Cornwall & The South: Pt 37 – Sailing to the Isle of Wight

After travelling around the New Forest National Park the previous day, the next morning we set off on a new adventure, boarding a Red Funnel Ferry in Southampton, bound for the Isle of Wight…

Leaving Southampton, we were given a stunning view of the City Centre Skyline (although I can’t help but wonder if the apartment block at the back spoils it slightly!). Over to the left is the Clock Tower of Southampton Civic Centre, a vast complex which consists of four separate Wings joined together, all designed by H Austen-Hall. Building work commenced in 1930, and the whole building was completed in 1939.

In front of the apartment block is the tall spire of the Church of St Michael, notable as the only Medieval Church left in the city centre. The oldest section is the base of the main tower, dated to 1070, whilst the rest of the building has been rebuilt many times over the following centuries.

Finally, over to the right is the Dome/Clock sat atop the roof of the old Harbour Board Offices Building. Southampton has always been a major port, and a vast new series of docks were completed during the 1840’s. The new Harbour Offices were built in 1910, and the building stands at the entrance to the quay where the Red Funnel Ferries for the Isle of Wight depart from. Just around the Corner is one of the Ocean Cruise Terminals, backing onto another section of the docks. Today the building is in use as a Gentlemans Club…

Leaving Southampton behind us, we headed down the Southampton Water, and crossed paths with another of the Red Funnel Ferries. There are two services to the Island, a High Speed Passenger Ferry, which we were using, as well as a larger, slower ferry for transporting goods and vehicles, which you can see above.

En route, we spotted the “Netley Hospital Chapel”, the last remnant of the former Netley Hospital, an enormous site on the banks of the River.

Suggested by Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901), a new hospital to care for injured soldiers was built here in Netley, due to the terrible conditions experienced abroad, particularly during the Crimean War. Opening in 1863, the building was magnificent, the longest building in the world at the time (0.25 miles long), and the largest hospital in the country. It even had its own Pier out into the water where patients could relax. It saw a lot of use during both World Wars with casualties from Europe being transferred here. It was largely unused thereafter, whilst a fire in the 1960’s sealed its ultimate fate, and the building was demolished.

The only part of the Hospital Site to be saved was the old Hospital Chapel, which is itself a Visitor Centre, surrounded by the Royal Victoria Country Park, which opened in 1970.

On the far side of the River, we drew level with Fawley Power Station, an Oil Fired station which opened in 1971. Oil was an expensive commodity to use to generate power, so Fawley was mainly a backup station, and was used when electricity was in high demand. The cooling pumps in the station, although now decommissioned, were the largest in the UK, and the overall station could output 2000 megawatts of power, spread across four generators.

New EU directives caused the plant to be decommissioned, and it closed down for good in 2013, with demolition plans underway. The Chimney, a famous landmark along the river, will most likely have been taken down within the next few years.

Just up the river from Fawley is Calshot Castle, the squat round building you can see above, to the left. It sits on Calshot Spit, a mile long shingle beach which stretches out into the water.

It was built in 1540 by King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547), and marks the point where the Southampton Water empties out into the Solent, the large body of water which separates the mainland from the Isle of Wight. It was built to protect against invasion, and held up to 36 guns ready to fire, along with a garrison. It remained in use through the Civil War and up to Victorian Times, whilst during World War I the area around the Castle was used as a base for Seaplanes attacking German Submarines. What became RAF Calshot closed down after World War II, and the Castle is now open to the public.

To the right of the Castle is the NCI (National Coastwatch Institution) Calshot Tower, dating back to 1973 when it was part of a chain of Radar Stations. The large building behind the Tower, which was originally the Air Base is now an Activities Centre, and has sat alongside RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) Calshot since 1970.

We were fully aware on the day we sailed that it was Cowes Week on the island, a famous Regatta held every year since 1826, with thousands of boats attending.

At first we glimpsed just a few…

Then we spotted the rest, hundreds of boats filling the Solent, of all shapes and sizes. One of the more notable parts of the Regatta is the race around the Island itself.

The island comes to life at this time of year, and it was a magnificent spectacle to behold.

Now far out into the Solent, we could see further along the British Coast to the city of Portsmouth, which sits on Portsea Island.

It has a distinctive skyline, not least because of the Spinnaker Tower, designed to look like a giant sail, shown centre. Opened in 2005, the 560 ft tower features a large observation deck, with views out across Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Sussex. You can also brave the Glass Floor at its centre, with a long drop down to the Quays below!

We soon docked in the town of Cowes, and set out to explore…

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