Day 1 – Having left on time, we arrived slightly behind schedule for our coffee stop at Guildford Cathedral - the Cathedral Church of the Holy Spirit. It is modern, red brick and, frankly, not much to look at from the outside. However, the interior is another matter – lofty pillars, huge space and light, very dignified. They were working on the organ, and I was told it takes £3,000 a day to run the cathedral.
Thence to the Kennet and Avon Canal where we took a short cruise on the barge “Kennet Valley”. Steve was our guide and the horse was Monty. The sun came out and we travelled very slowly for about an hour, including going through a lock, just for the experience. Then Monty turned round and brought us back. It was a relaxing and restful afternoon – a foretaste of rest of the holiday perhaps? Not at all! We then wended our way by a very circuitous route to our hotel - The Meon Valley Marriott Hotel & Country Club - just outside Southampton.
Day 2 – The main purpose of our visit to Portsmouth Dockyard was to view the Mary Rose for an update on our last visit in 2013. To recap: the ship was raised in 1982, and since then has been washed, sprayed, dried and preserved in a purpose-built museum, shaped as an “Oyster” with the Mary Rose, the “Pearl” within. The museum was designed on 3 levels running the length of the ship, to represent lower, main and upper decks. Walkways between the galleries afford views in one direction to the starboard side of the ship and onto which video clips can be projected, and in the other direction into galleries where hundreds of artefacts are positioned opposite where they were found. At both ends of the walkway further galleries interpret the collection and our very knowledgeable guide gave us a great insight into how Tudor life would have been on board. Since 2016, the viewing windows have been replaced on the 2 lower levels by continuous glazed panels and the upper level has been left open for the public to have an uncluttered view of the now completely dry ship. A truly magical experience. Other ships to explore included HMS Victory, where since 2016 visitors can follow in the footsteps of Nelson, from the time the ship embarked for the voyage to Cape Trafalgar to the aftermath of the battle with the French. HMS Warrior, launched in 1860, was the fastest, largest and most powerful warship in the world, but never fired a shot in anger. After a varied career, she now provides visitors with an insight into life on board an elite ship from the Victorian era. The comparatively small HMS M.33 was the only one of two ships to survive WW1, and the only one from the Gallipoli Campaign. Built on orders from Winston Churchill, and fully restored in 2015, she was designed to operate in shallow coastal waters. In a dockyard building there is a vivid account of the 36 hour Battle of Jutland in June 1916, whilst the National Museum of the Royal Navy demonstrates how Britain became a dominant sea-power and showcases treasures from the past 350 years. Boathouse 4 reflects the building's original use as a small boat building and repair facility.
A harbour tour is a lovely way to finish the day, and this time we were fortunate enough to see the latest aircraft carrier, about 35 times larger than HMS Victory. When fully operational in 2020, she will be HMS Queen Elizabeth, and already is proving a major attraction. A truly wonderful day, which could easily be extended into a week.
Day 3 – Today we visited The Royal Navy Submarine Museum and HMS Alliance, which has been a museum ship and memorial since 1981 to the 534 submarines and 5,300 submariners lost in the war. There were 61 crew members – no restrictions on height or weight but the bunks were pretty small. The men would stay in the same clothes for ten weeks but no problem because all you could smell was smoke and diesel! Goods were stowed everywhere. They took on enough fresh food to last 10 days, then it was tins. But because of condensation the tins often lost their labels so the two chefs had no idea what they might be serving – gives a new meaning to the term “pot luck”! Surprisingly, they could fire torpedoes from both bow and stern. There was an escape hatch at the rear. It was good to be able to experience all this knowing that we were several feet above ground and not under water! There was time to visit the museum and also the “Holland One”, the first submarine in the Royal Navy in 1901.
Thence to the Hovercraft Museum which houses over 60 Hovercraft of various designs. The “Princess Anne” used to ply across the Channel in about 40 minutes but was overtaken by more modern means of transport. We saw a military model which went to the Arctic in 1972, with a sonar device for mine detection and early microwave technology which was later developed for our kitchens. There were also lots of novelty craft including an ice cream van hovercraft developed by the Top Gear team. But no time to linger – the National Maritime Operations Centre awaited. Since 2014 this has been the Search and Rescue centre which oversees and assists with operations around the whole of the UK – costal ops, maritime ops, aeronautical ops. They coordinate all rescue resources – lifeboats, helicopters, ambulances etc. All we saw were some of the 96 operators sitting at their screens which we were told give information from around the country on matters maritime; the operators man the centre 24/7, and if the IT system fails there is instant back-up.
Day 4 – The morning of our final day was spent visiting the Warsash Maritime Academy, which is part of Southampton Solent University’s Maritime and Technology Faculty and claims to educate and train seafarers “from the cradle to the grave”. They use very realistic simulators, which we were able to experience on the Bridge, in the Engine Room, the Liquid Cargo Simulator and the Radio Office, as well as a glimpse of the Fire Department where they start fires, don amazing fire-fighting suits and put them out. The most fun was the bridge, where one of our number took the helm through Sydney Harbour, narrowly missing the Opera House and various smaller vessels. We could feel the swell of the sea under our feet, and even had to adapt to our “land legs” afterwards!
Then it was homeward bound. As ever, Malcolm and his team had produced a well-organised, variable, interesting and exhausting holiday enjoyed by all. Our thanks to everyone concerned.
Dorothy Denmark & Sylvia Cousins.
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Last revised 4th October 2017