Gosport - the south coast town that's full of surprises

Venue: Gosport
Date: 29 Sep 2012

Gosport - the south coast town that's full of surprises - Group travel review

Pictured: Enjoying a cruise of Portsmouth Harbour as part of our Gosport fam trip.

A familiarisation group trip to Gosport gave readers the chance to get up close to a nuclear missile, cruise the Solent, step onboard a submarine and visit the world’s only museum of Hovercraft. Rebekah Tailor reports.

Legend states that the name Gosport is derived from God’s Port - as christened by the Bishop of Winchester back in the 12th century, after he was rescued from a fierce storm and brought ashore by local fishermen. A rather romantic notion, however the heavens were certainly smiling down on our recent Reader Club Trip to the south coastal town, located on the western side of Portsmouth Harbour, as blue skies and sunshine were the order of the day.

Visits to Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Diving Museum and Hovercraft Museum would reflect upon the area’s rich maritime history and naval heritage; while a climactic cruise of Portsmouth Harbour - courtesy of Gosport Ferry Ltd - basked in the present, absorbing the picturesque hub of Gosport’s marinas, with fantastic views across to the iconic Spinnaker Tower and Gunwharf Quays.

The story of the submariner

Approaching via waterbus, it’s near impossible to miss the incredible hulk of HMS Alliance ‘parked’ alongside the Royal Navy Submarine Museum - yet I almost did.

I’d be forgiven for the fact it’s currently concealed under tarpaulin as it undergoes a major £6.75 million conservation restoring it back to its former glory - but that’s not why I almost glanced past it. The truth is, I hadn’t been prepared for the sheer size of this World War Two era submarine - the only surviving one which remains in the UK - and I was genuinely enthralled as I climbed up to the gangway, ducking through the hatch into the forward torpedo compartment.

Peter Chilcott shared his experience of life beneath the waves - group travel review

Pictured: Submariner Peter Chilcott shared his experience of life beneath the waves.

While conservation works continue through next year in preparation for the re-launch of HMS Alliance in 2014, it’s business as usual for the Royal Navy Submarine Museum - and this includes the chance to climb on board and take a tour with a real submariner. Our guide was Peter Chilcott, and it was a real privilege to listen and learn as he guided us through the cramped living quarters, control room and engine room, sharing his personal experience of the submariner’s lot and revealing what these men are tasked with in the service of their country.

The Royal Navy Submarine Museum offers discounted group rates for parties of ten plus, with free entry for GTOs and free coach parking. Welcome talks can be arranged on arrival, and additional attractions include the Royal Navy’s very first submarine Holland 1 and midget X24. Combined tickets with neighbouring attractions are also available, including the option to travel via Portsmouth Waterbus Service between Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower.

“We’ve had a wonderful day in Gosport - a place I’ve never ever thought to visit before. I’ve got loads of ideas for my group and we’ve been made really welcome by people from the tourist board and all the attractions. I think it’s probably a place that people have forgotten to visit and I would strongly advise that everyone visits Gosport as there’s lots to do.” - June Barnard, Shepperton Ladies Club

A social history lesson at Priddy’s Hard

With its extensive collection of cannons, guns, mines, torpedoes, shells, munitions and modern missiles, Explosion! is the ultimate museum of ‘boys toys’ and an attraction which may not initially boast wider appeal. Yet created within the 18th century buildings of the Royal Navy’s former armaments depot of Priddy’s Hard, the museum reveals an incredible social history.

Gosport's marinas - group travel review

Pictured: The picturesque hub of Gosport's marinas.

The highlight of our all-too-brief visit for me was the immersive audio-visual presentation of the Priddy’s Hard Story, offering first-hand accounts of former munitions workers splayed across the brickwork of the Grand Magazine, which used to hold up to 6,500 barrels of gunpowder. A number of our party were also engrossed during a brief tour of Building 309, which houses a reserve collection of rare weapons too large to display in the museum - including the Polaris missile.

This is just one optional extra for groups in addition to exploring the main museum. Alternative possibilities for group visits can include specialist tours of the Museum Armoury, where enthusiasts will have the chance to handle a selection of weapons; as well as tailored talks and lectures, and even paranormal investigations as part of an evening visit.

Gosport: home of the global diving industry

The historic location of Explosion! is of course the ideal backdrop for a museum which traces the development of naval armaments. So what’s a Diving Museum doing in Gosport?

It turns out that Gosport is keen to be recognised as the home of the global diving industry; staking its claim as the one-time home of John Deane - co-inventor of the diving helmet who discovered the Mary Rose, and sold the first diving helmet to local mariner Henry Abbinett.

We were fortunate to be introduced to the Diving Museum by one of Gosport’s diving greats, John Bevan, chairman of the Historic Diving Society who broke the ‘helium barrier’ in 1970, diving to a record depth of 1,535-feet. This hidden gem is tucked away in No2 Battery, one of the so-called Palmerston’s Follies, a series of forts and batteries built in the mid-19th century as protection against a threatened French invasion. Impressively it’s manned entirely by volunteers only too keen to share their interest, industry and passion, and who readily talked our party through the museum’s collection of recreational, deep saturation and Royal Navy diving equipment.

diving museum - group travel trip review

Pictured: Volunteers at the diving museum readily shared their interest, industry and passion.

“A most informative and entertaining day, with so many places visited. It will make for more than one trip for our group. It’s been extremely well organised, and has been very sociable as well.” - Sonia Norgan, The Dorset Explorers

Combine a visit to the Diving Museum as we did, with lunch or afternoon tea at the charming Bayside Cabin, located just next door. Offering a warm welcome to large parties, the second floor can be booked exclusively for your group; its adjacent balcony quite rightly boasting fantastic views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Following your tour of the Diving Museum, you’re in prime position to continue down the road to the Hovercraft Museum at Lee-on-the-Solent. Our transport was provided courtesy of Lucketts Coaches, and it took just ten-minutes to navigate our way between the two museums.

Hovercraft quirks

By far one of the quirkiest collections I’ve ever come across, the Hovercraft Museum’s collection of 60 full size craft makes for a curious yet impressive display at its waterfront location in Lee-on-the-Solent. An interesting addition to our somewhat nautical itinerary, just like at the Diving Museum, it was the passion of the volunteers which truly brought the attraction to life. Groups keen to experience the world’s only museum of hovercraft are entitled to discounted entry rates, and can tie in a visit with the special Hovershow event hosted each summer.

Gosport is something of a hidden gem in Hampshire’s crown, and perhaps has so far been overlooked by group organisers in favour of neighbouring Portsmouth. It’s a place that’s full of surprises; after all, where else can you get up close to a nuclear missile, tour a submarine with a real submariner, step into a diving bell, sit astride James Bond’s hovercraft, and still have time left over for afternoon tea?

Useful contact:

Discover Gosport:
023-9252 2944

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