An ‘outsider’s’ message to all Portsmouth residents – you’re so lucky to live in this city –  Simon Carter

Cycling along the seafront the other day at 6.30 in the morning, a thought occurred to me.
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And it wasn’t a fresh vision either; in fact, it was one I have most days when I’m on my bike trying to lose my early lockdown flab.

Every weekday morning, around half six, I look out to the Isle of Wight and think to myself: God, I’m lucky to live in Portsmouth.

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I’m serious. I am lucky. And dear reader - providing you live in and around Portsea Island - you should consider yourself equally fortunate.

Cycling along Southsea seafront, a view from Canoe Lake.  Picture: Habibur RahmanCycling along Southsea seafront, a view from Canoe Lake.  Picture: Habibur Rahman
Cycling along Southsea seafront, a view from Canoe Lake. Picture: Habibur Rahman
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If you’ve always lived here, I appreciate how easy it is to be slightly blinkered. I’m from Devon, a beautiful, bucolic, part of the country. Friends who aren’t from the area have always gushed about its glories. Me? I’m just used to it.

Sometimes you need an ‘outsider’ to tell you a home truth - in this instance, a truth about your home town or city. I’m that outsider and I’m telling you this: You are lucky to live in Portsmouth.

This is why …

How many places in England can boast all the attractions of city life with the eternal joy of having a beach where you can go and sunbathe and swim? Not just any old place, though, but one steeped in history?

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There are not many of these places. Bournemouth, yes, but as we saw last month, it’s a magnet for sun-worshippers. There was nothing relaxing about Bournemouth beach a few weeks ago - traffic chaos, parking misery, a packed beach (hardly a joyful occasion at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic). And it also lacks Portsmouth’s history.

Blackpool? Ok, it’s got a big beach and I’m a sucker for a good roller-coaster, but anyone saying it has a better range of attractions and a more illustrious history than Portsmouth is talking nonsense.

Brighton? Very possibly, but you can’t build a sandcastle out of pebbles. I know Southsea beach is hardly a sandy valhalla either, but it’s easier (and a lot cheaper) to park in Portsmouth.

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And there’s nowhere on Brighton seafront like the bandstand area, St Helens cricket pitch or the pitch and putt course - the sort of attractions you are more likely to find in a ‘traditional’ seaside resort like Exmouth or Margate.

I once lived in Derby for 16 months, and I hated the fact I was a two-hour drive - at least - from the nearest decent beach. And that beach was Skegness. Familiar with the ‘Skegness is so bracing’ poster? I rest my case.

I also lived in Bristol for three years. Geographically, it’s fairly close to the water, but if you want a proper beach you have to drive to Weston-super-Mare. That’s 45 minutes away from central Bristol. You haven’t got that problem here.

Finally, I worked in Southampton for 16 years. Right on the seafront, but no beach. ‘You can go to Weston Shore,’ a colleague once told me in all seriousness. I did go, and instantly decided never to seek advice from that person again.

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It’s only by having lived in different places, and comparing and contrasting them, that I know what I like. I like city life, I like being close to countryside, I like being close to a beach, I like places with history. Four ticks for Portsmouth and its surroundings.

I know this summer is different, and some of the sights and the sounds have temporarily disappeared, but next year they will be back. And when the bandstand concerts are going on in front of a large audience, and when you hear bat on ball at St Helens, or listen to the laughter/screams from the fairground rides on the piers, and the sun is beating down, and children are splashing each other, and there’s crowds of people relaxing on the common or Castle Field, or Ladies Mile, you know there’s not many better seafronts in England, if any.

Well, you SHOULD know that. If you’re a local with no local pride, shame on you. If you don’t appreciate how fortunate you are, you’re probably the same people who scatter rubbish everywhere.

Portsmouth’s obviously got its share of social problems - which city hasn’t? - but go down the seafront on a sunny summer’s morning and just look around you. But don’t all go at once and don’t go at around 6.30am - at that time it’s just me, some other cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, swimmers and paddle boarders. We’re breathing the freshest of air, we’re keeping fit, we’re not leaving any litter in our wake.

And I like it that way, I really do ...