As outlined in my previous post, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway had proved more taxing than expected. I was back on Island Line now, consulting the timetable to work out the best way to get all the stations. I barely noticed the schoolchildren who invaded the train at Sandown, boisterous in the way that schoolchildren generally are.
I was still feeling a bit miserable, and Lake, the next station I visited, did little to cheer me up. It’s a relatively new station, opened in 1987. Of course, that means it’s as perfunctory a structure as you can imagine, with just a single wooden platform and a tiny bus shelter to provide protection from the elements.
In an attempt to cheer the place up, the South East Wight Rangers had painted a mural in the adjacent underpass. It was a valiant effort, but it’s a shame to see that it has been damaged by scorch marks and rust stains. It also couldn’t disguise that unique eau de latrine that pervades railway underpasses all over the country.
A mother stood on the platform with her young boy. He looked enviously at the shorts I was wearing.
“I should have worn shorts,” he complained.
“You’ll live,” replied his mum.
“I might not.”
Lake is the penultimate station on the line, which thankfully means I didn’t have too long to wait before the train returned from Shanklin. Now it was time to ride to Ryde.
Ryde St John’s Road is the line’s headquarters and it’s the only station on the line which has a “big station” feel, with three platforms, and various offices for the railway (although no ticket office for passengers here).
The Island Line depot is adjacent to the station, with more of those lovely old trains stabled in the sidings awaiting their next turn of duty. On very busy days it is possible to operate a 20-minute frequency service, although this happens rarely.
One thing Ryde St John’s Road does have going for it is that it has a proper BR sign, standing tall and proud on the main road.
Rather than wait for the next train, I decided to see a bit more of the town by walking to Ryde Esplanade. I took a wrong turn out of the station, and ended up reaching the seafront via a much more circuitous route than necessary, which took me along a series of bog standard roads, offering nothing but nondescript houses and roaring traffic. However, when I did finally reach the promenade, I was rewarded – first, with a great view across the sands and Solent towards Portsmouth.
Secondly, there was this:
Yes, an actual Wimpy. To be honest, I had Wimpy filed under “chains I thought had long gone”. The Isle of Wight seems to specialise in this; Shanklin had a Blockbuster Video, which was making an extra special effort to tempt teenagers away from illegal movie downloads, by putting a sign in the window declaring, “Only one under-16 allowed at a time”.
This Wimpy, curiously, appeared to be doubling up a souvenir kiosk, selling buckets and spades and all manner of seaside tat. I didn’t investigate further – it was too early to eat, so I decided against venturing in to sample fast food 1980s style.
What I really needed desperately was something to cool me down. I passed a swimming pool and thought about going in for a swim, however the emergency exit door was propped open and the lifeguard was sweating profusely and fanning himself, so maybe not. I set out to find something more suitable.
It was now very warm, and lots of people were out, yet down on the Canoe Lake things felt quite peaceful. I stopped to watch a pair of ducks leading their ducklings into the water on the Canoe Lake. The baby birds paused hesitatingly at the water’s edge, before one-by-one following their parents into the water. I felt like I’d walked into a Disney nature film.
Strolling along the promenade, I noticed a group of extremely attractive guys playing volleyball on the beach in just their shorts. Which was very nice to see, but didn’t cool me down (the opposite in fact). I needed some liquid refreshment, and so I quickly pressed on (no, I didn’t take a photo).
I reached Ryde Pavilion, offering drinks and food from the bar within. I paused to consider it. Outside there were plenty of fat shirtless old men whose skin, I could tell, was going to be red and peeling soon. They talked loudly to each other; one berated the bar staff for asking him to stop smoking. I know we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but honestly, it is such a time-saver.
I took a few steps away from the pavilion, then paused. I was thirsty, and I needed a drink desperately. I decided to risk it, and turned back.
As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. Everyone was sitting outside to take advantage of the weather, so inside was empty, quiet and cool. I bought myself a pint of Strongbow and plonked myself down at a table inside to chill out – literally. The drink was cold and refreshing, and I had to stop myself from gulping it down too quickly. I can honestly say it was the most welcome drink I have ever consumed.
I took a few minutes to write my postcard to my sister, then sat back in full recovery mode. It was about 4.30pm and I was exhausted. I needed a rest and recharge more than anything, so I sipped my drink to extend my stay as long as possible. Eventually I could delay no longer, so I left the pavilion and emerged back into the blazing sun, to press on towards Ryde Esplanade station.
There is more than one way to cross the Solent from Portsmouth. In addition to the catamaran I used the previous day, there is also a hovercraft which does the trip in a nifty 10 minutes. As luck would have it, one was arriving as I passed the terminal. To me, there seems to be something rather surreal about about a vehicle rising from the water onto land like this – although maybe my opinion has now been coloured by the sinking of the Yellow Duckmarine in Liverpool at the weekend. At least the hovercraft managed to get from the water onto dry land and back again safely.
Outside the Hoverport, I encountered what appeared to be a small pile of compacted… um, snow, which had shown great tenacity in surviving since the cold snap the country experienced earlier this year. It’s in a shady patch of ground, but the mind boggles at how it has managed to last this long.
Nearby, the reason for the use of old London Underground train can be seen. This the portal of Ryde Tunnel, which can no longer accommodate standard-sized trains after the floor was raised to prevent flooding.
Ryde Esplanade station was visible in the distance, but I decided not to head straight there. Instead, I turned inwards towards the town centre. I was rewarded by the sight of…
Yes, another Wimpy. How Ryde has managed to sustain two outlets while the company has been in retreat elsewhere is a mystery. Perhaps Ryde is the place Wimpy has chosen to commence its fightback. In a decade’s time, they might be as ubiquitous as Starbucks or Tesco Express is today. You heard it here first.
The true highlight, however, was Who One Ltd – “The Doctor Who Specialist”. The Dalek wearing a Tom Baker scarf tells you all you need to know. It’s a shop that sells nothing but Doctor Who merchandise. I admit I scoffed to myself when I saw it, but according to its web site, it has been trading in one form or another since 1989, so it’s obviously doing good business.
I couldn’t linger too long in Ryde – the shops were starting to close (including a branch of Thorntons that appeared to be closing for the last time ever). It was after 5pm and I still had stations to visit. I quickly walked back down to the esplanade and its associated station.
In a rare but welcome display of integration, the town’s bus station adjoins Esplanade railway station – a good move, considering that bus is the only effective public transport to most of the island these days.
There’s no BR logo here. In fact, there seems to be little indication on the exterior that this building is a railway station at all. The exterior is taken up by “Platform Fun” which, in spite of the groanworthy name, is a standard seaside bucket-and-spade shop. Behind the shop is the slightly dingy concourse. At least the station has a full ticket office.
I had to make do with a “Welcome to Ryde Esplanade” sign inside the station building itself. There were quite a few people milling around to witness my attempts to get the sign photo. As usual, the bigger the audience, the more goes it takes me to get the picture right. I finally got one that I was reasonably happy with, and wandered off to the platform itself.
At the end of the platform, the pier stretched off into the distance. Note the second track, now disused. In days gone by, this was used additional shuttle trains operated at busy times between Pier Head and Esplanade. The second platform at Esplanade remains, although the buildings are boarded up.
Also nearby are the remnants of the Ryde Pier Tramway, closed in 1969. The residents of Ryde certainly went to a lot of effort to avoid having to walk along the pier. Another remnant which was pleasing to see was this “2 car stop” marker – a little bit of Network SouthEast clinging to life, a full 19 years after it was disbanded.
Time was marching on and I still had two stations to collect, so it was time to leave Ryde. Sadly this meant I didn’t have time to visit what is surely the highlight of any visit to Ryde – Donald McGill’s Saucy Seaside Postcard Museum.
A train rumbled off the pier and came to a stand at the platform. I boarded it to head south once again.
Next stop: Brading.