The major port city of Southampton lies on Southampton Water, 120kms to the southwest of London. Set on the confluence of two rivers, the test and the Itchen, the city is famous for its maritime connections. Settled for over 2,000 years, first by the Romans as a defensive port and an important trading centre for nearby Winchester, medieval Southampton was established by the 10th century and continued as an important port town.
Surviving medieval structures, such as the city walls, the castle’s bailey wall, the ancient water system and medieval houses, give a glimpse of the wealth of the city through the Middle Ages and later, fuelled by the wine trade with France and England’s wool and cloth exports. The city has been a focus for military deployment during times of conflict from the French wars in the 18th century to WWII.
Nowadays, Southampton is best known as the base for cruise lines, with giant ships majestically sailing into Southampton water on a regular basis. Manufacturing supports its economy and ensures good transport links with the rest of the UK, and the city has a strong sporting tradition. Although much of the city’s architectural heritage was destroyed by WWII bombing raids aimed at destroying the port, it’s popular with visitors as a hub for exploration of the region.
Ground transportation in the region is excellent, whether by rail or road, although Southampton International Airport is a small regional facility located in Eastleigh, just north of the conurbation. The mostly seasonal flights to European holiday destinations by low-cost airlines are supplemented by connections with Guernsey, Jersey, other offshore islands and major UK cities such as Edinburgh, Manchester and Liverpool. There are no flights to any London airports.
The rail network, however, is excellent, with South West Trains serving London Waterloo and continuing to the seaside towns of Bournemouth and Weymouth. Southern Railways provides another option via London’s Victoria Station and Gatwick Airport, and First Great Western runs from Cardiff, Bath and Bristol.
Road travel is straightforward, using the motorway network from London via the M25 and the M3, and the M27 runs to the West Country and east towards Brighton and Kent and Sussex towns. Regular National Express coach services link London’s Victoria Coach Station with Southampton.
Southampton’s climate is heavily influenced by rivers and the English Channel. Classified as oceanic, which can be translated as temperate and changeable with four separate seasons. The city benefits from its southerly location, with mainly hot summers and less than extreme winter temperatures. Historically, the wettest months are January and February, but rainfall is expected year-round. Winters here tend to be of short duration, with average daytime highs around 9˚C and night-time lows above freezing. Spring, often windy and damp, arrives with the daffodils in March and by May temperatures warm up to 16˚C before June’s introduction to full summer. Between June and August, highs of up to 30˚C are not uncommon, with high humidity to match. Even September can show daytime highs of around 20˚C, with October and November normally remaining mild.
Unsurprisingly, the city’s culture owes much to its maritime heritage as well as to its long history of settlement and trade. A number of interesting museums display artefacts from across the ages and a Titanic Memorial Museum is now under construction, to be opened in 2012 on the 100th anniversary of the famous tragedy. Art galleries, sporting events and live music form a large part of the city’s cultural life, but the stunning annual Southampton Boat Show held each September is the ultimate reminder of the city’s ancient links with the ocean.
Eating out in Southampton is defined by two areas of the city. Oxford Street, near the Ocean Village and the port, is the upscale destination, with good quality restaurants serving a selection of cuisines from around the world as well as the best of traditional English cuisine. As with most upscale offerings, prices here are higher than in the rest of the city.
Less expensive but just as cosmopolitan choices are found in Bedford Place and the nearby ‘Hungry Hill’ – Commercial Road – close to the Mayflower Theatre and catering for pre-and post-show diners. Good value here is found in the many Indian and Chinese eateries as well as the Italian restaurants. As with everywhere in the UK, fast food outlets and takeaways can be found on most streets in the city centre and in the shopping malls.
For the history buff, Southampton has plenty to see, spread across the entirety of its long heritage. Long stretches of the 14th century medieval city walls still remain and the main entrance to the town, the impressive Bargate, towers above the houses along the northern wall. Several medieval merchants’ houses still stand, and an important city landmark is the Mayflower memorial, celebrating the tiny ship’s famous voyage to the new land of America. Southampton lies close to one of England’s few remaining ancient woodlands, the New Forest, with its protected villages, unique wild ponies and traditional common law practices.
The imposing medieval Bargate with its crenellated walls, ornate leaded windows and series of arches was the most prominent of all the city gates. Nowadays, it’s one of Southampton’s best-loved monuments and a favourite with visitors. Featuring a 17th century watch bell used to chime the night hours, the structure now contains an art gallery and is surrounded by portions of the medieval city walls. Entrance is free.
Located just outside the city in the picturesque market town of Romsey is the early 18th century spectacular mansion of Mottisfont Abbey, which lies along the Test River banks. Home to magnificent walled gardens and dense woodland with walking trails, the Abbey is a beautifully maintained National Trust property with a small charge for entry which goes towards its upkeep.
Located just outside the conurbation of Southampton in Netley village, this imposing 13th century towered Cistercian monastery is set on the waterfront, surrounded by lush countryside. Partially demolished, the abbey is reputed to be haunted, with its romantic ruins regularly investigated by various ghost-hunters. Admission is free.
Medieval Merchant’s House
This stunning and beautifully renovated 13th century home contains many original period features and is believed to be haunted. A visit here is a journey back in time, aided by precious wall hangings, antique furniture from the original and later periods, and an atmosphere redolent of 800 years of occupation. There is a small charge for entry and the house is open between April and October.
This ‘can’t miss’ granite column topped with a look-alike of a Roman temple stands close to Mayflower Park, commemorating the Mayflower and all the other small ships which left during the 17th century from Plymouth, Portsmouth Southampton and other coastal ports, carrying emigrants fleeing religious persecution in England on the dangerous Atlantic journey to the new world.
Southampton Bonsai Nursery
For fans of these stunningly lovely miniature trees, the Bonsai Nursery lies in Southampton’s Swaything district, behind a local house. Visitors are always welcome to explore the small space crammed with fine examples of the Japanese art of bonsai, popular the world over.
This spectacular marina development is considered to be one of the most impressive in the UK, and is packed with attractions for all, including boat rides around the harbour, the restored steamship SS Shieldhall, a fine selection of seafood restaurants and views across the marine cityscape.
Established in 1079 AD as a royal deer-hunting reserve, the New Forest is one of the oldest wooded areas in England, containing heaths, open grasslands, villages and wooded areas. Semi-wild ponies, pigs and cattle still roam the region, as do the deer descended from the ancient breed introduced by King William the Conqueror. The New Forest is still governed by ancient laws, with its own unique courts.
Isle of Wight
A short ferry journey across the Solent from Southampton is the Isle of Wight, England’s largest island, known for its outstanding natural beauty. The island’s coastal towns have been favourite holiday destinations for well over 100 years, and retain much of their original charm. Chalk ridges, towering cliffs, quiet beaches and expansive protected areas with remarkable indigenous wildlife make the island one of the most fascinating corners of England.
Bournemouth and Poole Harbour
The Victorian seaside resort of Bournemouth is set in beautiful countryside near to the town of Poole and spectacular Poole Harbour, now one of the most expensive real estate locations in the world. Bournemouth’s extensive beaches are well-known to surfers as well as holidaymakers, and Poole Harbour itself is an important conservation area as well as a hub for the sailing fraternity.
The maritime city of Portsmouth is the heart of British naval history and has all the museums and attractions visitors would expect to see. The Historic Dockyard contains the Mary Rose, Nelson’s HMS Victory itself and HMS Warrior as well as the Royal Naval Museum and many traditional naval pubs. Impressive heritage buildings are here as well, including a 16th century castle and the city’s two cathedrals. Set in the Solent is the massive Spitbank Fort.
The 13th century Beaulieu Palace has been the home of the Montagu family for generations, and is one of the most-visited ‘stately homes’ in England for its spectacular architecture, its ancient abbey and the famous National Motor Museum with its collection of 250 historically important motorised vehicles. Its latest edition is its Top Gear display, and it also houses a vast collection of Rolls Royce Spirit of Ecstasy mascots.Author's Google+ Page