Saturday 12th November 2022
Ventnor’s not exactly mid-size having a population of just 6,000 although many summer visitors add to that in the tourist season, but the tail end of the alphabet was always going to prove a challenge.
Situated on the southern coast of the Isle of Wight Ventnor is around 11 miles south of Newport and a little further than that from Ryde. Portsmouth is about double that distance but there’s the small matter of the Solent to cross, albeit there are plenty of options including Wightlink’s FastCat and Hovertravel’s hovercraft as well as ferries from Cowes to Southampton, Fishbourne to Portsmouth and Yarmouth to Lymington.
Ventnor was once connected to the Island’s rail network but the extension south of Shanklin closed in 1966. There’s been talk of restoring this link – it even got awarded funding in one of the headline grabbing announcements of the Shapps era, but the idea is a complete non starter, and earlier this year, it thankfully seemed to have hit the buffers.
For a start the station was inconveniently located high up from the town centre entailing a long hard slog of a walk up a very (and I do mean very – I did it) steep hill. As you can see from the Google map below, all the roads take a zig-zag trajectory from the seafront and town centre to take account of the hill.
Secondly the previous station’s footprint, which included a turntable, is now occupied by an industrial estate.
I was told by a resident of the former Station Hotel long converted into houses …
… that this concrete bollard is all that remains of the station.
And that’s how it should be with any thought of resurrecting the link to Shanklin buried in the remains of the tunnel (seen at the end of the road in the photograph below) along with the water pipes Southern Water have laid through it.
Luckily for residents of and visitors to Ventnor the town has a decent bus service, as there is across the whole Island, provided by Kinetic Group/Globalvia owned Go-Ahead Group owned Southern Vectis.
There are just two all year round Vectis operated bus routes serving Ventnor.
Route 3 runs half hourly from Newport south to Ventnor then around the coast to Shanklin, Lake and Sandown and on to Ryde while route 6 runs much less frequently (four journeys a day) via the villages of Whitwell, Niton, Chale and Chillerton to Newport taking 66 minutes compared to route 3’s 43 minutes journey time.
On my visit to the Island at the end of last month I took a ride on both routes and being half term week found them to be well used.
Even route 6 was well patronised with the 14:05 from Ventnor carrying in total 15 adults and 11 children with quite a few boarding at the popular Blackgang Chine leisure centre.
Which had a busy car park too.
Route 6 offers some spectacular views across to Freshwater after the bus leaves Blackgang Chine and heads north to Newport.
Back in Ventnor there’s no need for a bus station with buses picking up at the town’s main bus stop alongside Boots.
It’s a busy stop in a confined space, not only for passengers ….
…. but also with deliveries for the shop which come in all shapes ….
…. and sizes.
The bus stop along with all others across the Island has a smart flag and bus departure information on display.
There are two more bus stops in the town centre’s one way system alongside a car park and another by a doctors’ surgery and the old Town Hall/Court House where there are road markings delineating an area for tourist coaches to park during the summer season.
Talking of the summer season reminds me Southern Vectis have run an Island Coaster bus route in past years from Ryde all the way around the coast through Ventnor and on via the Military Road to Freshwater, Alum Bay and Yarmouth. This has now ceased for the winter but an advertising panel in bus stop confirms it will be back next summer.
You might think that was it for Ventnor’s bus network but thanks to Daniel, Transport Planner at Isle of Wight Council, I was alerted before my visit to an initiative by Ventnor Town Council to fund a Community Bus service for the town.
Route 31 is contracted to a taxi company trading as minibus-plus.com which uses a 16 seater non-accessible minibus to run the three journeys serving the Bonchurch and St Lawrence areas on Tuesday and Friday mornings.
It’s a very limited service but John, the driver, told me that numbers have been increasing in recent weeks which was encouraging and he hoped might persuade the Town Council to run it more often.
I caught the 11:45 departure from outside Boots along with Brenda who was travelling home to Bonchurch, to the east of the town, with her shopping from the Co-op.
The route we took is characterised by steep hills, hairpin bends and temporary traffic lights for roadworks.
It would be very arduous to reach the town centre on foot if this bus didn’t run.
As we continued around the circuit John and Brenda were pleased to see Bill waiting to be picked up for his trip to the Legion.
It was a very friendly journey and I learned a lot from Bill about Ventnor and from Brenda about recent flash flooding following a recent storm when leaves had blocked the drains.
Brenda was dropped right outside her front door at the old Post Office in Bonchurch….
…. and Bill stayed on until we got back to the Boots bus stop for 12:05 and the next departure at 12:06 over to St Lawrence on the western side of the town.
Thus time it was just me and it gave John an opportunity to tell me about his background as well as more about the service. He’d had a career as a civil works contractor before a complete change to bus driving earlier this year with Southern Vectis. But he’d found that too stressful and saw this job come up with the taxi company and now works for them.
As we headed on to St Lawrence we got hailed down by someone walking in that direction so picked him up giving a welcome lift as he didn’t know about the service.
The main road, A3055, runs through St Lawrence as the Undercliff Road but was severed in February 2014 when it collapsed due to land movement after prolonged heavy rainfall. It’s proved impossible to rectify so for eight years this community has effectively been isolated with two No Through Roads and Southern Vectis’s route 6 having to use the top road to reach Niton.
Route 31 therefore provides a ‘lifeline alternative’ to taxis for those without a car and find walking and cycling a challenge not least because of the hilly terrain.
As we travelled around I noticed the Town Council have erected bus stop flags and timetable cases along the route which must help raise awareness but the very limited nature of the timetable is somewhat restricting.
If you venture to Ventnor by Southern Vectis routes 3 or 6, and it’s a Tuesday or Friday morning, give route 31 a ride. You’ll discover a friendly way to see more of the town.
And finally, I couldn’t talk about Ventnor without a mention of the long drawn out saga of the former Southern Vectis bus garage located prominently in Pier Street on the town’s central one way system.
It’s been derelict for the past six years since closing in 2016; and there’s still a sign saying it’s for sale by auction. I suspect the vendors would be happy to take any bid to get it off their hands, but it would seem not, by the length of time it’s been in this state.
I’m told the former Travel Office on the left hand side closed much before 2016 …
… but I managed to poke my camera through the vandalised hole in the bottom right hand corner to be able to still see the counter and leaflet racks in situ.
Happy memories of a bygone time.
Previous AtoZ blogs: Andover; Bracknell; Carlisle; Durham, Evesham, Folkestone, Grantham, Harrogate, Inverness, Jarrow, King’s Lynn, Leamington Spa, Maidenhead, Neath, Oswestry, Potters Bar, Queensferry, Runcorn, Salisbury, Tunbridge Wells. Uttoxeter.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS with occasional Su specials, but not tomorrow.