Brading has two platforms, although only one has track these days. The passing loop here was removed in 1988. Ever since then, the positioning of the remaining double track sections has left the line with a lopsided service pattern of 2 trains per hour, separated by a gap of 20 or 40 minutes.
The disused platform and signal box have been reopened as a small visitor centre, although I arrived after it closed at 4pm, so had to content myself with photos taken from a distance. It took me a few minutes to work out that the man in the signal box was, in fact, a dummy. Dummy.
The station is well looked after, and it was good to see the canopy still intact. Its ornate ironwork incorporates the monogram of the Isle of Wight Railway, the pre-Grouping company which operated this line.
In the station car park, a notice board talked about the exciting history of Brading. To be honest, I didn’t read it, because referring it to “Ye Kynges Towne of Brading” put me off entirely. Yes, it’s an old place, we get it.
Brading is located in a residential area. I didn’t stray too far from the station, but check out the solar panels on the roof of every house! On that hot sunny day, the electricity meters in those homes must surely have been going backwards.
I retreated to the station to wait for my train. I was right on the edge of town, and with the housing estate out of sight behind me, I could easily pretend I was in the depths of the countryside. Green fields and gently rolling hills formed the backdrop to the station. The tranquility was interrupted only by the sound of the approaching train.
I was swiftly carried to my next and final station, Sandown, arriving just five minutes later.
My train waited in the loop for its brother to pass it. This was my only opportunity to see side-by-side the two trains on which I had been riding for most of the day.
The big station building at Sandown is, of course, no longer in railway use. It is, instead, a café called “The Pie House”. If you want a baguette, sausage roll or pasty, I’m afraid you’re out of luck – it’s pies all the way.
It was now after 6pm and I wanted something to eat. I didn’t want a pie, so I headed down to the seafront to find something more suitable. But not, of course, before getting the required photo. Sandown’s BR logo is affixed high up on the station building, just like at Shanklin. This time, however, I was able to stand in a deserted car park rather than a busy road, so the angle is rather better:
Sandown instantly won me over. It is lovely. The sun was now low in the sky, so the fierce heat from earlier had been replaced by a refreshing coolness. Like in Shanklin the previous evening, the families had left the beach behind, leaving it to be enjoyed by a few evening strollers such as myself.
Nearby, Sandown Pier (“A whole day’s fun in one!”) was doing a roaring trade, with a million different beeps, bells and tunes ringing out from the machines in the amusement arcade.
I walked along the promenade, past a seemingly never-ending cavalcade of small family-run hotels, most of which made marketing points out of things most hotel guests take for granted these days (“en suite rooms”, “colour TV”, “tea & coffee facilities”).
Just below the esplanade, on a little balcony overlooking the beach, I found the Driftwood bar. I was slightly sceptical (it’s emblazoned with surfing memorabilia) but went in anyway. It was fairly quiet, with the main sound coming from a Carly Rae Jepson video playing on the TV. Guess what drink I ordered?
This was my second cider of the day. I’ve developed quite a taste for it recently. I’m not quite sure where it came from (I don’t even like apples of the non-computer kind), but it’s certainly sitting well with me. Maybe I just have a fondness for all things fruity.
The food, when it arrived, was delicious (mushrooms on a beefburger? How delightfully decadent). I couldn’t understand the woman sitting nearby who touched barely a morsel of her seafood platter which looked both tasty and expensive.
When I left the bar, I decided to walk back along the sand itself rather than the esplanade. This proved to be a great decision. The traffic and bustle of the nearby esplanade could have been a million miles for all I knew; down here on the beach, all was quiet. I stopped for a while, taking in big gulps of sea air, and stared out across the English Channel as the tide rolled in. It’s hard to believe that just beyond the horizon is the north coast of France.
My feet had not forgotten the excessive amounts of walking I had done that day. They were sore and blisters were starting to make themselves felt. How to soothe them? Well…
It’s probably been a decade or more since I actually set foot in the sea, and as I slipped my shoes and socks off I realised how out of character this was. The old me would have been worried about his phone getting wet, or standing on a dead jellyfish. That night, however, I was happy to splash ankle-deep and enjoy the sensation of the cold water between my toes. I walked barefoot all the way back to the pier, which marked the point where, regrettably, I had to put my shoes and socks back on and head back to the station.
One final train ride later, I was back at Shanklin, nearly 12 hours after I had left that morning. I returned to my hotel, exhausted but exhilarated. It had been an amazing couple of days. My one tinge of regret was that I hadn’t arranged to stay a day or two longer on the Isle of Wight. I had come for the railway, but I’d enjoyed myself so much that now I wanted to see more of what the place had to offer, away from the tracks and trains.
More than anything, I wanted to experience more of this glorious little island, a magical place where a Tube train will collect you from the end of a pier and take you to the beach.