Tuesday, 18 May 2010

I've Got A Ticket to Ryde


I stayed in a rather lovely – and, apparently, famously haunted – 17th century coaching inn in Lymington last night. But before turning in, and after easing down a rather fine curry, I thought it would be a good idea to walk to the Isle of Wight ferry landing to see how long a walk I would have in the morning.

I eventually arrived at the pier and it was already apparent that the walk would take a good 20 minutes which, with a heavy backpack, would be no small undertaking. Fortunately, it was at this point that a train pulled into the hitherto unspotted railway platform alongside the ferry terminal. I'd passed the main Lymington town station on my way from the restaurant but assumed it was a terminus – but it patently wasn't, the pier was the real end of the line.

What really caught my eye, though, was the type of train that pulled in – it was one of those old slam-door types I myself (along with millions of South East commuters) had used in the 1970's when travelling between Waterloo and Godalming in Surrey. As these trains were now more than 50 years old, I'd assumed they had all been scrapped long ago, but here they were. And when I looked properly, I noticed a poster on the platform saying that this was they're last week in service.

Well, could I resist one last ride on a train loved and loathed in equal measure by millions of City gents? What do you think...

So, yes, I caught the train for the 60 second journey from Lymington to Lymington Quay where I embarked (that's naval term, apparently) for the short crossing to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. Fantastic. I love ferry journeys. They're such an event, people throwing ropes, ringing bells, it's all so theatrical. And the fresh air is good, too.

After arriving, it was quickly onwards to The Needles by open-top bus where I spent hours just lounging in the sun and admiring the views. Then it was back to Yarmouth and on to Newport to the Isle of Wight bus museum - my first such museum of the trip.

In my experience, which admittedly is not extensive, I find you can always rely on bus museum folk to be friendly and aproachable, and this museum is definitely no exception. Though small, it has an interesting collection of vehicles with many more to call on for open days and the like.

It's future is uncertain, however. Leased from the local council, the building – it's a shed, really - is in a prime quayside redevelopment area and the museum believes its only a question of time before the Council decides to decline to renew it's lease. However, finding somewhere else, with a purpose-built structure close to the island's preserved steam railway being the favoured option, is not without its problems, not least from the planning point of view.

These are good people and I hope they are successful and that everything eventually works out. In the meantime, pay them a visit and swell their coffers a bit – I have a feeling they are going to need every last penny.

Back on the bus, this time to Shanklin on the souh coast of the island. I wasn't going for a paddle, though.

I was always going to include the Island Line in my journey because it is local public transport and not part of a national network and therefore fair game. But more importantly, I wanted to ride the Island Line because it is a piece of living history.

To those who don't know, the island's regular railway system which runs from Shanklin to Ryde Pier is operated using former Underground trains dating from 1938. That's right, since before the war.

Think of all those black and white photos of people sheltering from the Blitz, sleeping on the platforms of Underground stations whilst the trains passed by a few inches from their heads. Well, these were the trains that were doing the passing. In the blackout. With Nazi bombs going off overhead. And it was one of those very trains that carried me to tonight's overnight stay in Ryde, in perfect comfort and without breaking down.

To my reckoning, these lovely old trains have been in almost continual service for more than 70 years – now, that's got to be some kind of record.

The only buses hereabouts that are anywhere near that age are probably in the Isle of Wight Bus Museum...

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