Florida Sailor reaches Pompey for the final leg of his UK trip
Florida Sailors UK Trip: Part Four
I went down to the Hard shortly after sunrise and I found the story of the 'Mud Larks' The tide was out and several of the local boats lay hard aground on several metres of mud abandoned by the bay. A statue stands nearby depicting a young girl on her knees presenting a coin to a taller boy who is standing in mud almost to his knees. The plaque explains that the local children used to dive into the mud to collect coins, thrown by tourists to supplement their family's income, especially when employment in the shipyard was scarce.
My main goal in Portsmouth (Pompey to the locals, I will try to avoid an explanation as this is already long enough - but it seems to involve football) was to visit the Historic Dockyard. There are three ships I am particularly interested in, and I visited them in order of age.
The 'Mary Rose'
Once the pride of king Henry VIII's fleet the Mary Rose capsized and sank as the court were watching while engaged in a battle off the Isle of Wight. Less than half the ship survives. Her port side was exposed to the elements and no longer exist. her starboard side, however was soon buried in the mud and was preserved from the elements. Today she has been raised and is being treated in a long process to preserve her 500 hundred year old planks from further deterioration. When I mentioned her at the London Meet, I recall one of the researchers referring to her as 'a bit of a brown lump'. I suspect she has undergone a great deal of restoration since then, but she is still more of an archaeological exhibit than a ship. There was one table in the exhibit where one of the presenters had pieces of the Mary Rose that you could actually touch. A few pieces of rope and planks that had been preserved. As an historian I was happy just to look, without any desire to actually touch. He finally picked up a piece of plank and forced it into my hand so I could touch the ship. I could feel the wax that had been injected into the board.
A ship that I know a bit about, having written The Life of Nelson and The crew of the Victory. Walking her decks and looking along the guns decks brings it all just a bit more to life. I did not find an expert aboard who could improve my knowledge.
Launched in 1860, she was the most powerful warship in the world and became totally obsolete in almost the blink of an eye. The innovations are well displayed, and a very interesting site for those who are familiar with the era. Her towering masts and twin 'bridge decks' make her an impressive site. her birth across from the Harbour Terminal makes her the memorable image for those visiting Portsmouth, except for, maybe the 'Spinnaker Tower'
I took the harbour boat tour that showcased the Royal Navy ships in port and the channel ferries, including one headed to north coast of Spain.
After returning to my room I decided I would book my passage on the catamaran to Ryde pier head, by booking on line as I could charge the cost to my US bank account rather than having to deduct the fare from my dwindling pocket of Pounds Sterling. Another few pints, although by this time I had switched to 'Thatcher's Cider', which became my usual at 'The George' and off to bed.
I rose at a reasonable hour, showered and headed to the boat. My high speed catamaran trip to the Isle of Wight was soon engulfed in fog. Shortly before we sighted the harbour itself I saw a small gaff rigged cutter with tan-bark sails slip by close to our starboard bow. Bluebottle had urged me to purchase a train ticket to the shore side station. I enjoy a good stroll along a pier, especially old Victorian ones with open wrought iron rails. It was only after I was leaving the Island that I saw the short area covered by rail on the Island and I wished I had bought a ticket for the entire route.
Instead I purchased a 24 hour pass on the 'Southern Vectis' (Vectis was the Roman name for the isle) bus line. If you enjoy a good roller coaster ride, not the modern ones that do loop de loops, but a good old fashioned wooden roller coaster, take the bus to Bembridge. You must sit in the front seat of the upper deck, the hills. curves and bumps must be enjoyed, try not to close your eyes. On my arrival at Bembridge the first thing I had to do was visit the 'Little Girl' I found her surprisingly easy to locate, there is a bus stop directly across the street from the churchyard entrance. The grave looked just a bit untended, but was in no way obscured. I proceeded down the road, determined to return, but looking for my next adventure as well.
I stopped by the Royal Lifeboat Station and found the gift shop open, but the station itself was closed until 2:00PM for school tours. I headed up through the adjacent park, considering where I could get flowers for Elaine. Then the thought struck me - did they have any stuffed bears at the lifeboat shop? I hadn't thought to look. I stopped back and found a cute bear with a lifeguard shirt for only £3.90 I purchased one and headed back to the chapel. A lifeguard bear, if only such a thing had been there on Boxing Day of 1907! I cleaned the weeds as best I could and left the bear to watch over her. I said a short prayer for all children who meet an unfair fate, especially the child before me.
I then grabbed the next bus into the centre of the island. We rode through the town of Sandown and I thought of Bluebottle, such a charming town centre on the channel, I can understand how he loves it, even with only a brief glance. I almost alighted on a whim, in retrospect I wish I had. I proceeded on to Newport, where I found a most excellent pub for lunch.
My next goal was Carisbrooke Castle, but that was not to be. I caught a bus through the estates and the driver said he would tell me when to alight. When we stopped he told me to take 'That road, not this road.' in my understanding of the English language this road is the close one and that road is the far one. I climbed 3 miles or so up the far road, two lanes, no side walk, overgrown shoulders. At last I found the convent, and just beyond the bend I found myself staring across the valley at the the unmistakable walls of a Norman castle. Maybe it was 'This road after all'. Foot weary and a bit drained in general, I decided to chuck it and head back to the mainland for a few more pints at my pub.
While passing through the terminal I noticed the bus station at the front. After a brief chat I found out I could get a bus to Heathrow for about 15 quid less than I had paid the train to come down from London, with the advantage of checking my large bag, but it had to be under 20kg. I spent part of the evening sorting through my large duffel, tossing anything that was torn, patched or just not one of my favourites into a large, black bin bag. With luggage sorted it was time to head downstairs to help the locals solve all the worlds problems.
I showered, shaved and headed down for my 'Full English Breakfast', I had learned to eat the full fare by now, including the baked beans, the poached eggs were excellent. I carried my bags down to the lobby, asked one of the maids if she could deposit my rag bag in the bin and dropped my room keys into the box.
I rolled my bags past the Mud Larks and into the Bus Station. I asked the clerk if she could check the weight of my bag before I purchased my ticket. 'We don't have a scale here, I can't do that!' Obviously if she could not check my bag's weight, neither could anyone else, so I paid for my ticket and went out to wait for the bus.
The trip itself was rather uneventful, we arrived a Heathrow Terminal 5 first. I had paid to travel to 1, 2 & 3, but as I only intended to switch to ground transportation it didn't really matter. The driver rolled his eyes, but he pulled my purple duffel from the cargo bay and I headed over to the Taxi stand. As I settled myself into the waiting cab, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that there was a fixed fare to my hotel, the bad news was that it was 35 quid. Not quite destitute yet, I agreed and headed off to my first real hotel of the trip - a resort hotel! We arrived at The Stanwell and I paid the exorbitant fare to the driver. I once again rolled my bags to the lobby and got directions to my room. I think one of the most surprising differences between the US and the UK is the total lack of porters over there. I think I had a total of two cab drivers who helped me with my bags, and no one in the hotels. In the US there is always someone looking to help you carry almost anything in hope of a tip.
After a brief look at my room, and a quick visit to h2g2 I decided to make one last trip into the city, as it was too late for more adventurous plans. I still had several pounds on my Oyster Card so a tube from Heathrow seemed the obvious choice. The clerk in the lobby seemed a bit surprised that I was leaving so soon when I requester a cab to Heathrow, and the driver was surprised I had no luggage. I explained to both I was just going into the city for one last lark. The trip by private car cost only £15. I took the tube to Piccadilly Circus With the hope of making the trip to Greenwich. I decided to use my usual haphazard method of following the likely roads to the areas I knew, and soon found myself at the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. The Union Jack flying over the palace showed that the Queen still had not come home yet, but I knew how to follow the Mall back to Trafalgar Square. Looking at the time I decided to only stop at local souvenir store and buy a few trinkets for the neighbours. Ten pence extra procured a plastic shopping bag to transport my treasures and I returned to the hotel. Arriving back at Heathrow (terminal 4 this time) I weighed the options of waiting half an hour for a private car or wasting 20 quid for a taxi from the stand. Knowing that you are being cheated takes away a lot of the sting, so I opted for the overpriced cab. When I looked out the window and saw we here on the high street of Staines, far south of our destination I tapped on the glass and asked the driver if he had any idea where we were going. I had given him a card with my hotel address on one side, unfortunately there was an other resort listed on the obverse side that he had punched into his GPS. With thing sorted I soon arrived at my hotel. A few pints at the hotel bar and I was ready for my last night on the far side of the Atlantic.
A 12:30PM flight seemed to be a leisurely trip home, but when you add that you should arrive at the airport 3 hours before an international flight and local waiting and travel times I found myself ordering my car at 8:30AM.
Although long, the flight home was fairly unremarkable. One of the positive points of flying British Airways is that all of the drinks are complementary, The negative part is most of their headphones are pants. Had I known I would have brought along a pair of my own, I saw several passengers who had done this. The connecting flight from Philadelphia was actually on US Airways, even though I held a BA ticket. This not only confused most of the airport staff, but proved to be a great disappointment in service.
I had a wonderful vacation Holiday. The meet was great and I enjoyed meeting all my fellow researchers. If there was one thing I could change, it might be a little one on one time with the rest of the researchers. I had individual time with Bald Bloke, MMF, Icy (on my shoe trip) and an entire day with Sol. I would have really liked to have had this opportunity with the others, meeting as a group was great fun, but we are all unique, interesting individuals.