Full steam ahead for a nautical adventure in Portsmouth!
The city of Portsmouth in the county of Hampshire, lies mainly on the island of Portsea, the only island city throughout the United Kingdom.
Considered to be the home of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth has been a crucial port for centuries and includes the world’s oldest dry dock, which is featured on Historic England’s Heritage List.
Tourism numbers continue to grow at a remarkable pace; visitors are aptly rewarded with a fascinating glimpse into the colourful kaleidoscope of Britain’s maritime history, and there is much to see and do.
In the summer of 1545, during the Battle of the Solent, Henry VIII’s majestic warship, the Mary Rose, which was built in Portsmouth, was sunk a short distance from the harbour by the French armada, led by King Francis I.
Today, Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard remains the city’s most popular attraction and the wreck of the Mary Rose, which was discovered in 1971 and raised from the deep in 1982, is on display in all her glory. The vessel, now in the last stages of conservation, is housed in the Mary Rose Museum, along with thousands of artefacts recovered from the site of the wreck. We examined a tankard made of oak, poplar and pine and lined with pitch, and imagined the crew members collecting their day’s ration of a gallon of light beer and how much of that would be immediately consumed to quench a raging thirst after a hard day’s toil. The most commonly found personal objects recovered were 82 nit combs, all made of wood, except one, which was made of ivory, clearly, it was to deal with a higher class of nit! The exhibit features moving holograms of the ship’s crew projected onto the vessel and accompanied by sound it provides the viewer with an intriguing insight of life aboard.
Another vessel, which attracts the crowds, is HMS Victory, launched in 1765 and the flagship of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson’s fleet. From 1794, the Royal Navy, led by Nelson, continually defeated Napoleon, and HMS Victory was triumphant at the heart of the Battle of Trafalgar against the combined forces of the Spanish and French fleets in October 1805. Stroll along with the decks; view the cannons, and note Nelson’s surprisingly cramped sleeping quarters, which lack any real home comforts, apart from a portrait of Lady Hamilton.
We stepped on board HMS Warrior; constructed in London and launched in 1860, she was the UK’s first iron-hulled, armoured battleship and measures 418 feet in length with a width of 58 feet. Built to deter the French battleship, she was powered by steam and sail and was the largest and fastest vessel of her day. Now a museum ship, visitors are encouraged to experience a ‘hands-on’ approach and to explore the four decks, touching exhibits and trying things out in order to have some understanding of the harsh life at sea for Queen Victoria’s navy.
Another popular attraction, and for those with a head for heights, is the Emirates Spinnaker Tower. Take the high-speed lift to the view deck and at 100 metres you can admire the spectacular panoramic view across the South Coast. And if that experience has made you a little light headed make your way to The Clouds and indulge in a traditional ‘high tea’ experience, which includes an array of delicate sandwiches and an assortment of delicious sweet treats and scones served with fruity jams and clotted cream.
And as you sip on your piping hot tea you’re sure to spot the National Museum of the Royal Navy, below, which is the ideal place to wander around and work off those calories.
The National Museum of the Royal Navy invites visitors to examine three centuries of naval history under one roof. Exhibitions include HMS – Hear My Story, which tells the tales of ordinary men, women and ships forming naval history over the last one hundred years. Make your way to the Victory Gallery and experience the multi-media show ‘Trafalgar!, which introduces the audience to Nelson and Napoleon and places the viewer on the gun deck amidst battle and then in the confined space of the cockpit where the ship’s surgeon treats the wounded.
If that incident hasn’t affected your appetite for some first-class ‘scran’ and a generous serving of ‘grog’, Loch Fyne, located in the Vulcan building in Gunwharf Quays, is the perfect spot. I savoured the succulent pan- fried, line-caught, cod fillet, served with roasted chilli oil and sautéed potatoes and accompanied by the smoky and fruity flavours of the Pouilly-Fumé Cuvée D’eve, it is an exceptional dish.
Or, should you prefer French cuisine, Brasserie Blanc, located on The Plaza of Gunwharf Quays, serves the first-rate Chateaubriand for two. The Chargrilled and 30-day dry-aged beef, which is sourced from prime, pasture reared, Cornish cattle, is served with a choice of sauces, and I opted for the Béarnaise and the delicate flavours of a glass of Margaux Château Durfort-Vivens enhanced the dish perfectly.
For weary explorers seeking a spacious abode, the ultimate place to stay and right in the heart of the action, is the Esa luxury serviced apartments located at Admiralty Quarter. We stayed in an enormous property featuring two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a comfortable lounge and modern kitchen with a dining area and all stylishly furnished. Taking advantage of the freedom that a real home-from-home experience affords, we relished a lie-in without those time restrictions imposed by hotels.
I prepared a ‘hearty’ breakfast using all the appliances provided, including a dishwasher, and those all-important gadgets that you rely on in your own home make all the difference, and of course, there is ample opportunity to enjoy your meal at leisure. Amenities include an allocated parking space, complimentary Wi-Fi and a ‘welcome pack’ of essential groceries. The property is within walking distance to Portsmouth Harbour railway station, Portsmouth Dockside and the Gunwharf Quays shopping centre, which is crammed with designer outlet shops, bars and restaurants.
For a hearty Italian ‘al fresco’ dining experience we headed to Carluccio’s, where we selected a table next to the waterfront and admired the view of the Emirates Spinnaker Tower. I sampled the delicious festoni pasta with smoked salmon and vodka and it was served with panache. We ordered a bottle of Vermentino Belguardo Mazzei; Italy’s most popular white wine; and held our glasses aloft whilst reflecting on our stay in Portsmouth and the words of one of the city’s most famous residents, the writer and Nobel Laureate Joseph Rudyard Kipling, who once said ‘This is a brief life, but in its brevity it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures’.
For more information on the featured apartment and other Esa properties throughout the UK visit esa-servicedapartments.co.uk, email: [email protected] or call 01635 904019
Avoid traffic and parking problems and travel by rail. Use Trainline’s ‘best fare finder’ and/or sign up for a ‘ticket alert’ email. Make Portsmouth reservations in advance and take advantage of discounted fares. For more information visit Trainline.com
By Rebecca Underwood Image credit: HMS Victory (exterior shot) courtesy of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.