Tuesday 30 August 2022

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!

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