by Katie Isham.
Right gang, buckle up: we’ve got three modes of transport to conquer in a very short distance. Ferries, trains and those trusted wandering shoes.
Town Quay starts the adventure. Located at the bottom of Southampton High Street, it’s the home of Southampton’s ferries. Bypass those Isle of Wight showboats, we’re just nipping across Southampton Water to our western counterparts. The town of Hythe is only about two miles from the city centre as the gull flies, so who wants to drive the long way round? The solution is to take the direct route, across the waves. It’s ferry time.
Trek down the gangplank to board the Hythe Ferry, tickets in hand ready to be punched. It’s excitingly nostalgic to have a ticket with a hole in it. File aboard the ferry and find a good spot. The inside/outside set up of the ferry means you can sit amongst the elements and smell the sea as the voyage begins.
Being outside also provides ample waving opportunities. Regular readers will know I’m a fan of waving. Wave at all the boats you pass: fishing boats, fancy yachts, cruise liners. The joy of a returned wave is immeasurable. But still make time to enjoy the surroundings. This route gives a great view of the cruise terminal: a sight us mere peasants won’t see without a cruise liner ticket (although they probably aren’t worthy enough to get hole punched).
It’s also a treat to see the city from the perspective of the water. The docks, Mayflower Park, Itchen Bridge, Weston Shore. And then the other side. Looming on the horizon comes the dark side: the Waterside!
Once docked, thank the ferry wranglers and step onto the famous pier. Then decision time. A walk along the 700-yard pier is a good choice. But so is the option to hop aboard the train waiting to trundle towards dry land. This is the oldest continually operating pier train in the world. THE WORLD. Big claim for a small town and definitely worth a ride. There are no bad choices here so walk up and get the train back, or vice versa. Although the train works more practically for those laden with goodies on the return leg, but more about that later.
The train and pier feel like time travel, a sensation that continues as you enter the town. Curve left to join Hythe High Street, a world away from Southampton’s equivalent. For starters, the perennial bunting above ties the community together as much as it does the crisp white buildings. Wander along the pedestrianised lane and peruse the array of pavement cafes. Choose one with the most tempting treats and pitstop your expedition.
Hythe High Street might not suit everyone, but with greengrocers, record shops, travel agents, wool shops, charity shops, toy shops (big name energy courtesy of Toys Ahoy!) and a classic pub, there’s enough to fill a whole safari spotting all types of life. Special mention to the Hythe Kebab Centre which seems to have branded itself as a commercial conference complex.
Swing past St. John’s church for some beautiful architecture. Then turning left takes you back towards the waterfront. The promenade along here isn’t short of a bench or two so take a pew for another view of our city across the water.
Before it’s time for the return ferry make sure you stop at Tilley’s bakery where even the window display is sweet enough to give you toothache. And if you schedule your outing on a Tuesday, you’ll need a little longer to detour through the market. I told you you’d need train assistance to carry your treasures back along the pier.
Clamber into the glossy wooden carriage and allow it to take the weight on the boards. Travel in style back to the ferry and across the water to modern day. And thank the fates and all who supported the Save Hythe Ferry and Pier movement. Let’s keep using this slice of the past to keep it part of our present day.
Cost: Free for the walk but without webbed feet, you’ll need to purchase a ferry ticket (£8 adult return but with a free ride on the train included, a real transport bargain) to get to the Hythe side.
Accessibility: Access the Southampton end of the ferry leg at Town Quay, served by a myriad of bus services or by walking south from the High Street. Limited parking available near the ferry terminal. All routes accessible for wheels but a step needed into the train.
Facilities: Any facility you could hope for around Hythe centre.
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