St Malo Ferry Terminal – Portsmouth Ferry Terminal

Quite apart from the cost of Eurostar over Easter, I’d been determined that not all the crossings would take that route, so it was good to get a new one into the plan. St Malo – Portsmouth is one of the longer crossings, nearer to 9 hours than to 8, but I weaves it’s way through the Channel Islands, which I’ve not seen so was not without interest. It also gave me some quiet time to update this diary and do a few other bits of work.

The crossing was not at all busy so it was easy to find a quiet space with mains power and a window.

Working on the cross-channel ferry

One of the bonuses of this route is that you’re rarely lacking a 4G phone signal, so don’t need to fork out on the extortionate satellite option provided by Brittany Ferries. It does mean swapping sides of the ship to pick up 4G from Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and the coasts of France or England as you go along, but I had coverage for all but about 40 minutes of the journey.

I’d not expected the Channel Islands to be so far apart from each other, or for them to be so flat. As far as I could see, there wasn’t anything resembling a decent hill on any of them. There are numerous small islands, but the first significant one we passed, on the starboard side was Jersey.


After that, all the islands are on the port side.

Guernsey, Jethou, Herm and Sark (left to right)
Guernsey, Jethou, Herm and Sark (left to right) are relatively close together
Alderney is the last island passed, some way north of the others.

As we round the corner, off Pointe des Groins we do come quite close to the French coast and I shot this bit of video that shows how close the islands are to the French mainland. Very odd indeed that they are British (and it’s not the first time I’ve said that on this trip.)

We took a very wide line around the Isle of Wight, but with so much shipping in both the Channel and the Solent it was hardly surprising. There is a real mix of containers, tankers and pleasure boats out here, both on the move and anchored.

Portsmouth Harbour has so much of interest. I’ve gone through it before on ferries to and from the Isle of Wight, but being something much larger gave a different perspective. The ferry terminal is beyond the naval shipyards so you see a lot more of the area.

As we docked, an announcement was made apologising for delays at the border. Brittany Ferries made it very clear that this was not their doing and was a result of Brexit. Sure enough, we were shepherded onto a bus, into a waiting area, as every passport was checked, every passenger spoken to about their travel plans but eventually, around 40 minutes after disembarking I was on my way.

I dropped my bags at the hotel and, as usual, went for a wander. HMS Warrior is an impressive sight at the best of times and the setting sun made for some great views. Similarly the Spinnaker Tower is an impressive sight.

For me that was where the good bit ended. I found Portsmouth grim and depressing. Busy, noisy, with crass people, many of whom who had drunk too much and after a fortnight away it felt like culture shock. I was in capital cities on the continent that were much bigger and busier than this but no-one was screaming, falling over or throwing things at each other.

I escaped from Gunwharf Quays and headed for the city centre. That was not as busy but was equally unpleasant with rubbish everywhere, poor lighting and felt quite intimidating. The presence of uniformed security on the door of Sainsbury’s Local says it all, and wasn’t just for show. As I passed he was manhandling a teenager out of the store, who was putting up quite a fight, cheered on by his friends both inside and outside the store.

It’s awful, but this could be a great place. It has a stunning location and some great buildings. It just needs the people to change, and that’s the difficult bit. Travelling really does give you a sense of what this country could be. Coming back shocks you into seeing what it is.

I found myself wondering where the people over the age of 30 were, other than maybe in the theatre. There were bars and clubs and junk food outlets but no restaurants. A map search and a good walk suggested that the answer was that they don’t come into Portsmouth. I found an Indian takeaway and retired to my room, somewhat deflated. At least tomorrow will take me to somewhere I know and love.