22 September 2017
With Commando at work and CJ often out, Friday is usually a catch as you can day as far as meals go in our house. Mostly it’s just me, and my main meal is whatever I find in the fridge. At the moment Commando is training on a new aircraft and temporarily working days. This means our lives, and our eating habits, have been turned upside down and inside out. Compounding the issue, we have a busy weekend ahead. Tonight Commando suggested we go into town and get something to eat to save me cooking. He didn’t have to ask me twice, it would give me the chance to have a look at the Ferris wheel I’d heard had been put up near the Bargate.
We could see the big wheel as soon as we turned onto the High Street. It reminded me of our visit to Paris in 2014 and the Roue de Paris, a transportable Ferris wheel in the Tuileries Gardens. For a moment I thought this might even be the same wheel but, as we got closer I could see the little capsules were a different shape. Like the one we saw in Paris, this wheel is a temporary attraction
At over a hundred feet high, this is the tallest mobile Ferris wheel in the UK and was built by a Dutch company. It has travelled all over the country and arrived in Southampton some time last week. It was certainly an impressive sight towering over the medieval gateway to the city. We stopped and stared up at it for quite some time. Surprisingly most of the gondolas were empty.
Even when we finally tore ourselves away and headed up towards WestQuay we couldn’t stop looking back at it and talking about the marvellous views you’d get from the top. The sun was getting low in the sky and the light was so perfect the stones of Bargate and the giant wheel behind had a golden glow to them as if they’re been dipped in honey.
Over dinner in Ed’s Diner we reminisced about that long weekend in Paris, walking along the Seine and the Champs Elysees. We talked about the weekend ahead, Parkrun and the Winchester Half Marathon. We enjoyed our food and the American diner atmosphere. Above all I was glad I didn’t have to cook.
When we left WestQuay the sun was beginning to set. The pink glow creeping up from the horizon over Bargate made a beautiful backdrop for the monument and the giant wheel, which was now lit up. The Above Bar precinct was slowly emptying as the shops began to close. All the food stalls had packed up for the night and little puddles of golden light spilling from shop windows reflected on the pavements. Those acres of glass also reflected the sky and the lights of the wheel.
Since 1180, or thereabouts, when the Bargate was built, the gateway to Southampton has seen many changes. The small town has spilled out from its walls and become a city. The surrounding fields are now filled with streets, shops and houses stretching out to swallow up little villages and turn them into suburbs. Kings and queens have passed through the gate, along with troops on the way to war. Prisoners have languished within the walls and councils convened. Looking at the circle of the wheel behind the ancient building I couldn’t help wondering what the people of the old walled town would have made of it? They were no strangers to fun. Fairs would have popped up in the town on a regular basis, with merchants selling goods, singers, musicians, acrobats and jesters. The townspeople would never have seen anything as wonderous as this but I’m fairly sure they have loved it.
We crossed the road and stood beneath the Bargate arch looking up at the gondolas slowly rotating as the sky behind gradually darkened.
“Shall we have a go?” Commando said.
Usually rides like this are not my kind of thing at all. I am not a fan of heights and prefer to keep both feet firmly on the ground but the opportunity to see the city from above outweighed my nervousness. There was no queue so, moments later, with no chance to change my mind, I was stepping into a gondola.
In the calm before the wheel began to move I looked up at the latticework of steel above and then, with a stomach lurching swing, we were off. For a few brief seconds I regretted my descision. The wheel moved much faster than I’d expected and the gondola swung as we rose into the air. Beside me CJ looked as uncomfortable as I felt and even Commando had an air of nervousness about him.
Once we’d climbed above the buildings though any fear was forgotten as we looked out at the city from a totally different perspective. Sadly, the Perspex windows of the gondola didn’t make for brilliant photos but I took some anyway. We gleefully pointed out familiar landmarks to each other, the Civic Centre clock tower, the cranes of the docks, the spire of St Michael’s Church. The people in the precinct seemed like ants dashing about below. As we rose above the Bargate I realised we’d soon be able to look down on it from above.
There was a gap between the Perspex panels and, as we rose higher and higher, I took photos of the precinct through it. Soon we were looking down on the crennalated roof of the Bargate. It was a view I never thought I’d see and for that alone the ride was worth every single penny.
We completed the circle three times, marvelling at the way the different parts of the city fit together when seen from above.
“This must be how the seagulls see it,” CJ said.
Then it was over. Our gondola juddered to a halt and, slightly shakily, we stepped back onto the firm ground again.
The giant wheel is a transient thing, here today and gone tomorrow. Despite my fear of heights, I’m glad I had the chance to ride on it and, just for a while, see my city like the gulls do.
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