The city of Southampton is divided – geographically and to some extent culturally – by the river Itchen. Those who live on the eastern side of the Itchen are still sometimes referred to by Sotonians as ‘Spike Islanders’, and there is a pub in Sholing called The Spike Islander.
In his remarkable book Spike Island, author Philip Hoare gives various, disputed explanations for the nickname. One refers to the spiky gorse that once covered the area; another refers to the settlements of gypsies (‘pikeys’) around Woolston, Weston and Netley; yet another is believed to derive from the spike shaped peninsula formed by the rivers Itchen and Hamble.
The Itchen is one of the world’s most beautiful chalk streams. It rises near Cheriton in Hampshire, a village that is home to one of my favourite pubs, the Flower Pots. After flowing north for a few miles, the Itchen is joined by the river Arle at Alresford. The tiny Itchen subsumes the larger Arle and continues, now flowing west, towards Winchester, once the capital of England and the home of King Alfred.
The Itchen now turns south and heads for Southampton, passing through Bishopstoke in the borough of Eastleigh. At Southampton, having divided the city, it passes beneath the impressive Itchen Bridge to join the river Test and become Southampton Water.
Southampton is thus a city of two rivers, which, when they meet, form Southampton Water, along which most of the great ocean liners of history have sailed on their way to and from the famous port. Further down, Southampton Water is joined by the river Hamble at the well-known yachting village of the same name.