“Been to Southampton beach yet?” – is a common joke older students ask Freshers when they arrive to start their new course at University. Most of the beaches in the UK are pretty, so many coming to study assume that as Southampton on the very edge of the sea in the south must have a good beach.
If they did their research they would realise that Southampton is one of the biggest industrial ports there is. Its coast is taken up with docks, crammed with shipping vessels and harbours boxed up with metal containers that arrive and depart all over the world. Residents are blocked off from a view of the sea, apart from a few spaces to get a glimpse of light dazzling on the waves of Southampton Water, such as Mayflower Park (SO14 2AQ).
There were attempts in the early 1980s to boost tourism. A sand beach was built near Mayflower Park to welcome Carnival Line and to tempt cruise liner passengers to stay for a day. The cash injection did not work and landed us in debt, so it was not kept up. For any day trippers today there is an excellent walk around the old city walls (guided by volunteers even) lined with ancient pubs, five stunning parks – the odd museum and ancient plaques stating what or who used to be here.
In Jane Austen’s time Southampton was a fashionable spa town. Most of Southampton’s elegant buildings were Blitzed during WW2 and being an important financial hub and port, white concrete architectures was quickly thrown up. Most of the tourism to Southampton today is for its diverse range of live music and arts and festivals. West End theatre shows that tour usually start here. Sadly the city no longer worries about holiday-makers and has no tourist office – (though you can get info online and leaflets from the library) – but provides excellent transport links for cruise ship passengers to get to other more desirable destinations quickly, whether its London (70 minutes) the New Forest (10 minutes) or Stonehenge.
We tend to swim at a pool or in one of our rivers. As for beaches Southampton is surrounded by the most beautiful beaches, so why compete? It would not take you long to get anywhere along the Jurassic Coastline. You can take a short ferry ride to the Isle of Wight , a train to Bournemouth a taxi to Southsea. Not to far by car you can visit Lepe, Hayling Island, Brownsea Island, Sandbanks (29 miles), Hengisburty Head (21 miles), Barton on Sea or Highcliffe (Click on the Beach Guide and look under Hampshire and Dorset).
Greater Southampton does have beaches though, but these are not as pretty and take just as long to get to as those outside of its boundary.
Our beaches are mainly used for water-sports, as Southampton Water and the Solent are incredible tests for such enthusiasts. They are of pebble, not sand, they have views of residential or factory blocks, even an oil refinery.
There is Weston Shore in Netley and Calshot Beach (officially in Southampton and on Southampton Water but part of the New Forest) SO45 1BL.
Click Discover for what to see and do in Southampton.