In England, after visiting Poole, we continued on in an easterly direction, making our way around the southern coast, and being ever-mindful that we had to be back in London in a couple of days from then. On the way around, we visited many little places, and hurriedly took photos of the villages and pretty canals and unusual houses, one of which was an old oast house, now a private residence, the like of which we’d only ever seen before on the television show Escape to the Country.
Tired out from driving continuously, we stopped for a short break at Hamble-le-Rice on the Hamble River, a village in Hampshire which featured in the 1980s BBC television series Howard’s Way. Somehow, I have an idea that Hamble-le-Rice may also have featured in one or two episodes of the BBC television series Foyle’s War.
Hamble-le-Rice on the Hamble River has a long tradition of British maritime history. The mouth of the Hamble River flows into the Southampton Waters and the Solent beyond. It is here that many historical figures, including Henry VIII, and others from way back—even from as early as Viking times—and since, defended the Solent and Southampton Waters from various invaders, the most recent being the threat of potential invasion by German forces in WWII.
Generally speaking, the area is now best known for its long aviation history, and for its part in the two World Wars, and for being a WWII aircraft training centre. An aviation factory still operates in the area, and, as far as I am aware, the area may still be home to a branch of the Royal Air Force Reserves. I do know though that Hamble-le-Rice is also famous as a popular boating centre. Bob and I had heard that the Hamble River is packed with marine craft in the summer months, and being sailors ourselves, we wouldn’t have minded having a look. We didn’t see a lot of activity though, and could only assume that being there in the area at the beginning of what promised to be a very cool summer, we were slightly too early to catch up with the boating crowds that traditionally flood into the village during the warmer summer months.
We left the village centre and followed the road around to the Hamble common and the River Hamble, and carried on down to the dirt track to where we could see up the Southampton Waters to the Solent. To our right we noted a few stones and a bit of old cement in the long grass, all that was left of where the WWII flying boat base had once stood.
It was low tide. Close in, much of the river’s muddy banks and bottom were exposed. In the muddy flats, we saw plenty of mud whelks and other inedible-looking shell-fish, but found none of the area’s famous oysters. Further out, in the channel, a couple of yachts and a ferry were making their way out into more open waters.
Across from where we were, the oil refineries that had been operation there for years, made a dark line against the water.
Along to our left we found a large yard that belonged to the Royal Air Force Yacht Club. The yard was packed with yachts and sail boats of all shapes and sizes and makes.
Then along the beach to our right we found what remained of some WWII anti-aircraft gun emplacements.
We poked around the area a little more, then drove on to Portsmouth where, before we did anything else, we looked for a room for the night. There were no rooms available anywhere, the place was booked out. Then by some fluke we stumbled into the Ibis Hotel/Motel —a relatively inexpensive but rather swish place. One of the guests was just leaving, we hung around until they booked out. It was the only room available. Other people looking for a room for the night came in after us, but we were at the head of the queue so we were fortunate. We grabbed the newly vacated room, hung around until it was ready for us to occupy, and then took our bags up before heading straight out again to begin exploring. Portsmouth, the second largest city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, is a dynamic and vibrant waterfront city that has a long, proud, naval and maritime heritage.
Above: driving into the city of Portsmouth. Below: some of the cities ports, docks, and ferry terminals. All these areas deserved to have time spent on them, and later we retraced our steps through Portsmouth to have a better look before travelling on further. So all these various aspects of Portsmouth appealed to both Bob and I; but being a writer, my interest was more with Portsmouth’s literary history.
Over the years, Portsmouth has had connections to many of England’s famous literary figures. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells, and Rudyard Kipling had all lived there, and had all called Portsmouth “home.” But the most famous of Portsmouth’s literary sons is Charles Dickens, and it is Charles Dickens who interested me most. Charles Dickens was born on 7 February, 1812, at 1 Mile End Terrace in Portsmouth.
I had begrudged the time it took to find a room, but Bob had insisted, and which proved fortunate since we got the last room available in Portsmouth for that night. But once we had our room, I could not, indeed would not, listen to Bob going on about being hungry or wanting to see this or that. It didn’t matter one iota, we had something far more important to do first, and it could not wait any longer. It was a matter of survival. If I were not to expire on the spot I had to go right then, and fulfill a life-long dream. It was absolutely imperative that we went immediately to find the house in which Charles Dickens had been born, and spent the first years of his life.