Thursday, November 10, 2005

South Coast - Day 9

We check out, and head west along the coast. Which is built up right along: a working port just west of Hove, then Brit suburban housing and the occasional resort. We stop at one (Worthing) which has actual baches in one little corner. Photographic evidence ensues. At Worthing itself, a major apartment block has started: a graceful design which mixes Victorian and Art Deco elements. At least, that's what the pictures on the fence imply. Still boulder beaches on this stretch of coast, and groynes every couple of chains, to stop the longshore drift of their precious sand, where it exists. A beautiful sunny morning, dogs and people out walking. Another beach stop at Bognor Regis (with a name like that, had to do it). But here's the funny thing: we are now both completely unable to recall anyhting about Bognor Regis! Must be something in the water.

Needing to make some time, we head inland, hit the fast roads, and head to Portsmouth - a landmark port and still very much part of the British Navy. Not wanting to spend time and money at the usual tourist traps, we head for the fortified harbour entrance, and walk around the elaborate, ancient defensive towers, moats, walls. Recently restored and connected (another millenium project), with good interpretative signs.

The sheer energy that went into these things amazes us: it's really no wonder that the combination of industrial invention and the ending of long-running territorial disputes and political convulsions, released so much human and intellectual energy for what we now call the Industrial Revolution.

Back out to the A-roads, and head through the New Forest. Stop off at an Otter and Owl centre, and see owls up close for the first time. Such impassive, gorgeous creatures. A fox, too: so photos which we can associate with our Hugh St fox.

The entire South-west of England has had much rain, and there is a bridge out on our chosen A-road through the New Forest to Christchurch. The detours around take us on to a wilder, B road sector, and a sequence of little villages. Complete with beautifully thatched roofs, winding, narrow lanes, and a combination of forest and moor. Just a delight, but no photo stops - there's a lot of traffic, and almost no stopping places. One moor photo only.

Christchurch is supposed to be a charming place, but we manage to miss that entirely. We plough on through Poole, and then swing on south to Weymouth. We had planned to stay at either Swanage, Weymouth or Portland, but Swanage seemed too far east. We fall immediately for Weymouth: it is a traditional holiday resort town, charming river harbour complete with lifting bridge and defensive fort at the mouth. But I have to see Portland too. Portland is a massive chunk of limestone, vaguely connected to the mainland via a stony spit - longshore drift from Chesil Beach has connected what surely was formerly the island of Portland. We drive through Portland itself, then up and over through Easton, and down to Portland Bill - the southernmost point. There's a famous tidal race off Portland Bill, well known to mariners as a danger spot, and when we get there, the race is running at full strength. A confused, jumbly sea, vicious choppy waves, and a strong but mixed-up set of currents. A death spot for sailing ships of yore.

But Portland itself has been heavily quarried (Portland Cement...) and there is a devastated, sullen feel to the place, as so often happens in over-exploited areas. We abandon any thought of staying there, and head back through late afternoon traffic to Weymouth, and locate a charming beachfront hotel for the right price, with parking, at the second attempt.

The centre of Weymouth has tiny, mediaeval streets, but fortunately, on a grid pattern, so is easy to navigate. Our hotel owner confirms our feeling about Portland: she says some people have never left the island! We have a great, budget blowing meal at Mallam's, with quite the best pinot gris I've ever tasted. River and working boats view. The boats are very bluff-bowed, with wheel-houses well forard, and their windows just peeking over the bows. Obviously needed for punching through the steep, confused chops of the English Channel, which, after all, is not very deep, has a pronounced tidal race, is a wind funnel, so generates bad seas at the drop of a hat. Weave back to the hotel, well satisfied.

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