Portsmouth: “the total package”

Venue: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and the Spinnaker Tower
Date: 01 Nov 2011

Rebekah Tailor enjoyed a day of sunshine, the Spinnaker and seafaring history on our recent Reader Club trip to Portsmouth.

The timing of our recent Reader Club trip to Portsmouth couldn’t have been more perfect as far as the weather was concerned. By careful planning or sheer luck the day coincided with the UK’s hottest October weekend on record, enabling our party of GTOs to enjoy the city’s highlights at its best. As UK city destinations go, I’ll admit a slight bias when it comes to Portsmouth. Having lived here for three years and observed the development of the harbour and its attractions, I was looking forward to returning as a ‘tourist’ and seeing all that the area can offer to visiting groups.

Meeting at the iconic Spinnaker Tower first thing on the Saturday morning, I was greeted by the tantalising smell of bacon as I shared the lift with a plateful of breakfast butties, which as it turned out had been laid on for our Reader Club day at the Cafe in the Clouds located on View Deck 2. A new addition since my last visit to the tower back in 2008, it’s a great setting for a refreshment break before or after exploring the other View Decks.

One of the centrepieces of the Renaissance of Portsmouth Harbour project, the Spinnaker Tower opened in 2005 and has since become famous as one of the south coast’s most iconic landmarks. Standing at a height of 170-metres, on a clear day visitors can enjoy views of up to 23 miles reaching as far as the South Downs to the east, Isle of Wight to the south, and the historic dockyard and naval base to the west.

“We’ve come to see what the area’s like for future visits. I’ve definitely enjoyed the Spinnaker - I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Portsmouth has got a lot to offer people at all times of the year, it’s not just a summer or a winter attraction; it’s the total package.”

June Barnard, Shepperton Ladies Club

After spending time marvelling over the 350-degree panorama and identifying some of the key landmarks from the 100- metre high View Deck 1, I turned my attention to some of the Spinnaker’s additional features. Also located on this deck is what is reportedly Europe’s   largest glass floor, which – if you dare to look! - offers a view straight down through the tower rib structure. Visitors can also make use of handy free audio guides - new for 2011; and interact with the surrounding seascape with the High Spy Interactive Ship Finder. Demonstrated by our live guide, Louy-Daniel - who, by his own confession, can identify almost all of the ships sailing the busy Solent - this fascinating bit of kit allows visitors to hone in on any of the vessels within the Solent, highlighting its particulars, and in some cases, its destination.

Saving the best until last, I finally ventured up to the Crow’s Nest - which, standing at 110-metres, is the highest view deck. While the internal lift can take visitors up to the first and second floors of the tower, there are a further 30 stairs to climb to reach the Crow’s Nest - something to bear in mind for any group members with mobility issues.

Back at ground level, we were met by Portsmouth Historic Dockyard representative, Emma Abrook, who led the group on the short ten-minute walk to our next destination. Entering through Victory Gate, the Historic Dockyard houses a wealth of attractions, including HMS Warrior 1860, the Mary Rose Museum, and the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Groups are advised to set aside the best part of a day trip to really make the most their visit, however with the time afforded to us, we spent just over an hour exploring HMS Victory before embarking on a harbour boat tour.

The oldest commissioned warship in the world, HMS Victory is perhaps best known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar, sailing under the command of Lord Horatio Nelson. Armed with a handy leaflet detailing each highlight and with audio points throughout, a self-guided tour enabled the group to explore the ship at leisure. From the Captain’s Cabin down to the Lower Gun Deck which provided the main living quarters, to the 24lb gun used in the Battle of Trafalgar and the Quarter Deck where Lord Nelson was mortally wounded; it’s a fascinating experience to tread these historic decks and reflect on life onboard for the ordinary seamen.

“I’ve really enjoyed the day, it’s been ver y well organised. It’s helped by the weather but everything here is so close together you don’t have to walk very far. There’s lots to see - in fact too much to see in one day! My highlight was the Spinnaker Tower.”

Diane Salter, Peacehaven W.I.

Disembarking, I noted the number of scout parties I had passed on my tour, as well as dozens of family groups made up of several generations - it seems Portsmouth Historic Dockyard really is an attraction which appeals to all ages.

Ready for a refreshment break after a tour of HMS Victory, a buffet lunch of cake and sandwiches was laid on for our party at Boathouse No. 7. This spacious catering facility offering everything from light bites to a three-course menu, is ideal for larger parties and pre-booked groups can reserve their own seating area. Additional catering options for groups include the Georgian Tearooms - a charming venue to enjoy afternoon tea - or Costa Coffee located in the Visitor Centre.

The final experience on our whistle-stop tour of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was a harbour boat tour. Included within the price of the admission ticket, the 45-minute round trip provides an interesting insight to the modern Royal Navy warships, with entertaining commentary to liven up the journey. With the harbour boat tour concluding the day’s itinerary, some of our party chose to disembark at Gunwharf Quays in a bid to pick up some bargains at the outlet shopping centre, which boasts a host of designer brands. Meanwhile, the majority of the group returned to the Historic Dockyard, where our general attraction tickets presented the opportunity to explore its additional attractions.

Chatting to organisers once back on dry land, all agreed that while the beautiful weather had showcased Portsmouth Harbour and its attractions to its full advantage, the sunshine had simply been the icing on what’s already a substantial offering which can be enjoyed whatever the weather. The combination of the Spinnaker Tower and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will appeal to a range of ages and interests, with Gunwharf Quays’s retail and entertainment offering adding a further dimension to a day trip or extended visit.

Useful contacts:

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard:
023-9283 9766
groups@historicdockyard.co.uk
www.historicdockyard.co.uk

Spinnaker Tower:
023-9285 7520
groups@spinnakertower.co.uk
www.spinnakertower.co.uk

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