Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Solent Way Day 6 Portsmouth - Hilsea

Southsea Pier
Once across the short stretch of water that separates Gosport from Portsmouth the character of the Solent Way changes significantly. Initially the path goes through a port related urban area and the historic defences of this most famous of naval cities before passing the seaside resort of Southsea and eventually it begins the long process of circumnavigating Langstone Harbour.

Historic Southsea
This was another section completed in its entirety and rather fittingly for a section that includes a seaside resort I decided to do it in the first week of July. It was late afternoon when I started and there had obviously been a big public event during the day because it all looked to be packing up now it was 4pm. Fortunately I had plenty of time, as I had the rest of a light evening ahead of me and cooling temperatures, which would make for pleasant walking. Being a Sunday I took advantage of the free parking along Southsea sea front and started by Clarence Pier, the point from which the hovercraft dashes over to the Isle of Wight. Sadly there wasn’t a hovercraft in sight and I didn’t fancy waiting around for it to come back.

Rose Garden
I headed eastwards along the promenade admiring the summer gardens now just about at their peak. Southsea front is full of interest and the feeling of space is quite at odds with the rest of Portsmouth, which is one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. Just along from Clarence Pier is the aquarium and beyond that another of those coastal forts that pepper the south coast. This one is grandly called Southsea Castle, another of the forts built by Henry VIII to defend the nation against the French back in the 1500s. As such it follows the rather squat designs of the others already seen on this walk at Hurst and Calshot as well as those I saw on the Saxon Shore Way in Kent. Allegedly Henry VIII watched the Mary Rose sank from this location.

HMS Warrior
The direction of the coast turned here and I now faced Southsea Pier and hoards of sunseekers enjoying the last of the sunshine on the main beach. The pier itself had a very large pavilion at the shore end, but the rest of the pier was strangely devoid of buildings, petering out somewhat into Spithead. I’m not sure if that is because of some of it being removed during World War II and not being replaced, but it did look a bit odd.
Langstone Harbour

Past the pier and I had a little look at a couple of landward attractions, firstly the boating lake and then more interestingly the rose garden which is housed in the ruins of yet another fort, this time the curiously named Lumps Fort. As I headed eastwards the seafront turned rather military again with the very imposing Royal Marines museum at Eastney dominating the eastern end of the front. Before leaving the seafront for good I had a last look at the shipping on Spithead before heading inland through a succession of housing estates and across a large recreation ground before finally emerging on the shores of Langstone Harbour. This large expanse of inland water is dominated by yachts and forms part of a low lying stretch of coast that also includes Hayling Island and Chichester Harbour. A coastal walker would take several days to negotiate all of it before reaching open sea once again at Wittering, on the Selsey Peninsula in West Sussex.

Portsmouth Cathedral
Fortunately today I was only walking a relatively short stretch along the eastern shore of Portsea Island. Initially the going was quite peaceful and the views pretty good, but as I got further north I was soon met by the A2030, one of the few roads that access Portsmouth from the outside world. Inevitably it was incredibly busy, even on an early Sunday evening. After a couple of miles I was quite pleased to head into the industrial estate opposite to reach Hilsea station, where I got the train to Portsmouth Harbour.

Bombed Out Church
My walk wasn’t quite over for I had a half hour walk to regain the car on Southsea front and this last section was packed with interest. The whole scene was dominated by the Spinnaker Tower, definitely a worthwile trip on a sunny day (if you don’t have the opportunity or need to whet the appetite you can make a virtual visit at . I also passed the rather anonymous Portsmouth Cathedral and through the old part of Portsmouth before once again regaining the seafront at Royal Garrison Church, bombed out during World War II and left in the state it was after a cosmetic clean up. It was a stark reminder of the damage caused by the war. I soon returned to my car after this and continued on my journey towards Southampton for my week of studies.

Spinnaker Tower
On the whole in interesting section and probably best experienced as I did on a short summer evening walk, rather than as a full day’s walk. Challenging it is not!

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