I decided to visit Southampton to explore its rich, maritime history. It’s a port city in Hampshire located on the south coast of England and is now known as the cruise capital of Europe. The Pilgrim Fathers sailed the Mayflower from Southampton in 1620 taking settlers to the new world of America. More recently, in 1912 the Titanic embarked on its fateful maiden voyage, taking over 300 local residents who sadly would never return.
For a much shorter journey, ferries depart hourly across the Solent to Cowes on the Isle of Wight, the journey taking approximately one hour on the Red Funnel car ferry and only 25 minutes on the high speed Red Jet ferry. Cowes is extremely popular with the sailing fraternity and hosts several top regattas during the summer months. Cowes Week held in August each year hosts around 1,000 boats and 8,000 competitors ranging from world class professionals to weekend amateur sailors.
Wandering slightly inland, I came across an historic archway known as Bargate. This entrance arch was originally built as the main gateway to the medieval city and the 800 year old Bargate stands as a prestigious entrance to the old town.
Along here can be found the third longest stretch of medieval defensive stone walling in England. I followed signposts to walk beside these ancient remains, it’s no longer possible to walk on the walls but I enjoyed following the old city boundaries in the winter sunshine.
Ready for a hot drink, I spotted the Wool House, formerly the city’s only freestanding medieval warehouse. Originally built by monks as a storehouse, from Norman times wool was brought here from as far afield as Wiltshire and then exported from the town quay docks bringing prosperity to the medieval port. Since then, the Wool House has been used as a prison and the city’s maritime museum, it is now a gastro pub restaurant run by The Dancing Man Brewery. The interior is resplendent with its vaulted ceiling and exposed oak beams but I took my drink outdoors to soak up a few rays of winter sunshine.
The final part of my tour around Southampton took me through the modern centre where I wandered into West Quay, a spacious indoor shopping mall featuring many high street names. At the far end of Bargate, I reached the Civic Hall complex which is faced in white Portland stone. Each of the four buildings face outwards and contain the SeaCity Museum, Council Offices, The Guildhall entertainment venue, City Library and Art Gallery.
Many visitors to Southampton head straight to the cruise terminal to board their luxury liners but if time allows, a pleasant few hours can be spent exploring the waterfront and historic district of this south coast city.
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