My tour of the Solent area, which began just after Christmas, is timed perfectly to reach Calshot Spit at about the beginning of March because 100 years ago, in March 1913, RNAS Calshot was first opened as a naval air station to launch and service flying boats before and during the First World War.
It was also from Calshot, nearly two decades later in 1931, that the sea plane S.6B was launched, and was the outright winner of the Schneider Trophy.
Another interesting fact, announced by a plaque on a mess wall, was that Lawrence of Arabia was stationed there once too.
(as was my Dad just after the end of the Second World War, and he flew in the Sunderland expeditions to Germany, but there is no plaque for my Dad unfortunately!)
Quite a different aircraft entirely, the Sunderland.
So, arriving at Calshot Spit today, a short journey from Hythe on my virtual tour, we can find the amazing old flying boat hangers still put to good use but as an activity centre. The whole area is a wonderful place for all ages to enjoy instruction and experience in a variety of sports including sailing and wind surfing, but there’s an indoor cycle track and ‘rock climbing wall’ too.
Many information boards in the main hanger tell the history of the site and you can also relax in the Spinnaker Bar and watch the sailing, at what feels like just a stones throw from the coast of the Isle of Wight. Alternatively you can stroll up to Calshot Castle, one of Henry VIII forts, guarding the Solent and the entrance to Southampton Water. Standing there admiring the views it’s not hard to imagine all those famous moments in history with the excitement of sea plane launches and the huge flying boats.
One of my characters in Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home was stationed at Calshot before he joined up in 1914 and served on an early sea plane carrier out in Turkey.
You can watch an episode of Inside Out on the amazing events at Calshot beginning in March 1913 and on through to just after the end of WW2 in 1948!
(available for another few days only on BBC i player)
This is the first of three centenaries celebrated in my novel
and concludes my tour of the Solent area. The next post goes Beyond the Solent!