Oct 09 2009

England, day 3: Hungerford and Portsmouth

Category: adventure,photos,travelSami @ 3:19 am

Full photo set for today is here.

This morning I trotted off to Hungerford, after a leisurely chat with my uncle, to go to a bank before I headed on for my day’s main adventures.

In Hungerford I discovered that Barclay’s Bank didn’t open until 9:30am, Lloyd’s TSB didn’t open until 10am, and Natwest got my custom because it was actually open at quarter past nine, when my wandering down the high street got me that far.

Dear England,

What the hell.

Love,
Sami.

A local I chatted to commented that he supposed they were lucky to have a branch in such a small town; I feel this is not quite the attitude.

Still, Hungerford is a very pretty place, and in addition to getting hold of some actual cash, I got some snacks for the day’s travels, too: strawberries, blueberries, and some gluten-free chips. I also bought copies of the Times and the Guardian, though I’ve not yet had time to read them.

A brief digression on my accent: Apparently, my tendency to absorb accents has not abated. Around my uncle’s house I find myself using occasional South African-isms; amongst the English, I’ve had an odd progression in people commenting on my accent. The first was a woman in the bank, who heard it from their back offices and came out to ask me what time it would be in Sydney. The second was a woman in the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, who detected no Australian in my accent but picked up the American touch I don’t seem to be able to lose.

The third was another gentleman in another part of the museum, a couple of hours later, who thought I sounded entirely English.

Anyway, after I left Hungerford I headed for Portsmouth. Quite a long drive, but Radio 4 continues to be highly entertaining and the English countryside continues to be beautiful – and their’s something heart-stoppingly wonderful about seeing castles perched on hillsides in the distance.

Finally I reached Portsmouth, and I even found my way to the Historic Dockyards carpark, and then to the Historic Dockyards themselves. My booking on the tour of the HMS Victory was fairly soon, but on the way to it I had the chance to stop in one of the musuem galleries and see the honest-to-goodness actual, genuine Enigma Machine.

As a history buff of the period I follow, I assure you, this was terribly exciting.

After that, I took the tour of the Victory. Note: The Royal Navy still owns the Victory, and forbids photography, so I have no pictures of this. But I do have a picture of me, standing in front of the great ship, taken by the best photographer ever.

Apparently the best estimate is that about 25% Trafalgar materials remain in the Victory; in addition to the extremely heavy damage she took in the battle itself, it’s been an awfully long time, and since she’s now being kept in dry-dock, a number of the original cannons have been removed because she can’t take the weight, and replaced with fibreglass replicas.

That said, I saw, and touched, one of the cannon she carried at the Battle of Trafalgar. (As historic artifacts go, several tons of painted cast iron are on the list of those I do not feel it inappropriate to touch. I’m not sure I could damage it with a hammer beyond maaaybe chipping the paint.)

Walking on the lower deck where the original boards remain, I felt almost light-headed, thinking that my twenty-first century boots were tramping the same decks trodden by the crew – that I was walking where Admiral Nelson once walked.

We stopped in the area of the lower decks where the wounded were taken, and where Nelson himself died. The famous painting of Nelson’s deathbed scene is woefully inaccurate; it features people standing around, instead of hunching, because the ceiling is about five feet high there, and one of the men pictured standing tall with space above his head to spare was in fact six foot seven.

The low beams and the dim, windowless area give the deck a very claustrophobic feel, and the footsteps of people walking on the deck above are loud. It’s hard to imagine what the scene must have been like at the time he lay dying, with the cries of the other wounded, the battle still raging above, the thunder of footsteps amid the deafening blasts of the cannon fire.

After the Victory tour, I went to the museum, and saw the Battle of Trafalgar Experience, and checked out the display of figureheads and the miniature exhibition on the Royal Navy’s role in the ending of the slave trade; I noted that they do, at least, also acknowledge the Royal Navy’s role in the establishment of the slave trade.

*cough*:

After that, it was time to hustle down to the waterfront to board the ferry for the harbour tour. My photos from the tour are limited, as what I mostly did was video the whole thing – at some points the picture from the video gets terrible, because I was taking pictures with my still camera, but the tour speech from the driver was really good and I didn’t want to miss it.

Some highlights -

The white cliffs of Portchester Downs:

Roman fort turned English castle, Portchester Castle:

I disembarked from the ferry at the Gunwharf Quays, and went up the Spinnaker Tower. I’m not sure it would be at all worth it on a day with less clear skies, because for all that you can see for 27 miles, the tower is not that well-designed for good viewing. Nonetheless:

Finally, I wended my weary way back to my car, and drove back to Wiltshire. My plan was originally to have a nice bath and rest a bit before going out this evening to get petrol and do some shopping for winter clothes, but apparently I’m not quite over jet lag yet, because I’ve found myself feeling very, very tired and completely unfit to drive.

So, though it’s only a quarter past eight here in England, it is bedtime for Samis.

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