Thursday 17th February 2022
I’ve been meaning to enjoy the freedom offered by a Waterside Wanderer Day Ranger ticket since November when Nigel at the Image Team kindly contacted me to let me know about its “soft launch” that month. Last Saturday I finally found time to travel over to Southampton and give it a go.
The multi-modal Waterside Wanderer ticket is an initiative spearheaded by the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership – a great band of dedicated volunteers who do some amazing work in the Southampton and surrounding area to promote rail travel and look after the appearance of many stations in the area.
Nigel’s ‘Image Team’ has been been involved in the project including its public launch at the end of December.
It can’t have been easy to bring together bus and train companies as well as a ferry and pier train operator and get them all to agree how the new ticket will be sold, accepted and the revenue shared out, not least during a period when the DfT have got tight control on anything a train company does, so many congratulations to everyone involved in bringing this project to fruition.
The ticket gives unlimited travel on SWR trains (as well as CrossCountry and GWR) in an area stretching from Winchester in the north across to Romsey in the west and down to Bursledon in the south east alongside the north bank of Southampton Water as well as on Bluestar’s bus routes 8 and 9 between Southampton and Hythe and on to Fawley, Calshot and Langley Farm on the south side of Southampton Water skirting the eastern edge of the New Forest.
The ticket also includes a return journey on the Hythe Ferry and the wonderful Hythe Pier Railway as well as a return journey on Unilink and Quay Connect buses between Southampton Central Station and Town Quay (where the ferry arrives and departs).
Rail travel is not available before 09:00 on Mondays to Fridays but otherwise there are no time restrictions.
A Waterside Wanderer costs £13.50 for an adult, £11.80 for a railcard holder and £6.75 for a child. Tickets can be purchased from any staffed ticket office at SWR stations included in the scheme or from SWR guards on trains. They’re not available from the ferry or on board buses but can be purchased in advance online and sent by next day delivery post from SWR subject to a rather pecuniary £7.50 charge for the admin and postage costs.
You’re spoilt for choice of where and what to explore in this fascinating part of the country. Winchester and Romsey are both great places to visit but I thought I’d take the name of the ticket literally and spend a day soaking up the atmosphere on the waterfront either side of Southampton Water with my ticket.
I arrived into Southampton Central last Saturday on time at 10:03 on a Southern train from Brighton along the coast via Barnham and had planned to begin my day by taking the Hythe ferry from Town Quay. This is currently running an hourly service with departures from Town Quay at 30 minutes past the hour.
A Unilink bus on route U1C leaves from outside the southern exit to Central Station at 10:14 arriving close to Town Quay at 10:20 so that all looked very doable. I just needed to buy my Waterside Wanderer in that eleven minutes between train and bus at Central Station.
I took the footbridge from the central island platforms 2/3 to the southern exit from platform 4 marked for connections for buses to the ferries but was aghast to see both windows of the ticket office located there were closed.
Realising there was no chance of buying the ticket from the ticket machines, I explained the situation to the staff on the gateline who let me enter back into the station and made my way as quickly as I could along platform 4 to the footbridge, over that, down to and along platform 1 to the north exit gateline, explaining to the staff there why I had no ticket to exit who kindly let me out.
Only to find all three windows of the ticket office there closed too.
Time was now ticking away and that eleven minutes no longer looked quite so doable. I’ve never seen Southampton so busy – probably with many football supporters heading up to Manchester on the 10:17 Cross Country departure for the match and queueing at the bank of ticket machines.
Fortunately there were some SWR staff with portable ticket machines ‘floor walking’ and I managed to push my way to the front of a disorganised informal queue of people wanting help and asked for a Waterside Wanderer.
As you can imagine this proved to not be a straightforward ticket to track down on his tablet type portable machine but he persevered and asked me for £13.75. The full adult price.
With hindsight I shouldn’t have asked a leading question along the lines of “there’s no discount for Senior Railcards then?” as I’d researched the National Rail Day Ranger website page the previous day and had been surprised to see the Railcard discount was only listed for a 16-25 Railcard holder with Seniors paying the adult fare. So I wasn’t surprised when he replied “no”.
It then turned out his portable ticket issuing machine couldn’t issue the ticket so he had to go and open up the ticket office to retrieve my ticket having asked me to tap my payment card on the reader by the window.
That done I rushed to get back over to the southern exit as time was rapidly approaching 10:14. Not surprisingly my ticket wouldn’t open either the north gates on platform 1 or the south ones on platform 4 – why are Day Rangers always like that? – but I finally got to the bus stop as the Unilink bus arrived in tandem with the Quay Connect bus.
The next problem, which I kind of anticipated, was the Unilink driver said my ticket wasn’t valid and I’d have to get the Quay Connect bus behind, especially as that would drop me off right by the ferry terminal, whereas the Unilink is a good four to five minute walk from the nearest stop.
However, I’d already established the Quay Connect departure wan’t until 10:35 – it runs on a rather awkward 40 minute frequency on Saturdays to tie in with the RedJet timetable to the Isle of Wight – so would be of no use to connect with the 10:30 Hythe ferry departure so stood my ground.
Fortunately he relented and we were on our way and after a brisk walk I arrived at the ferry departure ‘pier’ at 10:28 only to find no ferry berthed.
Fortunately it soon arrived on its incoming trip and moored up offloading about eight passengers with five of us swiftly on board and a quick turnaround.
Except I delayed things as when it came to checking my ticket the ticket checking man couldn’t scan it so had to go back to his booth at the top of the jetty and find a pen so he could write on it that I’d taken a ride – it’s limited to one return journey.
A trip down Southampton Water is always enjoyable and the Hythe ferry sedately takes you down to Hythe Pier with a 15 minute journey time.
It’s quite incredible to see the size and scale of cruise liners these days – I know Marc Reddy, managing director of First Bus in this area well, and he makes the very valid point that it’s all very well having clean air zones for buses in cities like Southampton, but bus emissions are nothing compared to these monstrosities that sit for hours if not days with their engines turning over in Southampton Water. That really came home to me seeing this spectacle.
Another reason for taking a trip on the Hythe ferry is your fare includes a ride on the Pier Railway – billed as “the world’s oldest continuous operating pier railway”.
There’s nothing quite like it.
It’s such an anachronism. A delightful step back in time.
The driver didn’t need to check tickets as he’d assumed everyone on the ferry had one and while three passengers walked their cycles down the pier, the other two passengers climbed aboard the train with buggy safely stowed in the end flat truck and we were off for the three minute ride and the almost half-a-mile journey to the shore end of the pier.
Here you’ll find a smartcard ticket dispenser for the ferry – a wonderful contrast to the railway ….
… alongside a display of information …
… together with a dispenser full of leaflets promoting the Waterside Wanderer.
I hadn’t noticed any leaflets while in the station, although admittedly my mind was focused on ticket buying, but when I checked back on the photograph I took, I did spot some, so well done SWR.
It’s a great leaflet showing the area and services covered by the ticket …
…. as well as ideas for where to visit with your ticket together with details of prices.
And it was then I noticed the £11.80 price was shown as being for “Railcard Holders” implying it includes all Railcards and resolved to query this on my return to Southampton Central later.
Meantime Hythe is a great place to explore. Bluestar buses on routes 8 and 9 stop right alongside the pier providing onward connections down to Fawley, Calshot and Langley Farm as well as back to Southampton.
Except that contrary to the information in the leaflet and at the bus stop display, Bluestar routes 8 and 9 are currently running what I assume is a Covid inspired reduced timetable. Route 9 is now the route for both Fawley and Calshot (hourly) as well as Langley Farm (hourly) with route 8 only running hourly between Southampton and Hythe.
I’d been to the southern ends on both routes on a previous visit so decided instead to explore Hythe and in particular seek out the site of the former station on the railway line down to Fawley which still exists and is the subject of much excitement as possibly being one that might reopen to passenger trains as part of the DfT’s “Restoring your Railway” scheme.
Indeed an exploratory run was made with a SWR train and notable VIPs, including Sir Peter Hendy, in July 2020 amid much media coverage.
It’s a bit like Okehampton in that the track already exists, albeit in need of upgrading, so could be done at, relatively, lower costs than other candidates for reopening. Whether it’s a commercial proposition is a different matter, but Hampshire County Council are particularly keen on the idea.
The railway passes through Hythe on an elevated trackbed and I’d researched where the former station building was located and it didn’t take too long to walk there and to my surprise I found the building was still there.
It’s now a free to enter heritage museum with an interesting collection of photographs and memorabilia of the area and in particular, its link with hovercrafts.
Having enjoyed a wander around Hythe I made my way back to Southampton on Bluestar route 9 which runs half-hourly and takes 35 minutes to reach the Central Station – so about the same as the ferry and pier train once you take connecting times and walking into account.
The bus driver was having ticket machine problems so just waved everyone on board, so I can’t report whether he’d have been flummoxed by my Waterside Wanderer ticket or not.
Back at Central Station I queried my ticket with another floor walking SWR employee (the ticket office windows were still all closed) and he kindly went into the ticket office and opened up the window to sort it out for me, confirming all Railcards do give a discount, so he reimbursed my original ticket and issued a replacement, which resolved that matter.
I then caught the hourly SWR stopping train to Portsmouth & Southsea as far as Netley on the north side of Southampton Water. It has a rather splendid station building now mostly given over to other uses (fancy dress hire on the first floor) …
…and walked from there the short distance to Royal Victoria Country Park …
… which is nicely signposted from the station and where I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the brilliant February sunshine.
The park is a great recreational asset for Southampton and leads down to the Waterside, and also has a splendid miniature railway which I couldn’t resist taking a ride on with its interesting track layout.
There were many families also on board and we all thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
And good value too at just £1.75 around quite an extensive loop circuit.
After an enjoyable visit I headed back to Netley and headed on to Fareham with SWR to connect with a Southern train back along the coast to Brighton having had a great Waterside visit.
The Waterside Wanderer is a fantastic initiative. However its pricing seems to be based on an assumption passengers make a journey from the extremes of the area, ie Winchester, together with a ride on the ferry. As Senior Railcard holders aged 66 and over will enjoy free travel on Bluestar/Unilink/Quay Connect buses as part of the concessionary scheme, it’s only the train and ferry fares which are comparable.
If I’d paid the ferry fare of £6.50 single and bought a return with SWR from Southampton Central to Netley at £3.35 it would have saved me £1.95 on the Waterside Wanderer’s £11.80 Railcard price. However, it’s always handy to have a Ranger ticket and enjoy the flexibility it offers. I could have made another trip over to Romsey or Winchester for example.
What it needs most of all is effective publicity and promotion by all the parties involved – leaflets in buses and more prominent displays at stations to follow the lead shown by Hythe ferry. It would also help if Southampton Central’s ticket offices could be open so it was easier to buy the ticket, and Bluestar drivers updated about its availability. And that National Rail website corrected about Railcard availability.
The organisers at Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership deserve that support after all their hard work in getting the ticket launched.
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Next blog, Saturday 19th February 2022: London matters.