After a couple of months of hibernation I was beginning to get itchy feet. I love holibobbing in January because it injects some (metaphorical) sunshine into what could otherwise be a dark month, what with all the Christmas lights having been taken down. Southampton cropped up in the FA Cup – and it’s a loooong way from Blackpool – and so that became our destination for the first Football Tourist Guide of 2023. The alarm was set for 0515 on Friday, the day before the match.
Initial plans had involved stopping at Cheltenham for breakfast but my weight has been creeping back on again in recent weeks so Paddington (my lifestyle guru) insisted on packing a cool bag of food for the journey. Today we had ham, cheese, grapes, apple and cinnamon overnight oats, apples, satsumas, watermelon, pork and tomato sausages, seafood sticks and eggs to pick at on our journey.
We also had our overnight bags packed, including our cold weather gear for tomorrow’s match (long johns, thermal vest, thermal trousers, etc.) because no way were we ever going to be as cold as we were at Birmingham ever again in our lives. As part of my bid to actually read all the literature in our house, I brought a couple of issues of Turnstiles Magazine with me to peruse in moments of rest. I’d checked and the hotel provided a hairdryer and toiletries so I didn’t need to pack those.
To accompany us on the loooong journey southbound, we of course needed a Southampton soundtrack. I was very excited to press play on the first song but it necessitated us actually being on our way proper, so I impatiently waited while Lee fuelled up the car and then tootled back home because he’d forgotten something as usual (his gloves this time, I think). Finally – at 0630 – I got to press the button.
Yes, dear reader, Benny Hill was from Southampton. Next up was Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West, a song I’d heard of anecdotally but never really listened to before. I was surprised to learn that Ernie was killed by a pork pie. Perhaps I’d had a lucky escape the other week with that Pork Shop pork pie.
The music got better, too, unearthing many famous sons and daughters of Southampton. Craig David was next up and I enjoyed his
R&B shit music more than I expected to. The Very Best of Howard Jones had 36 tracks (pushing it somewhat) and I bet you can’t name more than two. We didn’t know who Sarah Jane Morris was but an Apple Music search brought up Don’t Leave Me This Way by The Communards (what a tune!) so she must have provided the female vocals on that. Mike Batt came up next. Hmm I recognise that name.
The Wombles! They, of course, had loads of hits and I was singing my head off in the car. What a playlist this was!
Our final Southampton discovery was a 60s band called Fleur de Lys. They were great and Lee couldn’t understand why they hadn’t made it big. I remarked that they didn’t seem to have a clear identity, with their music sometimes sounding like The Beatles, sometimes like The Rolling Stones, sometimes other bands. There’s a Welsh band called Y Bandana (who I first heard as background music ahead of the Pwdin Reis gig in Swansea) who similarly almost sound like a different band even on songs on the same album. I looked up Fleur de Lys and learned that the band line-up (and name) changed many times during their short lifespan, which explained the identity crisis. Anyway they were the find of the playlist. Lee and I both love collecting music and this band was added to our respective collections.
We had planned to call in at Gloucester Services (our fave, with the farm shop) to stretch our legs but Waze took us off the M5 before we got there (grr) so we ended up calling at a random petrol station.
Back on the road, we found ourselves passing through villages lined with cottages with thatched rooves (one being freshly thatched), down valleys and up hills, past farms and roads with no pavements, where people were tramping past on muddy verges. Indeed it seemed quite a muddy day and our car was getting caked in the stuff. Lee was constantly washing the windscreen and we began to wonder if it was raining mud or something. We guessed it was flying up from these strange muddy verges in lieu of pavements. It couldn’t really have been raining mud, could it? We’d heard of acid rain but not muddy rain.
It was around 1100 when we found ourselves pulling into the first stop on our itinerary. And, I’m not going to lie – I was knackered already after four and a half hours on the road…
When I first started this Football Tourist Guide in pre-season 21/22, it was my intention to take in those famous tourist spots that we’ve never got round to visiting. We started this in earnest with a visit to Hadrian’s Wall ahead of a match at Carlisle. But, since then, we’ve really limited our tourist attractions to those very local to the clubs we’re visiting. Stonehenge was pretty much en route to Southampton and we weren’t down this part of the country very often, so today seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit one of our country’s most iconic landmarks.
What did we know about Stonehenge? Well we knew what it looked like from photos and the tv. We knew that druids gathered there and the stones were somehow aligned with stuff in space, like Milton Keynes. But we were looking forward to being amongst the stones and learning more today.
It was a dear do to get in (£24 for adults) but I remembered to ask for a student discount, which saved me 10% (every little helps). We could have got in free with English Heritage membership. I’d assumed that would be ridiculously expensive but actually it’s only £115 for joint membership for a year, so that might represent good value as well as encouraging us to visit places of interest we might not otherwise have heard of.
First up we went into a little hut which was a reconstruction of those found locally, which may have been the homes of the workers who constructed Stonehenge. Inside were two wicker mattresses, a fire pit and some shelving, probably for pots and pans.
We learned that there was much more here than just the Henge itself. We wouldn’t have time to visit the whole site today – as this was only a whistle-stop visit – but here’s an overview.
There were shuttle buses provided to Stonehenge so we hopped on one of those. It might have been a nice walk if (a) we’d had more time; and (b) it wasn’t fucking freezing. Whilst we’d packed all our thermals, we weren’t wearing nearly enough insulation as we hadn’t expected to get so cold outside of the match itself, not being outdoors for particularly long periods at a time. This was already proving a mistake. Despite the forecast telling us it was colder down here than back home in Blackpool, we hadn’t believed that to be actually true.
I heard a woman with a loud and clear voice speaking authoritatively on Stonehenge. She may or may not have been an official tour guide; nonetheless I listened with interest, without obviously following her around the site. She said that one-third of each vertical stone was buried beneath the surface (a bit like an iceberg – more of those later). She also advised that the horizontal stones on the top were held in place with a notch on the top of the vertical stone (like the one visible on the far right stone below) and a hole in the horizontal one.
The stones were surrounded by a rope cordon, so unfortunately we were unable to get in amongst the stones themselves. I had been expecting a Whitby Abbey-esque awe-infused experience from the centre of the circle, being able to touch the stones and feeling their power and history. But we had to make do with viewing them from a distance with the international tourists.
Next stop was the gift shop, where there were many delights.
But the one thing we have looked for in every museum shop – and failed to find – since Barnsley was Top Trumps. Not only is it a great game but it also helps further our education about places we’ve visited. I felt there was much more to learn about Stonehenge than we’d managed to absorb today, so was delighted to spot this, which I bought on sight.
On our way out we finally located the museum – where we were hit with a whoomph of heat on entry. With the benefit of hindsight, I wished we’d visited here before heading out to the stones, as the exhibition provided a lot of background and history about the stones. For example it was thought for a long time that the druids had erected Stonehenge – hence the strong druid presence here still – but it was later discovered that the stones were much older than originally thought – pre-dating the druids.
Well this had been a strong (if cold!) start to the day – and we hadn’t even got to Southampton yet! We were grateful to be back in the warmth of the car and tucked into more of our food in a bid to stimulate further warmth (despite it being stored in a cool bag…hmm…). I was beginning to regret this plan of not having a hot meal before teatime. The hot food in the cafe here had smelled tantalising too. I made do with cheese and grapes, which was actually very tasty and felt quite fancy.
Now we were heading in search of ponies, which were apparently roaming wild by the side of the road into Southampton. I tapped B3079 Roger Penny Way into Waze (cheers Claire and Martin for the tip) and hoped for the best. Meanwhile we drove through the New Forest and it was getting muddier and muddier and we’d already noticed other cars with completely illegible number plates. What was going on down here? We’d never known a mucky atmosphere like this. Was it something to do with the land? There were an awful lot of trees down here.
Lee was enchanted by the surrounding trees – and weird roads where you could technically drive straight off onto a moor – all the way down to Southampton, where we finally landed around 1400 – a full seven and a half hours after leaving Blackpool.
We parked on the Civic Centre car park, where we were limited to two hours parking – and there was a warden patrolling the car park. This strict time limit kept us focussed on completing our business here swiftly.
First stop was SeaCity Museum because I wanted to learn more about the Titanic and its connection to Southampton.
On arrival I was greeted with a whoomph of heat and a giggle of schoolchildren. My eyes widened and I became rooted to the floor.
‘Don’t worry – they’re just leaving,’ said the friendly lady behind the counter. I breathed a sigh of relief and proceeded with the purchase of our entry tickets (again getting a student discount here). Lee had gone back to the car because he’d forgotten something again (his glasses this time, I think) and, by the time he resurfaced, the children were filing out.
We were advised that there were two exhibitions upstairs and another at the rear of the building downstairs. The one we were here for was the first one we visited. And oh my word – what an exhibition this was!
This was the most powerful and evocative exhibition I have ever experienced. Do not miss this if you are ever in or anywhere near Southampton. In fact, make a special trip and you will not be disappointed.
The exhibition began by setting the scene: introducing the visitor to the people of Southampton and what it was like living there in 1912. We were introduced to individual members of the crew – the majority of whom were Southampton people.
Then there was the introduction to the ship herself: what she was like, what the passengers and crew did onboard and what was taken onboard.
I could really feel the build-up and excitement of the locals as the Titanic made her way round from Belfast, where she was built, to Southampton, where she was to commence her maiden voyage across the Atlantic. There was even a game where visitors could have a go a steering the ship.
And then all of a sudden – boom! Straight into a room playing audio footage of survivors of the Titanic. She’d struck an iceberg and sunk within three hours of the impact. A woman (a girl at the time) told of the ghastly screams of the survivors followed by the silence that almost came as a relief. I thought that was such an odd thing to say but then I cannot imagine what that must have been like to live through.
The next room played audio footage of court scenes of the inquest into the disaster, which revealed some appalling negligence and led to new legislation to help ensure that it never happened again. For example there were more people on board than there was capacity in the lifeboats on the Titanic.
I walked around the other exhibitions in a daze, I was so overwhelmed by what I had just seen and learned – although my photographs remind me there were a couple of football games in a retro arcade downstairs.
We’d already used up more than half our allotted time so hurried across to our next port of call – just a short walk away.
Whoomph it was hot in here, too!
In my research to find a pub with a suitable healthy menu that would satisfy our respective dietary requirements, I’d ruled out this one – although I had kept it on the ‘must visit’ list because I’d spotted that it had shuffleboard. We’d first been introduced to this game we’d never heard of (which we now knew they’d played on the Titanic) in Sheffield – and fell in love with it instantly. Since then, we try and seek it out everywhere we go. It’s basically a bit like crown green bowls on a table with pucks.
Unfortunately there was a bit of a sand shortage on and around this table (we’d have brought some with us if we’d known), which meant the board was difficult to slide the pucks across in some areas. But we did like the little manual scoreboards on the sides of the board. I won the first match but Lee came back to win 2-1.
The basement of this pub was a games room but with plenty of seating, too, as the games areas weren’t totally dominant as we have seen in other places.
Oh drinks – yes, of course! Well there was no cask but there was a selection of craft beer taps, including a couple of Tiny Rebel. I went for the Clwb Tropica.
And, for your Loo Review, check out this handmade toilet roll holder.
Right – back to the car park to avoid that parking ticket! We made it with a good ten minutes to spare before heading up to our fancy hotel.
We couldn’t quite believe we’d secured a night in such a fancy hotel for just £56.
It has a gym and a pool and a jacuzzi and everything! We brought our gym kits with good intentions (but pubs…). I realised I didn’t actually own a swimming costume – having been traumatised by swimming lessons at Derby Baths at school – and we’d forgotten to buy one on the way in. I am actually determined to conquer this fear of being immersed in water as I don’t like irrational fears controlling me. But it wasn’t going to happen today because, well, pubs…
This was the pub I’d chosen for tea. The menu had lots of healthy options for us to choose from. Plus it served beer. Yay!
We were welcomed warmly (whoomph!) and escorted to our table despite arriving a full hour earlier than the time I’d booked us in for (it was now 1700). The pub had a lovely rustic feel, like a proper country pub. I put my coat and gilet on the back of the chair (I’d left my new woolly nu nu top at the hotel, given how whoomphy every building was, and my hat and scarf remained in the car for later).
I was already realising that waiting until teatime before eating a meal might have been a mistake. We were now ravenous and, in order to avoid buying crisps and shit later, I realised I’d need two courses here just to be on the safe side. Where was Paddington when I needed him? I was struggling without him to guide me through these days on the road.
The highlight of the meal was those seeds on my duck starter. We liked them so much we had to ask what they were. It transpired they were pumpkin seeds. We resolved to look out for those so we could enjoy them at home too.
Our waiter was brilliant and super helpful without being overly attentive so bonus points (and a tip) for him.
My research had revealed the next pubs were within walking distance. Lee wasn’t convinced walking was the way forward. But it didn’t seem all that cold now – it was a mild evening and nothing like as biting as Stonehenge had been. Eventually – after at least two trips back to the car for gloves and hat – we set off on the 15-minute stroll to the next pub,
Twitter had come up trumps (and whoomphs!) with its pub recommendations for tonight. This one is both a micropub and a bookshop. What’s not to love about that?
My new friend Marcus at Powder Monkey Brewing Co (more of him in two pubs time) had recommended I have the Pupa here but you know sometimes there’s a beer I simply can’t see past. You know the ones: Titanic Plum Porter, anything from Fierce, the Vocation Naughty & Nice range, anything with ginger or nutmeg or cinnamon or chillies in it. Anyway here tonight it was the Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout.
The group in the window were eating a takeaway pizza that smelled yummy despite the fact I’d just eaten a two-course meal washed down with a pint of ale. That said, my beer was proving a bit of a struggle on a stomach that wasn’t used to being quite this full. With the benefit of hindsight, that pale ale might have been a better option.
We couldn’t really get to the books, as there were occupied tables directly in front of them; however, from a distance, all I could identify were books by politicians, which didn’t particularly appeal.
Right – onwards to the next pub: another recommendation just a short walk away.
But what was this en route? Dhaba 59? A desi pub?! Oh what a rare treat. Could I walk past? If I wasn’t full to bursting I’d have been all over this place. But we were on a tight schedule tonight (I’d already scrubbed Unity Bottle Shop & Tasting Room – also tantalisingly close – off our itinerary) so I carried on full steam ahead to the next recommended pub.
By the time I’d crossed back over the road after taking this photo, a large group of men had beaten us to the bar (boo!). I considered the beer board while I hung back and waited patiently for a space to appear at the bar.
And then, as if by magic, the barmaid appeared. She had noticed I was waiting and stepped out from behind the bar and past the line of men gathered around it to approach me to take my order. Well I’ve never known service quite like that before. Bonus points for this place already! I’m more used to feeling invisible at a bar than actually being seen through a solid wall of men.
There were no free tables in this busy little pub – which had more of a social club feel – but I spotted some vacant seats on an occupied table and enquired as to their availability.
‘Ooh come on in – we’re leaving soon anyway.’
As we were remarking on the Southampton FC pictures on the wall – who knew they’d been down to League One and won the Johnstones Paints Trophy while we were up having fun in the Premier League? – our companions at the table noticed our Blackpool FC attire. We got chatting with them for a good while about football and their annual visits to Blackpool for the soul weekender and our adventures from earlier today. We joked about them really not being used to this sort of weather down here, what with the heating ramped up to the max literally EVERYWHERE (fancy being able to afford that!) – as well as the locals all being very very well wrapped up before setting foot outdoors.
I could have happily stayed here all night – or indeed gone back to the hotel to sleep, despite it only being 2100 (we had been up since 0515, remember). But we had a rendezvous in Portsmouth that would prove almost to be the death of us…
Right well first things first: if we’re going to Portsmouth, we’ll need a Portsmouth playlist.
Unlike Howard Jones – but like The Wombles – Tears for Fears released banger after banger and we sang along all the way to Portsmouth.
Now, as this isn’t a Football Tourist’s Guide to Portsmouth, there will be no Spinnaker here – you’ll have to wait for all that. We were here tonight for one reason only: to meet up with my Twitter friends from Powder Monkey Brewing Co. As we were only half an hour away it would have been rude not to call in on them when cordially invited. So here we were.
Powder Monkey Brewing Co Tap Takeover @ The Old Customs House
We’d parked in the shopping centre car park and this place was literally just there at the car park exit right on the quayside. It really was a perfect location. No pics of all that because we’re not here for that.
The pub rang a vague bell and indeed I had visited it before – not in person but on my virtual travels when Blackpool played at Portsmouth during lockdown.
The bar was in the room to the left and I strode right up to the bar, enquiring about the tap takeover.
‘Oh yes, the guys are all over there if you want to grab them for a chat. We’ve got their beers on these taps here.’
‘Ooh ok thanks. Could I have a half of their breakfast stout please?’
The bar was busy – and the beers spread out – so no photos of the taps. But here’s what I was drinking.
As I turned round, I caught Marcus’s eye and all of a sudden we were amongst friends. We were greeted so warmly by the guys from Powder Monkey and their friends from Portsmouth. It took me back to the days when I went to tap takeovers in Birmingham and there were warm and familiar faces everywhere. Like beer festivals, too, I suppose. These people were my tribe – even though I hadn’t met any of them before, nor been out in Portsmouth before (well not for years and only for a few hours before a match). What did we talk about? Well, beer, wanting to beat Southampton, pubs, the Spinnaker, the AirBNB that we might want to stop in next to their brewery, local touristy stuff, our adventures so far today, our plans for tomorrow, more pubs… Beer is a great conversation starter and it certainly helps the conversation flow.
Powder Monkey not only talk a good game – Marcus is such a good salesman, he even persuaded me to take a sip of the beer he was drinking, and I haven’t shared beer since COVID – but their beer is a quality product, too. The above was the best beer I’d had all day by a mile. Apparently their brewery is so cleverly designed technically, other breweries visit to see how they’ve done it as a model. It was refreshing to hear a good news story about a thriving brewery when so many are falling by the wayside on seemingly a daily basis.
This was the other beer I was force-fed.
And this one was something to do with why we were here – in a Fullers pub – tonight (this statue is outside).
We were having an amazing time here but we were getting so very tired now (at 2245) so I just had time for a quick Loo Review before we hit the road again.
We said our reluctant goodbyes to our new friends and headed back north to Southampton (which sounds like a paradox).
Dear reader, it was dark. It was very dark. Many of the roads simply weren’t lit – and the cats eyes were proving ineffective. Why was it so dark? Lee was struggling to see. We passed a car facing longways across two lanes and found ourselves following an ambulance with flashing blue lights – the only lights we could see. Periodically we would gaze across in envy at other cars with brighter headlights than ours. What was going on here? Why was it so dark? We missed our turnoff (because we couldn’t see it) so we headed too far north before turning round back the road we had gone up – only to find our exit on that side was closed. For fuck’s sake! Was this Southampton’s punishment for our visit to Portsmouth? Was it not letting us back in?
We did get back to the hotel eventually – and, as soon as we parked up, Lee realised what the problem had been: that ‘mud’ that had been in the air all day and caking the car had completely covered our headlights, which hadn’t been lighting up the road at all. We’d now deduced that it was the salt that had been put down to grit the roads down here (which it seemed they’d overdone in line with the heating). We’d never known anything like it. But at least we had a diagnosis now and would ensure the lights were clean ahead of any future drives.
We made our way through the hotel and up to our room – which was absolutely freezing! Southampton had been so warm up until we’d been to Portsmouth. Now I had to wear my wooly nu nu top and two pairs of socks to bed to avoid freezing to death. Was a couple of hours in Portsmouth really such a wicked act to deserve such treatment on our return? Well it turned out there would be further punishment to come tomorrow as Southampton was in an unforgiving mood…
Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide to Southampton – Part Two:
- Platform Tavern
- Dancing Man Brewery
- Southampton v Blackpool