Thursday, 15 December 2016

Marwell's Zany Zebras

Zebastian the Seabra
Following the success of the Go! Rhinos trail in Southampton organised by Marwell Zoo a few years back they came back with another in 2016, this time involving Zebras.  The Rhino Trail was set out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Marwell Zoo and I think this one is merely a sequel.  The sculptures were sold off at the end of the season for charity and raised over £100,000 for conservation.  There were 47 zebras along the way, 15 more than the 2013 rhino trail.  They were a little more spread out than before and new areas were explored, notably around the southern part of the city close to the docks.  Additionally there were a whole lot of smaller zebras that had been decorated by schools and community groups as well as a couple outside the city.  We focused on the large sculptures as we only had a few hours to complete the trail and the small ones were mostly in shops, some of which were closed on Sunday.
Canute Building
Our walk started at Ocean Village, to the south east of the city centre and close to the cruise ship terminals.  It was still early and so there weren't many people about.  We found the first sculpture easily; a rather dandy one covered in fish called Zebastian the Seabra.  It certainly was a good start!  Sadly its near neighbour wasn't so lucky as it had been removed for repair.  We weren't to know at the time but this was a theme for the day.  It was good to see a change of scenery for this part of the trail - although the buildings and docks have been regenerated it was clear what the heritage was as the footway still had the rails embedded where the dockside trains would once have plied their trade.
We headed on to Queens Park, crossing the old dockyard branch line on the way.  I was very surprised when a train actually crossed the line behind us as for all the world it looked like it was disused!  Queens Park was an agreeable little green space - we didn't come here last time.  Luckily all the zebras were in place - Henman (a rather whimsical piece); Rio (a celebration of Brazil for the Olympics) and Zayla.  The last one was the least interesting so far but looking at the caption it looks like this one is better viewed at night rather than a bright sunny day.  Apparently it creates an ethereal stripey look at night when the lights go out.

Detail on Reggie
Across the road from the park is a reminder of the passenger lines that called Southampton home.  Union Castle House is a fine looking building although sadly the passenger shipping line for which this was the headquarters is now long gone as are the classy looking ships that largely sailed to South Africa.  One shipping line still visiting the port is P & O and one of their ships was in on the day we were there - the rather classy looking Arcadia.  We got a good view of her as we came upon Seafaring Zebra on the dockside.

Last time we came to Southampton we enjoyed the city walls and in the vicinity of the Town Gate were another crop of zebras starting with the excellent Reggie.  This one featured a zebra monarch hiding small icons of famous kings and queens of history which fascinated us.  Next to the Town Gate was ZZ Top, which pleased my daughter no end as the zebra was made to look like a piano.  I did have to explain to her who ZZ Top were though!  Sadly the zebra did not sport a massive beard...
ZZ Top
From here the rhinos came thick and fast as we headed around towards Mayflower Park.  Next up was Biff sponsored by Biffa Waste (looking very much like his rhino counterpart), and inevitably perhaps Zebra Crossings showing a design complete with belisha beacons.Southern Gold wasn't quite in the same location as Reggie Rhino but the design was the same - a scene of sailing boats out on the nearby Solent.  This was possibly the last zebra that we truly had to ourselves - our early start had meant that few people were out doing what we were doing until now.
Ziggy Zebra all at Zee
Following the numbers of the zebras seemed a little counter-intuitive at this point for we could see what we thought was the next one further along the street, only to discover that there were several more that we should see before that.  One of them was a nod to David Bowie, who sadly passed away earlier in the year.  It was called Ziggy Zebra All at Zee and featured a number of cartoon ships.  The head was emblazoned like Ziggy Stardust. 
Ziggy Detail

The trail took a zig-zagging course through the narrow streets of the Old Town and back on to the QE2 Mile for a short distance, catching more zebras along the way until we got to the rather astonishing Holyrood Church.  This 14th Century Church is now a reminder of the horror of World War II as it remains a ruin after being bombed during the Blitz in 1940.  In 1957 it was dedicated as a memorial to the sailors of the Merchant Navy and makes for a magnificent tribute to the bravery of those men.
Remarkably a little further away is the church of St Michael’s, which emerged from the destruction of the city completely unscathed.  It is now the oldest building and the only one of the original churches that remains intact within the walled city.  Outside was a rather lovely Chinese style design called Carpe Diem, which we had plenty of time to admire since most people seemed to be inside the church attending Sunday morning service.

St Michael's Church

We passed by the Tudor House and down a narrow path through the City Walls to reunite ourselves with Snappy, the zebra we had seen from afar when we were at Zozy Zebra.  After the flurry of rhinos (we had already seen 17 at this point) we headed towards the West Quay Shopping Centre via an outlier near Ikea called Captain Stripes, which was a rather patriotic beast with Union Jack type stripes.  We found our way into the West Quay Shopping Centre and picked off the two inside - the nattily dressed Zoot Suit and the buzzy Ze-Bee.  We didn't linger in the shops as by now my daughter felt like she was on a mission and was anxious to make sure we kept to time!

Holyrood Church

Outside the shopping centre and we walked along perhaps the best preserved section of the City Walls, which date from the 14th Century and were built on the orders of Edward III, perhaps inevitably to repel the French.  Given how much modern building there is in Southampton it was surprising but pleasing to see the old walls still taking pride of place in the urban landscape.

Feeling fortified by lunch we continued our route along the city walls, which had been knocked about a bit to accommodate modern developments.  However, the magnificent Bargate is still intact and nicely restored to take pride of place on what is now the main shopping street. I wonder what mediaeval forces would have thought of that?  Since our last trip in 2013 there looked to be no progress with the Bargate Shopping Centre, which was still derelict.  The shopping centre was only opened in the late 1980s but following a chequered history it finally closed its doors for good a few years back and is boarded up.  Given the current economic climate I can’t see it being taken over as retail space again any time soon and looks like staying a blot on the townscape for some time to come.  On a happier note the two zebras on either side of the gatehouse were receiving a good deal of attention from passing shoppers.
From shopping to the park, our next zebras were to be at the bus station and the park opposite.  Sadly all we found were concrete plinths but no zebras as they had been taken away to be repaired.  Despite the signs asking people to stay off them, much of the damage to the rhinos appeared to be caused by people ignoring the notices and posing for pictures on the backs of the mascots.  Sadly these sculptures seem to attract unwanted attention and are vandalised regularly - obviously the fact that they are there for charity doesn't seem to matter to some.  At this late stage in the zebras being out I suppose that sadly we might have expected a few absences...
Civic Clock
The play area in the Park was absolutely rammed with children and families. Unlike last time we came when I had both daughters this time the one I did have was more focused on finishing than worrying about going on the equipment.  Feeling a bit stymied by the lack of zebras we escaped back into the shopping street and to the hybrid Zeffe, the winning design in a local radio competition and showing what a zebra with giraffe markings might look like. 
Who's You?
From the shopping street to another shopping centre – it seems that Southampton is remarkably well served by them.  In this one (Marlands), we seemed to hit the mother lode, for not only were there several of the original zebras (including ones that needed to be brought in from the street to protect against vandalism) but they had been joined by a number of the smaller ones painted by school children and community groups.  To be honest they were as good and imaginative as some of those painted by professional artists.  We spent a good deal of time in the main concourse of the centre and then in the Zany Zebras HQ, which was in a shop at the back.
Fantastic Mr Fox
We still had more than one third of the zebras to find after leaving the shopping centre but the remaining ones were concentrated around the civic heart of the city, being in and around the Civic Centre and the adjacent parks.  Sadly these were the ones that had suffered the most and many of them we had already seen in the shopping centre after their removal to protect them.  Walking round the parks was pleasant but mostly it was completion of the trail and looking at the flower displays that persuaded us to continue.
Unlike last time there was an additional loop to complete as there were some extra ones placed out on the way to the railway station.  Perhaps the most eye-catching was Frederic, a rather dandy looking creature ready to go on the stage at the Mayflower Theatre, which he was located outside of.  Daughter rather liked the next one too as the stripes were replaced by pens and pencils.  It all looked rather back to school for me!  The last one was a kite design outside the railway station.  From there we went and had some lunch and drove to the last one at Southampton FC's football ground at St Mary's which we thought was a bit too far to walk to.
This turned out to be a most enjoyable walk and a rather different experience to last time with the rhinos.  Having only the focused daughter with me meant that we completed it far quicker!  The people behind the trail really had done their very best to show off the best of Southampton City Centre.  Adding some extra sculptures went down well with us, especially as it meant that the trail was extended a bit.  We particularly enjoyed seeing the historic buildings at the south end of the city and the manicured and colourful gardens at the northern end.  On the whole the trail was a great advert for the city and the zebras kept us entertained along the route.  It was sad to see some had been removed and pleasing to see that some of the designs of the rhinos had been popular enough to retain for the zebras.  I have no doubt that following the success of this trail we might well see a different animal featured in 3-4 years time.

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