by Katie Isham.
Okay all, admittedly, it’s pretty grim right now. Grey days and even greyer moods. Even the sun seems to have gone into hibernation. Despite the days getting longer, the lack of sunshine is shrouding life in abject winter gloom.
Ocean Village is a locale of Southampton often linked to summer days. Those of us old enough, will recall the warm happiness of passing a sunny afternoon sipping a cold beverage quayside at Los Marinos. But I say, let’s reclaim Ocean Village as the perfect destination for these dull winter days. Let’s counter-cosy this winter like we mean it.
First stop should be the best phone box in the city. I hesitated to inform you of this gem, such is my attachment to this literary mine, but I decided to treat you all. Tucked away in the north-eastern corner of Ocean Village, behind the marina offices, alongside the water stands a blue specimen of telecommunication. Yet its ringing days are long gone; it’s now a magnificent book exchange. There’s always something interesting to swap here. Grab a new tome and continue your wandering alongside the waterside.
Follow the railing skirting the marina curve. This part of the port is a heart shaped hole in the city and we’re going to embrace it by walking its edge. As you wander, step over the dormant lines of the old dock’s railway. Past underfoot and present looming above as the ever-growing towers observe visitors. These buildings stretch skyward, enclosing the marina as if defending it from intruders.
Pass the concrete block steps, perfect for summer lounging but slightly lacking in comfort in deepest winter. Leave the loitering here to the gulls and pigeons. This safari is ripe for birdwatching, or bird avoidance as some of the cheekier chaps swoop down from their perches atop sails or balconies.
Leave the coast briefly to veer inland around the behemoth of the Southampton Harbour Hotel masquerading as a ship in its own right. Raise an eyebrow at the fancy cars alongside it more accustomed to the Top Gear track than a city car park.
Rejoin the barrier guarding the maze of bobbing walkways and gangplanks within the harbour and follow it eastward. Peer down at the yachts and boats dancing in the tide below. Choose your favourite vessel from the names and always try to spot the sea-faring dogs waiting like good boys and girls to come ashore. The path reaches round, incorporating some planters in bloom (even in January) and a tad more greenery, hence the need for the best dog walking signs in Southampton.
Continue round the bend until you’re heading south, away from the marina. Pause and look back to enjoy the view of the Itchen Bridge dipping into the city as a flotilla of boats pass by. The other direction invites you to gaze down the River Itchen to the docks and the wider world beyond.
By this point, you may need respite from the winter winds, so pop into any of the fine establishments dotted around Ocean Village. Heck, pop into all of them if you’re in no rush. It’s winter after all: what else is there to do? Hidden away from the rest of the city, this is the perfect place for a café crawl. A hot chocolate in Banana Wharf; some form of brunch in Maritimo Lounge; a decadent treat at HaBAR including the sixth-floor vista over the whole marina. A personal favourite is the café at Harbour Lights cinema: perfect pizzas and sweet treats beyond the usual popcorn fare. Whatever you fancy, snuggle into a comfy chair with your recently acquired book to match this winter at its own game. A waterside walk and a whole gauntlet of cafes to cosy up and indulge in: who needs spring when we can winter like this?
Cost: Free access to Ocean Village. Parking charges apply for a lot of the day if you arrive by car. Cost accrued if you take your patronage to any of the eateries around the village.
Accessibility: Pathed routes around Ocean Village accessible to all. Reach it via the A33 from West Quay or just off the Itchen Bridge; most local bus routes stop nearby.
Facilities: A plethora of refreshment facilities to suit the whole range of budgets as well as two mini supermarkets, two estate agents, a beauty salon, the best cinema in the city and the wonderful book exchange. There is also a raft of boating themed facilities. Being a marina and all.
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