The train pulls into the station accompanied by the distant sound of music – selections from Abba, played by the Lymington Town Band, comfortably settled on platform four. Regular summer visitors to Brockenhurst station, the band, a jolly group of ladies and gents with a substantial woodwind section, add a hint of Glenn Miller to a conventional brass repertoire.
They play on, pleasantly filling the wait for the connection to Lymington. For me, any great day out has to include a train journey, and so a chance to travel on one of England’s last remaining real branch lines is always going to be a treat.
At Brockenhurst, it is still how it used to be all over Britain. The main line trains come and go, and those wanting to go to Lymington and Lymington Pier cross to platform four to wait for the branch line train.
The journey is quite short, just over five miles across New Forest heathland dotted with ponies and then through woods and into Lymington station, the best way to arrive at this traditional and elegant market town. This, however, is not my final destination. I am travelling on the short distance to Lymington Pier, an exciting ride across the harbour on a low embankment where the line ends at the ferry terminal.
The Lymington branch opened in 1858, and has served Isle of Wight ferry services ever since, blending a distinctive brance line flavour with the excitement of the seaside. Apart from its convenience for a Dorset resident, Lymington always seems to me the best route to the Isle of Wight.
A quick stroll to the Wightlink ferry and we are under way. It is a delightful journey, first a slow meander among the hundreds of moored boats as the large ferry follows the winding channel and then, as we approach the Solent, we sail through stretches of saltmarsh and mudflats, rich with seabirds and backed by great views towards the Isle of Wight.
The ferry has a café and plenty of seating but the best place for the views is in the bow or the stern. After 40 minutes the ferry docks at Yarmouth harbour, overlooked by the old Henry VIII castle and virtually in the pretty town centre.
INTO THE HARBOUR
Yarmouth is my destination, and it has a particular style that sets it apart from other Isle of Wight towns, a combination of history, sea and ships, yachting, streets of attractive houses, some with staggering views over the Solent, and interesting shops, pubs and cafés. It is a holiday town, with a long pier and fish and chips, but it is also a fine place to explore and enjoy, especially as most visitors rush off the ferry and straight on to other parts of the island.
First stop for me is the Bank House Antiques Emporium, set in a classic Regency town house in the main square. There are several rooms perfect for browsing and filled with glass and ceramics, silver and jewellery, small furniture, pictures, books and all kinds of decorative items, many with a maritime flavour. Various pieces catch my eye, including a 1950s pottery figure and a large RAF aircraft camera, but temptation is resisted with difficulty.
Round the corner on the High Street is Number Twenty, a smart shop selling decorative items and pictures, again with a strong maritime theme. Large seashells jostle with ships in bottles and old ship fittings. Temptation here is even greater, but again I manage to escape with my wallet intact.
Next is lunch, and Yarmouth offers plenty of choices to suit every level of taste and pocket. My favourite is Off the Rails, a lively café with an adventurous menu, situated in Yarmouth’s former railway station. Inevitably, it is railway themed, but in a decorative rather than an anorak style. Eating well while looking out across the platform towards the inland hills and woods is a delight.
Until the 1960s, the Isle of Wight had an extensive and rather idiosyncratic railway network, reaching into the island’s distant corners and connecting major places. Most of it was swept away during the Beeching era, in which thousands of miles of track were closed, but the remains lingered in the landscape for decades. Today some of the former railway routes have become footpaths and cycle ways, a great way to explore the island. Indeed, Off the Rails offers cycle hire.
A WALK BY THE WATER
However, I am here for a walk, and the obvious one starts right from Yarmouth station platform.This follows the trackbed of the former line to Freshwater, opened from Newport in 1889. It is a lovely walk beside the estuary of the Yar and through woodland to the former terminus at Freshwater. Thirsty ramblers can stop at the Red Lion in Freshwater, a classic pub with good food.
The walk back with views in reverse is just as good, and on the approach to Yarmouth a path branches away to enter the town via a different route, passing the old tide mill and with great views of the estuary and harbour. After a quick cream tea it is time to catch the ferry back to the mainland, enjoying views of the Needles before the train carries me safely home to Weymouth.
4 miles | 1 hour 20 mins
Bank House Antiques
Off the Rails