Welcome to this Discovering Britain walk in Portsmouth. Most people probably know Portsmouth for two things: a place to catch a ferry to the Isle of Wight or France and home to Nelson’s famous warship, HMS Victory. But there’s much more to discover in this fascinating city.
You may not realise but you’re standing on an island. To the north, south, east and west there’s water all around you. In fact Portsmouth is the only city in the UK situated on an island. It’s a bit
like Manhattan but without the skyscrapers!
On this walk we will discover how Portsmouth has developed over the centuries from a geographical perspective.
We will see how the natural assets of this location have been used through the ages to form a major naval base making the most of the magnificent and easily-defended harbour.
We will also find out how the position of Portsmouth, less than a hundred miles away from Britain’s historic enemy, France, has led to successions of defensive structures being built to defend our coast.
Closer to our lifetimes we will discover how the city was affected by German bombers who wreaked havoc during the Second World War especially in ‘Old Portsmouth’ where the walk begins. We will see the effects of this wartime devastation and find out how development and town planning in the post-war years, both good and bad, has left its mark on the city. We will also consider the regeneration of Portsmouth and how, in more recent times, this island city has used its seaside location and unique maritime heritage to become a major base for tourism.
This walk was created by Martin Haslett, a town planner from Leamington Spa. Although he lives 100 miles away in the Midlands he has a special interest in Portsmouth’s history and its future.
Martin: Though I was not born here, generations of my ancestors were Portsmouth people and I’ve had a special fondness for it since coming here regularly as a child. I have seen the enormous changes to the local economy over the decades and have been pleased to see, as a town planner, that so much more care is now taken of the historic areas than was the case when post-war rebuilding was taking place in the 1950s and 60s. I remember my family regretting how the city lost so much of its character as council flats were hurriedly erected to house people made homeless by bombing. They would be pleased to see Old Portsmouth today, reborn as an area with a very special historic character which is recognised and respected.
To begin the walk make your way to Portsmouth Harbour railway station. Find the bicycle rack beside the station steps. Stop in the area between the bicycle racks and a snack bar for a good view out across the water.
From the railway station follow the road ahead alongside the wire fence. Turn left towards the ship in the water and continue up to the imposing buildings of the Historic Dockyard. Stop at the dockyard gates.
Much of the route follows the Portsmouth Millennium Trail which is marked by a chain pattern in the pavement and large white information boards. Use the chain to help you navigate the walk route.