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Don’t just park-and-cruise
To many Silver Travellers,
Southampton means just one thing – no-fly cruising. But like all major ports, this Hampshire city
has a rich trade and maritime history dating back centuries, not to mention a
vibrant retail and restaurant scene. So
I embarked on a land-based journey of discovery in the shadow of the cruise
The city shoreline has shifted here
over the centuries as land was gradually reclaimed to build new quays and port
facilities. I stayed overnight in Oxford Street, which was
once the hub of the maritime quarter, close to the Old Town. Today it is part of an attractive conservation
area that buzzes with cafes and restaurants.
always been an inn, the current building being an amalgamation of three
individual properties into a boutique hotel with 13 attractive rooms and a
bar/restaurant awarded 2AA Rosettes. The
hotel has no car park, but there are plenty of public car parks around the
city. Check out
for options and an interactive parking map.
Biggest surprise for many first-time
visitors is that Southampton isn’t on the sea, but positioned on a peninsula
between the rivers Test to the west and Itchen in the east, 8 miles from the
English Channel. The cruise docks and
Isle of Wight ferries face the Test, whilst the Ocean Village marina and
leisure area overlook the Itchen.
The city’s main visitor attractions
lie in the Old Town near the docks, and in the Cultural Quarter to the north,
some 15-20 minutes apart on foot. Unless
of course you get distracted by the huge West Quay shopping centre which lies
between the two.
Must-do attraction for anyone with
limited time is the Of the 897 crew
members, more than three-quarters came from a Southampton address.
in the Cultural Quarter which showcases the people of Southampton and the city’s historic connections with the sea. At the heart of the museum is the story of the Titanic, which sailed from Southampton on 10 April 1912, striking an iceberg in the early hours of the 15 April and sinking in just three hours with the loss of more than 1500 lives.
It’s an instantly engaging exhibition
with its mix of archive photos, background noises, and information panels. I was mesmerised by the three photos that
captured the moment Titanic nearly collided with the New York in harbour. And by
the pocket watch found on the body of a steward, the hands stopped at the exact
moment it hit the water.
The interactive installations are
fun for all ages too. Try ‘steering’ a ship
down Southampton Water and ‘shovelling coal’ into a boiler. And the Disaster section is intensely moving with
its eye-witness accounts of the evacuation and sinking, spoken by survivors who
were children or teenagers at the time. Final memory? The memorial wall that
gives the names, jobs, and – in some cases – photos of lost crew members. All poignant stuff.
Next door to SeaCity, I was
captivated too by Southampton City Art Gallery, not just by its wonderful
collection, but also by the fabulous Art Deco building. Based in Southampton’s Civic Centre, the
central hall of the exhibition space features bold lines and painted arches,
the artworks on show changing periodically.
The internationally renowned
collection numbers some 5,000 works spanning eight centuries but the core
collection is 20th century and contemporary art, so there’s
something to delight everybody here from Lowry to Munnings, Degas to
Gainsborough. If, like me, you love the
Pre-Raphaelite artists, don’t miss the wood-panelled side room which features
The Perseus Story by Burne-Jones. A young
room guide kindly fetched a tablet which allowed me to interact with each
Steering myself firmly past the
retail temptations of West Quay, I headed through Bargate and into High Street
which bisects the Old Town. Jane Austen
lived here from 1807 to 1809, close to The Tudor House, a beautifully restored
half-timbered house built in 1492. Discover the different owners of the house, its various uses, and fascinating
restoration; enjoy the tranquil knot garden; and look down into King John’s
Palace, a merchant’s house built of stone in the 1200s beside the then
But to really peel away the layers
of Southampton’s history, I recommend joining a guided walk with For 90 minutes, I discovered how the sophisticated Georgian spa town
turned into the port we know today.
on Wednesday evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays.
My eyes were opened to the history
of the city walls (third longest medieval walls surviving in England); to the
ruins of a Saxon Customs House; and the route of Jane Austen’s favourite
walk. We visited the Barrel Vault deep
below the High Street and the even larger Castle Vault in the city wall by Castle
Water Gate, used to store imported wine under Henry II. There are many similar wine vaults beneath
the Old Town, but they are only accessible with an accredited guide.
Today Castle Water Gate and the western
city walls look over landscaped gardens to West Quay shopping centre, the
Carnival UK offices, and an ever-changing backdrop of cruise ship arrivals. Skirt the ramparts towards the docks and you
reach , a delightfully informal restaurant with rooms where diners
cosy up amongst gloriously mismatched furnishings and tableware, looked after
by super-friendly staff. And there are
tables outside for fine weather food and drink.
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