England Grand Tour (2021): Day 6: Portsmouth

The day started with an inclusive breakfast at the Hilton, which made a nice change from coffee-shop fare. We had beautifully clear blue skies for our day trip to Portsmouth, which involved an easy drive on the M27 and M275. We drove to the historic waterfront at Gunwharf Quays and parked up. We then enjoyed an al fresco coffee from Caffè Nero, with views of the city’s iconic Spinnaker Tower (2005). The first ‘real’ stop of the day, however, was at Portsmouth City Museum. The distinctive reddish building dates from the late 19th century and was once part of a barracks complex. I was particularly intrigued by a section on Edinburgh-born author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and by a retro living room with a style that seemed fairly familiar!

After the museum visit, we made our way to the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, where we were also able to observe the arrival of the relatively new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales. We continued down to Southsea Castle (which wasn’t as attractive as it had looked online!), then returned towards the central area. Our route took us past Clarence Pier – a classic example of British seaside tackiness – and the partly ruined Royal Garrison Church, now under the care of English Heritage.

The next major stop was at Portsmouth Cathedral, also known informally as the Cathedral of the Sea, located in Old Portsmouth. I thought this was one of the most unusual English cathedrals that I had seen. (I haven’t done Coventry yet.) Dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury, Portsmouth Cathedral is a unique and harmonious blend of three distinct architectural styles from different historical periods. The original church, now the east end of the cathedral but including the choir, dates from 1185. Proceeding westwards, the next, relatively small section was added at the close of the 17th century. It now acts as a baptistry, and features an unusual cruciform font. Lastly, the current nave was added in 1939.

Our next objective was the small peninsular area known as Portsmouth Point, in the west of Old Portsmouth, which we reckoned was a good bet for finding lunch. After initially drawing a blank, we were successful at the Bridge Tavern, where we enjoyed a perfectly acceptable seafood sandwich, fries and salad combo. A viewpoint gave good views across to the Gunwharf Quays development where our time in the city had started.

After lunch, we walked back round to Gunwharf Quays for some further exploration in the continuing bright sunshine. An attempt to visit Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was thwarted. Pre-Covid, the pricing arrangement had been that merely strolling around the site was free, and you only paid if you wanted to board any vessels. At the time of our visit, however, a hefty charge applied to all visitors, regardless of their plans. Given that we didn’t have enough remaining time to board vessels, this seemed potentially very poor value for money.

Back at base in Southampton, we had a 7pm reservation at Beefy’s for dinner, and our choice of burgers seemed particularly appropriate!

Burger, relish and perfectly cooked chips at Beefy’s