“ Park in Portsmouth, Hampshire. „
Portsmouth's first public park was Victoria Park, designed by Alexander McKenzie and opened in 1878. It covers an area of around fifteen acres in the city centre. There are entrances on Commercial Road (opposite Portsmouth and Southsea railway station), Edinburgh Road, and the corner of Anglesea Road and Edinburgh Road. These are all accessible to the disabled, and the pathways are suitable for wheelchairs. A fourth entrance is hidden just behind the War Memorial next to the Guildhall and runs under a railway bridge. As you come into the park, you are met by beautiful towering trees.
In warm weather, Victoria Park is a popular place where city centre workers and students can spend some time in the open air and even lie on the grass and sunbathe. The flower beds are well kept and there are plenty of seats for those who prefer them to the grass. Apparently there are guided tree walks that take place in the park and I can imagine these would be very worthwhile for those with a particular interest in trees. On summer evenings outdoor concerts are occasionally held, and admission to these is free.
At weekends and in school holidays, the park is an ideal place for families with children who perhaps want to break up a trip to the nearby shops. In the aviary the peacock and peahen are the star attractions, but I have yet to get a photo of the peacock displaying his tail feathers. In the cage next door are rabbits and guinea pigs which children delight in feeding. Grey squirrels running up and down the trees are also a common sight in the park. When my children were young I used to enjoy bringing them here to see the animals before heading down to the shops. Now there is a children's playground in the park as well to add to the attractions.
At the corner of Anglesea Road and Edinburgh Road is Victoria Lodge, a cafe with both indoor and outdoor seating. It's housed in the former gatekeeper's lodge which was once threatened with demolition. Here you can have a light lunch such as a jacket potato or a salad, or just a drink and a piece of one of their tempting cakes. They do have vegetarian options on the menu. I have enjoyed lunch there and can recommend it as a pleasant place away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby shopping centre. There are baby-changing facilities and high chairs. Within the cafe, art exhibitions are held of paintings or photographs by local artists, and all the work is for sale.
Portsmouth is of course a city with a strong naval heritage, and nine naval memorials are located in Victoria Park. Most of them are in the north-eastern corner. The most distinctive one is a miniature pagoda inside which is a replica of a Chinese bell. (The original bell was returned to China.) This commemorates crew members of HMS Orlando who lost their lives during the 1900 Peking campaign. Another memorial nearby is dedicated to the crew of HMS Powerful who died during the Boer War. A memorial in the form of a small obelisk commemorates officers and men of the HMS Victoria who lost their lives in June 1893.
Dogs other than guide dogs are not allowed in the park. There is a car park just outside Victoria Park on Commercial Road, opposite the railway station. Local websites state that there is a disabled toilet in the park, but I cannot actually think where this is unless they are referring to the one in the cafe. The nearest public toilets are in the Guildhall Square close by, but there are several steps down to these.
The only thing I miss these days about the Victoria Park I remember from my youth is the greenhouse or hothouse. When I was studying art at school we would make a special trip there to sit and draw the exotic plants. I'm not sure exactly how long ago it was demolished or even why it was.
This is quite definitely my favourite of several local parks that I visit. It's big enough to be able to find peace and quiet if that's what you're looking for, yet it is right in the heart of the city. It's possible to cross it in different ways because there are four entrances. Although it really comes into its own in summer, the trees still have a wonderful presence in winter. When you've had enough of the fresh air, you can enjoy spending time in the cafe and taking in the art while you're there. I would definitely recommend finding time to stroll along its paths if you are visiting the city centre, especially if you have young children.