Sunday, October 16, 2011

Portsmouth and Southsea

WHY WON'T SCHEDULING MY POSTS WORK??? stupid... hmmm. ANYway, from a while back lol....:
I spent Tuesday in Portsmouth, and it was sunny! Actually sunny, with a blue sky and everything. I was able to wear one layer! And wish I had sunglasses!

Portsmouth confused me at first. Signs like ‘Other City Centre’, duplicate hotels and trains going to ‘Portsmouth and Southsea’ (what if I just want to go to Portsmouth?!) weren’t helpful.  I spent a time thinking about how cities in ‘New World’ colonies are generally beside the sea where they can be, but not in Europe, and decided that this is probably because inland cities are more easily defended.

As far as I can tell without consulting Wikipedia (which I will do tonight – I’m writing this on the train), there is Old Portsmouth, Portsmouth nowadays, and Southsea. Old Portsmouth is right on the harbour, as seaside towns should be, and Portsmouth is inland about half an hour, a good slog in bad shoes. (I am currently very tired after walking for at least three hours today). Southsea is south of Portsmouth (surprise!), and gets its name from a castle. More on the castle later.

I started in Portsmouth city centre and sorta-kinda followed my Googlemaps directions out to Old Portsmouth. I never actually got to Old Portsmouth, because I was distracted by the Garrison Church just outside. This church was bombed during the Portsmouth Blitz in 1941, and the main part of the church has no roof and is all bare stone. A fire burnt everything up to the chancel, and you can still see the fire damage on one of the pews. The chancel is still in good condition, with stained glass windows and beautiful tiles, and regiment flags hanging from the rafters. The place is incredibly atmospheric.

The guides were very friendly, and I spent a bit of time in there before walking up the sea wall right beside the church and along to the Square Tower, past a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson. My first proper view of the sea since flying over the Channel! There was a lot of water traffic, and some big round things that I couldn’t figure out. Didn’t think to put on glasses... I walked along the Millennium Walk and passed some amusement arcades, a scary-looking rollercoaster and a sign advertising jumbo sausage baguettes (not hot dogs). There are many memorials to fallen soldiers along the walk, some of them so old the writing has been worn away by the elements. I saw a hovercraft dock – they don’t bother with a pier or anything, they just zoom straight up onto the beach! Must go on one some time.

Then I came to Southsea Castle. It’s actually a fort built by Henry VIII to defend the harbour, but it deserves the name castle. Its outside walls are in a sort of star shape (to allow guns to fire parallel to the walls, and reduce blind spots), and it has a dry moat and a squat, square tower. A more recent addition is a black and white lighthouse, which is stuck a bit randomly (quaintly) on one of the walls. The castle’s open as a museum in the warmer months, so I crossed the drawbridge (actually, it was no longer a drawbridge. But it would once have been!) and went into the bailey courtyard.

It was like going back to the middle ages. Apart from the café and souvenir shop and nineteenth century brick additions. I stood and stared happily for a while, then entered the keep (tower). It wasn’t actually that big, and had originally been only one storey, but the walls are at least two metres thick. I imagined that, if I’d lived there, I would have claimed one of the deep windows as my room. There was a model of Henry VIII wearing full regalia (including some kind of thing with a flap that attached to breeches and was padded to ‘accentuate a man’s figure’...), lots of cannons and information about the use of the castle since the sixteenth century. One of the cannon ports has been excavated, and you can imagine men working the cannon and firing out to sea. Henry VIII apparently watched the sinking of the Mary Rose from here, and people were born and died in the fort.

One of the information panels revealed the true identity of the big round things I’d seen from the Millennium Walk. They were forts, built right out in the middle of the strait in the nineteenth century, with soldiers’ quarters and guns and a well in the middle. I have absolutely no idea how they did them.

Another panel explained the wide grass areas beside the sea, which I’d thought a bit of a waste of space (why not have restaurants and things? Have a park or two, sure, but acres and acres of grass?). The area originally had to be kept free of buildings because the cannon might have to shoot across the land to aim at invaders.

This seemed an acceptable reason for wide-open spaces.

Hmm I’m falling into the habit of long posts again. But there’s so much to write!

Have a good week :)

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