The Solent (/ˈsoʊlənt/ SOH-lənt) is the strait that separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland of England. It is about 20 miles (32 kilometres) long and varies in width between 2 12 and 5 mi (4 and 8 km), although the Hurst Spit which projects 1 12 mi (2.4 km) into the Solent narrows the sea crossing between Hurst Castle and Colwell Bay to just over 1 mi (1.6 km).

The Solent is a major shipping lane for passenger, freight and military vessels. It is an important recreational area for water sports, particularly yachting,[2] hosting the Cowes Week sailing event annually. It is sheltered by the Isle of Wight and has a complex tidal pattern, which has benefited Southampton's success as a port, providing a "double high tide" that extends the tidal window during which deep-draught ships can be handled.[3] Portsmouth lies on its shores. Spithead, an area off Gilkicker Point near Gosport, is known as the place where the Royal Navy is traditionally reviewed by the monarch of the day.

The area is of great ecological and landscape importance, particularly because of the coastal and estuarine habitats along its edge.[4] Much of its coastline is designated as a Special Area of Conservation.[5] It is bordered by and forms a part of the character of a number of nationally important protected landscapes including the New Forest National Park, and the Isle of Wight AONB.

Official nameSolent and Southampton Water
Designated1 October 1998
Reference no.965[1]
Satellite image showing the Solent, separating the Isle of Wight from mainland England
Solent from Gurnard
View of the Solent from Gurnard, near Cowes, Isle of Wight
The Solent, view from Wootton, IW, UK
The Solent from Wootton, Isle of Wight, showing Wightlink Fishbourne–Portsmouth ferries crossing.


The word first appears in Saxon records as Solentan, but pre-dates the Saxon languages and is first recorded as Soluente in 731.[6] This original spelling suggests a possible derivation from the Brittonic element -uente, which has endured throughout the history of Hampshire, as in the Roman city of Venta Belgarum (latinised as Venta), the post-Roman kingdom of Y Went, and the modern name of Winchester.[7]

A pre-Celtic and supposedly Semitic root meaning "free-standing rock" has also been suggested as a possible description of the cliffs marking western approach of the strait. This Semitic origin may be a relic of the Phoenician traders who sailed to Britain from the Mediterranean as part of the ancient tin trade.[8]

Another suggestion is that the name may reflect the number of Northern Gannets (previously known as Solans or the Solan Goose) along the coast.[9]


Originally a river valley, the Solent has gradually widened and deepened over many thousands of years. The River Frome was the source of the River Solent, with four other rivers — the Rivers Avon, Hamble, Itchen and Test — being tributaries of it.[10][11] Seismic sounding has shown that, when the sea level was lower, the River Solent incised its bed to a depth of at least 46 metres (151 ft) below current Ordnance Datum.[12] Link to map showing former course of Solent River

The Purbeck Ball Clay contains kaolinite and mica, showing that in the Lutetian stage of the Eocene water from a granite area, probably Dartmoor, flowed into the River Solent.

Seabed survey shows that when the sea level was lower in the Ice Age the River Solent continued the line of the eastern Solent (Spithead) to a point roughly due east of the east end of the Isle of Wight and due south of a point about 3 kilometres (2 mi) west of Selsey Bill, and then south-south-west for about 30 kilometres (19 mi), and then south for about 14 kilometres (9 mi), and then joined the main river flowing down the dry bed of the English Channel.

During the Ice Age, meanders of the Solent's tributaries became incised: for example, an incised meander of the River Test is buried under reclaimed land under the Westquay shopping centre (Google Earth link), near Southampton docks;[13] link to geological map of the area.

Since the retreat of the most recent glaciation the South East of England, like the Netherlands, has been steadily slowly sinking through historic time due to forebulge sinking.

A new theory – that the Solent was originally a lagoon – was reported in the Southern Daily Echo by Garry Momber from the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology.[14][15][16]

The Isle of Wight was formerly contiguous with the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset — the Needles on Wight and Old Harry Rocks on Purbeck are the last remnant of this connection.

20050515 129 solent
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 Isle of Purbeck area of south Dorset to the eastern end of Isle of Wight, parallel to the South Downs. Inland behind the Chalk were 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 valley and is now referred to as the Solent River.[17]

When glaciers covering more northern latitudes 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. Secondly, post-glacial rebound after the removal of the weight of ice over Scotland caused the island of Great Britain to tilt about an east-west axis, because isostatic rebound in Scotland and Scandinavia is pulling mantle rock out from under the Netherlands and south England: this is forebulge sinking. Over thousands of years, the land sank in the south (a process still continuing) to submerge many valleys creating today's characteristic rias, such as Southampton Water and Poole Harbour, as well as submerging the Solent. The estuary of the Solent River was gradually flooded, and 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 happened about 7,500 years ago.[17]

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, are accreting.

The Solent is a comparatively shallow stretch of tidal water. It has an unusual double tide[18] that is both favourable and hazardous to maritime activities with its strong tidal movements and quickly changing sea states.

Coupled with the above, the Solent is renowned for its large volume of vessel usage, thus resulting in one of the highest density of declared lifeboat stations in the world. This includes six RNLI (e.g. Calshot and Cowes) and five independently run stations (e.g. Hamble Lifeboat and Gosport and Fareham Inshore Rescue Service).


IsleofWightmap 1945
A map of the Solent and surrounding areas from 1945

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. Offshore from Bouldnor, Isle of Wight, divers have found at 11 metres (36 ft) depth the submerged remains of a wooden building that was built there on land around 6000 BC when the sea level was lower and the land was higher.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]

There is an early Norman period report that much land on the south of Hayling Island was lost to sea flood. South of Hayling Island in the Solent is a deposit of stones, which scuba divers found to be the remains of a stone building, probably a church. There is an old report that this church was formerly in the middle of Hayling Island. If similar amounts of land have been lost on other parts of the Solent shore, the Solent was likely much narrower in Roman times, and it is possible to believe Diodorus Siculus's report that in his time men could wade to the Isle of Wight at low tide. Similarly, it is known that Selsey was once a port town, with Selsey Abbey and a cathedra recorded until 1075, when the see of the Diocese of Sussex was moved inland to Chichester.

Calshot castle evening
Calshot Castle protected the mouth of Southampton Water

In the early 16th century 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. In 1545, a naval battle was fought in the Solent between English and French naval forces. The battle was inconclusive with no significant losses other than Henry VIII's flagship, the Mary Rose, which foundered and sank while making a sharp turn. From a total crew of over 400, fewer than 35 survived the sinking. The remains of the Mary Rose were discovered at the bottom of the Solent by a salvage project in 1971 and were successfully salvaged in 1982.

In 1685 King James II narrowly escaped shipwreck while sailing in the Solent. Musician Henry Purcell wrote "They that go down to the sea in ships" to be sung by the extraordinary voice of John Gostling in commemoration of this event. More forts were built on land and at sea in the 19th century. These were generally known as Palmerston Forts.

The Solent was one of two sites for the sailing events at the 1908 Summer Olympics.[28] The Solent became the departure area of the ill-fated ocean liner, Titanic, in April 1912.

A bank in the centre of the Solent, Bramble Bank, is exposed at low water at spring tide. 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, but games are often cut short by rising tide.
According to the BBC, the 12 mi (800 m) tide at Ryde gives a major advantage to hovercraft which can travel right up a beach and the Solent is the only place in Western Europe where there is a regular passenger service. It celebrated 50 years of operation in 2015.[29]

See also


  1. ^ "Solent and Southampton Water". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  2. ^ Solentpedia: recreation
  3. ^ "Unbeatable combination - DP World Southampton".
  4. ^ Solentpedia: biodiversity
  5. ^ Solentpedia: protected areas
  6. ^ A.D. Mills, Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 1998: ISBN 0-19-280074-4), p. 318.
  7. ^ Matasović, Ranko. "wentā" in the Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic at Indo-European Etymological Dictionaries Online. Brill Online, 2014. Accessed 24 July 2014.
  8. ^ Theo, Vennemann. Europa Vasconica, Europa Semitica. pp. 511–512.
  9. ^ "Our Heritage". Solentpedia.
  10. ^ "Geology of Hengistbury Head". Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  11. ^ "Solent Geology - Introduction - Dr. Ian West". Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  12. ^ Dyer, K.R (1975), "The buried channels of the 'Solent River', southern England", Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 86 (2): 239–245, doi:10.1016/S0016-7878(75)80103-9
  13. ^
  14. ^ Peter Law (14 Sep 2008). "Secrets of the Solent". Daily Echo.
  15. ^, Startling evidence of a Stone Age structure in the Solent. - Retrieved 03 Oct. 2009
  16. ^ SCOPAC Research Project - Archaeology & Coastal Change
  17. ^ a b Murphy, Peter (2009). English Coast: A History and a Prospect. London: Continuum. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-1-8472-5143-5.
  18. ^ "English Channel Double Tides".
  19. ^ Momber, G., Satchell, J & Gillespie, J. 2009. Mesolithic Horizons Volume 1. Occupation in a submerged Mesolithic landscape pp. Eds McCarton, S, Schulting, R., Warren G & Woodman, P Oxbow 324-332.
  20. ^ Momber, G, 2008. Boatyard beneath the waves. Current Archaeology. L Westcott (ed), 28 (12), London: Current Publishing.
  21. ^ Momber, G. 2007. Submerged in Mesolithic Archaeology. In Mesolithic Studies in the North Sea Basin and Beyond. Proceedings of a Newcastle Conference. Eds. Clive Waddington & Kristian Pederson. Oxbow 33-39
  22. ^ Momber, G. 2006. Mesolithic Occupation: 11m below the waves: In A. Hafner, U. Niffler and U. Ruoff ed. The New View: Underwater Archaeology and the Historic Picture. Antiqua 40. Basel: 56 – 63.
  23. ^ Momber, G. 2006. Extracting the Cultural Heritage: a new challenge for the underwater archaeologist: Underwater Technology. Vol. 26 No. 4 pp 105-111.
  24. ^ Momber, G. 2005. The Art of Living Under Water: Book review: IJNA (2005) 34.1 p 347
  25. ^ Momber, G. and Campbell, C. 2006. Stone Age Stove under the Solent: IJNA (2005) 34.2 p 148-9
  26. ^ Momber, G. 2004. The inundated landscapes of the Western Solent: In Submarine prehistoric archaeology of the North Sea: research priorities and collaboration with industry. Research Report 141 37-42
  27. ^ Momber, G. (2000). Drowned and Deserted: a submerged prehistoric landscape in the Solent. I.J.N.A. 29.1: 86-99
  28. ^ 1908 Summer Olympics official report. p. 339.
  29. ^ Justin Parkinson (9 November 2015). "What happened to passenger hovercraft?". BBC news magazine. Retrieved 9 November 2015.

External links

Coordinates: 50°47′12″N 1°17′42″W / 50.78667°N 1.29500°W

BBC Radio Solent

BBC Radio Solent is the BBC Local Radio service for the Isle of Wight and the English counties of Hampshire and Dorset. Its studios are located in Southampton, in the same purpose-built office block in Havelock Road as the BBC South Today news studios, and there are district offices in Portsmouth, Newport, Bournemouth, Poole and Dorchester. It was based until 1991 in South Western House, the former railway hotel at the old Southampton Terminus station.

Battle of the Solent

The naval Battle of the Solent took place on 18 and 19 July 1545 during the Italian Wars between the fleets of Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England, in the Solent between Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The engagement was inconclusive, and is most notable for the sinking of the English carrack Mary Rose.

In 1545 Francis launched an invasion of England with 30,000 soldiers in more than 200 ships. Against this armada — larger than the Spanish Armada forty-three years later — the English had about 12,000 soldiers and 80 ships.

The French expedition started disastrously, the flagship Carraquon perishing on 6 July in an accidental fire whilst at anchor in the Seine. Admiral Claude d'Annebault transferred his flag to La Maistresse, which then ran aground as the fleet set sail. The leaks were patched and the fleet crossed the Channel. The French entered the Solent and landed troops on the Isle of Wight.

On 18 July the English came out of Portsmouth and engaged the French at long range, little damage being done on either side. La Maitresse was close to sinking due to her earlier damage, but although d'Annebault had to change his flagship again, she was saved.

On the night of 18 July, Henry dined aboard Great Harry, the flagship of Admiral John Dudley, Viscount Lisle.

The next day was calm, and the French employed their galleys against the immobile English vessels. Toward evening a breeze sprang up, and as Mary Rose, the flagship of Vice Admiral George Carew, advanced, she foundered and sank with the loss of all but 35–40 of her crew. The precise reasons are not known, but it was believed at the time that the crew had forgotten to close the lower gunports after firing, so that when she heeled over in the breeze she took on water and sank. A witness with the French fleet believed that the galleys had sunk her, although this is not supported by other contemporary accounts and no physical evidence of this remains.The wind subsequently died down but Lisle made use of the tides and currents to position his fleet and disrupt the formation of the larger French ships.

The invasion of the Isle of Wight was repulsed. The attacking troops attempted to divide the defence by landing at several sites but did not venture inland or regroup. There were heavy casualties on both sides at the Battle of Bonchurch, the French at Sandown hastily retreated after losing their commanders in an attack on a newly built fort, and those that landed at Bembridge were ambushed.On 22 July unable to resupply, and struggling with a leaking ship and illness among his crew, d'Annebaulton abandoned the invasion. He recalled the French troops and his fleet departed.

The next day the French landed 1,500 troops near the town of Seaford, around 40 miles to the east. They attempted to pillage a nearby village and were repelled by local militia armed with longbows. D’Annebault then returned to France.

Bluestar (bus company)

Solent Blue Line Ltd, which trades primarily under the name Bluestar, is a bus operator providing services in south Hampshire. It is a subsidiary of the Go South Coast sector of the Go-Ahead Group.

Bournemouth International Centre

The Bournemouth International Centre (commonly known as the BIC ) in Bournemouth, Dorset, was opened in September 1984. It is one of the largest venues for conferences, exhibitions, entertainment and events in southern England. Additionally, it is well known for hosting national conferences of major British political parties and trade unions. At opening it comprised two halls, the Windsor Hall and the Tregonwell Hall.

Climax Studios

Climax Studios Limited is a British video game developer based in Portsmouth, England, United Kingdom that are best known for their work on the 2004 action role-playing game Sudeki and the 2007 and 2009 survival horror video games Silent Hill: Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories from the Silent Hill franchise.


Lee-on-the-Solent, often referred to as Lee-on-Solent, is a small seaside district within the Borough of Gosport in Hampshire, England about five miles (8 km) west of Portsmouth. The area is located on the coast of the Solent. It is primarily a residential area, with an upsurge of mostly local visitors in summer, but is well known as the former home to the Royal Naval Air Station HMS Daedalus (renamed as HMS Ariel from 1959 to 1965).

RNAS Lee-on-Solent (HMS Daedalus)

Royal Naval Air Station Lee-on-Solent (HMS Daedalus) was one of the primary shore airfields of the Fleet Air Arm. First established as a seaplane base in 1917 during the First World War, it later became the main training establishment and administrative centre of the Fleet Air Arm. Situated near Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire, approximately four miles west of Portsmouth on the coast of the Solent at grid reference SU560019, the establishment has now been closed down. The airfield hosts the Solent Enterprise Zone.

River Medina

The River Medina is the main river of the Isle of Wight, England, rising at St Catherine's Down near Blackgang and Chale, and flowing generally northwards through the capital Newport, towards the Solent at Cowes. The river is a navigable tidal estuary from Newport northwards, where it takes the form of a ria (a drowned valley).

Its current state has occurred because the Medina used to be a tributary of what was once the "River Solent" and had a much larger catchment area. As the Solent valley flooded and the island eroded, the river received less water flow and more sediment, causing it to become more tidal.

The river is bridged at Newport. Cowes is connected to East Cowes by a chain ferry known as the Cowes Floating Bridge.The name Medina comes from the Old English Meðune meaning "the middle one", and the current pronunciation was first recorded as 'Medine' in 1196.The river is used by yachtsmen as a very safe harbour. Along the banks of the Medina there are many old warehouses and wharves where in the past flying boats, hovercraft and steam ships were developed and built. The Classic Boat Museum displays much of the river's history alongside the history of yachting. The Island Harbour Marina, at the site of an old tidal mill, is also on the river, about two miles from Newport.

As well as the chain ferry, the River Medina has several small ferries which cater mainly for sailors.

Medina, Western Australia is a suburb in Perth named after it.

River Meon

The River Meon ( MEE-on) is a river that flows through an area of Hampshire in southern England known as the Meon Valley, it flows generally southwards from the South Downs to the Solent. For most of its route it is a chalk stream, with a length of 21 miles (34 km).

Short Solent

The Short Solent is a passenger flying boat that was produced by Short Brothers in the late 1940s. It was developed from the Short Seaford, itself a development of the Short Sunderland military flying boat design, which was too late to serve in World War II.

The first Solent flew in 1946. New Solents were used by BOAC and TEAL, production ending in 1949. Second-hand aircraft were operated until 1958 by a number of small airlines such as Aquila Airways.

Solent Devils

The Solent Devils are an English ice hockey team based in Gosport, Hampshire. They are members of the NIHL South Division 1. They play their games at Gosport Ice Arena. Alexander Cole is currently the captain and Alex Murray is the head coach. They are most renowned for winning the 2011/12 title with 5 games to spare.

The Devils were founded in 2003 (Solent & Gosport Sharks 2003-2007, Solent & Gosport Devils 2007-2014, Solent Devils 2014-present).

Solent Sky

Solent Sky is an aviation museum in Southampton, Hampshire, previously known as Southampton Hall of Aviation.

It depicts the history of aviation in Southampton, the Solent area and Hampshire. There is special focus on the Supermarine aircraft company, based in Southampton, and its most famous products, the Supermarine S.6 seaplane and the Supermarine Spitfire, designed by R. J. Mitchell.

There is also coverage of the Schneider Trophy seaplane races, twice held at Calshot Spit, and the flying boat services which operated from the Solent.

Solent University

Solent University (formerly Southampton Solent University) is a public university based in Southampton, United Kingdom. It has approximately 11,000 students. Its main campus is located on East Park Terrace near the city centre and the maritime hub of Southampton.

Solent University students are represented by Solent Students' Union, which is based on the East Park Terrace campus.

South Hampshire

South Hampshire is a term used mainly to refer to the metropolitan area formed by the cities of Portsmouth and Southampton and their suburbs and commuter towns, in southern Hampshire, England. The area had population of around 1 million based on the 2001 census, and estimated population of over 1.5 million in 2013. It is the most populated part of South East England, excluding London. The area is sometimes referred to as Solent City but the term is controversial.

Southampton Water

Southampton Water is a tidal estuary north of the Solent and the Isle of Wight in England. The city of Southampton lies at its most northerly point. Along its salt marsh-fringed western shores lie the New Forest villages of Hythe and "the waterside", Dibden Bay, and the Esso oil refinery at Fawley. On the slightly steeper eastern shore are the Southampton suburb of Weston, the villages of Netley and Hamble-le-Rice, and the Royal Victoria Country Park.

Together with the Solent, Southampton Water is world-renowned for yachting. It served as one of the sailing and motorboating venues for the 1908 Summer Olympics.Geographically, Southampton Water is classified as a ria, or drowned valley, of the English Channel. It was formed by the rivers Test, Itchen and Hamble which flow into it, and became an inlet of the sea at the end of the last ice age when sea levels rose, flooding many valleys in the south of England. In particular, it is likely that Southampton Water formed partly due to the submerging of the River Solent which previously flowed through the area, and of which the River Test, River Itchen and River Medina are thought to be tributaries.

Southampton's emergence as a major port, and particularly as a port handling very large vessels, depended partly on certain geographical features of Southampton Water. Its depth, even in its undeveloped state, was generous; this depth of water has been increased over the years with comparative ease since the soft silt of the river-bed allows for easy dredging. An additional factor is the phenomenon of the "double tide", which results in unusually prolonged periods of high water. This greatly facilitates the movements of very large ships.

Southampton Water is an estuary with major potential for land use conflicts. An area of urban development (the Waterside) runs in the narrow band of land between Southampton Water and the New Forest National Park. Villages such as Marchwood, Hythe, Dibden Purlieu, Holbury and Fawley have all experienced significant growth.


Spithead is an area of the Solent and a roadstead off Gilkicker Point in Hampshire, England. It is protected from all winds, except those from the southeast. It receives its name from the Spit, a sandbank stretching south from the Hampshire shore for 5 km (3.1 mi); and it is 22.5 km (14.0 mi) long by about 6.5 km (4.0 mi) in average breadth. Spithead has been strongly defended since 1864 by four Solent Forts, which complement the Fortifications of Portsmouth.

The Fleet Review is a British tradition that usually takes place at Spithead, where the monarch reviews the massed Royal Navy.

The Spithead mutiny, occurred in 1797, in the Royal Navy fleet at anchor at Spithead. It is also the location where HMS Royal George sank in 1782 with the loss of more than 800 lives.

Team Solent F.C.

Solent University Football Club are a football club attached to Solent University, and are based in Southampton, Hampshire. The club is affiliated to the Hampshire Football Association, and is a FA Charter Standard club. The club competes in the Wessex League Premier Division.

That's Solent

That's Solent is a local television station on the south coast of England, owned and operated by That's TV.

Wightlink Raiders

The Wightlink Raiders was an ice hockey team based in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, England. The team were known for their small ice rink, Ryde Arena, which prevented them competing at a higher level. In 2016, following the closure of the rink by AEW UK, the building's landlord over a rent dispute with the community group which ran the ice rink

, the team withdrew from the league and competitive play.

Main rivers
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Ordinary watercourses
Lakes, ponds and wetlands


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