An Historic Weekend in Portsmouth

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Guest post by Superbreaker Tim Blackburn…

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When I was young, my favourite bedtime stories were the extinction of the Dinosaurs, Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen and the sinking and raising of the Mary Rose. I had always wanted to visit Portsmouth to see the wreck of Henry VIII’s flagship and since the new Mary Rose museum opened this year, it seemed like a good time to visit.

We stayed at the Travelodge Portsmouth in the Fratton area of the city. Although the hotel is somewhat out of the city centre there is a bus stop right outside which takes you through the city to the Historic Dockyard in no more than 10-15minutes. The hotel was basic but clean and tidy and great as a base to explore the city on a budget.

Since the wreck was raised in 1982 it has been under various stages of preservation. Since it came out of the water the ship has been sprayed with water and glycol until the taps were turned off earlier this year. The ship is now being dried and the preservation process should be complete in three to five years time.

The new Mary Rose museum also contains thousands of artefacts taken from the wreck and similarly preserved for display. Our favourite parts were the implements belonging to the ship’s surgeon (not for the faint hearted!) and also the ship’s food and drink. How the sailors could sail a ship after drinking their ration of 8 pints of beer per day is beyond me!

As well as the Mary Rose other ships on display include HMS Warrior which was the Royal Navy’s first ironclad battleship. Warrior was rescued from an ignominious role as an oil storage vessel and faithfully restored to her former glory.

The dockyard’s most famous vessel is Admiral Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. She is still in commission with the Royal Navy and is also currently under restoration. Unfortunately this meant that during our visit some parts of the ship were closed and its top-masts had been removed so we didn’t get the full effect of this amazing historic ship. You can still see the spot where Nelson was shot during the battle of Trafalgar and also the place below decks where he eventually died.

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As well as the historic ships there is also the museum of the Royal Navy and “Action Stations”; a hands on exhibit which kids (and kids at heart) will love.

Also included in the entry price is a boat trip around Portsmouth Harbour. The guides are informative as well as amusing and the trip also gave us the opportunity to see some modern Royal Navy ships. We were privileged to see the Navy’s newest ship, the futuristic looking destroyer HMS Duncan as well as some decommissioned ships awaiting their trip to the scrapyard.

We also visited “Old Portsmouth” which is centred around “Spice Island”. This was where exotic cargo was unloaded before the port was expanded and also, historically, home to many drinking dens and houses of ill repute (sounds like a good night out doesn’t it!)

We spent two full days at the Dockyard so you certainly get value for money. We ran out of time but also want to visit the Royal Marines museum, the Navy’s submarine museum in Gosport and Explosion! The Museum of Naval Firepower, so maybe a return visit is in order in the near future.

Have you ever visited Portsmouth before? What were your highlights?

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