I'd popped out last night to check out my means of leaving the Isle of Wight in the morning – at the hovercraft terminal just next to the pier at Ryde.
I can't tell you how excited I was at the prospect of a trip on a hovercraft. I'd assumed that these amazing machines had been consigned to history until I began researching possible routes for my end to end trip. All of the cross channel services had disappeared in the 1970's and whilst I knew that the armed forces still use a military version, I'd assumed that was it.
But no – here they were, still providing a regular ferry services across the Solent between Ryde and Southsea. I simply had to try one...
Boarding a hovercraft is a little like boarding an aircraft. They even talk about hovercraft 'flights' rather than crossings, there is a departure lounge procedure to go through with bar-coded boarding passes though fortunately no security, and the interior of a hovercraft looks very much like a wide-bodied aircraft – right down to the aircraft-style seats (but no seat belts).
Feeling the craft physically rise up of the concrete apron as the engines revved, and then gradually start to disappear backwards and sideways onto the beach was a bizarre experience. And then we were off, gathering speed over the beach until we were absolutely hurtling towards the sea.
In no time at all (well, about ten minutes actually) we were in Southsea under bright sun and clear powder blue skies, and my first ever journey on what must be one of the most unusual and unique forms of public transport was over. I was so moved by the experience, however, that I sat on the beach in the warm morning sun next to the terminal and watched the 'Solent Express' disappear back over the Solent with more passengers. It was such a startling sight that just couldn't tear myself away, so I watched it come back again, too!
Fortunately, it was but a short step from the hovercraft terminal to the bus stop for the 700 Coastliner service. This service runs all the way from Southsea, into Portsmouth and Chichester and along the coast to Brighton. The first stretch to Chichester was through lush open farmland fringed with elms and poplars and with clear views of the Downs beyond – a classic English landscape.
I got off at Chichester to find a bit of lunch and have a walk around this attractive little town (or is it a city? Certainly, it has a cathedral). In fact it has a lot more than a cathedral as there is a whole complex of religious buildings around it – Deanery, Treasurers House, a row of priests' houses and much else besides. The shopping centre around the cathedral has a delicious country town feel to it which I rather enjoyed and I could have spent much longer there. But the road, as they say, goes ever on...
I'd hoped to be able to see the sea on much of journey to Brighton, but in fact I had to wait until the bus reached Worthing for my first glimpse of the English Channel. The beach here runs close to the road and frequently is only divided from it by shingle bars, lines of fishing boats and neat rows of beach huts.
Past Shoreham and its busy harbour and docks then on to Hove, another picturesque seaside town and one which appears to morph seamlessly into Brighton, where my journey ended.
The whole journey by Coastliner takes around three and a half hours, and with a Day Rover ticket you can get off and on as many times as you choose, which for only £7.30 seems to me rather good value.
Brighton is bright, busy and brash and there's clearly something here for everyone. Last time I visited I'd just completed the London to Brighton Cycle Ride, so I'm looking forward to being able to take a look around whilst not being absolutely fagged out!
Brighton, of course, has a flourishing gay scene which certainly accounts for some of its liveliness. It has a Gay Quarter where most of the city's gay pubs, gay nightclubs and hotels are based. And where my hotel is based - right slap in the middle of it.
Of course, their website said nothing about it being bang in the middle of the pink quarter, did it..!