|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.
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.
|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.
|Ziggy Zebra all at Zee|
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|
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...
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.
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|
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.