Stone ramparts that command Portsmouth’s historic harbour
This stretch of coast is made up of a series of low-lying islands and peninsulas between which lie marshy harbours crossed by creeks and channels. Its outline has altered over the centuries because of silting, while its closeness to Europe has involved it time and again in Britain’s history. The sheltered waters make the area popular with yachtsmen, while the towns and villages that flank the harbours suit most holiday-making tastes.
This small port overlooking the lower Hamble, is an important yachting centre. The river is muddy, and unsuitable for swimming because of strong currents. A ferry crosses the estuary to Hamble; at very low tides cannon and musket balls – the relics of past sea battles – and the remains of several ships are often revealed.
From the car park, which stands on a former lobster pound, there is a pleasant 4 mile walk along the coast past the nature reserve of Hook Park and the silted up mouth of the River Meon to the village of Hill Head. The nature reserve runs down to the foreshore and includes Hook Lake, a silted up inlet from the sea, and old salt workings.
VICTORS OF TRAFALGAR
A figurehead of Lord Nelson stands near his flagship HMS Victory in Portsmouth – (wo memorials in wood to the great Battle of Trafalgar which ended Napoleon’s dream of commanding the seas. Nelson’s battle plan, using a method of attack never tried before, became known as ‘the Nelson touch’. It relied heavily on the ability of the Victory’s gunners to fire a broadside every HO seconds – a rate unmatched by any other ship in the world. HIMS Vicloni first put to sea in 1778, and stayed afloat until 1921. She was then restored to her condition when Nelson and his crew of 850 triumphed at Trafalgar.
In the 18th century this small village resting on low cliffs was a centre of the smuggling trade, and quantities of brandy were more than once seized there by customs men. There is good swimming from a shingle beach which shelves steeply to a flat sandy bottom, and at low tide it is possible to walk out over the sands and collect cockles. There is fishing from the shore, mainlv for bass and mullet, while at the west end of the village the Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve is frequented by large numbers of ducks, particularly wigeon.
Situated on the outskirts of Gosport, Lee is the site of the HMS Daedalus Fleet Air Arm base, where helicopters are kept in readiness to answer calls for assistance from coastguards and police along the south coast.
There is a public slipway for launching boats at the eastern end of the beach. The beach is shingle, with sand at low tide; it is safe for bathing, and there is water-skiing.
The Ferry Gardens, near the passenger ferry to Portsmouth, are an ideal place from which to observe the movements of naval and civilian ships in Portsmouth Harbour. To the south of the ferry, near the big submarine training base of HMS Dolphin at Fort Blockhouse, is a fascinating submarine museum. Its exhibits include Holland I, the Royal Navy’s first submarine, launched in 1901. She sank in 1913 while being towed to a breaker’s yard and was salvaged in 1982. Beside the museum the visitors can board a real submarine, HMS Alliance, one of the last of the Second World War A-class submarines. She has been restored to her active service condition and looks as she did when last at sea. To the north of the ferry terminal lies the ‘wooden-waller’ Fomiroyant, built in 1817 as a 46-gun frigate but now used as a training ship.
There is fishing for pout, bass and pollock by the pier near the ferry, and good bathing at Stokes Bay, the point from which Queen Victoria used to embark for Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
The castle, visible from the land only at close quarters, stands on the site of a Roman fort thought to have been built in the latter part of the 3rd century AD. The remaining Roman outer walls, 18 ft high and up to 10 ft thick, are the best preserved in northern Europe. They enclose a 12th-century castle, reached by a bridge over a moat, and priory church.
The impressive keep, the walls of which are 12 ft thick at ground level, was built by Henry I. It originally comprised of only a basement with one storey above, but two further floors were later added and the top of the keep today offers a fine view over the castle and its walls, and ol Portsmouth I larbour beyond them.
After visiting the buildings, it is worth passing through the Water Gate to walk beside the shore. From there the impressive workmanship of the castle’s flint walls can be clearly appreciated.
Granted a charter by Richard I in 1194, and established as a naval dockyard during the reign of Henry VII, ‘Pompey’ retains much of the flavour of the past despite severe damage during the Second World War. What survives of the original town is in the area now known as Old Portsmouth, around the ferry terminal for Gosport and the Isle of Wight. The town was once surrounded by walls and approached through gateways, but only the Landport Gate in St George’s
Road still survives in its original position. In Old Commercial Road is the house in which Charles Dickens was born in 1812. It has been restored to show the style of middle-class living in the mid-19th century.
From The Point, a small peninsula jutting out into the harbour and once known as Spice Island, there are fine views. It has impressive sea defences, including the Round Tower of Henry V from which a chain boom used to be stretched across the harbour to a tower on the opposite bank.
From the ferry point there are boat trips around the harbour giving an ideal opportunity to observe naval ships at close range. In the dockyard itself are the Royal Naval Museum, HMS Victory, the flagship of Nelson on which he died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and the hull of the Mary Rose, Henry VlII’s warship, raised from the Solent sea-bed in 1982. There are Navy Days in August, when the public can visit the Royal Naval base.
Portsmouth is an important ferry port for continental and Isle of Wight traffic. It has a small but thriving commercial port, and several thousand yachts are moored in the harbour. Consequently there is plenty of activity on the water to watch, while anyone sailing should exercise great care.
Though part of the City oi Portsmouth, Southsea has a character of its own as a resort in the traditional sense. Its attractions include two piers, a seaside common and a long shingle beach that is safe for swimming and has patches oi sand at low tide. Volunteer lifeguards patrol the beach at weekends in summer. From the shore and pier, cod and bass may be caught and there are fishing trips to deeper waters where mackerel and occasionally shark can be found. On the beach, between Clarence Pier and the Royal Navy War Memorial, is the original anchor of HMS Victory.
In Southsea Castle, built by Henry VIII in 1545, is the D-Day Museum. On view there is the Overlord Tapestry, 272 ft long and five years in the weaving, that commemorates the D-Day invasion.
From the castle, three sea forts are visible. Between the two eastern forts lay the wreck of the Mary Rose until she was raised in P)82. From the piers there are boat trips around Portsmouth Harbour, and there is water-skiing beyond the half-mile limit. At Eastney the Royal Marines Museum is housed in part of Eastney barracks. From the peninsula beyond Fort Cumberland, a ferry runs to Hay ling Island. A hovercraft service to Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, runs from a terminal near Clarence Pier.
Reached by a bridge much frequented by fishermen, the island is shaped like an inverted T, with marshlands to east and west and 4 miles of sand along its south shore, safe for swimming except at each end. An inlet of Chichester Harbour divides the island almost in two.
Hayling Island’s popularity with dav trippers and its abundance of seaside entertainments have still left large areas of unspoilt beaches covered with grassy dunes. A delightful walk follows the path of the old railway line from West Town northwards along the west shore, where the wildlife of Langstone Harbour, a nature reserve, can be appreciated. Water sports include sailing, water-skiing from the western tip of the island near the ferry to Portsmouth, and windsurfing. Boats can be hired, and a carnival is held in August.
Not the least of this village’s attractions are the splendid views it offers across the marshes of Chichester Harbour, officially designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Langstone’s former fishing fleet has long gone, but several old buildings survive, including a former bakery (now a public house) and a windmill. Langstone was the site of a Roman crossing point to Hayling Island, and the remains of a causeway can be seen, while in 1926 the site of a Roman villa was discovered.
A path running eastwards near the shore leads in about 1 mile to the ruins of Warblington Castle, a 16th-century castle destroyed during the Civil War, and to Warblington’s attractive church, which has Saxon archways, a 13th-century nave and a 14th-century wooden porch.
A walk down South Street from the village square leads past rows of old houses to the harbour, with fishing boats and a public slipway. Behind the old mill, which now houses a sailing club, is the mill-pond, a large picturesque expanse of water where swans glide and canoeing is possible. A delightful walk follows the edge of the mill-pond, down to the open sea, then leads back to the bridge over the River Ems.
Emsworth was a landing place for smugglers until well into the present century. It once had a substantial oyster fleet, but the pollution of the beds, which led to several deaths from food poisoning, caused its decline from 1902.