Friday, 6 September 2013

Go! Rhinos

We had a walk with a difference this time out.  Following the success of the mascot trails last year when we went to the London 2012 events we discovered another along similar lines this year but in Southampton.  The Rhino Trail has been set out to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Marwell Zoo and similar to other mascot trails the exhibits will be sold off at the end of the season for charity.  With 32 main mascots along the way, there was a lot less walking between rhinos than we had experienced on the Olympic Trails.  Additionally there were a whole lot of smaller rhinos that had been decorated by schools and community groups as well as a few full sized ones outside the city at selected locations.

Our walk started at Town Quay, which is the passenger terminal for ferries to the Isle of Wight and the Hythe Ferry.  It was a hot day and as a result there were plenty of tourists about, with the bars and cafes full.  My guess though was that everyone was waiting for a ferry to arrive as that seemed to be the only thing missing from the equation!

Our first rhino was particularly pleasing.  Rika was decorated with a snakes and ladders board with a twist.  The ladders were replaced by giraffes and the snakes by slides.  It made for a colourful spectacle and was rightly popular with visitors to the pier. I noticed many of the admirers clutching maps in hand suggesting that we would see many of them on the way!

Perhaps the surprising thing about Southampton for those who don’t know the city is the concentration of old buildings and a fairly intact city wall just north of the ferry terminals.  We passed through the City Gate and past the remains of some old buildings into the small area of Town Quay Park where we found the second rhino known as Rita.  This one was dedicated to outdoor activities and depicted walkers and cyclists.

Holyrood Church
From here the rhinos came thick and fast as we headed around towards Mayflower Park.  Next up was my personal favourite, Reggie, which showed a scene from The Solent with some colourful sailing boats complete with spinnakers fully unfurled.  This was perhaps the most popular of all the mascots we saw on the day as it was thronged with crowds, making it quite difficult to get a decent picture.  Will was the next, dressed up like a lifeboat and that was equally popular.  For some reason though we managed to lose the worst of the crowds by the time we reach Docks, which depicted rhinos being unloaded from ships.

St Michael's Church
Following the numbers of the rhinos seemed a little counter-intuitive at this point for we could see what we thought was the next one further along the street, only to discover that there were several more that we should see before that.  The trail took a zig-zagging course through the narrow streets of the Old Town and back on to the QE2 Mile for a short distance, catching three more rhinos along the way until we got to the rather astonishing Holyrood Church.  This 14th Century Church is now a reminder of the horror of World War II as it remains a ruin after being bombed during the Blitz in 1940.  In 1957 it was dedicated as a memorial to the sailors of the Merchant Navy and makes for a magnificent tribute to the bravery of those men.

Remarkably a little further away is the church of St Michael’s, which emerged from the destruction of the city completely unscathed.  It is now the oldest building and the only one of the original churches that remains intact within the walled city.  Outside was a rather lovely purple rhino called Rosie, which we had plenty of time to admire since we seemed to have lost all the crowds that had bedevilled us earlier on the trail.

Southampton City Walls
We passed by the Tudor House and down a narrow path through the City Walls to reunite ourselves with Newton, the rhino we had seen from afar when we were at Docks.  After the flurry of rhinos (we had already seen 10 at this point) our thoughts now turned towards lunch and we headed towards the West Quay Shopping Centre where we could get some refreshment before tackling the remaining part of the trail.  The route from Newton took us along perhaps the best preserved section of the City Walls, which date from the 14th Century and were built on the orders of Edward III, perhaps inevitably to repel the French.  Given how much modern building there is in Southampton it was surprising but pleasing to see the old walls still taking pride of place in the urban landscape.

Within West Quay we took the opportunity to find our first indoor rhino, a very multi-coloured and busy looking one called Ringo.  This was out of sequence as far as numbering was concerned but it did seem to make more sense visiting this one before as the route would have been unnecessarily messy otherwise.  We took the opportunity to break from the walk once inside the shopping centre to have a bit of a look around.  For the girls the window shopping was a welcome distraction for a short while.

Where's Ralph?
Feeling fortified by lunch we continued our route along the city walls, which had been knocked about a bit to accommodate modern developments.  However, the magnificent Bargate is still intact and nicely restored to take pride of place on what is now the main shopping street. I wonder what mediaeval forces would have thought of that?  Sadly not all seems well with retail in this part of Southampton for adjacent to the historical gatehouse there is the surprising sight of an entire shopping centre that has gone out of business.  The Bargate Shopping Centre was only opened in the late 1980s but following a chequered history it has finally closed its door for good and is boarded up.  Given the current economic climate I can’t see it being taken over as retail space again and it has every chance of being a blot on the townscape for some time to come.  On a happier note the two rhinos on either side of the gatehouse were receiving a good deal of attention from passing shoppers.

Marlands Shopping Centre
From shopping to the park, our next rhino was said to be in Houndwell Park.  Sadly when we got there we discovered a concrete plinth but no rhino as it had been taken away to be repaired.  Despite the signs asking people to stay off them, much of the damage to the rhinos appeared to be caused by people ignoring the notices and posing for pictures on the backs of the mascots.  Others have been damaged particularly around the horn area I imagine by vandalism.  It is very disheartening when people ruin other people’s enjoyment…

The play area in the Park was absolutely rammed with children and families. We stopped for some time to allow our girls time to enjoy the equipment before moving on. I have to say that it was a particularly nice looking play area – I wish I was young enough to be able to enjoy such a facility!  We crossed the road into the next park (Palmerstone) and found Sunny Rhino, a rather lovely sunny design.  We didn’t hang around in this park too long though as the happy atmosphere created by the children playing in Houndswell was sadly replaced by a more threatening mood created by a few groups of drunks.  We escaped back into the shopping street and to perhaps the most intriguing of all the rhino’s, ‘Where’s Ralph?’.  As the name suggested it had a number of identical and repeating designs on it (penguins), with one different from all the others.  It took some time to find the different one, but we did manage it in the end.
Dahlia Show in East Park

From the shopping street to another shopping centre – it seems that Southampton is remarkably well served by them.  In this one (Marlands), we seemed to hit the mother lode, for not only were there two of the original rhinos but they had been joined by a number of the smaller ones painted by school children and community groups.  To be honest they were as good and imaginative as some of those painted by professional artists.  We spent a good deal of time in the main concourse of the centre and then in the Go! Rhinos HQ, which was in a shop at the back and where one of the rhinos from elsewhere had been brought back (Stylo Rhino from Southampton Airport).
Southampton City Hall

We still had more than one third of the rhinos to find after leaving the shopping centre but the remaining ones were concentrated around the civic heart of the city, being in and around the Civic Centre and the adjacent parks.  It was a short task looking for them and we were fascinated by all the themes that had been depicted including nods to Southampton based gifts to the world such as the Spitfire and the Ordnance Survey.  Others such as Beauty and the Beast were just purely decorative.  The parks were well manicured and full of lovely planting schemes and the rhinos looked most at home in these environments.  Sadly not all were weathering well though and Cosmos in particular was looking a bit worn out from too much handling.

Any notion of us following the numbering system completely went out of the window through this section.  Essentially we just devised a loop around taking the quickest route to see all of the remaining ones and ended up at RhinOSeros, the one celebrating the Ordnance Survey, which has its headquarters in Southampton.  From here it was a hop, skip and a jump back to the railway station to head home


With all the many distractions of shopping, lunch etc along the way this turned out to be a most enjoyable and surprising walk.  The people behind the trail really had done their very best to show off the best of Southampton City Centre.  We particularly enjoyed seeing the historic buildings at the south end of the city and the manicured and colourful gardens at the northern end.  On the whole the trail was a great advert for the city and the rhinos kept the children entertained along the route.  I think we would try and do another of these mascot trails if we come across one.

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