Our third and final destination for the day was the Naval City of Portsmouth, sat on Portsea Island and connected to the mainline by road and rail.
Status: City of Portsmouth Unitary District, Hampshire, City, England
Travel: South West Trains (Weymouth – Southampton Central), First Great Western (Southampton Central – Winchester), South West Trains (Southampton Central – Portsmouth & South Sea), South West Trains (Portsmouth Harbour – Southampton Central)
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Spinnaker Tower, Docks, Quayside, HMS Victory, Guildhall, City Museum, Mary Rose, HMS Warrior, Naval Museum, Catholic Cathedral, Portsmouth Cathedral, Treadgold Industrial Museum etc
We arrived in Portsmouth at Portsmouth & Southsea main station, which itself is a grand building, opened in 1847. It is right in the centre of the city and only a few minutes walk from the main streets. There is another station in the City by the docks, but we will get to that later.
The first thing we found was Portsmouth Guildhall, which opened as the Town Hall in 1890. When Portsmouth was granted city status in 1926 it was renamed the Guildhall, but still carries out council functions.
During World War II the building was gutted, with the roof and interior destroyed. After the war it was rebuilt but the tower is shorter than the original one and some of the outer walls have lost their intricate detail, but the building is still a marvellous thing to look upon. I didn’t get a picture of the main building itself, thanks to a few rain spots and we didn’t come back this way later but at least I got this one, and it shows off the beautiful clock tower.
We explored the city centre at first, and then started heading in the general direction of the docks, to see what we could find on route. The first thing we found was Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Evangelist. There are two Cathedrals in the city, the other being the Church of England Cathedral down by the docks but much further round than we had time to go.
The Catholic Cathedral is a grand brick building, with a statue of St John himself outside. Although it is made out of brick, it is actually older than the other stone Cathedral (opened 1927). Originally the Catholic community couldn’t build a chapel in the city, but the laws changed in 1791, and a chapel was eventually built. Because of the number of Catholics in the British Army, and the fact that Portsmouth was a Naval Town, it soon became clear than a larger building was needed, and the new Cathedral opened in 1882.
World War II inflicted much damage on the Cathedral but it was restored to it’s original condition by the 1950’s.
It’s a beautiful Cathedral, very detailed and well crafted features. Victoria Park lies right next to the Cathedral, a large, expansive park that contains a band stand and a pavilion as well as some lovely flower displays.
Opposite the Cathedral is another example of architecture in the city, with this fine Victorian looking building. As it happens this particular building (looking at the tower specifically) is the HMS Nelson Ward Room, dedicated to the ship of the same name from 1814 that was named after Admiral Nelson.
Down by the docks and quayside, a period of modern development has taken place with new shops, hotels and offices making the quays a great place to spend the day. Similar to Salford Quays, which were also recently upgraded and turned into a state of the art modern development, Portsmouth Quays are a great place to relax near the sea. The Gunwharf Quays shopping centre is also a major part of the development and has plenty of shops for everyone.
My favourite building in the city, and also the newest landmark, is the 560 feet tall Spinnaker Tower, standing tall and proud looking towards Gosport and further to the Isle of Wight. The tower opened in 2005, and there is a lift you can take to the top to get fantastic views of the city, and its designed to look like the sail of a ship, to reflect the maritime history of the city.
I really do wish we had time to go up it, but we got there so late it was just closing. It can be seen for miles around, and I spotted it as we were on the train crossing over to the island.
After looking around the tower (the shop was still open at least so I picked up a souvenir model of the tower) and we then headed into the main part of the docks. A large sign welcomes you to the “Historic Dockyards” and there are many treasures to discover within. Dotted around the docks are old wooden ship figureheads, which make fantastic sculptures. There are also many statues of dock workers and famous figures.
The above ship is the HMS Warrior, one of two warships built for the Royal Navy in 1860. Along with her sister ship, the HMS Black Prince, the two ships were the first iron armour plated hulled ships. They were built because the French Navy started something similar, albeit with a wooden hull.
Warrior has seen many roles, from going out on active duty, to being a depot ship and then a storeship. Her final role with the Navy ended in 1979, and she was then gifted to the British Maritime Trust. After 8 years of restoration, the ship returned to Portsmouth and opened as a Museum Ship. She is still there today, and is a beautiful looking ship, in fabulous condition.
The HMS Warrior is not the only historic ship in the dockyards however, and the illustrious HMS Victory also has its home here.
The Victory has 104 guns, was the flagship of Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, where an outnumbered British Naval fleets gained victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets. Nelson was unfortunately killed during the battle, but not before he had steered the British to a decisive victory.
The ship went on to be based in various places, including the battle of Ushant in 1778, the battle of Cape Spartel in 1782, and the battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797. In 1824 she became a harbour ship, and in 1922 was moved to Portsmouth and put in dry dock. She is know a museum piece, beautifully preserved and restored, and available for the public to tour. She is the oldest naval ship currently in commission, and nearby is the oldest dry dock in the world.
There is a third ship in the docks, called the Mary Rose, but all that survives of this ship is parts of the hull. A Tudor warship used by King Henry VIII, she served for 33 years in various wars, and was rebuilt in 1536, and her final battle was in 1545 when she was sunk north of the Isle of Wight. Salvaged in 1982, she has been restored to preserve the surviving sections, and is on display in a specially built building in the docks.
Also in the docks is the Royal Naval Museum, giving a history of the city and its involvement in maritime and Naval matters.
Portsmouth has long been associated with the Royal Navy, thanks to its strategical position on the South coast, giving easy access to the Isle of Wight, Channel Islands and mainland Europe. It is the oldest Royal Naval base in the UK, and one of only three, with the others being along the river Clyde near Glasgow, Scotland, and Devonport in England. At least two thirds of the surface vessels belonging to the Royal Navy are based in Portsmouth and carry out missions all around the world. The ship pictured is the HMS Duncan, launched in 2010.
Two new ships have been commissioned, in 2008, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, which is a major building project for the city.
This was the last thing we saw in Portsmouth, and we headed to the train station, called Portsmouth Harbour. Trains run on from Portsmouth and South Sea (where we originally arrived) to here and vice versus. It is sat on a special wooden pier built to house the station, and we got the train back to Southampton, and from there back to Weymouth. It had been a long day of exploring three fantastic cities, and we have a brilliant day.
Portsmouth has great connections to the rest of the country, with direct trains to Southampton, Cardiff and Brighton. There are three motorways around the city, with the M27 coming from Southampton, the M275 leading off it into the city centre, and the A3 (M) taking traffic out of the city. The A27 main road leads to Chichester and Brighton and connects for London.
Southampton Airport is relatively close, and there are regular ferries to the Isle of Wight from the docks.
Portsmouth is a great city, rich in maritime history and I really enjoyed finding out about all the old ships and its nice to see them in such good condition.