Portsmouth the Victory City?

Posted on Jul 28, 2011


After a hectic night in Brighton me and my friend got the train down to Portsmouth, a place I have not been to since I was a child of around ten. All I remember of that first trip was of the famous HMS Victory, a ship of such legendary status that it has not been out of my mind since then. I have loads of books on the Napoleonic era and try to devour anything to do with the subject. I have always wanted to go back to see that ship as an adult. I could not wait. I was that ten year old child again.

The train journey from Brighton took around an hour to Portsmouth. We get a taxi to our bed and breakfast which we were not impressed with but decided to put up with it because as we see it, it is only a bed for the night and very cheap. The taxi driver offered to turn us around and get us somewhere better but there was a clause in the deal that we would lose our deposit and we were not willing to do that. See review on the following link:

Our first day out in the naval city was meant to be at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to see all things navy but unfortunately we had to cancel our excursion due to another friends ‘mishap’ shall we say who was meant to be coming with us. We decide to walk around the Dockyard anyway which you can do for nothing, but what you cannot do is enter some of the museums or ships unless you pay for it.

At the time of writing this review a full price ticket that gets you on most things including HMS Victory and HMS Warrior costs £21.50 for an adult (£15.80 for a child); but for a short while only. If you add an extra £2 on top of that then you can go on two more extra attractions and as it is impossible to fit everything in on a whole day then you have up to a year to use that ticket for a return trip. You cannot go back on Victory or Warrior though or I think The Mary Rose Museum. But the rest is all yours to explore. Be warned though, you will need at least a minimum of two full days to fit everything in on your ticket so if you are on a whistle stop tour then you will miss quite a lot. The Ticket is exceptional value for money though and is well worth spending a couple of days, maybe longer in the area (more on the tour in another review as this is about Portsmouth only).

As we could not get our tickets that day, we went for a pub lunch opposite the dockyard in a pub called the Ship Anson, a Greene King pub. It looks and feels old and the views from the window are of the harbour and of the mighty HMS Warrior so it’s worth popping in for half an hour or so. You also get views of the amazing Spinnaker Tower which you can go up.

Spinnaker Tower, Gunwharf, Portsmouth taken by the author, Darren Greenidge

Now where we were staying in Portsmouth is about a 10 minute walk into town and a 15-20 minute walk from all the sights, depending on where you are going. The area where we were staying is by a duel carriageway and is in an estate area with an industrial estate across the road, but all this is mixed in with historical buildings, one just a two minute walk from us being the birthplace of Charles Dickens.

Parts of Portsmouth are very run-down and could do with a huge regeneration project in certain areas as sometimes you get the feeling that you are in a no-go area. It is only until you get to to the Gunwharf area that you can see how beautiful Portsmouth can be.

Old Portsmouth is especially impressive with cobbled narrow streets and Olde Worlde pubs that do very good food and real ales for those who like their ale. You have amazing views of the harbour and the Solent from there as well as the defensive walls which you can go on at all times for free it seems. These are quite impressive and you can see so much from there.

I seem to have gone the wrong week though as Rolling Stones Legend Keith Richards went yesterday (July 27th 2011) to see HMS Victory. two legends for the price of one and I missed it! If only I had known… Oh well.

The ferry that takes you to the Isle of Wight is just a short stroll through Gunwharf and is worth taking a trip to. I had never been before but for £12.30 return fare for a foot passenger for the day, I jumped at the chance (more on this in the Isle of Wight review).

The night-life of Portsmouth is not brilliant as it shuts at an early time, not recommended if you like to stay out until the wee small hours (a couple of bars are open till 2am but that’s it). Talking to a local taxi driver who was born and bred there, he said that he was not happy with the way Portsmouth has turned out saying that most of the Navy has now gone down to Plymouth, resulting in a huge loss of the pub trade as well as other trade in the city. He was very angry at this and even after we were dropped off he spoke for a further ten minutes saying how bad his beloved city had become and I had to feel for him. As I said earlier, parts of the city looked run-down; there were derelict buildings everywhere as you moved away from the tourist side and it had a slightly dirty and neglected feel to it but then most cities do. With Portsmouth though, you get the feeling it could be so much more and with the Olympics coming up next year of which Portsmouth is a part, I think they should get their builders hats on and sort out the areas most in need of repair.

As for the night-life, well as the ferry service pretty much runs 24hrs a day, then I think that all the pubs need to open a bit later especially for next year. The pub trade is in enough trouble as it it without shutting early, but shutting early in a naval city, indeed the most famous naval city in the world! It should be a hive of activity both day and night. The ghosts of sailors past would be groaning in their watery graves as their favourite haunts are closing more and more every day.

So what is my overall opinion of Portsmouth as an adult? I loved it and its people who were friendly and welcoming and the history of the place just reeks of stories of old that you can almost feel them and what it must have been like in the ‘good old days’ of yore. I am defiantly going back.

I recommend Portsmouth to anyone whether a history buff or just someone who likes port towns and cities. Just do your research though on places to stay and try and get close to the city itself. I wish Portsmouth and its people well in the future and hope it reaches its full potential as a destination that people flock to. Its future can be very bright if handled in the correct way.

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