Wanderer at Large: Hampshire & Dorset – Portsmouth

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the area south-west of London that includes the counties of Hampshire and Dorset.

HMS Victory


Located on Portsea Island on the south coast, Portsmouth is the country’s only city surrounded by water. It is also the most densely populated city in the UK.

Highlights of the old town include: Portsmouth Cathedral, with a weather vane made from the brass of Admiral Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory; the Square Tower built for Henry VII in 1494, now a cultural venue; and the ruins of Domus Dei church, built in 1212, destroyed during WWII bombing in 1941.

On Portsmouth Esplanade you will find the D-Day Story, the best museum on Operation Overlord, June 6th 1944. It features the quite extraordinary D-Day Embroidery, an incredible and very moving work of art based on the Bayeux Tapestry. Look out for Bill Millin’s real beret. He was the bagpiper as portrayed in the epic war movie The Longest Day.

This year, D-Day Story are proud to display the only surviving landing craft of the 800 used in the D-Day landings. LCT7074 carried 10 tanks of the 7th Armoured Division (Desert Rats) to Normandy on June 6th, 1944, and spent the following months carrying soldiers and supplies. Salvaged in 2014, it has taken six years to restore.

But the chief highlight in Portsmouth has to be a visit to the Historic Dockyards, the world’s oldest dry dock. As well as being home to the Royal Navy’s most historic fighting ships, there are museums and displays throughout the precincts, plus fun activities for kids such as the ‘Action Stations’ centre. There’s also an opportunity for a boat trip round the historic harbour, which features the very latest high-tech additions to the British Navy.

Visit Admiral Nelson’s remarkably preserved flagship HMS Victory. Get below-deck to see how this elegant wooden dame morphed into a fearsome she-devil when the order came to ‘Beat to Quarters.’ Nelson was shot on board during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

You can also hop on board the awesome HMS Warrior, which, when completed in 1861, was the largest, fastest, most heavily-armoured warship the world had ever seen. A natural deterrent to all-comers which ensured Britain’s mastery of the ocean waves for the rest of the 19th century.

You will require a separate ticket to see Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, which sank in neighbouring waters during a battle in 1545 and was not seen again until it was famously raised from the seabed in 1982. Also on display are the 19,000 objects found with her, the best collection of everyday objects from Tudor England.

Portsmouth recommended for salty sea dogs and land-lubbers alike!

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. More recommendations will appear next week.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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