The clear skies free of clouds continued. The clear skies free of all commercial air transport also continued to the chagrin of those poor souls trying to get somewhere. With our modern transport systems disrupted by unseen volcanic ash lurking about in our atmosphere, we decided to try an altogether more atmospheric form of transport.
Running from west to east (or east to west?) across southern Dorset is a curious narrow ridge of high ground reaching about 600 feet. It is curious because there is an unexpected (by me, anyway) short break in the ridge at Corfe Castle. More accurately, Corfe Castle is at the break in the ridge since the break in the ridge is the reason for Corfe Castle’s existence; the castle was built to guard the gap. The ridge runs towards Swanage on Dorset’s coast, just below Poole harbour, where it dives beneath the waves to re-emerge as The Needles formation on the Isle of Wight (it says here).
We made a reasonably early start and grabbed one of a few free parking spots directly beneath Corfe Castle. from here we climbed up onto the eastern part of the ridge, known as East Hill. After admiring the views of Corfe Castle from this high ground, we made the approximately 5 mile trek along the ridge and down into Swanage.
Although we were quite capable of retracing our steps and walking the 5 miles back to our car, we were particularly keen to treat ourselves to a ride on the Swanage Railway. The Swanage Railway Trust is a charity staffed by volunteers and runs a steam locomotive service between Swanage and Norden, just west of Corfe Castle. At this time of year, every other train is actually pulled by a diesel locomotive but it is naturally the steam loco that is the big draw. With broad smiles on our faces, we purchased two singles back to Corfe Castle.
We had an hour to wait until the next steam service so we went down onto the front and indulged in some more childhood memories by buying a plate of cockles (Carol’s choice) and a plate of whelks (my choice). More smiles.
Returning to the platform we found the waiting steam locomotive ready to pull a train of various mixed carriages; one was a corridor carriage looking like something out of an Hercule Poirot adventure. No contest. We nabbed a compartment in the corridor carriage and began playing Hercule Poirot. Shortly a smiling ticket inspector arrived and punched our tickets for Carol, also smiling broadly. Everyone on the train was beaming. I don’t recall the last time I’ve seen such a large percentage of humanity smiling so much. For that elusive “feel good factor” in times of recession, bring back stream trains.
The journey was great fun, though I’m not entirely convinced that the type of motive power makes a great deal of difference ensconced in a passenger carriage. Much of our relatively brief journey was spent outside the Hercule Poirot compartment, leaning out of the window snapping away and getting the occasional speck of ash in the eye. This ash came from the stream loco rather than from Iceland’s irritating volcano. So, maybe the choice of motive power does, indeed, make a difference.
We rounded off the afternoon with another trip back in time to the Square and Compass public house in Worth Matravers. A passing local in Wareham had recommended it to us declaring that it hadn’t changed in hundred years. I can believe it; it had no bar, as such, just a counter at which orders were taken. Lurking somewhere in the dark depths was a staggering array of mostly ciders, with three token beers also being on offer. I enjoyed a pint of a cider rejoicing in the name of Port Wine of Glastonbury, and a pasty. More smiles.