The uncertain future of tube trains on the Isle of Wight

On assured sunny days, visiting the Isle of Wight is for us a favoured adventure day trip. We’ve travelled there by almost all possible ways.

The easiest way for us is to go from Portsmouth. We can get there easily by car, park in Gun Wharf Keys, then catch the foot ferry to Ryde. Occasionally we might take the car ferry to Fishbourne. We’ve not yet used the hovercraft to Ryde esplanade, nor have we yet caught the train from Woking to Portsmouth Harbour, perhaps we will try both in 2019.

Arriving at Ryde Pier by foot ferry we either walk down to Ryde esplanade, or catch the Island Line tube train from the pier-head. On one visit we caught the tube, and got off at Brading station– such good fun, lovely heritage station and Signal Box.

The tube trains are reconditioned 1938 London Underground trains, and boy don’t you know it. While fun, they are uncomfortable, as you might expect with 80-year-old carriages. The rail track is similarly uncomfortable, bumpy, noisy, and in need of replacement.

Most recently, this year, we caught the tube to Lake station, walked on the promenade to Shanklin up to the station and thence for late afternoon lunch in Ryde. We’d not been this far previously by tube. Handy yes, uncomfortable, certainly. I thought, at the time, that the rolling stock and line were in urgent need of replacement.

Hence, the point of this story. The tube train from Ryde Pier is something that adds to the tourist experience, which the island should endeavour to retain. But how?

All the arguments about possible alternatives are addressed in London Reconnections article Third Ryde Tube: Transfer Troublesome. It’s a longish article, but fun for train buffs. Below are a few photos on the tube from our past visits.

A connoisseurs Balsamic Vinegar

We have a staple place for a pleasant day out. It’s to the Isle of Wight, mostly by fast foot ferry to Ryde, occasionally with our car on the car ferry to Fishbourne.

We can get to Portsmouth easily on the A3, park the car in Gunwharf Keys shopping centre, not far then to walk to the IOW ferry terminal.

The sea trip is always an interesting part of the day out. If by fast ferry to Ryde, the decision is then whether to catch the tube train or walk down the long pier, then perhaps to catch a bus to some part of the island. Among our visits, I’ve reported here on a visit to Brading, and to the IOW Steam Railway.

Now, getting to the reason for this article, if we’ve taken the foot ferry, we have to end up in Ryde. Needing a bite to eat and a good coffee, we head to Restaurante Michaelangelo on the Esplanade. . On our most recent visit we spied, among the pasta packets, a bottle of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena for £139. Amazing.

Just shows that I’m not a cook. My wife is very choosy about her balsamic vinegar, and rapeseed oil. We did, however, pass up the chance of buying the small 100ml bottle of 25 year old balsamic vinegar. There are many small makers of this balsamic vinegar. I didn’t take a photo at the time, this image is of a similar bottle.

Balancing stones appears difficult, but turns out not to be so

Not long ago we visited the Isle of Wight for the day – if you remember, for the Isle of Wight Steam Railway’s anniversary Diesel Gala, and my chat with Alan.

On our somewhat circuitous coastal way back to the Fishbourne ferry, we stopped  at Seaview, strolled through the Alan Hersey Nature Reserve, stopping in its bird hide to view the wildlife, and afterwards walked along the nearby beach.

Now, a beach walk is not something that’s possible in Lightwater, no matter its many attractions. While ambling along the beach, some way ahead by a breakwater, I spotted a young man balancing stones on top of one another.

Curious me, I stopped and chatted to him, and learned that he picked up the stones at random and sought a flat part of the stone on which to balance it. It didn’t appear to be as difficult as I’d imagined, especially as the collection of stones on the beach appeared perfectly suited to the task.

I took some photos of his work, click on images to expand.

Will new Hovercraft bring about a resurgence in their use?

IoW HovercraftRecently we enjoyed a day trip to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Taking the fast catamaran from Portsmouth to Ryde – a journey of 22 minutes – we were overtaken by a hovercraft. This service from Portsmouth (Southsea) to Ryde takes just 8 minutes. It also has the benefit of arriving onshore, rather than at the end of Ryde Pier, which is a 10 minute walk from pier head to esplanade.

In yesterday’s online BBC magazine there’s an article asking ‘What happened to passenger hovercraft?’. It reported on possibly the only scheduled passenger hovercraft service in the world, noting why the Southsea to Ryde service remains,

The Hovertravel service between Southsea and Ryde survives because hovercraft are best suited to short routes like those across the Solent, says Robin Paine, co-author of On a Cushion of Air, a history of hovercraft. “There is also a need because the tide at Ryde goes out half a mile – hence the reason for Ryde Pier to accommodate conventional ferries, whereas the hovercraft can deliver people straight into Ryde.”

Interestingly, the article mentioned that two new hovercraft will be in service in 2016, giving a welcome boost to travel by hovercraft, as the article concludes,

“We will be a shop window for any existing or potential ferry operator who wants to be fast and frequent like us,” says Loretta Lale, Hovertravel’s commercial manager. “Our service has always attracted global interest and when the world sees what a 21st Century hovercraft can do we anticipate considerable interest.”

There’s an image gallery – HERE – of the progress in building the new craft.

A journey by car, foot, fast ferry, and tube train; where am I?

Hmm, obviously a journey on land and sea. But where? that’s the question. There are many possible answers, depending on where you’re starting from. This though is a journey we made yesterday.

Have you got it yet?

No. We journeyed from home to Portsmouth, parked the car a Gunwharf Quays, walked through Portsmouth Harbour train station to the foot passenger catamaran terminal to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and then at Ryde Pier Head railway station boarded an ex-London Underground tube train.

Planning to enjoy a pleasant afternoon walk to Bembridge, we got off the train at Brading Station. The fascinations of Brading Station and Brading Signal Box meant we never did the walk, but enjoyed a tour of the renovated Victorian station and signal box.

I feel an explanation coming on. I’ve a fond childhood memory of being in a mainline signal box for an afternoon, which I know wasn’t allowed even in those far off days. As a young boy interested in trains it was a highlight of one sunny school summer holiday. Don’t you find that memories of all school holidays as being sunny. So, the visit to a recently refurbished signal box bought back memories of past childhood fun.

The restoration of Brading Signal Box and Station won an award from the Railway Heritage Trust in 2010. A worthy award because, as you see from my photo montage, it’s a delightful place to spend a good part of an afternoon. I even managed to interview our guide John, one of the Friends of Brading Station.