Tipner M275 'Ghost' Motorway Junction, Portsmouth
Portsmouth, or Portsea Island - to give the land mass its geographical title - is most definitely an island, of about three by four miles. It is completely surrounded by water, with sea to the south and harbours to the east and west. To the north is a wide defensive creek. The encapsulating water is bridged by only three roads as links to the mainland. Officially the City includes sprawling suburbs on the mainland, but no local would consider these as part of Portsmouth proper. It therefore has the most clearly defined boundaries imaginable. This gives Portsmouth a unique atmosphere. It is unlike any other place in Britain.
In 1986 and 87, when I should have been at Portsmouth College of Art, I used the time much more fruitfully to develop an understanding of the craft of Urban Exploration. Day after day I cycled and paced the streets of Portsmouth in a quest to satisfy my appetite for experience of the mundane, the forgotten, the empty, the overlooked and the decaying. I craved old-fashioned shops, derelict buildings, odd bits of cobbled street, faded signs, brutal concrete, curious iron rings set into walls, ruins, relics and the obvious hypocrisies of the planning system. All of this is to be found in most places if one just takes the trouble to look - and I looked at Portsmouth. Unfortunately some of these things have now gone, but the strange, unused motorway junction at Tipner remains unchanged some twenty years on.
Until the mid-seventies there were only two roads on and off of the Island. Then came the M27 south-coast motorway, with its spur, the M275, bringing a third connection that penetrated deep into Portsmouth's western flank. The western side of Portsea Island is dominated by the Naval Dockyard, but to its north is the tiny peninsular of Tipner. Tipner is best known locally for the Greyhound Stadium, and a vast scrap yard, not so long ago a treasure trove of wartime military vehicles, tanks, submarines and ships, but unfortunately now largely cleared. There is also ex-MOD derelict land with strange boarded-up buildings, an MOD rifle range, a sailing club and a small council estate - all bleak and windblown by the constant breeze from the nearby water.
Tipner is where you can find much of the forlorn paraphernalia of a busy motorway junction that has never carried traffic. This junction is an impotent virgin – a capon of a junction if you like. Motorway traffic thunders relentlessly overhead on two bridges that should have spanned a junction roundabout. Slip roads were never surfaced, and remain as bramble covered slopes. Costly pedestrian underpasses provide safe passage with no threat overhead. Twisted signs offer advice that is nothing more than rhetorical. There is ironic elegance about this place. Bent and rusty railings are a tasselled hem, and concrete bridge supports form the nave to a secular cathedral, where orange sodium lamps burn in daylight, just for the sake of it. This place is nothing, and therefore everything. Tipner is without aesthetic or academic value, and is quite literally ‘out on a limb’. It is therefore well worth a visit.
How to get there
As you travel down the M275, in a southerly direction towards Portsmouth ferry port, look to your left. You will see the aforementioned features. Leave the motorway at the first opportunity and backtrack parallel to it for a mile or so to find them.