A wet walk around Old Portsmouth

1 January 2018

If you pop back to this blog from time to time you might have spotted that I have a bit of a complicated life - or rather its a bit complicated to explain where I live!

To cut to the chase - I spend most of my time in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire (it's where the day job is) but I vote in Gosport, Hampshire. It's for this reason that I can participate in both Buckinghamshire and Hampshire Open Studios (though to be fair most creativity happens in Buckinghamshire).

Recently I shared a walk around a wintery Milton Keynes here, so to balance things out a bit I thought I should also show you a bit of my other home. So on a very wet New Years Eve we sallied forth to take a little walk around Old Portsmouth.

Now, I live in Gosport but it is very close to Portsmouth. I should give you a bit of context.

This map dates from 1575 and employs a bit of artistic licence - but you get the general idea I think. Portsmouth really is an island.  It's that blob on the right side of the picture. 

The only sense of this now is when you travel by train and when the tide is in. As the train trundles across the rail bridge you realise that you are crossing water and going onto the mainland. 

Gosport is at the end of a peninsular (a pain to get to by road during the rush hour) but is only 1/4 mile from Portsmouth. Unfortunately that 1/4 of a mile is the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour (on the map above that distinctive triangle of water just off centre of the picture.) 

This next map is a bit more accurate. It dates from 1826.

That triangular bit of water is still there but the sand banks are mapped.  And you can see that Gosport runs up the west side of Portsmouth Harbour while Portsmouth is on the east side. 

This last map is probably the clearest of all. It dates from 1759.  Of course there are far more houses now, but the geography is very clear. 

So, we live just outside the town ramparts in Gosport (long since lost to the mists of time) and the quickest way to get to Portsmouth is to get the Gosport Ferry. (The photo below is from a very sunny summer day!) 

On a bright summers day it is possible to believe that you are on the Med - but not on the last day in December.  There was nothing bright and sunny about our little jaunt around Portsmouth. 

So we tootled down to wait for the ferry. The view of Portsmouth from the Gosport side is rather lovely. 

In the middle there is the BAR Ben Ainslie Building (with the grey union flag), the HQ of the Landrover sponsored the UK Americas Cup team.  And that domed tower to the right is Portsmouth Cathedral.

Next to the ferry terminal on the Gosport side is the Camper and Nicholsons yard . Actually, I am not sure that this yard is still owned by Campers, but when I first lived in Gosport it was and I still know it as the Camper and Nicholsons yard. It still has a range of boats in the yard for repair I guess. 

It was a grey day. The sky was grey, the harbour was grey and the Royal Navy ships are grey. Not great for photography!  But that is the new aircraft carrier. It's huge!

As the ferry approaches Portsmouth you see a wonderful view of HMS Warrior.  This is the oldest iron hulled battle ship. You can visit it and hire it for weddings etc.

You can see the dockyard from the ferry too.

As you approach the Portsmouth side there is a fabulous new bus station, though it is somewhat overshadowed by a rather derelict building, and the rail station (just to the right of this picture) could do with a bit of a facelift too.

From the ferry terminus you can meander into the retail delights Gunwharf Quays, if that is your thing (outlet shopping, though I must say not all bad and some nice places to eat).  Or you can pass by and head to Old Portsmouth, and specifically to Spice Island - the tip of land right on the harbour side overlooking Gosport. 

On the way you pass the Camber Dock. 

The Bridge Tavern sits right on the Camber Dock. It dates from the late 1600s.

Now it is rather overshadowed by the back of the BAR Ben Ainslie building.

Being New Years Eve the Camber was full of fishing boats.

And feathered visitors. Is this a cormorant of a shag?

But the main purpose of our visit was to have a look at the Hotwalls.

The Hotwalls date back to the 15th Century and were previously an artillery barracks.  But it is very difficult to envisage how this might have looked. I simply knew it as the fortified sea wall next to the Sally Port - a gap in the wall with access to a very small stony beach.

A Sally Port is apparently a fortified entrance, and this makes sense. The Portsmouth sea walls are certainly substantial and you get the impression that when Portsmouth was a completely walled town it would have been pretty impregnable.

The arches in the Hotwalls were, well, rather dilapidated and always seemed to smell of urine.  Luckily someone in Portsmouth Council had a vision and the old smelly arches have been turned into 13 arts studios.  And they are fabulous!

We visited when most were shut (I don't blame them - even artists need a break) but you still get a sense of the fabulous new spaces that have been created.

Apparently, when the proposals were first published there were a lot of people who objected to the rejuvenation of the Hotwalls.  It really does make you question the logic of some people!

Most were shut. We had to peer through the windows.

Including the window of Emma Nicol.

After peering through the windows of the studio spaces we then meandered down the lanes towards Spice Island.

There we partook of light refreshment at the Still and West Pub - a real landmark of a building right on the waters edge. It is lovely for a summer drink on the outside patio or, as we discovered, as beer and a coffee on a winters day in front of the fire. it is somewhat notorious as being the place where HMS Vanguard ran aground. 

This is not my picture. Borrowed from the Pub website, but a great view of the building and it's proximity to the water. And below the stranded Vanguard. 

From the tip of land at Spice Island you can look across the entrance to the Camber Dock to the Spinnaker Tower and Gunwharf Quays. 

And at that point the heavens really did open, hastening us back to the Ferry and Gosport.

But on the way we did manage to stop and examine a wall with holes where the bricks used to be!

 That is a real gallop around Old Portsmouth and it really merits a bit more time and care, but this will have to wait until the weather improves. Meanwhile, I am back in MK now as the day job starts again tomorrow. 


  1. Happy New year to you and thank you for the trip down memory lane, I well remember my sail training days and the night we spent in Camber dock, sleeping unwashed in my clothes!

  2. What a great post. I really feel as if I've been on the walk with you!

    1. Well that is very kind of you. Need to get my blogging back on track - you for sort of loose it if you don't loose it (if you get what I mean) but if this worked for you then maybe I am not quite as rusty as I thought.

  3. Fascinating! About the brick wall with holes, I saw something on Countryfile about making spaces for swift nests...although they were higher up. but could be something similar.
    Sandy in Bracknell

    1. No self respecting swift is going to nest here - too low. This is too low down. These decayed bricks are just bad luck or bad planning. The mortar mix is too strong for the bricks, as I understand it (the mortar seems to be holding the building up!)

  4. Lovely walk, I want to move into studios like those! I do feel a little isolated sometimes so I thought getting back to blogging myself & reading blogs would be a good solution. Enjoyed your Xmas open studio posts, too - I had Port & Lemon's puffin as our Christmas card this year!! Pop by mine when you have a chance ;) happy new year!

    1. I did pop by your blog. I thought I'd left a comment but to be truthful sometimes comments don't always seem to post properly. I will have to go back and check. Great that you had a Port and Lemon card. They're such lovely ladies!

  5. I had no idea you were so close to the water. Thanks for the very interesting tour. Love the new use for those arches.

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