UK 2019: Portsmouth

Pictures from this part of the trip can be found in the Portsmouth gallery.

Day 15: Saturday June 1

All of the attractions in Portsmouth opened at 10am, so we could take it relatively easy in the morning. We walked along the harbor to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, arriving just before 10am. The line to get into the harbor was HUGE because of the security bag check. Even though we hadn't originally been planning to see it, we decided to buy tickets for the Mary Rose attraction just so we didn't have to wait in the regular security line.

Once inside, we decided to start with the HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned warship on the planet. (USS Constitution is the oldest floating warship). Victory was Admiral Nelson's flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The ship was quite empty when we arrived, since it was still early in the day. As we were wandering around, we were surprised to hear a brass band playing outside! The docent wouldn't let us walk back up to the main deck to watch, so instead we watched the band through the cannon hatches, which worked surprisingly well.

After HMS Victory, we had some lunch at the Mary Rose Cafe. Well, Julie had lunch, and Ken had some potato chips because that was the only gluten-free option available. (We did find other gluten-free options later in the day, but by then it was too late.) The Mary Rose site was rather fascinating — the ship had gone down outside the harbor, and then it was covered by mud for hundreds of years. After being rediscovered, it was lifted out of the water by a specialized crane and restored over the last few decades. They did a good job of displaying the artifacts and we enjoyed the stories they told about the sailors who died in the wreck.

Because we were in the area for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing, there were also a lot of unusual activities in the harbor area. One thing we really enjoyed was a display of small boats in honor of the Dunkirk evacuation. We spoke with the caretakers of the Medusa, which was a support ship during the evacuation (and was still running!). We also got a seat on the last harbor cruise of the day, after a bunch of unsuccessful attempts earlier in the day. The harbor cruise allowed us to take a closer look at the military boatyard, including the brand new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is undergoing sea trials. Finally, back on shore, we had a few minutes before closing time, so we toured HMS Warrior, the first armor-plated, iron-hulled warship, launched in 1860. She has masts for sails, but also coal-fired boilers. She was definitely a cross between an older ship like Victory and a modern ship, and was like nothing we had seen before.

On the way back to our hotel, we had dinner at a Mexican place called Chiquito in the Gunwharf Quays, a big shopping area near the harbor. It was exactly what we expected — reasonably priced for the portions, fast, and with gluten-free options. We didn't need anything fancy. After dinner, we went for another walk, continuing south along the harbor all of the way to the Southsea amusement park. We could have spent more time in Portsmouth, visiting the rest of the Historic Dockyard or the D-Day Museum, but it was OK to move on.

Day 16: Sunday June 2

Today's goal was to see the South Downs National Park on the way to Gatwick Airport to drop off the rental car and head into London. Ken wasn't feeling well in the morning and had some vertigo, so he suggested Julie drive. However, she's never driven on the left before, so all of her instincts were half-right & half-wrong, and she had trouble putting the car in the center of the lane (all normal for your first time driving on the left). After a few blocks, Ken decided he was well enough to drive after all.

After the nightmare drive into Portsmouth, we were concerned about how long it would take to drive up to Gatwick. Fortunately, the roads were pretty empty at 9am when we left. Our original idea was to do a bunch of hiking at South Downs, but we decided we had already done enough hiking in sheep pastures, so we decided to find a viewpoint or two instead. We drove to Devil's Dyke, a picturesque spot at the top of a hill overlooking a valley. We were surprised by how many cyclists were in the area, but on the other hand, it was relatively low traffic (but still narrow roads!). We walked for a bit around the area (yes, in a cow pasture, but fortunately Julie didn't get her clean shoes dirty), then went back to the main road.

We had lunch (and a nice break) in Eastbourne at The Beach Deck restaurant, and enjoyed watching the local sailing club get ready for their afternoon race. We saw small boats with lifting foils, which we had never seen before. The boats moved pretty fast but also capsized a lot.

After lunch, we drove west out of town towards the Beachy Head Lighthouse. Julie walked to the cliff edge along the railing, and then the cliff just dropped off! She is very thankful that she slowed her pace while approaching the end of the railing. Yikes! The fog was rolling in, so it was hard to see the difference between sea and sky. Ken was none too pleased with the cliff edges.

The traffic in Eastbourne was heavy, so we took the back roads to the motorway to Gatwick. We had no trouble dropping off the car, although we discovered two dings on the front fender that (so far) we haven't been charged for. We hauled our bags into the airport and found the train station, where a helpful attendant helped us buy a ticket to the Bayswater subway station, and told us to buy the ticket for the rest of the trip in the morning. (We wanted to buy a weekly pass for the main Zone 1-2 area, but since Gatwick was in Zone 6, you couldn't buy it there). We had no trouble getting to our hotel. After settling in, we went to the Hereford Arms restaurant near our hotel on our friend Dean's recommendation (which was excellent!).