Giant deckchairs and a beach in the city

31 July 2018

There is a giant deckchair trail going on in the city centre, part of an event called Seaside in the Square, centred around Guildhall Square where GO! Southampton have set up a beach, including imported golden sand. The event, planned to coincide with the school summer holidays, includes live music, beach yoga and an outdoor cinema in the evenings. The trail looked like a lot of fun so, today, CJ and I thought we’d go and check it out ourselves. We certainly had the weather for it.

Armed with a photograph of the trail map on my phone, we began the hunt for deckchairs at Guildhall Square. Predictably, with school now broken up for the summer, the whole area was heaving with children and parents and it was quickly apparent we were not going to find a spot to sit on the ‘beach.’ Luckily, this was not what we’d come for anyway, although the hot sun, the sand and a wonderful array of normal sized deckchairs did make it look tempting.

Maybe, if there’d been a place to sit, we might have stopped for a while and had an ice cream from the van parked up on the edge of the square. As it was, we quickly located our first two deckchairs, took photos to prove we’d seen them, and left the children to their fun.

Tempting as a deckchair on the beach might have been, there was something even more so very close by. Artisan Coffee shop, on the edge of the square was calling and it would have been rude not to answer. We enjoyed our coffee and a sneaky cake at a table outside, with the incongruous sights and sounds of the seaside all around us.

The photographed map on my phone wasn’t exactly big or very clear but we knew there was a giant deckchair somewhere around the civic centre and another in Watts Park. Once we’d finished our coffee we set of towards the park, keeping our eyes peeled for deckchairs as we walked. The Art Gallery seemed like a likely spot for a decorated deckchair but, when we got there, there was only the fountain.

We had better luck in the Park. In fact, we spotted the deckchair, close to the Enclosure sculpture, almost at once. Someone had left an empty wine bottle beneath it and, by the time we’d picked it up and taken it to the nearest bin, some children were sitting beside the chair ticking it off their paper trail map.

Each of the chairs is sponsored by a local business. This particular chair bore the logo of Jacks of London, a barber shop in Above Bar. We took the obligatory photo, then stopped to squint at the tiny map on my phone. The next chair was, as far as I could tell, somewhere on London Road. We walked towards the cenotaph, with a quick nod to Isaac Watts on his pedestal, wishing we had a proper paper map.
“I wonder where those girls got their map?” CJ said. “Ours is rubbish.”
He was right, it was. The screenshot of the map I’d taken was far too small on the phone and the bright sun made it hard to see.
“I think they have them in Marlands,” I said. “Once we’ve found the chair on London Road we’ll see if we can get one.”

We spotted the next deckchair fairly quickly, not far up London Road, opposite the Giddy Bridge pub. This one was sponsored by Wessex Swim School. Now it was time to work our way back towards Marlands, where there was supposed to be another deckchair and, possibly, a proper map. First though, there was a quick detour through Andrews Park.

From the little I could make out on the map, it looked as if there was another deckchair somewhere in the park. Exactly where was anything but clear but a walk in the park is hardly a chore, even on a very muggy day like today. We tried the Queen’s Peace Fountain first, thinking this was a likely spot. It wasn’t there and the fountain wasn’t working. An area nearby was cordoned off by tape and some men were busily doing something that looked quite technical. Presumably, something was broken and they were trying to fix it.

The deckchair wasn’t anywhere near the wisteria arch either but we stopped to smell the flowers anyway. There were nowhere near as many of them this year and the scent was not as strong as usual, perhaps because of the hot dry weather? Even so, the archway was as much a joy as it always is.

We walked on towards New Road, looking about for a deckchair all the while. It wasn’t in the mosaic garden, the rose garden or near the cafe. In fact, it didn’t seem to be anywhere in the park. A giant deckchair isn’t easy to hide after all.
“Maybe it’s somewhere in Above Bar?” CJ suggested after we’d walked in circles for a while.
“We might as well have a look,” I said, heading towards the cutway to Guildhall Square. “Wherever it is, it isn’t in the park. If we don’t find it we’ll head for Marlands and see if we can get a proper map.”
This turned out to be a great plan. As we came out of the cutway CJ spotted the deckchair right next to the new Nuffield Theatre and sponsored by it. We must have walked right past it earlier in our eagerness to get to the beach in the square.

We were about to walk down Above Bar towards Marlands when I remembered we hadn’t yet found the deckchair near the Civic Centre building. We’d checked two of the four sides earlier, outside the Guildhall and outside the Art Gallery and it wasn’t there. It seemed sensible to check the other two sides now, before we left the top end of town, so we crossed Guildhall Square and, as we turned the corner into Civic Centre Road, there was the chair on the lawn in front of the building.

Feeling quite pleased with ourselves to have ticked off all the top of town chairs, we carried on towards Marlands. The Marlands chair was easy enough to find, right by the big glass lift. The the maps were a little trickier. CJ thought they would be in one of the two shops that had been used as headquarters for Go Rhinos and Zany Zebras. They weren’t. We wandered about for a while then, quite by accident, we found them at the information stand by the escalators. Luckily for us they’d just had a new delivery of maps.
“Five minutes ago we had none left at all,” the lady said as she handed us our map.

When I looked at the map it was clear my phone screenshot was not only woefully inadequate, it was also missing a very vital piece. The very top part of the map had been cut off, including a deckchair somewhere in Bedford Place. Our smugness had been a little premature. Now we had to traipse all the way back up to the very top of town again.

Feeling overheated and with CJ more than a little grumpy, we walked back up Above Bar, crossed Civic Centre Road and, for the third time, went along West Marlands Road in front of the Guildhall. CJ stomped beside me across the park, then we crossed Cumberland Place and headed up Grosvenor Square. By this time CJ was muttering under his breath about going the wrong way and walking further than we had to. He was right. We hadn’t taken the most direct route. Even the paper trail map wasn’t completely clear on where the next chair was. If it was at the bottom of Bedford Place, we might have walked further than we needed to and missed it.

There was method to my madness though, as we were in the area, I thought it was worth a quick detour to have a look at New Forest sculptor Greta Berlin’s statue of Earl Mountbatten. It stands in the middle of the square and was presented to the city by Timberlaine Properties after they renovated some of the surrounding houses. During World War II, Mountbatten was Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command and, in 1947, the last Viceroy of India. He lived at Broadlands in Romsey and was the first patron of the City of Southampton Society. His death, in 1979, was shocking to the nation. He and several other members of his family were killed when their boat was blown up by an IRA bomb in the harbour at Mullaghmore, Ireland.

As it was, our detour didn’t really make much difference. The deckchair was actually about halfway up Bedford Place, near Crew Barbers. The walk reminded us both of the days when we used to come this way to walk to The Dell to watch Saints play. Of course, CJ was just a small boy at the time but Bedford Place hasn’t changed a great deal.

CJ was in a slightly better mood as we walked back through the parks towards the next deckchair. This one should, in theory, have been much easier to locate. According to the map, it was beside the bandstand in Palmerston Park. We could see people and some kind of stall set up in the bandstand as we crossed the park, but there was no sign of a deckchair. This was a little disconcerting.

When we got closer we found a sign that explained, at least in part. The deckchair had been damaged and removed, whether by accident or by vandalism wasn’t clear. It was disappointing but at least we weren’t filling out the answers to the questions on the back of the map to try to win a prize. Another walk back to Guildhall Square might have been a step too far if we had been.

As we headed back across the park towards the precinct I noticed I’d picked up a couple of passengers. Two ladybirds had landed on my jumper and were hitching a ride. CJ took my phone to take a picture but one flew off before he managed it.

The final Above Bar deckchair was at the top of the pedestrian precinct, right next to the merry go round. This one was sponsored by Red Funnel. Right beside it was one of the litter bins that have been decorated as part of GO! Southampton’s project to make the city prettier, more interesting and, most importantly, cleaner.

The bins have been springing up since March and we have noticed a few on our travels. They were painted by local artist Kev Munday. Apparently there is a trail map available so people can find them all. Sadly, CJ and I missed a trick on this one. Although we’d seen some of the bins we didn’t know there was a proper trail and a map. So far I haven’t been able to find the map showing where all ten bins are located but I did find some information and it looks like there’d be easy enough to spot. This would have to be a project for another day though. Now we had the Below Bar deckchairs to find…

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

4 thoughts on “Giant deckchairs and a beach in the city”

    1. In recent years we have had some wonderful trails in the city. It’s been great fun looking for all the various things and a nice way for visitors to see the city. We are lucky to have groups like GO! Southampton to organise these things. Maybe someone in your town could set up something similar? It brings visitors and money to the place for sure.

  1. The deck chair trail sounds like a lot of fun. We had a beach here in our own centre last summer with donkey rides and other attractions, it sounded good fun but I didn’t go as I avoid our town centre like the plague if I can 🙂

    1. It was a lovely idea, especially for the children while school was out. I tend to avoid the town centre at weekends when it’s busy but I like wandering round during the week when most people are at work.

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