12 june 2015
Armed with nothing more than a reference number for a train ticket, my debit card, phone and a vague idea of the geography of the Jurassic Coast I set off early on Friday morning for the train station. Terri was waiting for me when I arrived and, once we’d collected our tickets we made a quick pit stop in Costa and grabbed take away coffee before heading for platform four. Weymouth was our destination, a place I last visited when I was around twelve. All I could remember was a sandy beach.
A yellow weather warning and a promise of thunderstorms didn’t quite fit in with my dreams of eating ice cream on the beach. Still, it was work and I’d be in the depot or on a bus for most of the day so I guessed it wouldn’t matter. In fact it started to rain as I walked down the hill to Southampton station and the clouds outside the train window didn’t look encouraging.
When we stepped off the train the sun was shining. Maybe there would be ice cream on the beach after all. We’d been told the depot was right opposite Weymouth station and we couldn’t miss it. With my amazing navigation skills I wasn’t so sure so I’d phoned Anna in the Weymouth office and told her to look out for a blonde and a redhead wandering around looking lost at about half past ten. As it happened I needn’t have worried. As soon as we passed the pretty floral displays outside the station we spotted the depot entrance. Across the road we donned our high vis jackets and made our way to the control office.
Within ten seconds we’d been offered doughnuts. Tempting as they were, we turned them down and, after a quick chat with the controllers and a look at their set up, we went off to the tiny office where Anna was waiting. Anna is the heart of the operation, she sorts out all our queries quick smart and rules the controllers and the drivers with an iron fist. It was an interesting and informative half hour. Then we were out on the street on our own with nothing but a vague idea of where to catch the Coastliner bus. It occurred to me that this was probably not the best of plans and we might never be seen again.
Maybe it’s something about living near the sea but we instinctively knew which way the beach was and we walked past shops filled with buckets and spades, inflatable rings and even a small rib towards it. At the end of the road an ornate clock tower made an interesting reference point. The Jubilee Clock, erected in 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, is one of Weymouth’s best known landmarks and a meeting place for locals.
And then we were looking out at the beach, rows of pastel coloured deckchairs lined up for hire along the promenade and the sea crashing on to golden sand. Oh how I longed to take off my shoes, run down to that sea and dip my toes in the salty water. We had a bus to catch though, one that only runs once every two hours. As we strolled along towards the bus stops at Kings Statue I was half hoping we’d miss it. It seemd no great hardship to be stranded for a couple of hours, maybe sit on the sand with an ice cream and listen to the waves crashing, even if the sky was dark and brooding.
Of course, when you want to miss a bus it’s always there bang on time. In fact, this one was waiting at the stop for us with it’s doors open and a small queue of people preparing to board. There was just time to snap a shot of Kings Statue from a distance before it was our turn to get on. The statue, designed by James Hmilton, stands on a grassy island in the middle of the road and is a tribute to George III who was very fond of Weymouth. Originally made in 1802, the project was shelved when the king became ill and the statue wasn’t actually erected until 1809, marking the fiftieth anniversary of his ascension to the throne. Strangely, not all the locals are overly fond of it and, over the years, there have been many attempts to get rid of it. These days it’s a listed monument.
The plan was to go to Lyme Regis, which sounded perfectly reasonable when we set out. The bus was full but not crowded and we sat watching the countryside roll past us as it wound down narrow country lanes, up and down steep hills and past tiny villages. The air was thick and muggy despite the open windows and we felt sure there’d be thunder soon but it didn’t come. Now and then there was a tantalising glimpse of the sea to our left where the South West Coastal Path seemed to be calling to me. One of these days I will come back and walk it I swear.
Almost an hour later we passed through a pretty little harbour called West Bay. There was a huge temptation to get off the bus, especially as I was beginning to lose the feeling in my legs and my bum felt like it belonged to someone else. An hour on a bus is a long time. We both began to wonder how much further it was to Lyme Regis and, thanks to the wonders of mobile phone technology and Traveline, we soon discovered it amounted to another hour of bum numbing travel. We agreed this was a step too far and made an executive decision to get off at the next stop, Bridport, and find somewhere to have coffee. It had been four hours since the Costa in Southampton after all.
Almost as soon as we stepped onto the pavement in East Street it began to rain. We sheltered for a moment under a butchers awning hoping it would stop but there is only so long you can look at a pink pottery pig sitting on a pile of pork scratchings. My hood went up and I zipped up my mac but Terri just had a short jacket so we scurried along looking for somewhere that might sell a mac or something similar. Before we’d got too wet we spotted a little bric-à-brac shop with a tub of umbrellas, bingo!
Perhaps if it hadn’t been raining I’d have stopped to take photograps of some of the interesting buildings we passed like the church or the town hall, although I did snap a drinking fountain on the corner of South Street while we waited to cross the road. Bridport is a market town with origins in saxon times and, during the reign of King Alfred it became one of the most important towns in Dorset. Rope and nets have been made there since the Middle Ages, originally using flax and hemp grown locally. The Main Street, lined today with eighteenth century buildings, was once used to dry ropes spun in the long gardens behind the houses. Some of these ropes were used for the gallows and hanging was often described as being ‘stabbed with the Bridport dagger.’
Typically, within minutes of coming out of the shop and putting the umbrella up the rain stopped. Then we spotted a Costa Coffee across the road. Before we could get across to it though a steam roller came up the street and got in the way. It isn’t every day you see a steam engine so we didn’t mind too much. This one was towing a red trailer that I found out later is called a living van, a kind of prototype of the caravan. Maybe this is normal for Bridport.
Over coffee and a cheeky cake (it was half past twelve by this time) we discussed a plan of action. We could hang around for the next Coastliner bus and carry on to Lyme Regis but it would be a two hour wait, another hour on the bus and then we’d have to do the whole thing in reverse on the way back. Somehow it didn’t sound like much fun. We perused the bus times on Traveline and discovered there was a bus going back towards Weymouth just before one o’clock. Another hour on a bus so soon after getting off one didn’t really appeal but we could go back to West Bay…a plan began to form.
A ten minute bus ride later we were outside a pretty little blue painted pub called The George with seagulls swooping all around and a tiny harbour full of small boats. The place was positively brimming with small food kiosks. Despite our very recent coffee and cake it seemed rude not to partake of the chips that smelt so good as we passed by. We sat on a low wall in front of the pub to eat them while the gulls circled, sensing the chance of a meal. One rather forward gull actually landed on the wall and marched up and down waiting for someone to drop something.
This is actually Bridport harbour, originally built on the River Brit close to the town to export the rope and nets made there. The Anglo Saxons and Normans struggled with silt and shingle washed from Chesil Beach constantly blocking the river mouth and, in 1388, local merchant John Huderesfeld began to build a new harbour about a mile away. It was completed in 1395 and prospered for fifty years until a combination of winter storms and the plague saw it go into a decline. In 1444 yet another harbour was built, funded in part by the Bishop of Sarum. Silting and storms were still a problem and, by the eighteenth century, the small harbour also struggled to cope with the larger modern ships. In 1740 John Reynolds of Cheshire began work on the present harbour, three hundred yards to the west of the old one. Piers were built to alleviate the silting problem and the river was diverted to run between them.
With time on our hands once we’d eaten our fill of the chips we took a wander around the pretty little harbour. Surrounded by picturesque houses painted in pastel colours and filled with bright little boats, all it lacked was blue sky. Still, it wasn’t raining and it was way better than being at work. It would have been nice to have time to really explore the place. There were lots of interesting looking buildings like the church and an old salt house built in the eighteenth century to store the salt used to preserve fish.
It looked as if the path would lead us all the way around to Chesil Beach and the shingle beneath the striated cliff. These cliffs are filled with fossils and I thought we might even be lucky and find one. As it turned out the path lead us to a dead end and, with a bus to catch, we’d used up all our time and would have to give the beach a miss. There was nothing for it but to walk back the way we’d come.
So we wandered back towards The George and the bus stop with a quick look at the river behind the Riverside Restaurant where it looked like no one seemed to be interested in the boat rides on offer. We both agreed, if you had to be stuck at a bus stop waiting for a late bus, this was the place to do it. As it happened the bus came almost exactly on time and ten minutes later we were back in Bridport waiting for the bus that would take us to Dorchester where we could catch a train home.
As luck would have it, the Dorchester bus arrived on time too and we were soon on our way again. Little did we know at the time but it was probably the last bus to run on time that afternoon as, near Lyme Regis, a huge accident was causing chaos as we trundled through the Dorset countryside blissfully unaware. Our numb bums had saved us from being caught up in it all. There was a bit of a faux pas when we got off the bus a couple of stops early by accident but, with the help of Google Maps, we managed to find our way to the train station. In fact it felt like a blessing in disguise as we got to see a little of the town. The highlight of this little extra walk was the colourful fountain in Brewery Square. They made up for the fact that the rain had started again.
Timing wise the mistake worked out quite well. We arrived with a few minutes to spare before our train. As we settled back and let South West Trains do the work of taking us home we both agreed the trip had been a success. Ok, things hadn’t gone quite to plan, we hadn’t made it to Lyme Regis and we hadn’ t had an ice cream on the beach. Still, we had seen the depot, met people and checked out two of the most popular bus routes in the area.
Personally there were lots of things I’d like to have seen and done but there was never going to be time for those on such a short trip and it was meant to be work, not pleasure. It did make me keen to get on a train and explore that South West Coastal Path the next time I have a chance though and I least I now know which buses to catch!