Mid-April, we checked Dixie into her kennel, dropped off the car at Park n Fly and boarded our flight to Gatwick Airport, London.
As one would expect, we were greeted by Queen Elizabeth….. in two gigantic murals of photomontage created with hundreds of images of “all types of Brits”.
We were picked up at the airport by cousin Marilyn and her son David and whisked off to Dave and girlfriend Amy’s home in Crawley. I am proud to say that Dave is a commercial pilot for EZJet and had just received his extra stripes as a captain. Once again, Congratulations Captain Hopley! Amy is a flight attendant, who oversees and manages her colleagues. As well as performing the many and varied responsibilities for the passengers, she also has to keep her staff on track. I spent a fair amount of time on the floor patting “Nancy”, Dave and Amy’s silky-soft pet rabbit. The town of Crawley is a short drive from the airport and therefore the majority of residents are connected to some sort of job at Gatwick.
We walked about Crawley, enjoying our first brush with the English Spring icons at the church and graveyard; Daffodils and Forsythia. We stopped in at the Royal Oak Pub to sample our first of many English Brews on our vacation.
In the morning, we set off for Portsmouth. Marilyn was our driver and tour guide through the beautiful small towns and farmland glowing green and yellow with new leaves, grass, wheat and rapeseed. In under two hours, we were beside the sea and checking in to our B&B where we stayed for two nights.
Our first adventure was a stroll down to the walkway that runs beside the stony beach towards the Fort and Port of Portsmouth. Three manmade “islands” can be seen a mile offshore in The Solent, the straight that separates the Isle of Man from mainland England. The three Palmerston Forts were built in 1859 to defend the Dockyard in Portsmouth from French invasion. One of the three now provides an idyllic site for its luxury hotel.
We enjoyed sun and seafood on an outdoor patio beside the beach. Cargo ships, sailboats, seabirds, the soft lapping of waves and a view of the historic pier set the mood for our first meal on the coast.
We walked along the seafront for about three hours taking in the many sights of Portsmouth.
Its rich history as an important seaport include its foundation in 1180, destruction during the Norman Conquest, Royal Charters issued by King Richard in 1194 and again by King John in 1200 which established Portsmouth as a permanent naval base. Much of Portsmouth was destroyed by the French in 1338 and as it began to get back on its feet, The Plaque struck ten years later.
The French sacked Portsmouth again shortly after she was rebuilding which lead to refortification of its round and square tower fortifications by King Henry VIII. Portsmouth’s first dry dock was established in 1545 where King Henry’s prize ship The Mary Rose was built and later sunk in a famous battle with the French.
The Mary Rose Museum
In 1563, Portsmouth was again devastated with the Plague. In 1665, Charles II ordered the reconstruction of Portsmouth’s fortifications which took many years to complete.
Portsmouth grew steadily throughout the 18th Century and notably sent the First Fleet of ships to Botany Bay Australia in 1787.
Portsmouth’s name is synonymous with Lord Admiral Nelson who lost his life on The Victory leading the Royal Navy in the successful battle against the Franco-Spanish fleet in 1808.
Notable, was the Royal Navy’s West African Squadron that helped stop the huge slave trading business in Portsmouth.
Railway lines to Portsmouth expanded trade in 1823 and the city was once again a thriving port. Portsmouth suffered huge damage when she was bombed in both the First and Second World Wars. South Sea Beach and Portsmouth were military embarkation points for the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.
Visitors to Portsmouth enjoy views of many monuments, plaques and statues commemorating its Maritime Heroes and Traditions.
The modern Spinnaker Tower, 552’ high, was erected in 2005 and can be seen from anywhere in the town celebrating the fortitude of Portsmouth.
We took in the many monuments and sites of Portsmouth including its greenspace, quaint row houses and shops, back alleys, quirky signs, the amusement park and we watched a wedding party posing for photos. We finally rested with a beer beside the channel at the Still and West Pub.
We thought perhaps our hiking shoes might give us away if we snuck in to the reception.
Still and West is on the far right beside the water.
views from The Still and West outdoor patio
After our libation, we found some energy to continue our walk through the public harbour with sailboats and yachts and fishing docks with crab pots and nets piled high beside the well-worn fishing boats. Housed in the same part of the port, are the many ferries and cruise ships. The industrial docks are further north in a less public location where container ships have better access to docking, emptying and loading cargo. There is so much to see within a small area in Portsmouth!
flood gates can be closed when necessary against high seas
We decided that The Still and West was our best bet for dinner. The wine and fresh fish dinner was superb and we sat for hours at our window seat watching the setting sun alter the colours of the sky and a steady parade of boats: fishermen arriving back with the catch of the day, ferries taking passengers to and from The Isle of Man, tired tugboats boats heading for the docks, cruise ships traveling over to France and sailboats returning to the marina. In the dark, the “Blue-light Path” strategically mark points around Portsmouth that can be followed after dark. What a cool idea; I likened it to a ship captain following lighthouse beams to shore. Our Uber taxi sped us back to the B&B where sleep came quickly after our very full day.
a photo on the pub wall