Walking or driving in a north westerly direction along Southampton Water you pass another landmark, Netley Abbey, where you can take an atmospheric stroll amongst its ruins. Originally a monastery, it inspired both artists and poets through the 18th and 19th centuries, including John Constable, and still does today. In fact it has long been a popular tourist attraction, visited by one of my heroines Jane Austen no less, and people used to come down for day trips from London on the train in the Victorian era!
Once you have enjoyed exploring Netley Abbey I would like to take you through a woodland area and along to Weston Shore, a long pebbly beach enjoyed by walkers, wind surfers, fishermen and bird watchers just on the outskirts of Southampton. I must admit that my love of this little corner of England is mixed up with my childhood memories, but it is a wonderful place to watch ships sail along Southampton Water from Southampton Docks.
The Romans sailed in to Britannia along these very waters, allegedly for the first time, and built a settlement, Clausentum, on the banks of the River Itchen at what is now called Bitterne. (Ancasta, the title of my second novel, was allegedly an Anglo Roman Goddess of the River Itchen from which my novel flows) Other famous ships, which would have been observed standing on Weston Shore, included the Mayflower, ship of the Pilgrim Fathers, bound for America in April 1620. Just over one hundred years ago, in April 1912, the first and last sightings of the Titanic was watched with pride and celebration, soon to be turned to mourning as many a street in the area lost many of their brothers, sisters, friends and neighbours. The whole of the Southampton area was stunned by the loss. Then, through the Crimean and Great Wars troop ships sailed out and returned carrying our injured and in 1913 the unusual sight of flying boats would have inspired speculation, admiration and certainly doubt from the local onlookers.
Then of course there were the Queens which the Southampton people took to their hearts, the Queen Mary, the first Queen Elizabeth and then the QE2, the fastest merchant ship in the world. (I was so sad when I heard that she was left to rust in Dubai, but I notice recent good news that there are now plans to turn her into a luxury hotel!) I remember the excitement of watching all of these grand ladies both from the shore and from my grandma’s upstairs bedroom window. Even the sight of the massive cruise liners today, including the Queen Mary, stirs emotions, although nothing could beat watching the QE2 in her day, in my opinion.
Back to Weston Shore, today there is a group who have become custodians of the area called The Weston Shore Society. You can get news of their events and updates on The Friends on Weston Shore blog. They arrange regular parties to clear any rubbish washed on to the tide line and social events and walks for local people to enjoy and appreciate their surroundings. In fact, you can also enjoy the Westwood Woodland Park close by too. You just need to get out of the car an explore.
Weston Shore has its own charm in a quirky sort of way, but it was its proximity to Woolston which made it a perfect setting for scenes in my novels including Ancasta, when my characters sought a place for solace or to breathe and feel connected to the river, sea and the places beyond.