Community Rail Partnerships do some great work promoting branch lines around the country; a really good example can be found in the south west corner of Hampshire where the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership promotes the lines between Southampton and Salisbury via Romsey and Eastleigh/Chandlers Ford.
They organise a bus on Summer Sundays and Bank Holidays to connect with trains at Romsey station before heading north up the delightful Test Valley almost following the course of the old ‘Sprat and Winkle’ rail line to Andover.
Best of all this minibus between Romsey and Stockbridge is completely free and provides a car free way of visiting the many popular attractions along the way including the National Trust owned Mottisfont House, Gallery and Gardens, Houghton Lodge and Gardens and Sir Harold Hillier Gardens.
The minibus, driven by a volunteer, is operated by Test Valley Community Transport to the wonderful village of Stockbridge where connections are made to a Stagecoach bus which continues to Andover passing the Museum of Army Flying at Middle Wallop and the Hawk Conservatory Trust at Weyhill and on which a fare is paid.
As well as Romsey and Andover, train connections are also available at Mottisfont & Dunbridge station where the minibus waits for trains to arrive.
Careful thought has gone into compiling the timetable as it provides good connections as well as providing decent times to visit the attractions or take a walk along the River Test and the surrounding countryside.
Having picked up an attractive leaflet giving full details of the route, times and attractions at Romsey station on a visit earlier this year I gave the route a try on last month’s Bank Holiday Monday.
Reassuringly the bus was waiting immediately outside Romsey station as I stepped off the train and John the driver was standing alongside. He’s a real gem, so friendly and full of information about the local area pointing out many interesting features along the way.
We picked up two ladies in Romsey town centre (which is well worth a visit) and a man joined us from the Salisbury train at Mottisfont & Dunbridge station but sadly that was all the takers for the journey.
We waited time in the massive car park provided by the National Trust at Mottisfont House and watched visitors come streaming in in their cars oblivious to the excellent public transport option now provided.
What a shame. Not helped by no mention being made of the bus service on the National Trust website. Houghton Lodge’s website (where our two ladies were heading) is no better ‘plenty of free parking’ nor the Museum of Army Flying but at least Sir Harold Hillier gives a link to Google Maps with preloaded coordinates for the location and a public transport option that brings up the minibus journey … if you know about it and put in the approximate time it runs! Hats off to the Hawk Conservancy Trust though who include full details via a link on their website.
i was impressed to see Three Rivers had arranged timetables to be displayed at bus stops along the route and supplies were also available on board the minibus, although not on the Stagecoach bus. Sadly Three Rivers’ own website hasn’t been updated recently and still displays the 2017 leaflet and timetable.
Both bus routes pass through some lovely scenery; Stockbridge itself is a delight as are the villages of Amport and Monxton on route 77 – full of thatched roofs and well worth a visit.
This is a great initiative and congratulations to all involved but it’s another example showing just how hard it is to build awareness of public transport options and encourage visitor attractions to take them seriously – even when free travel is provided.
Roger French. 3rd September 2018