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  • Shelley Dark

#8 day trip to Portsmouth

Like Frida I've had two significant events since I wrote last. On Wednesday I went to Portsmouth, and on Thursday I lost my phone at the National Portrait Gallery.

The first one was just delightful. I'll probably develop PTSD from the second.

This is my photo which I call London Sky With Aeroplane Dot. I didn't know London could have blue skies day after day!

Months ago, I wrote to the Blue Badge guides asking for someone who might know something about Portsmouth's naval history for my book. As I did on Hydra and Malta, I wanted to visit the town to get the lay of the land, and perhaps even see some buildings of the time. I was put in touch with Jackie, whose emails were chatty and helpful. Thoroughly nice.

Although she didn't have specific knowledge of the era, there was someone with naval knowledge who may be available on the day. It sounded perfect.

The train to Portsmouth stops right at the very water's edge in the harbour, and Jackie was there waiting for me. As we walked away, we met a very anxious and agitated French woman, whose adult children had given her a ticket to Portsmouth for the day. She was lost, shaking a little, no idea where to go or what to do, on the verge of tears. I don't think she'd ever left France before.

Jackie explained in fluent French how to get to the shopping area, and when the poor woman still looked confused and shaking, escorted her to a coffee shop, took her inside and ordered her coffee. I've never seen anyone look so relieved and grateful. If she could have put Jackie in her pocket, she would have. A big kiss instead.

I knew I had met someone quite extraordinary.

We went on the ferry across to Gosport and back - here we're looking out through the entrance to the harbour.

We spent the morning walking the waterfront and the town fortifications - it's always been the home base for the Royal Navy.

Nice to see an Aussie connection - there are memorials to Captain Phillip and Flinders, both of whom left from here on ocean voyages to Australia: Phillip with the eleven ships of the First Fleet in 1787, and Flinders on his way to circumnavigate the continent in 1801.

Portsmouth Point by Georgian artist Thomas Rowlandson (Public Domain)

Jackie had brought quite a bit of information in the form of books, pictures and text. What a treasure she is! This painting shows the dock area called Spice Island, a lively place full of pubs and women, where sailors were sometimes press-ganged into Admiral Nelson's service. Looks like a lot of sore heads tomorrow.

One of the pubs still on Spice Island - minus the debauchery - at least while we were there!

It’s such a pretty town, isn't it?

a painting of Portsmouth by E W Cooke, View from the Saluting Platform 1836

​We had coffee and watched the water traffic from the round tower in the distance in this painting! The scene reminded me of Istanbul - ferries, small craft, yachts, container ships, navy ships, hovercraft - zooming everywhere! The harbour mouth isn't wide enough for two big ships to pass each other, so one waits outside until the other has sailed through.

So it's deep water, safe, protected, and from an historically naval perspective, defendable.

This cable ship leaving the harbour was very impressive!

Portsmouth has an Emirates Spinnaker Tower, built this century on reclaimed naval land, with a very smart new shopping and eating precinct below it.

Because I took these photos through the Spinnaker glass, they're rather green - sorry about that! But you can see the width of the entrance to the harbour. That's the Isle of Wight in the far distance, where Queen Victoria and Albert had a home called Osborne House. Scene of the film, Victoria and Abdul, It's also where she died. Jackie said it's a wonderful home to visit. The island also hosts the Cowes yachting regatta.

Looking back into the harbour, and on the right the old naval dockyard. Jackie explained which buildings would have been there in the early 1800's. The rope building (as long as the Eiffel Tower is high!), the block mill (they had an assembly line for making ship's pulleys way back then!), the supply stores.

And across to the west where hulks were moored.

Portsmouth was badly bombed during the war. This church was one casualty.

photo by Matt Brown via Creative Commons Wikimedia

This amazing building is the headquarters for Portsmouth's America's cup challenges. It even looks top secret!

Over a delicious salad lunch at Carluccio's Jackie told me a little about herself - she's an amazing woman - she's very busy guiding and also doing her master's. She said we'd soon be joined by the naval expert. My interest was piqued.

The naval expert is her husband Chris. A rear-admiral. (A what?????) You can imagine my double-take of surprise and delight! How much more expert could I ask for? Such serendipity!

He's is now a strategic forecaster, a lecturer, a broadcaster and author.

An old wooden figurehead keeps watch on the Spinnaker. I don't know that he's too impressed.

Nelson's ship the Victory is moored in the dockyard, open to tourists. Chris is sad for the indignity of her having her masts so shortened. Sort of like being seen in your night gown.

As we boarded her, Chris and Jackie both said, 'Don't hit your head'. I hit my head.

I learned more in an hour about the navy of that time than I ever could from books! The construction, the cannons (and how to fire them - just try me! but don't make me be a powder monkey), the eight decks, the sleeping arrangements, the ablutions, the cooks and the food, Nelson's quarters, the magazine, the bilge, the men (over 800 crew!) the officers. The whole ship from top to bottom. Nelson's naval tactics and why he died at Trafalgar.

We went for a very happy ferry ride around the harbour, with Chris dryly commenting on the accuracy of the commentary. Then a car ride up to the top of the hill overlooking the harbour, with its defensive forts. It was nearly 6pm.

It was impossible to adequately thank both Jackie and Chris for the huge effort they'd made! They love their city and they showed enormous generosity in making sure I saw it at its best.

We certainly have, haven't we? I'd love to go back. I hope our paths cross again. Maybe they'll come to Australia!

I've run out of time to write more tonight. I'll have to tell you about Thursday and Friday in another post buddies. The case of the missing phone and my total failure to find it.

Here's your flahs for today.

Not sure when I'll post again, as tomorrow night I'm having dinner with an Instabuddy and her husband. One I've never met face to face before. She's writing a book too! And then on Sunday we fly to Cork. You packed?

Until then, I wait you,

shelley dark, writer 

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