Last month saw the arrival of a new addition to the family – a shiny new(ish) VW camper van. After many years of overseas travel – including a wide range of visits to all seven continents – it was always my intention that on retirement more time would be dedicated to exploring parts of the UK in greater detail. A variety of different locations already form a lengthy list of places to visit in the future, and as an underlying theme, I intend to search out a number of special places that I used as textbook case studies or examples to illustrate my lessons over a thirty five year teaching career.
The purchase of the van was always completed with the intention of getting on the road when the weather improves sometime next spring, but we couldn’t resist making a start over the autumn and winter. I had for a while been looking forward to visiting Portsmouth to see the Mary Rose Museum and HMS Victory, so decided to combine this with a visit to my first textbook location – Hurst Castle spit in Hampshire. When teaching about coastal geography and coastal processes, I often used Hurst Castle as an example of a shingle spit, and for many years I made reference to this textbook photograph:
For many, many years in my teaching career I was not able to enjoy the luxury of digital technology – simply because it had not yet been invented! Indeed, I remember fondly the first arrival of a video player in my school, and walking my whole class to a dedicated room at the far end of the building to enjoy this exciting new replacement for my old museum-service film reels. Textbooks made a much more important contribution to lessons in those days, and the image of Hurst Castle came from a textbook titled ‘Investigating Physical Geography’ by Neville Grenyer. Maybe the more mature geographers will still remember this publication?
The spit here is actually a classic hook-shaped shingle bank formed from flint pebbles eroded from the cliffs to the west. It extends for a mile and a half from the town of Milford-On-Sea, and it’s end is only three quarters of a mile from the Isle of Wight. The spit has been declining in volume since the 1940s when coastal protection works in Christchurch Bay began to interrupt the flow of shingle along the coast. In 1989 the spit became so weak that it was in danger of being permanently breached, and a stabilisation scheme was put into place between 1996-7 which rebuilt the spit with dredged shingle, as well as adding revetment protection from Norwegian larvikite boulders at the end of the spit near to the castle.
Hurst Castle itself is situated at the seaward end of the spit and is in a perfect location to defend the western approach to the Solent. It was originally built by Henry VIII as one of a chain of coastal fortresses and was completed in 1544. It is open to the public and managed by English Heritage.
I still have a small library of textbooks that I used throughout my teaching, and I will spend the winter revisiting their pages to hopefully rekindle some warm memories of work in the classroom, as well as planning some routes for the coming year to explore some of the key geography sites of the UK.