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Satellite image showing the Solent, separating the Isle of Wight from mainland Britain

The Solent is a stretch of sea separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland of Great Britain. It is a great centre for yachting and is renowned as one of the most expensive waters to cross by ferry in the world. It is sheltered by the Isle of Wight and has a very complex tidal pattern, which has greatly benefited Southampton's success as a port. Portsmouth lies on its shores. Spithead, an area off Gilkicker Point near Gosport, is renowned as the place where the Royal Navy is reviewed by the monarch of the day.



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Calshot Castle protects the mouth of Southampton Water.

Remains of human habitation have been found from the prehistoric, Roman and Saxon eras, showing that humans retreated towards progressively higher ground over these periods.

During the late Middle Ages, Henry VIII of England built an extensive set of coastal defences at each end of the Solent, part of his Device Forts, effectively controlling access to east and west. More forts were built on land and at sea in the 19th century.

Even today a bank in the centre of the Solent, Bramble Bank, is exposed at low water springs. This, combined with the unique tidal patterns in the area, makes navigation challenging. There is an annual cricket match on Bramble Bank during the lowest tide of the year - although it usually ends fairly quickly when the wicket is flooded! An interesting reference to this practice is found in Hansard, the British parliamentary record, during the debate on the Licensing Bill (Lords) in Standing Committee D, on 8 May 2003. In this debate the Island's MP, Andrew Turner, is discussing the problems of licensing when the event to be licensed falls between two authorities, and in a light-hearted way cites the example of the Bramble Bank cricket match. Link to the transcript (


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Salt marsh near Lepe Country Park, with the Isle of Wight in the distance.

Ten thousand years ago a band of relatively resistant Chalk rock, part of the Southern England Chalk Formation ran from the Purbeck area of south Dorset to the eastern end of Isle of Wight, parallel to the South Downs. Inland behind the Chalk was less resistant sands, clays and gravels. Through these weak soils and rocks ran many rivers, from the Dorset Frome in the west and including the Stour, Beaulieu River, Test, Itchen and Hamble, which created a large estuary flowing west to east and into the English Channel at the eastern end of the present Solent. This great estuary ran through a wooded river and is now referred to as the Solent River.

When glaciers covering the north of Britain melted at the end of the last ice age, two things happened to create the Solent. Firstly, a great amount of flood water ran into the Solent River and its tributaries, carving the estuary deeper. Second, the melting of the ice lifted high weight from the north of the island of Great Britain, and over several centuries the island tilted about an east-west axis. This caused localised seal-level changes throughout Britain, and in the coast submerged many valleys creating today's characteristic rias, such as Southampton Water and Poole Harbour, as well as submerging the Solent. As the sea level rose, the estuary of the Solent River was gradually inundated. Eventually the Isle of Wight became separated from the mainland as the chalk ridge between The Needles on the island and Old Harry Rocks on the mainland was eroded. This is thought to have occurred about 7,000 years ago.

The process of coastal change is still continuing, with the soft cliffs on some parts of the Solent, such as Fort Victoria, constantly eroding, whilst other parts, such as Ryde Sands, accreting.

Other facts

The Short Solent was a type of flying boat used by the RAF during World War II. It was a more advanced form of the Short Sunderland.

See Also

Southampton Water


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