Isle of Purbeck

Originally uploaded by fred pipes
A hay fever sufferer going on holiday to the countryside? In June? I must be mad. In fact, I'd temporarily forgotten I had hay fever - but not for long! And a holiday was too good to miss.

Day 1: Friday 13 June 2008. Train from London Road to Wareham, via Brighton, Barnham and Southampton. Beer in pub, then bus to 'the top of the lane'. The bus driver was a bit grumpy about taking my Halfway folder on his bus, but we did! The top of the track was a bit muddy, so I opted to take the longer road journey. Spotted some little stoat/weasel-type animals on the hot road but they scarpered as I got near. The Worth Matravers sign had 'Twinned with Royston Vasey' stencilled on it! I was first to arrive, followed by Jackie and Rob (on the train with me), Pam and Steve (by car with all the luggage) and much later Jim and Sally. I'm staying in The Dairy, on Renscombe Farm, the site of a top-secret radar establishment during WWII. Jackie cooked curry.

Day 2: Saturday 14: Cycled to Langton Matravers for newspapers - nobody told me Purbeck was hilly! Then a walk to St Aldhelm's Head (I cycled) past a quarry famous for 'sparkle' and eventually the Head, where's there's an austere small square church called St Aldhelm's with just one window and a notice: 'To the person who leaves lighted tea lights. Please stop you have cracked this window with the heat'. There's also a coastguard station and a memorial to the radar research (unveiled by Sir Bernard Lovell), oh, and the view, over a large cliff, that a couple of days later a 4x4 went over. Thence to the Square and Compass, and the first of many pints and pasties that week. Steve cooked roasted vegetables.

Day 3: Sunday 15: We went by car to Corfe Castle (Rob and Jim walked) and after visiting the church and watching the town crier in action, I went down to the station. I let the diesel go and awaited the steam train, by which time Jim had joined me. The train was pulled by an ancient 0-4-4 tank, LSWR Class M7 30053. So it was to the end of the line at Norden than back to Swanage, where we alighted for a pint at the Red Lion. We joined the others back at Corfe Castle just as a marching band dressed in spiderman costumes - part of Corfest - was entertaining the crowds. I cooked pasta.

Day 4: Monday 16: Gerry and Christina had replaced Jim and Sally so we set off in two cars to Arne nature reserve - in search of the Dartford Warbler! It was a heathland/wetland walk with dragonflies, heather, orchids and my first visit to a hide (spoonbills and oyster catchers, but no Bill Oddie). We saw a tiger beetle or two, but alas no sightings of our bird. Pam cooked nut roast.

Day 5: Tuesday 17: It was off to Studland with Rob and Steve, by bus. Worth Matravers, the nearest village, only has 2 a day so we caught the 9.30. At Swanage we got the open-top 50 and got off at Studland. After a quick visit to the church and celtic cross (circa 1975), we went down to the beach for a cuppa at Joe's Cafe and a view of Old Harry rocks. The lads wanted to do some serious rambling, so I headed back for the last bus to Worth - 2.15 from Swanage. Managed to spot Standard tank 80078 (built in Brighton 1954) at the station, and back at the village popped into the tea rooms for a toasted teacake. Rob cooked lasagne.

Day 6: Wednesday 18: Off with Pam and Steve in the car to Brownsea Island, via the chain ferry between Studland and Sandbanks, home of the footballers' wives. Went in our second hive, then around the red squirrel trail. Not a one was seen, and we'd given up hope when the nice lady at the visitor centre announced there was one on the feeding table the other side of a window! Result! Saw lots of tame ducklings and baby geese. Then it was off to the cafe for lunch and not to feed the peacocks which we were told could become aggressive! Pam made soup.

Day 7: Thursday: I still hadn't done any watercolour painting, so Jackie suggested I did a view of Chapman's Pool from the cliff top. It had been very windy and raining overnight but the sky was blue as Rob and I tramped across the field to the Purbeck Way. The rest had gone to see Winspit where Dr Who had been filmed. The steps to Chapman's Pool were very steep, I'd been told, so we walked along the top to a memorial to the Royal Marines. But it was much too windy (thankfully blowing inland, I'm not a big fan of cliff-top walks!). So it was off to the pub, where we did manage to create. Supper was microwaved left-overs, of which there was much, augmented by Steve's frittata.

Day 8: Friday. The plan was to have lunch at Kingston in the Scott Arms, which had a great view of Corfe Castle. We had to vacate by 10am so caught the 9.30 bus out of the village. Rob and Jackie however soon tired of Swanage so we decided to get the 50 to Bournemouth, via the chain ferry, which Rob wanted to experience. The 50 is very popular but we managed to get a seat downstairs (it was beginning to rain) and went on top for the ferry ride. At Bournmouth there was nothing promising near the station, so we carried on to Southmpton, thence to Brighton and home, grabbing a sandwich on the way. I'd left my bike with Steve, who delivered it and my luggage that evening.

Verdict: The Isle of Purbeck isn't too far away from Brighton, but is sufficiently different to feel like you have been away. Despite forecasts of rain, we were lucky with the weather, which was mostly hot and sunny. The accommodation - although remote - was superb, as was the food! It's a little too hilly for my liking (but ideal for ramblers!). Saw lots of wildlife and amazing views. Excellent company and close to a steam railway! Heaven.


An A4 at Alresford

Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Belting through the green Hampshire countryside, we see a train in the distance. What's pulling it? Is it a diesel? A Spam can? No, bloody hell, it's a Streak, an A4 like Mallard the world speed record holder for steam! The world's second most beautiful locomotive (well, I am an LMS man, after all). As we arrive at Alresford station, the train is just pulling in. It's 60019 Bittern in Brunswick green British Railways livery. Wow! I'm on my second Worthing Coaches excursion, this time to the Watercress Line. As the other passengers amble off into town, I can't wait to get onto the platform. LMS Class 2MT 2-6-2T No. 41312 is in steam in a siding and I wait for Bittern to change ends to take some photos. Then I sit and eat my Boots sandwich as she quietly chuffs away. Our train is this one, but two hours later, so as Bittern headed off to Alton, I head off for a pint of Ringwood bitter at a local hostelry. Arlesford is a Georgian town and actually had a Post Office open, so I took advantage to buy some stamps.

Back at the station I crossed the footbridge to take a snap of the train coming in, wheels and all. Then it was on board for our cream tea, in the front coach. At Ropley I jumped up to cop the engines in the shed: BR standard class 5 4-6-0 No. 73096 and SR Merchant Navy Class 4-6-2 No. 35005 Canadian Pacific amongst others in various states of repair. At Alton I popped out to take more photos and on the way back we passed a lonely DMU with zero passengers on board! Then it was into the coach for a scenic ride home. Never did get any watercress!