20 February 2010
“All the nice girls love a sailor
All the nice girls love a tar”
From the moment you exit Portsmouth & Southsea station there’s no doubting you’re in a navy town. There’s the ever present Portsmouth coat of arms containing its distinctive 8 pointed star above a crescent against an azure background. Of course this is widely used as a symbol of Islam around the world and appears on the flags of many Islamic nations. By all accounts Portsmouth’s adoption of this emblem dates back to 1194 and in a blatant act of toadying the good burghers of Portsmouth thanked Richard the Lionheart for the granting of town status by incorporating this part of the king’s heraldic symbol as their own. Most of the city lies on Portsea Island located where the Solent joins the English Channel, making it the UK’s only island city.
Home to the world’s first ever dry dock you can also see HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the Mary Rose and visit the D-Day Museum which houses the Overlord Embroidery (a modern day Bayeux Tapestry). A more recent attraction is the 170 metre Spinnaker Tower, focus of the Gunwharf Quays regeneration. This is where we headed first – although we popped into the Tourist Information Centre to buy our tickets ‘cos they’re cheaper there and you avoid the queues at the Tower. It’s well worth a trip because the view shows the island nature of the city and the size of the harbour.
Back on the ground we wended our way through the town, the old side by side with the new, until we reached the sea. We had a very pleasant walk along the Hard to Southsea. You are constantly reminded of the town’s long history, passing Nelson’s statue to later find Henry VIII’s castle. This is the very place he saw his flagship, the Mary Rose, lead an attack on French galleys marauding up the Solent and then founder with the loss of over 500 lives. The wreck was re-discovered in 1971, salvaged in 1982 and now resides in a special museum in the dock yard.
Apparently most of the city is just 10 feet above sea level and I certainly don’t recall much in the way of a hill. A not insignificant fact in these days of climate change concerns not to mention the rain of biblical proportions we’ve been experiencing in the south east recently. All in all Portsmouth was a really pleasant surprise for me. Previously I’d mostly travelled through it on the way to the Isle of Wight. I’ve seen Chelsea win at Fratton Park and been to a couple of gigs in the Wedgewood Rooms but that had been it. True it’s certainly got some rubbish civic brutalist architecture but what UK city that was heavily bombed in WWII hasn’t. We’d travelled down on some free tickets Clare gets from South West Trains ‘cos she’s got a season ticket and we’ll definitely be returning and seeing what longer walks are on offer from the town along the coast. Heading back home reading the papers at our leisure, looking forward to our vegetable stew cooking away in the slo-cooker was a pretty good end to a pretty good day.
I opened with the chorus lines from the 1909 song Ship Ahoy, well here’s another one:
“With his pockets full of money and a parrot in a cage”
A parrot in a cage ?!?! – what’s that all about ?!?!