On a warm, grey day last week, a group from our village met for lunch and our summer outing. This year we visited the hamlet of Bucklers Hard, which slopes down to the Beaulieu River and has long been a part of the Beaulieu Estate.
Bucklers Hard was a ship building community for centuries, using oak wood from the New Forest to fashion into ships. The skilled carpenters and shipwrights lived in cottages bordering a wide passageway, along which the timber could be brought down to dry docks at the edge of the water. Ships were built in wooden scaffolding frames for support and a small ship was often built beside a larger vessel, so that leftover small lengths of wood from the larger vessel could still be used.
Shipbuilding here was at its busiest during the eighteenth century, as the Royal Navy built its fleet to answer the threat posed by the French. Under the direction of Henry Adams, three "ships of the line", HMS Euryalus, HMS Swiftsure and HMS Agamemnon, were built here. They were part of Admiral Lord Nelson`s fleet that won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson`s own ship, HMS Victory, was built in the deeper waters of Chatham Dockyard in Kent.
The inlets below are the remains of the two docks where ships were built.
Today`s peaceful grassy sward was once a busy, bustling, noisy yard where the craftsmen plied their trades and where horses and carts came and went, delivering wood and supplies.
The rows of Georgian houses at Bucklers Hard were home to those who built the ships. From senior ships architects to the lowliest carpenters, they lived alongside each other in houses that reflected their status in both size and facilities.
Below is the reconstructed interior of a shipwright`s home in the late 1700s.
One of the cottages is a small chapel where the community worshipped.
This plaque commemorates the life of a more modern sailor, Sir Francis Chichester, who kept his Gypsy Moth yachts in the marina that is now the mainstay of maritime life at Bucklers Hard.
Chichester was the first yachtsman to sail solo around the world, and in both directions.
Today, the Beaulieu River at Bucklers Hard is crowded with yachts of all descriptions. A pleasure boat takes visitors for trips along the river.
Seventy years ago, this tranquil waterway was a hive of activity. Motor torpedo boats were built here during WWII and the river was an embarkation point as the Allies planned and launched Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Nazi Occupied France. Many troops embarked and sailed down the Beaulieu River to reach the Solent and the English Channel, before heading south for the Normandy coast and the D Day landings of early June, 1944.
Across the Beaulieu River are the marshes and woods of the Exbury Estate.
A great variety of seabirds and waders live and breed on the river.
Fenced off from the public are two areas of the Bucklers Hard quay, where oystercatchers have built their nests in shallow shingle scrapes.
Below, the female oystercatcher is sitting on her nest in full view of the world.
As we watched, her mate arrived, the chicks emerged from their mother`s feathers and ran to meet him, to be fed.
This gave the mother bird a chance to stretch her legs, so she walked along the water`s edge, partly hidden from our view by grass and oxeye daisies.