Entrance to the City
One of Southampton's most attractive features, is its abundance of green open spaces. Enter on the A33 down The Avenue, which was once a perilous road frequented by highwaymen, and you will come to the Common, a great expanse of open land (encompassing some 326 acres) on which to stroll, picnic and relax. Its attractions include a wildlife centre, a boating lake, fishing lake, duck pond and a large paddling pool complex, which is a great place to take the kids. It also hosts events such as the Southampton Balloon Festival, held in July each year. Common Conservation walks, which are free, are held regularly.
Continue down The Avenue and you will eventually arrive at the top of town (about 25 minutes walk). Just off the main high street, on Commercial Road, you will find the City Art Gallery, which boasts a collection of over 2,700 works of art, spanning six centuries. The gallery is accessed through the same entrance as the city library. Just around the corner, in the same complex of buildings, is the Guildhall which is the city's major venue for rock, pop and classical concerts. A five minute walk away, following down Commercial Road, is the Mayflower Theatre, the main venue for many great musicals, ballets and opera. Just behind the theatre is the Gantry Arts Centre, which holds numerous live musical, theatrical and comedy performances.
Walk back to the main high street and carry on further down the town, past the busy shopping precinct, and you will come across the historical Bargate, one of the surviving gateways to the city. Look up when you are walking through and you may see the damage caused by trams, which attempted to pass through the middle until 1949 and sometimes didn't quite make it! Carry on down the high street and you may want to stop off for a drink at The Dolphin Hotel, which was a popular place to stay during the 18th century, when Southampton was a very popular Spa. Famous guests include Jane Austen, who is said to have danced there. A couple of minutes walk away, is another historical place to stop off for a drink or bite to eat - the Red Lion, which is the oldest pub in Southampton and still retains its 14th century vaults.
Other places of interest in the lower part of town, are the Tudor House Museum, which gives a fascinating insight into 15th century life, and the Maritime Museum. This gives a history of the development of the port and tells in detail the story of the famous Titanic, which began its ill-fated voyage from Southampton in 1912. Also around this part of town, you can walk along the old walls. For an informative stroll, take a Heritage walk of Old Southampton. These are organised by the tourist office and last for about an hour and a half. They are free, start from the Bargate, and are held throughout the year.
At the bottom of town you come to Southampton's waterfront, where there is much to see and do. Mayflower Park sits on the water's edge and is a popular place to watch famous cruiseliners, such as the QE2 and Oriana, as they set sail from their home port. It also hosts the annual Southampton Boat Show each September. Adjacent to the park, ferries leave for the Isle of Wight, just in case you fancy a day-trip. Further along, you will find the Town Quay, which replaced Southampton's old and dilapidated pier. It sits out on the water and is a lovely place to enjoy a drink or evening meal.
Walk further along the waterfront (about 10 minutes) and you will come to Ocean Village, one of Britain's biggest marina developments. It has many attractions, including two cinemas and an abundance of good restaurants and bars, as well as a small shopping centre. Major sailing events start from here, such as the BT Global Challenge yacht race and the Volvo Ocean Race, giving the waterfront a packed and lively atmosphere. A market is held every Sunday.
Outskirts of Southampton
Just a twenty minute drive from the centre of Southampton, or alternatively a short train or bus journey, is the start of the New Forest, which is not to be missed. Covering some 145 square miles of woodland and open heathland, it is a place of true beauty. There are numerous attractions to be found, such as Furzey and Exbury Gardens and the Beaulieu Motor Museum, to name a few. A good way to explore is by bicycle which, if you don't have your own, can be hired in Brockenhurst. There are hundreds of places to walk, picnic and enjoy, whilst trying to prevent the New Forest ponies from eating your sandwiches!
History of SouthamptonSouthampton has been known as 'The Gateway to the World' and indeed, people have long come here to reach distant and exotic locations. But as one of the country's foremost commercial ports, Southampton has a unique cultural heritage and a few treasures of its own to offer.
The 20th century alone put the town on the map, when the magnificent but ill-fated Titanic sailed from its docks on 10th April 1912. Glamourised on both television and celluloid, and most famously in James Cameron's lavish Hollywood blockbuster, the doomed maiden voyage and its victims have long been honoured with the city's own monument. Located in East Park, the Titanic Engineer Officers Memorial is a true testament to those who died, and particularly to the local people - in one school alone, 140 children lost a father, brother, cousin or uncle.
But not all of Southampton's sea-faring past has been blighted by tragedy. The Mayflower, which proudly bore aloft America's founding Pilgrim Fathers, set sail from here in August 1620 - and not from rival port Plymouth, as popular myth would have it! The Mayflower Memorial outside the Maritime Museum, and Southampton's premier theatre The Mayflower, commemorate the historic quest.
From Canute to Henry V
It was in Southampton, in 1014, where the Viking Canute defeated Ethelred The Redeless and was pronounced King of England. According to the famous tale, Canute commanded the mighty waves of the Solent to retreat on these very shores. A plaque on Canute Hotel marks the spot where the great king allegedly had an impromptu paddle!
Following the Norman Conquest, Southampton grew prosperous as the main port of transit between Winchester and Normandy. During this time the town walls began to take shape, the remains of which are some of the finest examples in the country. But this is largely due to the fortifications which took place after the devastating raid by the French in 1338. The town became one of the strongest fortresses in the land - its encompassing wall measured up to 30 feet high in places and had no less than 29 towers and 7 gates!
In 1415, Henry V left with his troops for France and the Battle of Agincourt. Prior to their departure, however, the King had to deal with a plot for treason. The traitors were tried and executed outside the Bargate, the medieval entrance to the town - and their heads were gruesomely displayed on spikes for the delight of the public!
From the 1700's to the 20th Century
Southampton's seawater hasn't always been the reason behind its popularity - from the 1750's to the 1800's, Southampton enjoyed its heyday as a spa town. People flocked to drink from the mineral springs and enjoy sea-bathing. The original queen of the spa town, Jane Austen, is said to have visited in 1807 and danced the night away at the The Dolphin Hotel - which survives to this day! The patronage of George II's son, Frederick Prince of Wales, who bathed there in 1750, probably did nothing to harm Southampton's reputation either. Sadly, the water does not seem to have returned the favour, as he died the following year!
The 20th century was a turbulent time for Southampton. For the first time since 1338, the town was almost devastated by enemy attack. The German bombers of the Third Reich reduced 630 buildings to rubble and damaged a further 3,589. But Southampton was not defeated, for it was from her docks that more than 3 million troops left for Normandy, in the D-Day landings of 1944.
Alternative glories Southampton has since enjoyed, include the football team's FA Cup win in 1976 - a triumph yet to be repeated, but hopes have been lifted with the planned construction of a state-of-the-art premiership stadium. A city facelift in general has enhanced a broad spectrum of facilities including the Quays diving complex and the country's seventh largest shopping mall - West Quay Retail Park - due to open this autumn.
So, while travellers pass through Southampton's port on their way to distant cultural capitals, shoppers flock to the High Street, which is actually on the site of an old bull-ring and just around the corner from the site of a Norman Castle - which in its time was host to Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Richard the Lion-Heart, who spent his only Christmas in England there! The parks, popular for picnics and walks, were once the town's arable land and main source of food; their preservation makes Southampton unique among English towns.
And finally, whilst some visitors may stop to admire the QE2, harboured in Southampton's docks, it could possibly surprise them to know that Southampton is also the home of the Spitfire!
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