Saturday 31st December 2022
Today was going to be the last day of operation for the Hythe Ferry. The hourly service links the town, on the west side of Southampton Water, with Southampton.
Blue Funnel Ferries have been running the service since taking it over from previous owners White Horse Ferries in April 2017. Rising costs and falling passenger numbers led the company to make its shock closure announcement ten days ago.
Company owner Lee Rayment was quoted as saying “ideally the hope would be to sell the business and assets to keep the ferry operating” but this seems unlikely when he also admitted “Hythe Ferry has reached a position whereby it is no longer financially viable to continue trading despite best efforts, cutbacks and voluntary assistance”.
But in another surprise development on Thursday, the Ferry owner announced a stay of execution on its Facebook page with a more positive announcement……
A ferry of some kind has operated between Hythe and Southampton since the Middle Ages although Hythe Pier was constructed relatively recently between 1879 and 1881. The Hythe Pier Railway in its electrified form began in 1922 and is officially the World’s Oldest Pier Railway but alas 100 years later it now faces an uncertain future.
I went down to Southampton early on Thursday morning with my friend Ray for what we thought would be one last trip on both the ferry and the pier train on what turned out to be a very busy day for custom.
Whether it was local people also having one last nostalgic trip (as we were doing) or just getting out of the house for something to do during the Christmas and New Year interregnum, the ferry seemed to be having one of its busiest weeks for a very long time, perhaps explaining the updated post on Facebook.
We arrived for the first departure of the day at 10:30 from Southampton’s Town Quay and there was already a substantial queue. When the ferry arrived from Hythe a little late at nearly 10:40 it brought in at least 60 passengers although I admit I lost count.
A regular passenger expecting it to close remarked what a pity people hadn’t used it previously in such numbers.
We were soon on our way passing the large container ships in Southampton Water and after around 10 minutes approached the end of the pier in Hythe.
The train was waiting for us but there were far too many passengers for its three small carriages but the driver reassured those who couldn’t fit on board and didn’t fancy a walk he’d soon be back.
No one seemed to know whether the Pier railway will also cease running if the ferry stops. The assumption was it would as it’s sole reason for existing is to take passengers to and from the ferry. There’s nothing else at the sea end of the pier.
It will be a great shame to confine this operation to history although it’s good to see there’s an upbeat positive message on the Hythe Pier Heritage Association’s Facebook page stating…..
Everything is therefore rather uncertain at the moment for both the ferry and the train. Sadly I have doubts their long term future is very secure.
We returned from Hythe to Southampton on Bluestar’s route 9 and while we were in a ferry frame of mind took a ride on First Bus City Red route 6 to Hamble-le-Rice on the west bank of the River Hamble for the short and rather quirky ferry crossing across the river to Warsash (see map above).
This small ferry shuttles across to no fixed timetable and was also proving popular on Thursday lunch time.
It’s famed for its bright pink colour scheme on its boats as well as the ferry shelter on the Warsash bank.
It was a very friendly service and here’s hoping its future is more certain than the Hythe Ferry where developments are awaited with interest.
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