This evening we had dinner at the Castle Tavern in Gosport, prior to catching the ferry over to Portsmouth, there to take the 19:45 Waterloo train back to London. We had come to this fascinating and beautiful part of Hampshire on a mission.
Although the weather in London this morning was again grey and cold as it had been when we started out yesterday, we hoped it might again clear up during the day, as promised by the red sky in Brighton yesterday evening. I am glad to say that the hope has been fulfilled.
We made a good start, catching the 9:30 Portsmouth train at Waterloo. Unfortunately, in an apparently endless attempt to bring rail maintenance and repair up to date, there were rail works and our train was diverted, lengthening the journey noticeably, as well as showing us parts of the country we do not usually see. At last the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth’s landmark, hove into view.
We reached Portsmouth after 11:30 and bought a combined bus and ferry ticket.
Then we straightaway took the ferry across to Gosport, the town where Tigger was born and spent her early years and of which, therefore, I am very fond.
Having reached Gosport, we went to the bus station and enquired for a bus to our destination, Little Woodham. We were advised to take the 88A and ask to driver to put us off at the stop. Unfortunately, the driver had never heard of the place we asked for so we had to work it out for ourselves.
Tigger asked me to look out for those brown road signs that are put up to guide tourists travelling by car to places of interest. As soon as we saw one naming our destination, we rang for the next stop. Once the bus had drawn away we saw that we had disembarked too soon. There was in fact a stop just outside the place. If the bus driver had been a little more knowledgeable or had simply noticed that places where he stopped his bus, he could have brought us right to our goal.
So what was this place we had come to visit? It is the 17th Century Living History Village, a project run by volunteers, that dates back some 20 years but is still little known.
The local council has provided a piece of woodland and a small amount of funding. The volunteers dress and speak as members of a 17th century community. I don’t mean that they attempt to ape the speech of the 1600s, which would be rather absurd, I think. They speak modern English but talk as though they are of the time. For example, if you mention buses they evince a polite incomprehension and lead the conversation on to other topics.
All the buildings – houses, workshops, the forge, the tavern – have been built by the team as period buildings would have been made. Artifacts are produced and the villagers take pleasure in explaining their lives and activities to visitors.
Tigger had a long chat with two ladies, both of whom had been with the project for a number of years. There the facade was allowed to relax and we learnt some interesting things. For example, modern health and safety legislation applies and this seriously limits the interaction between villagers and visitors. For example, food cannot be shared because of possible dangers inherent in this; nor can visitors even be allowed upstairs in the buildings for fear of an accident.
The lover of verisimilitude will be struck by the absence of animals. The village used to be able to borrow animals such as pigs and chickens from local farms during opening hours but this is no longer possible because the village cannot meet modern animal welfare regulations such a concrete floors in the pigsties. While I am all in favour of animals being treated humanely, this seems to me to be unnecessary nitpicking.
Projects like this are interesting and educational. If you are have no interest in history, you can treat the whole thing as entertainment, as an amenable fiction, but if you are keen on history then such projects bring past times alive. They do not replace the text book or the history lecture but they illustrate them beautifully.
As it is a bank holiday, the buses were running rather a skeleton service. On leaving the village, we had to wait some time for a bus.
We broke our journey at Fareham, where we saw a lot of strange artwork, and at Stokes Bay, hoping to find a meal. Everything was closed by the time we arrived so we kept moving on.
The timetable bore a date in 2006 – hardly likely to induce confidence. We read that there was a text service similar to the one in Jersey for finding out the times of the next buses from the stop. However, the service failed to recognize the identity of the stop as published on the the timetable – something the bus company needs to improve.
The bus eventually came just as we were beginning to think the network had closed for the night and we were transported back to Gosport where we found the Castle Tavern was serving food. We had minestrone soup and mushroom stroganoff and found the food very good, especially the stroganoff.
Gosport and Portsmouth are separated by Southampton Water, and the ferry is just a few yards from the Castle Tavern. In the evening sunlight, the waterway, the shipping and the shoreline present a beautiful panorama, begging to be photographed. The ferry crossing takes only a few minutes and the ferry port is right next to the railway on the Portsmouth side. When we arrived, a train was about to depart for Waterloo and we made it with a couple of minutes to spare.
Tigger is of course fond of Portsmouth and Gosport, having spent her early life here, but I too have come to see its beauty and interest, spiced by the romance of the sea and its naval history. I think it would be a good place to live, being pleasant in itself but also giving access to a large region worthy to be explored.