It is an early start to catch a ten o’clock ferry to the island and the weather does not look inviting. We know it will take about one and half hours to drive to Lymington (the mainland port for the ferry) but we don’t know about the traffic. Hence the early departure.
As we near the New Forest the sun breaks through and the traffic remains light. We have made good time and we arrive at the terminal in sufficient time to have some breakfast before boarding. The ferry is much smaller than cross channel ferries but they have a trick. One floor in the ship is on an elevator and three lanes of cars disappear into the third floor of the ferry.
As we travel across to the island I keep an eye open for Castle Hurst and the pebble peninsular connecting it to the coast. When I spot it, it surprises me how long it is and to think we walked that peninsular. It also surprises me that the Needles on the western end of the island are so close to the castle and yet because of the heavy sea mist on the day of our visit we did not know they were there.
Our first place to visit was the Old Batteries and the Needles. Unfortunately the only place to park is a commercial car park at a cost of £4.50 which is fine if you are staying all day and visiting the amusement park. But for us it just left a bad taste and not a good way to start the day. To see the batteries and the Needles you must walk to the end of the island (at least a twenty minute walk) and when you get there apart from the spectacular view the other features were not that riveting. Perhaps the most exciting were the tunnel to the search light and the old rocket launch pads from Britain’s venture into the space race. The only British satellite launched on a British rocket remains in orbit and is functioning but is not used any longer.
When we visited the new batteries where the rocket launch pads are located we encountered two Brits who were waiting for a bus. Unknown to us there is a city tour hop on hop off bus available from Yarmouth for £5 per passenger. If considering a visit I suggest you consider this option.
Next we visited Mottistone Manor and Gardens but it is closed Fridays. My fault for not checking the opening days as well as the times. So we moved on to visit St Catherine’s Lighthouse. I was driving and I missed the turn. We did try to pick it up but the road was closed so on we went to our next stop the islands last windmill with all its working bits made in wood. Well not quite true as the grinding stone is made of stone and some of the mechanical bits are made of metal. A bit disappointing and it no longer works. However not all was lost as the scenery had been very enjoyable up til we stopped for lunch. We turned into a road which we thought would take us to a viewing point but instead we found the road closed due to subsidence – severe subsidence with the houses around it abandoned. It looked as though there had been a significant land slip. No photos of the land slip as people had turned it into a dump. Not very nice.
For our last visit I suggested Carisbrooke Castle but on the way we spotted a sign to a roman villa. After our experience with roman ruins at Weymouth I was suspicious that there would be little to see. Well I was wrong again. Brading Roman Villa is the ruins of three roman structures of different periods. Discovered in 1879 by the farmer working the land it was excavated in Victorian times and some magnificent mosaics. By our standards they did more harm than good. Recently the excavation has been visited again and a new shelter to protect and display the third dwelling has been constructed. The building itself is impressive but the relics it protects are truly fascinating.
After visiting Brading we journeyed back to Yarmouth and caught the ferry back to the mainland and Kerry then took on the driving to return us safely home to Long Eaton.
We started the day looking out the breakfast room window at the rain. As predicted by the BBC weatherman it was raining and quite heavily. Our plans had allowed for this development. In the morning we would visit T. E. Lawrence’s home Cloud Hill, and Thomas Hardy’s birthplace and home with a visit to Durdle Door in the afternoon when it stops raining.
Once behind the wheel of Thistle, Kerry drove east out of Weymouth with me in the co-pilot’s chair. We had been travelling for about 5 minutes when I noticed a large horse drawn on the hill opposite. Just last night Kerry had asked me to find the white horse on the hill and there it was. Well not the one she wanted but it is a horse drawn on a hill. The Osmington White Horse is a hill figure sculpted in 1808 into the hill just north of Weymouth. The figure is of King George III who regularly visited Weymouth and made it the first resort riding on his horse. It is 280 feet long and 323 feet.
We moved on. Kerry really wanted to follow the coast line and it appeared there just is not a coast road. I spotted a road running off toward the coast and Kerry wanted to follow it to see where it went. The road led us to a private road and a sign stating that there was a £5 charge to use the road. One irritating thing we have encountered down here is that you have to pay for parking everywhere. Now having to pay for the use of the road was just the end. So we proceeded in another direction to the top of the hill and a view to Portland and the bay in front of Weymouth.
The rain was once again falling consistently as we approached Cloud Hill. We were quite surprised that the car park was full and the cottage was next door to the Tank Museum and down the road from the Tank training grounds. It turned out that this was Lawrence week commemorating 80 years since his death. There was a special set of lectures on the man and we sat in on one before viewing the cottage. Of course we are talking about Lawrence of Arabia who ended up trying to find obscurity as a private in the tank corps hence he bought Cloud Hill just down the road from the tank training grounds. The cottage was quite eccentric. No toilet and one room lined in aluminium.
One of his mates was Thomas Hardy author of many books and poems notably “Far from the Madding Crowd”. Hardy was born in a cottage built by his great grandfather on land loaned to him by his master and there the family stayed until the Hardy’s were no more. It is a simple house and was acquired by his sister Kate who donated it and Max Gate to the National Trust. Recently the trust has incorporated a new visitors centre and woodland walk to the house.
Hardy qualified as an architect and worked in that profession until he could become a full time author. He designed Max Gate just outside Dorcester and also designed three extensions. Here he wrote most of his books and poems and his first wife Emma died. He then married his secretary Florence 39 years younger than him but he was preoccupied with the death of Emma for most of his second marriage until he died in 1928. When Florence died twelve years later Kate bought Max Gate at auction and along with the Hardy’s home gifted both to the trust.
The rain had largely stopped and the sun made a tentative appearance. So we headed for the coast and Durdle Door. On arriving it was quite cold with the wind off the English Channel. Kerry made the lunch whilst I made the tea and we sat in the car out of the cold to eat lunch. Following lunch we changed shoes to walk the trek to Durdle Door. Although only 15 minutes walk it is down a very steep and well trodden path which today was very muddy with the rain, covered in puddles and the churned up chalky soil from the traffic of human feet. Stunning coast line. Chalky cliffs lookout to the sea and the more solid stone of Durdle Door braces against the buffering sea. The stumps of a fallen coastline surface above the waves to remind us of the past. As we stood dreaming looking at this coast, I noticed a squall moving from Weymouth towards us so we hightailed it up the hill back to the car. The steepness of the hill meant that we were caught and not only did we drag mud back to the car but we had very damp jackets to dry out.
We then moved on to Lulworth Castle. I had noticed signs about this place and as it was nearby we decided to investigate. Unfortunately time was against us and the castle had closed by the time we drove in the gate. As though knowing that we were turning for home the rain stopped. So we had one more shot at visiting another site – Jordan Hill Roman Temple. We punched in the site into Tommy and headed in the direction of home. The site turned out to be within 5 minutes of our B&B at Weymouth. Not much to look at and as usual with Roman ruins in a curious spot between houses.