Before I say anything, my first recommendation is wear sunscreen. Lucky as I am, I happened to visit on a day where there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. This was excellent, except for the fact that I didn’t own sunscreen. I left my hats in Australia and I didn’t own shorts at the time. There is nothing like the total lack of sun shade in all of Portsmouth’s Millenium walk. A stunning coastal walk running from the historical dockyards to Southend Castle and beyond.
In the heat, a balmy 27 degrees, armed with water alone, I set off from the train station at about 10:15am (arriving from London on the 8:20am train). The first part of the walk took me around Gunwharf Quays, an outdoor shopping complex sitting on the water, and harbouring all the trendy bars and café chains as well as the iconic Emirates Spinnaker Tower.
Onwards, I walked past residential developments, the Wightlink Ferry and on to the harbourside walk in old Portsmouth. The way between the Wightlink Ferry Terminal and actual old Portsmouth, despite being relatively close, is actually really difficult to work out. To put it simply, a lot would be solved by installing a simple pedestrian bridge across some water, but as it happens, you have to walk around the private docks and it all gets a bit confusing.
Nevertheless, I continued on in the sun. At this point, I will mention, I intended to buy sunscreen in the Boots on Gunwharf Quays but Boots wasn’t open. I didn’t wait around. Bad choice by me.
The Millenium walk is a lovely experience; sunny skies and cool breeze made for an all-round stunning view over the water and not overly warm even in black jeans. It is hardly a thoroughfare, but does have enough people to give a comfortably travelled feeling. It is also well signposted once arriving in old Portsmouth, and the elevated concrete path is ideal for walking (away from cars) and a vantage point for watching incoming shops.
Along the walk, you pass through a number of tourist hubs, a strange Coney Island-esque affair of cotton candy, fairground rides, mini golf and even a rollercoaster, none of which I would partake in, and on my return journey looked a lot more inviting as it had actually opened, giving it less of an abandoned look. There’s also a hovercraft station, which runs across to the Isle of Wight – a colleague of mine told me during the time of the Concorde, this Hovercraft crossing was more expensive in £/mile than the Concorde. If you feel no need to relive the glory days of fast flying or visit the Isle of Wight – you can simply watch these crafts arrive and depart from the beach. Warning: they make a massively loud noise.
It was around about 10-15 minutes past Southend Castle, I got hungry, too hot and in massive need of sunscreen. I headed inland to Southsea Town Centre, a regular street mall. The Sunday I went there was a street market where I bought a chicken and white wine pie, sultana bun and water, and of course, Boot’s had finally decided to open, so I bought some sunscreen.
My goal was to return and sit in one of the many parks I had walked past, aiming for the shade of a tree, however as I got back and walked through said parks, I discovered there was no shade and no trees. I ended up sitting above the raised Millenium walkway – there’s no lack of seating, just a lack of shade.
At this point, I decided it was time to get out of the sun and head towards the famous Portsmouth Historical Dockyards on the other side of the station. The Dockyards are still working today, however about 50% is taken up with the tourist site. I was quite glad I saved these museums until the latter part of the day. Besides that they were indoors and had seating, I don’t think I would have wanted to walk through the afternoon as much.
The museum pass is £18 for a single visit and £27 for all the museums for a year. Given the scale of the city and how much I enjoyed the waterfront, I bought the £27 pass, however if it’s late in the day and you don’t intend on visiting again, I’d recommend the £18, merely as I only had time to see one museum thoroughly before I was exhausted.
I chose the National Museum of the Royal Navy, which came highly recommended. The museum is expansive and covers much of UK naval history from Horatio Nelson to Francis Drake to James Cook, to more modern ships and techniques, the museum pieces range from the old to the new and are incredibly informative. My favourite pieces were the selection of Horatio Nelson’s faces, we don’t really know what he looked like but have several different models of his face. Also that he had an illegitimate child with the wife of a couple that he lived with (William and Emma Hamilton) and all three of them seemed fine with that.
Following the museum, I was honestly quite exhausted, and still had a while until my train – but unlike the park, the Dockyards offer a few seated shady places, where I passed away the hour until I went to go grab some food for my trip back, including a sneaky trip to the Cadbury outlet shop in Gunwharf Quays.
All in all, it was an excellent but exhausting day and I got very sunburnt.
My Top Tips if you’re visiting are:
- If you are planning on visiting the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, you can book tickets online if you forget, you can get them there, however there is a discount online and you pick them up on site
- Don’t bother with a restaurant meal, unless you’re going for that purpose, if you’re just going for the day, I recommend stopping at the market or beach side stall. Restaurant meals are usually expensive and time-consuming
- I arrived in Portsmouth at 10am and left at 6pm, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend longer for a hot day, just as it was such a long day and I spent at least 3-4 hours walking.
- Wear sunscreen or if it’s going to rain, don’t forget an umbrella. There is no shelter.