by Katie Isham.
A new year seems apt for a visit to the Old Town area of our fair city. This part of our history is wonderful to visit any time, but during the dark winter days when moonlit moments outnumber the daylight hours, it’s an interesting time to wander up and down the cobbles on a mild adventure through time and streetlights.
West Quay is a good starting point: central for all and close to the old walls as well as the new developments. Castle Way leads south from the shopping centre past the bus stops and car parks to collect any travellers. Pass the start of the walls to walk alongside history and offer a handshake to the Masonic Hall on the corner.
Take the right turn down Castle Lane. If the names are significant, there should be a castle around here somewhere, but alas, Southampton Castle is long gone. Some fragments of the structure remain including the vaults and the walls overlooking the esplanade. Follow the path to the walls and swing left to step up over the metal bridge to Garderobe Tower: Southampton’s toilet. Don’t say I don’t take you anywhere nice.
Garderobe Tower was a tidal toilet when the sea lapped these walls before the reclamation. Descend the stairs past the long drop and pause to read the signage, stretching your brain as well as your legs. Once on the level, head towards the water along Western Esplanade where some more information points vie for attention.
Distraction soon arrives in the form of the pedestrian pathways leading back into the walls. Back uphill, the alluring angles of The Titanic pub, lit up famously like its namesake, beckons patrons in.
If you can resist the public house lure, continue south along Bugle Street. Soon, there’ll be the architectural sandwich of Tudor House to the right and St. Michael’s on the left. The square is a peaceful spot to reflect and gaze up at the striking spire.
Just to the right, by the Tudor House is one of the most iconic paths in the city: Blue Anchor Lane. Duck down into the shadow of the monochrome walls and trot down the hill, remembering to pause to look back up the hill at the sight left behind.
Back on the esplanade, skirt the walls and pass the cargo ship and the American wall (admittedly somewhat hard to appreciate in the dark). Another archway soon entices you back into the city as a welcome to Westgate. Another often deserted square inhabited by a grand building is a wonderful treat in the moonlight.
Cross the square and make for the warm glow of the Duke of Wellington, another traditional pub tucked away in these old corners. Pass it if you can and slip down the narrow path back toward Castle Way. Turn left under the shadow of the Merchant’s House, moving uptown.
On the right, the multi-coloured, cracked grid of images signalling the old pool hall cuts an altogether more modern relic. Pass the other facade of St. Michael’s and remember to look up to spot the grimaced faces adorning the brickwork.
The small park sits alongside the road on the left as the towering Castle House looms into view. Divert a moment into Simnel Street (much more pleasant now than in its chequered past) and peer through the railings of the glorious growth of the community garden.
Continue on until Hamtun Street where a left turn is vital to view the beautiful murals sprawling out on the brickwork. The artwork is probably best studied in daylight, but there’s something wonderful about the evening glow of life in the flats above casting illumination on the pictorial history of Old Town.
Continue further up the road, up and over a small portion of foot level walls to complete the loop and return to the modern age. Or not. That’s the beauty of this area of Southampton.
Another trip round the same streets would offer a slightly different viewpoint. On every walk, it’s possible to spot another secret, another face, another glimpse into our history and our current lives. Try the walk under the stars and see what secrets are illuminated this time.
Cost: Free walking access to the city centre and this part of historic Old Town.
Accessibility: Easily accessible from the city centre. The walking route is mostly paved with a smattering of flagstones and cobbles in some areas. Blue Anchor Lane is a little steep and there are a few steps if you choose to cross the bridge by Garderobe Tower.
Facilities: A rather high concentration of pubs on the route and the whole of Southampton city centre a short walk away.
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