For somebody who doesn’t have much of a social life, I actually get around quite a bit. People at work often comment on my little expeditions around the UK; admittedly these are usually to Brighton and involve retail parks, but I guess that’s considered exotic to people whose lives can revolve around a certain town or city.
Actually having said that, one of my co-workers is similarly ‘jet set’ in her time off work and in fact ends up in Brighton visiting her daughter quite often. It was this lady who recommended the place I visited on Thursday; the Hampshire city of Portsmouth. Previous to my trip along the A27 to Portsmouth I had relatively little knowledge or experience of the place. I knew that there was a university there, I knew that there was a tall tower called ‘the Spinnaker’ and I knew that there was a ship called the Mary Rose which had been raised from the deep and displayed somewhere near the docks. Embarrassingly though, my primary reason for wanting to visit was the discovery that there was a Jack Wills outlet store located in a shopping centre near the docks.
So what were my thoughts of Portsmouth and is it worth a visit? Well for starters it is not the easiest place to get to…the journey from Brighton took nearly 2 hours once I’d traversed various roundabouts and traffic jams. The A27 is not as motorway-like as I’d thought, but past Chichester it smooths out and eventually becomes the M27 (and M275 spur which diverts off into Portsmouth itself). Following signs for ‘Historic Dockyard’ brought us to our destination…the Gunwharf Keys outlet village/centre thingy. FYI for anyone thinking of driving there, the multi-storey is huge (apparently the biggest in the UK), and is also rather expensive…not that there are any other alternatives.
Gunwharf Keys itself…well to be honest I was left underwhelmed, but then I always tend to be by these outlet centres. It has been a few years since I have been to one (The Galleria in Hatfield used to be a relatively regular trip though), and I have yet to experience the joys of ‘Bicester Village’, which a lot of people rave about. But Portsmouth’s offering? Well there is the usual type of shops…an M&S filled with last years styles, a Cadbury store filled with wonky Wispa bars and loads of Creme Eggs, as well as loads of sporty-type shops appealing to chavs on a budget or middle-aged bargain seekers. Probably of most interest to anyone under the age of 30 will be the presence of Jack Wills and Superdry outlets. I am a fan of both of these brands, yet sometimes shudder at the thought of paying £90 for a hoodie (even if it does feature my initials…which are the same as the JW brand!). Maybe it was too much to expect any real bargains, but I still got a t-shirt for a decent price. Superdry had a few cheaper items, but nothing that warranted spending any of my car fund. A Ralph Lauren shop also piqued my interest, but ultimately it was filled with posers looking at saving £5 on a polo because it was ‘classic fit’…so basically mis-shapen.
Moving swiftly on from the Quays and onto the promenade, we had lunch next to the marina-with an excellent view of the Isle of Wight and right next to the massive Spinnaker. It is the tallest building in the UK outside London, and apparently can be seen for miles around. That might be true, but it still did not inspire me to pay the £8.55 fee to go up…cheap of me maybe, but this isn’t the London Eye and the English Channel is mostly water.
I can’t comment on Portsmouth city centre, simply because we decided not to go. A stroll around it’s outskirts did not reveal much besides a large student population, but I assume that as with any city there are a decent range of shops, bars and restaurants; although having said that there is a huge variety of chain restaurants at Gunwharf Quays (Zizzi, Pizza Express, Nandos etc) as well as a Tiger Tiger…so I expect in the evening the place is pretty lively. Portsmouth’s proximity to Southampton might harm its chances slightly for people wanting to visit, but as I discovered there is more to it than shopping.
Well ok maybe not much more, but if you’re remotely interested in British naval history, or even just looking at ship-related shizzle, then Portsmouth Docks is definitely worth a visit. Just a little west of Gunwharf Keys lies the complex, which is a mix of past and present naval bits n pieces; obviously the modern warships, sailors and navy offices are out of bounds to the general public, but it is interesting to take pictures. Two massive sail ships reside in the harbour; HMS Warrior and HMS Victory, the latter of which was Nelson’s ship in the Battle of Trafalgar over 200 years ago. You can go on both of these if you purchase a ticket (the price of which we did not investigate…to my brother’s dismay), but even from the outside these historical vessels are impressive to behold. A couple of small museums and a shop make up the rest of the complex, but when we were there the main focus was on the opening of a massive new musuem that houses the Mary Rose. Now I am only really aware of this ship because the local TV news shows on the South Coast always go on about it…but basically it was a Tudor-era ship that sank, and was raised in the early 80’s. The new museum actually opened the day after we were there…kind of annoying but we did at least get to see a preview of the opening ceremony.
After a run back to the car park to avoid going into the next hour of payment, we headed home via the M27 and this time the M3, which brought us back to the M25 and it’s traffic. Would I necessarily visit Portsmouth again? Well I am curious to see what the city centre is like, but in all honesty I reckon I’m more likely to go to Southampton first. I guess I expected to find a Brighton-esque city on the coast, just abit less bohemian…and maybe to students who go there it is just that; I can’t really speak as Stoke on Trent is hardly a city filled with culture, but it did at least have a myriad of places to visit. Anyone who fancies a decent day out and is interested should give the place a go though! 🙂