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Southampton, England

Let’s take a short break from “Travel Tips” and talk about some of the recent places that I have visited. In October I found myself in Southampton, England. This was my first visit to Southampton, having previously spent time in the surrounding southern England cities of Brighton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth and Plymouth.

Located approximately 70 miles south of London in the county of Hampshire, Southampton is a popular cruise ship departure point for lines such as Cunard and Celebrity. Since my next book focuses primarily on cruising, I have been doing research on various cruise lines, their ports of call and the joys of shore excursions. In this case I opted to spend a little time in Southampton and take a day trip to the very close city or Winchester.

Upon arrival at Southampton my husband and I opted to stay in an historical hotel located in Old Town. Chosen specifically for its location, tradition and the fact it is reportedly haunted, the Mercure Dolphin Hotel on High Street was an excellent selection for us. Dating back over 500 years, the hotel is a 4 star, Grade II listed building within steps of the Bargate and Guildhall. The hotel literature stated that it was first mentioned in 1454 and remnants of the original medieval timbers and stone vaulting are still in existence. The hotel was also a coaching inn during the 17th-century and is a place that was visited by Jane Austen. Both my husband and I were comfortable during our stay but we cannot attest to seeing any ghosts. Breakfast was included in our booking and we also dined twice in the dining room for our evening meal. All meals were good.

Walking around Southampton was fairly easy and I managed to explore the old town and remaining portions of the old city walls. I spent some enjoyable time in the Tudor House which is described as the most important historic building in the city. The house has undergone various changes over its 900 years of existence but it was recently restored to look fairly close to what it did in Tudor times. There is a minstrel gallery, which was added during the original restoration that is not authentic to the Tudor period, but generally, the house gives a great indication of life as it was in the times when the Tudor Lord Chief Justice Sir Richard Lyster lived there with his family. The garden was not at its best at this time of year and I think that a visit during the spring or summer would have given me a better idea of its look and function.

Jane Austen, lived in Southampton from 1807 to1809 and there is a Jane Austen Trail through the Old Town. There is plenty of history attached to the city, for example Henry V set sail for France from this site to ultimately engage in the battle of Agincourt. The Mayflower and the Titanic both embarked from Southampton as did many soldiers participating in the D Day landings. My great-grandmother set sail from this city and eventually made her way to Canada but if there is a plaque to that important historical note, I could not find it.

Earlier in this blog I mentioned the Bargate, which was originally built as the main gateway to the medieval city. The 800 year old entrance to the Old Town is a historic landmark and interesting to see during the day and in the evening where it is lit up at night. It is in close proximity to a ferris wheel which gives an interesting contrast between the old and new. In the old town lies the third longest stretch of unbroken medieval defensive walling in England. I did not measure it so I am taking the tourism brochures at their word. There is a free walking tour available that starts at the Bargate however by the time I realized it was an option, I had pretty much toured all of the areas that the walking tour would have covered.

I also stopped at Medieval Merchant’s House but found that it is closed from 1 October to the 31st of March. As such, the best I could do was photograph the outside and move on to other sites in the area. While exploring, my husband and I came across the ruins of what looked like an old church and although I photographed it from all angles, I could not find a plaque to tell me what it was. I am sure that someone reading this blog and looking at the photographs will e-mail me with the details.

Not far from my hotel, I stopped to explore the ruins of the Church of Holyrood. The church was built in 1320 but was heavily damaged during the second world war. The ruins have been preserved by the people of Southampton as a memorial and garden of rest dedicated to those who served in the merchant navy who lost their lives at sea.

I did a little window shopping in Southampton and being there over a period of time that encompassed a weekend, I certainly made sure to check out the market stalls along the pedestrian mall.

I was able to catch a local bus to Winchester which will be covered in my next blog entry. I mention it here simply to cover the fact that it can easily be included in any visit to the Southampton area and one does not need a car, or to pay taxi rates in order to include a visit to that city as well.

On our last evening in Southampton, my husband and I stumbled across a gem of a restaurant. Specializing in Indian cuisine, the BayLeaf Kitchen served up two outstanding meals and the service was exceptional. We will be returning to Southampton and this restaurant will be a definite stop.

If planning a visit to the Southampton area, you will find that there are things to do and see in that area so adding a few days to tour around is always an option particularly if you are on a cruise departing from that area.

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