the exception. You didn’t call the ferry-check line to see if your boat was cancelled, instead you checked to see if they were going to try to run them at all that day. We normally head to the UK just before Christmas, but this year we had decided to go over for New Year and for my birthday (early in January) instead…and we were SO lucky with our ferry bookings this time around, in that both our booked boats sailed, on almost the only 2 days in a three-week period where any ferries ran at all.
In the run up to our trip I spent every waking hour, prior to our departure, calling the ferry-check line, checking the ferry company’s website, whilst refreshing their app on my mobile phone, even when we were on the boat, just in case! Once on the boat, we spent the crossing sitting on uncomfortable chairs at a small table, with an elderly couple who clearly wanted the table all to themselves, due to finding the Stena Lounge packed to the rafters (the downside of all the boat cancellations, is a ferry that is jam-packed with passengers from the cancelled boats), combined with the fact that the girl at Check-In forgot our ‘Priority Boarding’ tag, which meant we were literally the very last vehicle to load on. After driving through some pretty awful weather on the A40, the M4, the A34, the M3 and the M27 we finally landed outside my mother’s house at around 5am…my dear mother was up and raring to go, ready to cook us a Full
Irish English breakfast, but after hugs & greetings we sent her back to bed, and collapsed in our own bed to catch some much-needed ZZZs.
We decided the perfect antidote to the long journey, and the stress in the run up to the journey, was a short trip to a nearby beach, to blow out some cobwebs, and Lepe Beach fitted the bill perfectly.
Lepe Beach, on the edge of the New Forest, is a short but fascinating, and historically significant, stretch of beach on the south coast of England. It a place I love, and we could often be found there previously, along with hundreds of others, on a summer’s evening, enjoying the world-famous fireworks display at the end of Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight.
We decided to take both campervans (Mum has a VW campervan too) – any excuse for a mini VW convoy, and nothing beats freshly brewed tea at the end of a walk 🙂
The first section of beach at the end of the car park was closed, due to erosion, so we initially set off out of the car park, up a path on to the cliff top area. A section of track diverts you around the eroded area and takes you out towards the beach, passing a lovely anchor monument, commemorating the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I’d forgotten that this was a great spot for watching the enormous freighters that sail out of Southampton Docks, and also good viewing for the large cruise ships that like to visit too!
Once you emerge on to the beach, it’s not long before remnants of the D-Day preparations make themselves known. We never worked out what this square structure was for, and the map on the info board didn’t show it at all, but the ramp structure nearby was fairly obvious. The structures out in the sea are Dolphins, and they formed part of the pier-head used to load ships departing for Normandy. It was hard not to dwell on the fact that perhaps that ramp was the last bit of the UK that some of those brave troops would touch.
Further along the beach and the concrete structures become a little more ordered. Fortunately info boards have a very handy map, showing you what you’re looking at, and giving you a brush up on your history while they’re at it! Lots of plaques can be found, dotted around, and make for interesting reading. A few small wreaths could be seen here and there, we guessed that they may have been there from Remembrance Sunday back in November. The Trigger Release Gear Site was used to house the trigger release gear which held the caissons in position until they were ready to be launched. The Winching Gear Bases were used to winch the caissons for launching
We soon came to what we later learned were the rolling track walls. These ran either side of the concrete construction platforms, and carried the timber rails used to move the caissons. Each caisson was carried on eighteen 2m carriages that rolled along the rails on 75mm steel balls. The completed caissons were winched along the walls to the launching area. You could clearly see the concrete slipways, running from the rolling track walls down to the sea. These were used to launch the caissons at high tide. The Bouthwater bricks have survived remarkably well! I’m not sure how clearly they came out in the photograph, but imprints of footprints set in the concrete sent a little shiver up my spine, and I thought about all who had walked there, and how important it all was in the history of Europe, and wondered at who may have left those footprints, before the concrete set firm.
The husband couldn’t resist a bit of beach combing, and came up with two cracking oyster shells, no pearls sadly, and lots of large rough-cut timber planks. If you were wanting build a large, rustic shed, then Lepe Beach could almost have provided all the wood you’d need! No good for surfing though…
Just before we reached the end of the public beach we found Gavin’s bench. A really lovely and moving memorial to a loved one. Whoever you were Gavin, your bench has a fabulous view!
Not far past Gavin’s bench is a sign advising that the next section of beach is privately owned, and so we turned and made out way back to the campervans, to get the kettle on for a well-earned cuppa! Judging by the big black cloud coming our way, we finished our walk just in time!
A day out at the beach, just the thing for blowing the cobwebs away, with a bit of WWII history thrown in for good measure! Lepe Beach may not be a big beach, but it had played a hugely important part in World War Two.
Here are the rest of the pics…
A quick history lesson on the historical significance of Lepe Beach – an abridged version of the info boards located on the beach:
Lepe isn’t just about unhindered views of the spectacular Cowes fireworks! During World War II Lepe and the surrounding area played an important role, especially in the preparations for D-Day and the Normandy Landings of 1944. ‘Mulberry Harbours‘ were giant temporary structures, developed to offload cargo on to the beaches to support the invasion of Normandy. They were made up of floating piers, sunken ships, and giant concrete ‘caissons‘ – watertight structures which blocked the wind and waves. Starnsore Point at Lepe was used for the construction of 6 ‘caissons’, which were then floated across the channel for use during the invasion.
Lepe was also a link in the ‘pipeline under the ocean’, codenamed PLUTO. A pumphouse situated at Lepe pumped oil to the Isle of Wight, and onwards, via further pumps, to the French coast where it was needed to fuel the war effort.
Lepe was a vital embarkation point for troops, vehicles and supplies; around 6,000 men left from Lepe to take part in the Normandy invasion, a key turning point in the war in North West Europe. The beach was specifically set up for loading heavy equipment, notably the specially adapted tanks known as ‘Hobart’s Funnies’ such as the ‘swimming’ Duplex Drive Sherman tanks.
Today on Lepe Beach you can still see plenty of evidence of wartime activity such as the remains of extensive concrete and brick structures. Thy were used for the construction and launching of the caissons used in the Mulberry Harbours, and for embarkation of troops and supplies.
For more information on Lepe Beach please do visit: http://www.hants.gov.uk/lepe