Portsmouth Review (Pt III)

Portsmouth Review (Pt III)

Just a few weeks after waving off my eldest to his new temporary home in Portsmouth (where he is embarking on a work placement), we followed him down for a series of long weekends.

With hugely positive reports reaching us of this previously undiscovered Hampshire island city, it was definitely the perfect excuse to experience it properly as a family for the first time.

On this visit, we decided to get a very different perspective on this historically fascinating area by taking a trip up Spinnaker Tower.

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard,

About the Tower: Visible from more than 23 miles away, the striking 170-metre tall Tower stands loud and proud in Portsmouth Harbour and will, more likely than not, be the first familiar landmark you spot on your drive – or sail – into the city.

Opened in 2005, it was built as part of the Renaissance of Portsmouth Harbour Project as a public and educational facility to celebrate the new Millennium.

My Verdict: Visitors can’t help but to start their experience by appreciating the prowess of this stunning structure before then entering the Tower and watching an animated introductory film show. After a quick photo opportunity, the high-speed lift whisks you up to 100 metres above sea level (travelling at four metres per second!) where a unique 350-degree panoramic view of Portsmouth awaits. There’s also the option of learning more about what you’re seeing with the help of interactive touchscreens.

‘Highlight’ for me though (if you’ll excuse the pun) is the glass Sky Walk in the centre of the view deck floor. No better vantage point from which to gain a literal insight into the building’s construction beneath your feet.

If it’s still not high enough for you though, a few stairs will take guests up to the next viewing level at 110 metres above sea level. Standing here, as we did, on a wet and windy day, you really do feel open to the elements. Not a reason however, to not make the journey. In fact, you really get a sense of the remarkable engineering skills that went into building this unique structure.

Views were still breath taking – although a Viewing Guarantee for foggy days is offered if the three Solent Forts aren’t all visible- so no need to wait until that one day in August!

We were pleased we’d visited the Tower on our second visit to Portsmouth rather than our first as it was enjoyable picking out in the distance many of the landmarks and attractions we’d previously experienced.

For those who have an ‘appetite’ for more, there’s a delicious-looking High Tea offering available in The Clouds restaurant on the middle viewing level. The perfect vino and vista combination for a special celebration perhaps. (Yes, they’ll even host your wedding reception here!) Or, back on the ground, the Spinnaker Kitchen and Bar, is a handy sustenance stop-off before or after your visit.

More adventurous types might be tempted by the ultimate Spinnaker Tower abseil experience, available on selected dates. Undoubtedly views to rival anywhere else in the city, but not one for me – at least not until the winds die down!


Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard,

Coming Soon: The return of the Tower’s VR game (suspended throughout the pandemic), an update of the Sky Garden and facelift for the kitchen and bar area.

Whatever the time of year, a trip up Spinnaker Tower is definitely worthy of your itinerary. In fact I look forward to also returning on a drier and sunnier day to compare the view and check out the updates.

I am relishing my journey of discovery around this beautiful island city of which the landmark Spinnaker Tower is most definitely a ‘high’ point!

Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard,

Fun Facts:

  • The concrete used to build the Tower would fill five and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools.
  • The 1,200 tonnes of structural steel used to form the Tower’s distinctive bows is roughly the same weight as 12 blue whales.
  • In high winds the Tower can flex approximately 150mm – that’s about the length of a standard pencil.
  • There are 587 steps from ground level up to View Deck 3.
  • The total weight of the Tower exceeds 30,000 tonnes.

For more information visit here

Read Portsmouth Reviews Part 1 here

Read Portsmouth Review Part 2 here

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Review (Pt II)

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Review (Pt II)

Just a few weeks after waving off my eldest to his new temporary home in Portsmouth (where he is embarking on a work placement), we followed him down for a series of long weekends.

With hugely positive reports reaching us of this previously undiscovered Hampshire island city, it was definitely the perfect excuse to explore it properly as a family for the first time.

It was time to appreciate Portsmouth at its most authentic – through its rich maritime history. No better place to do that than The Historic Dockyard area. Where the history of the British Navy dates back 1,200 years to its earliest days under King Alfred the Great in the 860s.

All of the Dockyard’s 12 museums and attractions can be enjoyed throughout the year with a great value Ultimate Explorer Ticket.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, National Museum of The Royal Navy

National Museum of The Royal Navy

The Museum: The National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth brings history to life. It showcases treasures from the past 350 years and examines the common threads which link the sailor of England’s ‘Wooden Walls’ to the professional crews of today.

The museum’s major gallery Hear My Story opened in 2014 and tells the undiscovered stories from the ordinary men and women of the ships which have shaped the Navy’s amazing history over the last 100 years, the century of greatest change.

The Sailing Gallery shows the realities of fighting at sea in the age of sail, the Nelson Gallery examines Nelson’s colourful, crowded and short life and the Sir Donald Gosling Victory Gallery explores the history of Britain’s most famous warship from the laying of her keel to her significant battles.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, National Museum of The Royal Navy

My verdict: This museum is a fitting tribute to The Royal Navy which has helped shape today’s world and made Britain a dominant sea power. Well presented and engaging for visitors of all ages, it also includes some clever interactives. It’s very easy to spend a couple of hours in here, emerging at the end with a true education and appreciation of this proud institution.

Visit here


Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Gosport

The Museum: The centrepiece of this museum is a dry dock tour of HMS Alliance (pictured above) – Britain’s only remaining WWII submarine. There’s also chance to see HMS Holland and X24 plus thousands of photographs, documents, ship plans and artefacts.

A tour of Alliance begins in the forward torpedo store, through the accommodation space to the control room, where the navigation systems, including the working periscopes, are on display. The tour continues through the galley and onto the heart of the submarine, the engine room, before culminating in the aft torpedo compartment, where you can see how submariners would escape in an emergency.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, National Museum of The Royal Navy, HMS Alliance
Periscope up!

What’s New: A permanent exhibition exploring the history of the British nuclear at-sea deterrent is now open, marking the 50th anniversary of HMS Resolution launching. It reveals the challenging nature of working in these submarines and help promote discussion about why the nuclear deterrent was adopted.

Life under the sea poses challenges that go unseen and unheard. The exhibition presents an insight into life on board the ‘Silent & Secret’ Polaris submarines, using personal accounts and key displays drawn from a number of National Museum of the Royal Navy sites, private lenders and other museums. Visitors will be able to hear stories and see documents and personal possessions of those who served in the Polaris submarine fleet.

My verdict: A trip onboard HMS Alliance is one you’ll never forget, not least because of the rarity of the opportunity. As Britain’s ONLY remaining WWII submarine, one is instantly immersed in the harsh realities of life onboard a Navy submarine which last saw action as recently as the 1970s.

A walk around the accompanying museum adds fascinating context to the vessel’s story, including cinematic footage of Alliance submariners at work, rest and ‘play’ and all about how the role of the submarine has changed over time.

The adjacent Memorial Garden stands as a fitting tribute to the 5,300 British submariners who lost their lives in service and is perfect for a moment of reflection after learning about the sacrifices endured.

The Royal Navy Submarine Museum and most specifically Alliance, was one of my Historic Dockyard highlights. It can be accessed via waterbus from the Dockyard or, as we did, enjoyed as part of a day exploring both Gosport’s naval museums.

Fun Facts:

In service: Between 1947-1973

Length: 281ft (85.5m)

Displacement: 1,385 tons on surface, 1,620 tons submerged

Armament: 10 torpedo tubes, 1 4-in forward gun, 22mm aft gun, 1 0.303-in machine gun

Top Speed: 18.5 knots on surface, 8 knots submerged

Visit here

Explosions useum of Naval Firepower,Gosport,Portsmouth

Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower, Gosport

The Museum: The story of naval warfare, this interactive museum housed in the Royal Navy’s former Ordnance Depot at Priddy’s Hard, centred around the powder magazine designed in 1771.

Priddy’s Hard was far enough from the main dockyard for the safe storage of up to 6,500 barrels of gunpowder. In the Napoleonic Wars, this was where all Royal Navy warships including HMS Victory came to load up their guns and ammunition, collecting them from small boats called ‘powder hoys’ which had in turn collected barrels of gunpowder carried in barrows down the Rolling Way to the harbour edge.

The site has adapted as times have changed. With the introduction of breech loading guns in the late 1850s, it was no longer necessary to make barrels or test gunpowder here and a series of large magazines were built to fill and store shells. In the 1880s, the substitution of highly explosive cordite for gunpowder as a propellant required the building of a narrow-gauge railway to transport ordnance between filling and storage buildings. Change continued through the 20th century with the development of torpedoes, depth charges and small arms up to the arrival of guided missiles in the 1960s.

Explosions useum of Naval Firepower,Gosport,Portsmouth

What’s New: A major new permanent gallery has just opened. The Night Hunters: The Royal Navy’s Coastal Forces at War, pays tribute to the high risk, high-octane operations of the coastal forces in both world wars.

Two remarkable historic boats that made such an extraordinary contribution to naval warfare, take centre stage – The Coastal Motor Boat CMB331 and Motor Torpedo Boat MTB71.  Immortalised as “Spitfires of the Seas” they were often deployed in the dark, at incredibly high speeds as small but fast attack craft travelling at speeds up to 35 knots.

Rare photographs capture the intensity of serving in the coastal forces and the off-duty antics of the crews. Because of the stealthy nature of their operations, few photographs exist of them in action. Sketches, note books and some of the more personal ephemera gives a fascinating insight into the lives of these everyday heroes.

Larger objects on display include a Holman Projector, a relatively crude anti-aircraft weapon operated by compressed air that was an effective stop-gap measure to deter German aircraft; a Mark 11 Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun and a buoyant acoustic mine, representative of the many thousands laid by the boats.

And a  gripping audio-visual display vividly recreates the drama and adrenaline of a motor torpedo boat (MTB) night attack on a convoy.

My Verdict: Although visiting before the opening of the new exhibition, this is an explosive museum that packs a punch. Cleverly laid out and home to more weaponry, small arms and torpedoes than you can shake a stick at!

Historians- especially naval and military historians – will easily while away a few hours in here. But it’s also an interesting stop-off for anyone who wants to learn more about the story behind Priddy’s Yard which was purchased to build earth ramparts as part of the defences for Portsmouth Harbour and the Dockyard. The last time Priddy’s Hard supplied weapons to the Royal Navy was during the Falklands War in 1982. In fact, I am convinced I could still smell gunpowder in parts of the building, which by the way, is beautiful in itself. It makes the perfect home for this museum. There’s more ‘big guns’ to see outside too – and I mean big – so no shortage of selfies to be had here!

Explosions useum of Naval Firepower, Gosport,Portsmouth

Fun Facts:

  • Gunpowder is made up of around 15 parts charcoal (to burn fiercely); 75 parts saltpetre (to provide oxygen); 10 parts sulphur (gives out great heat and ignites easily)
  • Priddy’s Hard supplied the ordnance for Operation Neptune, the naval support for the biggest amphibious landing in history – the D-Day landings. (1944)
  • The first torpedoes were made from elm wood and detonated by electric wire. They had a copper-lined core of explosive but no propulsion of their own.
  • There could be ghosts at Priddy’s Hard. The strain of a munitions worker who was killed in a blast in 1922, is said to reappear on the wall of the room that stood directly over the site of the explosion.

Visit: here

HMS M.33, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

HMS M.33

The Museum: HMS M.33 is not only the sole remaining British veteran of the bloody Dardanelles Campaign of 1915-1916, but also of the Russian Civil War which followed. The ship is one of just three British warships from World War I still in existence.

Built in 1915 on the orders of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill,she was a floating gun platform designed to bombard coastal positions from the sea.

Her first active operation was the support of the British landings at Suvla during the Battle of Gallipoli in August 1915. She remained stationed at Gallipoli until the evacuation in January 1916 and served in the Mediterranean for the remainder of the War, involved in the seizure of the Greek fleet at Salamis Bay in 1916.

HMS M.33, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

My Verdict: A little gem of a museum that more than warrants your visit. Despite having already frequented the bigger and more historically famous ships in the Dockyard, don’t be tempted to overlook M.33. Climb aboard for a fascinating self-guided tour and cinematic re-enactment that will give you goosebumps – and not just because of the weather!

Visit here

Part I of my review of Portsmouth can be found here

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Review)

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (Review)

Just a few weeks after waving off my eldest to his new temporary home in Portsmouth (where he is embarking on a university work placement), we followed him down for a long weekend.

With early positive reports reaching us of this previously unexplored Hampshire island city, it was definitely the perfect excuse to experience it properly as a family for the first time.

It was an opportunity to appreciate Portsmouth at its most authentic – through its rich maritime history. No better place to start then than at The Historic Dockyard area, where the history of the British Navy dates back 1,200 years to its earliest days under King Alfred the Great in the 860s.

This is the first of a three-part blog, in which I review most of the Portsmouth and The Dockyard’s 12 museums and attractions, all of which can be enjoyed throughout the year with a great value Ultimate Explorer Ticket.

The Mary Rose, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, museum
The preserved remains of the Mary Rose take spectacular centre stage in the museum.

The Mary Rose

History: The flagship of Henry VIII, it served in his fleet for 34 years before sinking during the Battle of the Solent in 1545, with the king watching from nearby Southsea Castle.

The Museum: Her remains, which were raised in 1982, are now on display along with thousands of the original objects recovered alongside the ship, giving a unique and moving insight into life in Tudor England. She is the only ship of her kind on display anywhere in the world. The Museum tells the stories of the 500 men who lived, worked and died on-board. With some 19,000 artefacts on display, recovered from the seabed in one of the most challenging archaeological excavations of all time. You can even listen to the sounds of the past, smell real Tudor smells and see the ship brought to life with cutting-edge technology telling the emotionally compelling stories of what life was like on-board when she sank in the Solent in 1545.

What’s New: This summer visitors can re-live the final moments on board the Mary Rose as it sinks during the Battle of the Solent on 19th July 1545 in the Mary Rose 1545 Experience. Step back in time to hear from King Henry VIII and the crew of Britain’s most famous shipwreck and even experience the immersive Tudor warship sinking. Don’t worry – no sea sickness tablets required!

The Mary Rose, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, museum
The new Mary Rose 1545 Experience

My verdict: This impressive museum certainly does what it says on the tin and is packed to the rafters with thousands of genuinely fascinating artefacts through which we get a glimpse into everyday Tudor life. The new interactive experience is a great addition, especially for families and immediately engages the visitor. It’s easy to see why this museum has won awards and definitely takes centre stage in the Dockyard.

Visit: https://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/site-attractions/attractions/the-mary-rose

HMS Victory, The National Museum of The Royal Navy, The Mary Rose, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, museum

HMS Victory and Gallery

History: The Royal Navy’s most famous warship, best known as Vice Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar.

What’s New: Opened in May, HMS Victory: The Nation’s Flagship exhibition retells the extraordinary story and lesser-known history of the oldest naval ship still in commission in the world. The gallery at the neighbouring National Museum of the Royal Navy, displays previously unseen objects from the ship including a section of HMS Victory mainmast, damaged at the Battle of Trafalgar and displayed in Portsmouth for the first time. Through a mixture of large format cinematic film, interactives, newly displayed and previously unseen artefacts including a shot-damaged section of original Victory mast from the Battle of Trafalgar and a spectacular ten-foot-tall, 200-year-old figurehead, it charts her decline and rescue in the 1920s by the Society of Nautical Research (SNR) and the dramatic events when she could have been permanently lost to the nation.

This enhanced visitor offer also includes a self-guided audio tour of the ship and a dedicated walkway to take you down into the dry dock to view the hull of the enormous 3,600-tonne ship.

Battle of Trafalgar, HMS Victory, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Wyllie’s The Panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar in the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s Victory Gallery.

My Verdict: The new gallery is a fabulous addition to the all-round HMS Victory experience. Nothing quite beats standing in the ship directly in front of the spot, marked by a plaque, where Lord Admiral Nelson fell. Being part of the bowels of history in this way is both mystical and magical. And I highly recommend tuning in to the new audio tour which really helps bring the stories to life. A personal highlight from my Dockyard experience so far.

Visit: https://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/site-attractions/attractions/hms-victory

HMS Warrior, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, museum
HMS Warrior upper deck

HMS Warrior 1860

History: The largest and fastest of all Royal Navy ships, HMS Warrior is Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured battleship and the newest member of the National Museum of The Royal Navy’s fleet. Launched in 1860, at a time of empire and Britain’s dominance in trade and industry, HMS Warrior 1860 was the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet.

The Museum: Warrior has undergone a re-interpretation, reflecting what she was like in 1863 by opening up new areas of the ship and bringing stories from the period to life. With every room you discover and every object you hold, you immerse yourself in a time gone by. Whether you meet a gunner getting ready for battle or a Victorian tourist who’s wowed by the ship’s beauty, history is brought to life like never before. Her story is also told through characters that lived, breathed and worked during the Tour of Britain thanks to the Dockyard Alive team.

What’s New: New spaces including the captain’s cabin and galley have been reinterpreted to reflect how it was 156-years ago. Authentic set dressing you can touch transports you to another time when the grandeur of Queen Victoria’s favourite ship ruled the waves.

HMS Warrior, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, museum
First stop was HMS Warrior

My Verdict: A fascinating experience, not dissimilar to the HMS Victory one, and worth including on your Dockyard museum itinerary, but if you want to visit it’s one to prioritise as it closes for the winter season at the end of October.

Visit: https://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/site-attractions/attractions/hms-warrior-1860

Harbour Tour, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, museum

Harbour Tour

What to Expect: On the 45-minute Harbour Tour you can expect to see many of the fortifications that were built to protect Portsmouth over the centuries, in particular the Round Tower at the harbour entrance and the Solent forts which formed the centre of a string of fortifications along the coast during the Napoleonic Wars. This wide natural inlet in the coastline is a flooded river valley protected by a deep narrow entrance on two sides of the dockyard, here and at Gosport, which makes an ideal harbour.

Harbour Tours, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, museum
Interesting Naval history made up a major part of the Harbour Tour commentary.

My Verdict: Fascinating insight whether or not you’re a maritime or naval enthusiast. There’s lots to learn and even more to see, including unrivalled views of modern frigates, destroyers and helicopter carriers, as well as historic buildings and the dramatic skyline. We’re appreciating this city from its most unique and beautiful vantage point – and there’s even the opportunity to alight at Gunwharf Quays for designer shopping and entertainment. (Also a must-visit on any trip to Portsmouth.) Worth making time for ships AND shops!

NB: The Harbour Tours operate hourly throughout the summer but are weather-dependant so it’s important to keep a check on their up-to-date timetable.

Visit: Harbour Tours (historicdockyard.co.uk)

Read second part of my Portsmouth Review here