13 September 2013
For reasons I will reveal later I didn’t want to tax myself too much on Sunday and, even though I knew there would be precious little time for walking on Monday and maybe Tuesday, I decided on a shortish Sunday walk. The Boat Show was in town so I decided to do the old two bridge challenge and see what all the fuss was about. It was an overcast day with a good chance of rain when I set out towards the green and I detected more than a hint of yellow in the leaves along the woodland path. At the top of the slope the open space was filled with grass and wildflowers going to seed. Autumn is in the air for sure.
Further on a clump of bright scabious reminded me that it was still summer, technically, for a few more days although the fallen leaves around it told a different story. Nearby the empty knapweed seed heads, like pretty golden flowers, had become home to some earwigs who looked to be curled up waiting for better weather. It seemed they had the right idea. Crossing the railway bridge the Virginia creeper clambering over the railings was a brilliant splash of autumnal red. There really was no getting away from the demise of summer and the birth of autumn.
Then I was on bridge number one the New Bridge, or as it’s properly called, The Itchen Bridge. It was quieter than I expected for Boat Show weekend but looking down on the water there was plenty of traffic. Small boats were zooming along the river, probably people on the test rides I’d read about in the paper. Maybe if I had money enough for a boat and any idea how to sail I’d have been able to take a ride myself.
Soon enough I’d gone through the underpass and was passing the old Royal Albert Hotel on Albert Road. Once upon a time this was a popular pub in the working class Chapel area of the city. Then there were six pubs in a row, filled each night with dock workers but times change and in the mid 1970’s when the New Beidge was being built, it was almost demolished. Thankfully it was saved and has now, like so many things, been converted into flats. Although it’s a touch dilapidated, I’m glad this lovely old building with its arched door and decorative windows has been saved.
Next I passed the Solent Sky Museum, once called the Hall of Aviation. This is a place I’ve never got round to visiting, in fact I thought it had closed but it seems I was wrong, although it was shut when I passed. Inside it tells the story of aviation in Southampton especially the Supermarine factory just across the river in Woolston and the famous Spitfire. An old aircraft, minus its wings stood in the car park, not something you see every day. If Commando had been with me I might even have known it was a hurricane. The glass frontage of the museum reflected the sun trying to break through the clouds and inside I caught a tantalising glimpse of planes. Obviously I will have to go again when the doors are open, maybe I’ll take Commando with me.
On the corner of Canute Road I stopped to look at the Canute Hotel, another rather grand old building. Built in the 1850’s for cruise ship passengers it closed in 1991 and then reopened as a pub two years later. Sadly it has since closed again and is now, as far as I can tell, an estate agents and, you’ve guessed it, flats. Then it was on, past South Western House towards Queens Park.
Last time I walked through Queens Park it was filled with piles of kerbstones from the roadworks along Platform Road. Now the work is done and the park is more or less as it was. Passing through I stopped for a moment to look at the General Gordon memorial, a cluster of tall marble columns topped with a cross. Gordon was a city resident and, as the Governor General of the Sudan, he evacuated more then two and a half thousand civilians and soldiers from Khartoum before the Magdi’s revolt and was played by Charlton Heston in the film Khartoum for this troubles.
Across the road I passed the World’s Oldest Bowling Green, all decked out with Union Jack bunting, then on past God’s House Tower. Usually I walk through the arch and along Winkle Street where I can almost forget I’m in the twenty first century and step back in time to the days when the medieval walls surrounded the old city. This time I walked along the road, getting a different view of the old walls slowly metamorphosing into modern buildings.
On the next corner are the remains of the drum tower that was once part of the city Watergate. Behind it is Canute’s Palace but I had other things to see so, for once, I didn’t walk along Porters Lane and visit it. Instead I carried on to the section of crumbling wall in front of the Wool House. Momentarily I thought about stopping in for a coffee but a rummage around in my pocket told me I didn’t have enough money for Woolhouse coffee so I passed by and walked up Cuckoo Lane instead. In the 1200’s this was where the wealthy merchants lived but, after the French raid in 1338, their houses were demolished to make way for the town wall. William Shakespere’s patron, the Earl of Southampton once lived on this steeply sloping lane behind the walls.
At the top, I was pretty sure I’d get the best view of the boat show I was going to get, not that I ever thought there’d be much of a view. The majority of the show is out on the water and Mayflower Park, where it’s been held since 1969, is closed to people like me who don’t want to pay £22 to see the boats and exhibitions. Just in case anyone might accidentally glimpse one without paying, the railings of the park are blocked off with hoardings. This is the largest boat show in Europe though and attracts massive crowds to the city, so I thought, perhaps, there’d be something interesting to look at, even from outside.
As it was, hoardings, masts and marquees were about as much as I saw. There were no crowds, outside at least, maybe the weather had kept them away, and I stood in Cuckoo Lane leaning over the old walls in the shadow of the Mayflower memorial, wondering why I’d bothered. The show generates masses of cash for the city, which can only be good, but it seems a shame they have to completely close off the only waterside park in town to normal people for ten days and then not even let us peep in from the outside. Then again, maybe I’m just a cheapskate and I should have coughed up my money and wandered around looking at boats I can’t afford. Lots of people do.
Behind the walls is a small park. In the absence of coffee and boats I decided to stop for a moment and sip some water. Between each bench flower beds over spilled with the brightest flowers I think I’ve ever seen. It was a riot of colour buzzing with a few lazy bees. My rest didn’t last long. Some Japanese tourists were on the walls nearby snapping photos of each other against the backdrop of our city history. Soon they spotted the park and the lovely flowers and then they were upon me still snapping away. For a while I watched, wondering how much of the city they saw through the lenses of those cameras. It seemed their holiday would end with no real memories, just a series of trophy snapshots of themselves in the places they’d visited but never really seen. Of course, I take my share of photos, often far too many but, unlike these tourists, between photos I stop and look around at the places I’m visiting.
So, I left the tourists to their snapping and headed towards The Arcades. A huge, London Eye like, wheel has appeared near the dock gate, probably one of the boat show attractions. Climbing up onto the battlements I wondered what the views would be like from the top of the wheel. Of course, without paying to enter the show, I’d never know and I was pretty content with the view I already had. Ahead was Westgate Hall and the lovely gardens of Westgate Square. The hall once stood in front of the church in St Michael’s square, the upper floors were used as a wool store and a fish market was held below. Maybe the church goers were offended by the smell of the fish or the building got the way but, in 1634, it was dismantled and moved brick by brick to its present home.
Down the steps into the square and through the arch of Westgate I went following in the steps of so many lunchtime walks. A massive yacht on a trailer was parked up on the corner in front of the Grand De Vere hotel, the only boat show exhibit I got to see.