Tuesday 30 August 2022

Summer on the South Coast, part 2, Dorset

Along the Coast by Train and Bus

One thing that makes these holidays "adventures" for us is staying at more than one centre, and each year our south coast holiday normally includes a stay at one or two other places as well as Chichester. So it was on a Thursday morning that we took a train from our first stop in Chichester to begin the move to our second stop, The Knoll House Hotel on Studland Bay, Dorset. The first train took us to Southampton Central where we changed trains for Bournemouth. At Bournemouth the bus station is right outside the rail station exit and there we joined the "Breezer 50" open-top bus which took us direct to the hotel. Getting holiday luggage to the top deck of a bus is a little bit of a struggle but well worth it for the experience of the ride, and the ride to Studland is quite long so the effort was well spent. As with the rest of this adventure, the weather was fantastic, hot and sunny (a couple of degrees warmer than some of our family were enjoying in Greece!), and the open-top bus ride was the highlight of the day, though the centre of Bournemouth and through the wooded residential areas of Westbourne and Canford Cliffs to the chain ferry at Sandbanks, across the ferry and onto the Ferry Road towards Studland. Our stop, Knoll House Hotel, was a couple of stops before the actual village of Studland. 

We checked in at the hotel, went to our room and unpacked, enjoying the view across the sea towards the Old Harry Rocks at Swanage and the distant view of the Isle of Wight. This hotel, deep in the Dorset countryside, provided dinner, bed and breakfast as standard, and after dinner in the hotel we went out for a short stroll on the nearby beach. The beaches here are beautifully kept, in the care of the National Trust, and as it happened we arrived just as the sun was going down behind us and moon rising in front, looking gorgeously orange over Swanage.

A Real Adventure, or Ordeal by Fire

Friday morning started as planned, with breakfast and a Breezer 50 bus to Sandbanks, so early that we had to pay a fare - in Dorset the Senior Concession cannot be used until 09:30 - and there we strolled along the peninsula and took another bus round to Poole waterfront where I had booked a ferry to Brownsea Island using the National Trust smartphone app the previous evening. The weather was hot and sunny, although a degree or two less hot than in Sussex, and we had a short stroll around Poole waterfront as we awaited the ferry departure time. The crossing was on time and twenty minutes later we disembarked and began to explore the island, stopping first for coffee at the National Trust café by the quayside and walking slowly because of the heat. We walked along the south side of the island where there were great views of the Studland peninsula where our hotel was, and went as far as an ice-cream stand and the Scout and Guide shop before turning back (it was too hot for a longer walk round the whole island). This island is the home of the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movement begun by the Baden-Powells. As we walked back to the quay along the higher land away from the coast I noticed a slight smell of woodsmoke in the air, which was alarming on a wooded island, but when I looked around I could see that it came from a large plume of smoke rising from the heathland on the Studland peninsula where there were some flames flickering. This wildfire was not good news for our return journey!

We decided to begin trying to make our way back to our hotel as soon as possible, although there was time for a cup of tea before the next ferry crossing. Back in Poole we went through town to the bus station thinking that the Breezer bus along the Studland peninsula was unlikely to be able to take us back. Sure enough, at the enquiry office we found that the road between the Sandbanks ferry and Studland village (past our hotel) had been closed by the police, so we took the next bus the long way round to Swanage via Wareham, expecting to take another from there to Studland a perhaps have to walk the last few metres to he hotel.

It began well: the bus on route 40 took us out of Poole to Wareham and seemed to be reasonably on time and at one point passed through a cloud of smoke which was drifting across Poole Harbour from the wildfire, but before long what should have been a fairly fast part of the journey came to an abrupt halt as we caught up a queue of stationary vehicles which edged forward only occasionally. As we approached Corfe Castle the reason for the queue became apparent: police were controlling traffic at the junction with a road from Studland in order to prioritise traffic evacuating from the area of the fire. Once past the junction we were able to travel on to Swanage in a more timely manner, and when we arrived there was a number 50 bus waiting, but the driver informed us that he would only be able to take us to the edge of Swanage because the whole road was now closed between there and the ferry. We were unable to find a taxi, but even that would have been unlikely to be able to take us very far. At the bus station we met three more people from the same hotel who were also trying to get back for dinner (and by now dinner time was on the horizon!). We were about four miles (and a large hill) from the hotel and I suggested that the best thing was probably to start walking, not along the road but cross country using the footpath network, which would take a little over an hour. 

The weather was still hot and sunny but not quite as hot as it had been, we had water with us and we strode out of town along a footpath signposted Studland, using our smartphones for maps - intermittently because battery power was by now becoming low. At one place where footpaths joined we met another couple from the hotel also seeking a way back, so by now there were seven of us striding over the landscape. There were some steep climbs in places, and all the time we had in mind that when we eventually reached the road at Studland village the police might very well stop us within sight of our destination! We enjoyed some spectacular views over the sea towards Old Harry Rocks and back over Swanage as well as forward towards our hotel and with the, now less dramatic, column of smoke beyond. We rather assumed that if the hotel had been evacuated we would have been called and told, and we called them to explain our predicament and that we would need to shower and change before dinner and so would be late.

We descended the hill into Studland village and in conversation with a local resident heard that the road had just been opened. By now we were almost home, but saw a group of young people waiting at a Swanage-bound bus stop on the main road through the village. We spoke to them and to another local resident who was passing by they decided that as it was unlikely that there would be a bus very soon they, too, would walk over the hill in order to reach transport at Swanage, for they were trying to get home to Bournemouth and were aware that the ferry had not been operating.

We have often enjoyed a country walk and had considered a walk towards Swanage at some point on this holiday, although we had not anticipated doing it under a blazing sun at the end of a long day, but it was still a greatly enjoyable walk with fantastic views and I would recommend it as something to do deliberately! Personally, it was also a great encouragement for me that I had not only been able to do it but had positively enjoyed it: my health had certainly improved since the days when climbing the stairs at home had been a challenge.

On arrival at the hotel we showered quickly and turned up to dinner just a little late, but most guests had had a fairly chaotic day: some of those with cars had struggled to bring them back and almost no-one had had the day they expected. All evening fire appliances and police vehicles were moving along the road in either direction past the hotel as the situation changed, and after dinner we ensured that we watched the BBC TV news which included the story in the national news with more detail in the regional bulletin. The following day the news was released that the fire brigade had evidence that the fire had been stated by a barbecue - which is banned at Studland because of the high fire risk …


On Saturday we had breakfast early as usual and then took the Breezer 50 bus to Swanage for the day. We had coffee, we walked on the pier, we had an ice-cream, we walked out to the headland, we had another ice-cream and we walked along the beach, then we took the bus back to our hotel. This sounds like we did not do much, but we enjoyed the sun, the sea and the sand between our toes and we explored a town we have not really visited properly for many years, although we have been here couple of times moire recently just to take a train on the Swanage Railway (and just the day before to attempt to get to Studland!). This time we did not visit the Swanage Railway, but we look forward to the day when, hopefully, we shall be able to arrive in Swanage by rail from the main line at Wareham.

Bournemouth and the Beach Walk

Sunday morning, again sunny and warm, saw us up early again and on the Breezer to Bournemouth after breakfast.  We passed the site of the wildfire and we saw the firefighters still on site two days later and still pumping water from the sea beside the chain ferry at Shell Bay, a long pipeline carrying the water up the road to the heathland where the fire had been. We stayed on board the bus this time until it reached the town centre at Bournemouth, and we had coffee there at Bobby's, a repurposed department store which was gradually finding new uses, including as a café. We then walked down through the gardens to the beach and along the beach westwards towards Branksome, Canford Cliffs and Sandbanks. It was a long walk in the sun, punctuated by ice-cream, and it was interesting to see the character of the beach, the people on the beach and the buildings behind the beach all change as we walked along. Because it was a long way, we walked most of the time upon the promenade rather than the beach itself, which would have been hard going over such a distance, but there were places where the sand was the only area to walk. At Sandbanks we joined a bus to cross the ferry - as pensioners our bus travel is free but we'd have had to pay a fare as foot passengers on the ferry!

Once across the ferry we walked out along Shell Bay to the point where the coast runs south along Studland Bay and then we walked through the famous naturist beach at Studland Bay to reach Knoll Beach, feeling very much like home, at the other end. We had walked many miles in the fresh sea air and the sunshine, with suitable protection: time for a shower and dinner and a final evening walk on the sand, but no repeat of the spectacular sunset and moonrise of the first evening.

The Train Home

Packed and ready straight after breakfast we took a bus half-an-earlier than we needed to for our train home from Bournemouth. Not only were we travelling on Advance tickets that were only valid on that train, but currently trains from Bournemouth to Birmingham are only every two hours, so we did not want to miss it. It started OK but for the lack of catering and the uncertainty about whether there would be a First Class meal service later in the journey. At Winchester the train became packed with home going music festival attendees: First Class was declassified and the aisles were full of standing passengers with luggage. The catering staff daily announced that she was selling food in a carriage at the other end of the train from us, but there was no way we could ever have reached her through the crowd, so we went without until we changed trains at Birmingham New Street, by which time the train, taking longer and longer to drop and pick up passengers at intermediate station, was running some twenty minutes late. No matter, it was enough to buy decent food and drink at New Street which we could eat on the way to Stamford. We did this last section in Standard Class on open tickets as we generally do and this part of the journey went very well. Like most holidays, we ended with the familiar walk through Stamford on a fine summer evening.

It had been quite an adventure. There had been a wildfire, there had been numerous problems with the train journeys, none of them catastrophic but all of them annoying - we could not help thinking that even with all the difficulty the railway industry is currently experiencing, decent management that cared would have been able to do much better. With the way their contracts now work, companies' capital is not at risk and it seems that the incentive to work for the customer has gone with that. Missing connections, inadequate timetables, inadequate train length... nothing seems to matter, and on the evidence of this trip and some others I'd say Cross Country is particularly poor. Which is a shame because for most of the day that is our only option from and to Stamford. I have applied to them for the refund of the First Class supplement, and to South Western Railway for delay repay for the missed connection at Ryde: let's see how we get on, but both companies report heavy demand for customer service and therefore likely delays in service! We shall see.

Summer on the South Coast, part 1, Sussex

Travelling by Train to Chichester 

This was likely to have been our penultimate, or possibly even last, summer break involving a hotel stay in Chichester because the friends we join there for three or four days each summer are retiring there next year and we are not sure quite how things will be after that. The weather could not have been better in terms of warmth, sunshine and lack of rain, and for the first time in three years everything was open and running as we are living with Covid. Staff shortages here and there did cause a few difficulties but nothing insurmountable and we had one of the best summer holidays ever, a fitting climax to an annual treat that we have been enjoying (and sharing on this website!) for many years.

This year our holiday began on a Sunday, after church (our train service does not start until after noon anyway). For once we had First Class Anytime tickets and could have taken any reasonable route at any time to Chichester from our home in Stamford, but having given it much thought we opted for our usual route via Peterborough and the East Coast Main Line, then Thameslink, changing to the Southern network well south of London. This route gave a similar journey time to some of the others but had longer gaps between trains at changes, giving some flexibility in case of problems. This turned out to have been a good choice because there was indeed a problem when our chosen LNER train was cancelled due to staff shortage (increasingly common on Sundays across the network, as Sunday working is voluntary and fewer are volunteering). The next train was only eleven minutes later and this was easily absorbed by the time I had allowed for walking from Kings Cross to St Pancras in London, and after a further change at Three Bridges we were on time at Chichester, checking in at the Harbour Hotel as planned. A drink and chat with our friends, dinner at the Côte restaurant and to bed, ready for the first day out.

The Island Line to Shanklin

It had been a while since we had visited the east end of the Isle of Wight and it is always a great place to visit. This year we simply had a day trip to Shanklin as part of our stay in Chichester: it is an easy day out from there and we had done it once before on a whim! For some reason it was no longer possible to buy a through ticket to Shanklin but the ticket office at Chichester could and did sell us separate tickets to and from Ryde Pier Head and then Ryde Pier Head to and from Shanklin, so for reasons beyond my understanding we needed eight ticket coupons between us for a simple day out ... Anyway, at least it meant that I could say that I had a "ticket to Ryde". 

There did not seem to be any through trains to Portsmouth Harbour, but we changed simply at Fratton on our way there (easier than at Portsmouth & Southsea) and then went to the catamaran terminal for the crossing to Ryde. This is currently undergoing some building work so the waiting area was a temporary one on the station concourse. Soon we were on board, slightly late, and the crossing was under way. Knowing that connection to the Island Line train was tight and that we were running late we sat by the exit from the catamaran and were off like a shot to the station at Pier Head just in time to see the train disappear along the pier to Ryde Esplanade, presumably empty. The next train was indicated as being in two hours. What a bitter disappointment after the time and money invested in improving this railway line - we had never missed a connection here before! 

We walked up the pier to Esplanade station and consulted the staff there who "explained" that the train left on time but the catamaran had been late. Had they been running the advertised half-hourly service, though, that would have been tolerable. It turned out that the service is currently hourly (staff shortage, they claim) but that the next one would not be going to Pier Head because no ferry is scheduled to meet it ... the confused thinking here is so profound that I do not know where to start. I have put in a Delay Repay claim for two hours: let's see how it goes. What we actually did was have coffee in Ryde instead of Shanklin and then take the next train, arriving in Shanklin an hour later than expected but not needing a coffee break.

We visited Shanklin Chine, one of the few places in the town that we had not yet seen. This beautiful, cool combe is well worth the admission fee and also contains some interesting history - do go and see for yourself! 

From the top exit of Shanklin Chine we went to Vernon Cottage for fish & chips and beer for lunch then took a bus to Ventnor where we knew a great ice-cream shop for pudding ... this may not have been the healthiest meal of the summer but it was all delicious! 

We took the bus back to Shanklin and then the train to Ryde Pier Head where a catamaran was waiting to whisk us back over the Solent to Portsmouth Harbour. When I say, "waiting," the connection was, as ever, a bit tight, so there was a sprint to the ferry terminal until we saw that the queue was still slowly filing aboard! It was in the sprint that we met another family heading for Chichester: some were taking a car and a grandfather and grandson were going by train, so we met them again at Portsmouth and the two rail passengers at the change of trains at Havant ... then in the street in Chichester where they awaited a bus because the expected lift home in the car was cancelled because of heavy congestion on the road! That taught us not to complain about the trains and buses: motoring brings its own problems, different but still challenging.

The following day, Tuesday, was our day in Chichester. We visited some other old friends who happened to have moved there and had coffee and an early lunch with them, and then had a very early dinner at The Bell Inn before watching this year's musical show, Crazy For You, at Chichester Festival Theatre, which was as good as the many glowing reviews it had received. Each year we have been to a show there we have edged forward the time of dinner so as not to risk being late - this time we finally cracked it.

By Bus to the Beach

Wednesday was to be our day at the beach in East Wittering. Like every other day on this holiday it was hot and sunny and we looked forward to be at the coast for a day. We took with us contributions for the meals we would share with our friends at their holiday home and set off on the bus. These days smartphones make bus use so much easier: we can look up times and routes, often see if the bus is on time (although we had no need because the bus stop had a real-time departures indicator!), and find out where the best place is to get off the bus for our destination, ensuring that we signal the driver in good time. Among other things we all walked along the beach to buy ice-cream (we seemed to have that most days this summer: it has been that sort of summer) and some played in the sea. After dinner together we returned to Chichester ready to move on to the next location for our holiday ...

But first, our final breakfast in Chichester was taken at The Ivy, newly opened in East Street. We had booked in advance to be sure, but they are not usually overwhelmed at breakfast. It was rather more substantial than the supermarket fruit salads and hotel-room coffee that we had been having on the other other days of our holiday, and it set us up well for the day's travelling. We ate outside on the street, which was great. The restaurant faces north so we were in the shade, ideal on such a hot day. the back to the hotel to collect our luggage and we were off to the station ready to move on!