Dear Readers, this week I thought I’d share my train ride from Mum and Dad’s home in Dorset back to the Big Smoke in London. I’ve taken one picture at each station, through the window (because heaven help any one who gets off – there would have been many pictures of my train disappearing out of the platform with all my luggage on it). I start from Moreton (down in the bottom left hand corner) and end up at Waterloo.
Before I start, however, here is a brief interlude on the party planning for Mum and Dad’s 60th Wedding Anniversary in September. We now know pretty much who is coming, and people are starting to let me know their menu choices. We met with the events manager at the hotel who is very obliging, so now we have Deadlines and such. There is some debate over whether or not to have a champagne toast after the main course and before dessert, with Dad saying this is what normally happens at Weddings, not Anniversary parties, and Mum and I saying that there is never a wrong time for a champagne toast. I suspect we shall have our own way in the end. The flowers are sorted (roses, freesias, whatever else is in season), the table decorations and layout are agreed and the harpist is booked. In short, I am planning it like a military operation, minus the amphibious landing craft and trebuchets, though I shall have these in reserve in case of any shenanigans.
And then, there is the vexed question of presents. Mum and Dad maintain that they Don’t Need Anything and even if they did, it would be rude to ask. On the other hand, lots of people have asked me what they should buy for Mum and Dad. I maintain that if you don’t give people some hints, they will get what they think. So, we have (finally) agreed that I will let the guests know that their presence is present enough, but if they do want to get something, we’ll go for garden centre gift vouchers. That way, Mum and Dad will have something to look forward to after the party, when I suspect their spirits might slump a bit after all the excitement. The autumn is a great time to buy perennials and get them planted, and every time they look at the plants, they’ll be reminded of their special day. An outing to the garden centre, plus lunch, will be just the tonic required to restore optimism I hope.
Anyhow, back to my train journey. Dad gave me a lift to Moreton station, the first time he’s felt able to drive there for over five years, so it just goes to show that even when someone is in their eighties they can still recover from illness – it’s not an inexorable, one-way decline. And as I was standing on the platform, I noticed this fluffy character. I love the antennae, and the ‘furry’ legs. And then it was time to throw myself onto the train and settle back for the two and a half hour ride with my sandwiches.
The journey from Moreton to Waterloo is wonderfully varied. The first part goes through farmland, with Jacob’s sheep grazing in the fields and deer nibbling at the bushes. The trackside vegetation is a mix of self-seeded sycamore, and buddleia. Lots and lots of buddleia.
The first station is Wool, presumably named for it’s sheep-farming heritage. Today, it is the closest stop to Bovington army camp and the world-renowned Tank Museum. More importantly, it’s home to Monkey World, a sanctuary which, despite its name, mainly specialises in rescued chimps and orang-utans from the despicable tourist photography trade in Europe and Asia. Some of these creatures arrive at the sanctuary completely bald from stress, and the last member of their species that they saw was probably their mother. Recently, Monkey World rescued a large number of capuchin monkeys from a research centre in South America, and they also have many small monkeys who were previously kept as pets. I only wish my friend Robin had been here long enough to visit it, though we’d probably never have got her home again.
I think that the buddleia pictured above has something of the dirty old man about it, but maybe that’s more a reflection on the sad state of my psyche.
Wareham is the next stop. It was probably founded by the Saxons, and is a great spot for anyone wanting to tour Dorset, with Studland Bay and the Purbeck Hills close to hand, and the Jurassic Coast (where Mary Anning found her fossil ichthyosaurus) close by. On a more sinister note, it was one of the spots where the notorious Judge Jeffries held his Bloody Assizes following the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, and five rebels were hung, drawn and quartered on the West Walls of the town. I had no idea that this barbaric practice was still going on in the seventeenth century.
And a note to for the poor traveller; Wareham is the only spot on this stretch of line that you can get a cab, in the event of your train misbehaving. As my journey to Dorset was delayed by over three hours (thank you, Woking signals) this can be extremely useful. The company I used was called Elysium Taxis, and although the ride did not remind me too much of the resting place of dead heroes, it was certainly extremely efficient and friendly.
Wareham station itself is a little bleak, but it’s always nice to see some interesting ‘weeds’ bursting forth, as seen above.
Holton Heath is the next stop, and the only plant life visible was some ribwort plantain on the other side of the chain-link fence. I wonder why one plant has grown twice as tall as the others? Is it genetic, or is there some source of water or food here?
Holton Heath was the site of the Royal Navy Cordite Factory during both the First and Second World Wars – cordite is a propellant used in guns, and replaced gunpowder. One of the key ingredients is acetone, and to make this requires a source of starch, usually grain. As grain ran short during 1917, local children were asked to gather horse chestnuts (conkers) as an alternative source. They were so ardent that eventually six enormous grain silos were filled with the chestnuts that the children had gathered.
However, such dangerous manufacturing lead to accidents, with the worst being in 1931, when an explosion occurred in a nitroglycerin preparation chamber, killing 10 and injuring 19. Three buildings were destroyed and a storage tank was ruptured, spilling sulphuric acid in to the area. The explosion, which occurred at 10.45 am, was heard 20 miles away and people working outdoors 2 miles away were knocked over by the blast wave. Houses situated on the main road approximately 1 mile from the blast suffered extensive damage.
These days, Holton Heath is a ghost town, with industrial units and razor wire. I have never once seen anyone get on or off the train at Holton Heath, and the wind whistles through the grass and the ribwort plantain.
On we go to Hamworthy, another ‘ghost stop’ where tall, self-planted sycamore trees are heavy with their fruit. This was an Iron Age settlement, and is situated on a peninsula, making it ideal for ferries and cargo to France, Jersey and the isle of Wight. A rather elegant new bridge has opened recently, to work alongside the existing bridge, and ensure that traffic can always get from Poole town centre to the ferry port.
As you head to Poole station, you pass wetlands and sailing ponds with gigantic plastic swans on them, but at the station itself my spirits were barely lifted by some struggling groundsel and a few leaves of grass. There wasn’t even a seagull. The train meanders through the middle of town, and you can gaze out at some of the most expensive real estate in the world (on Sandbanks in Poole), and also see the mixture of holiday-makers and locals waiting patiently for your train to pass so that they can get on with their shopping.
For the traveller, the fine Victorian station of Bournemouth is important because this is where the refreshments trolley boards. Sure enough, I had some sandwiches, but this is where you can avail yourself of what passes for coffee on South West Trains. Plus, the driver changes over, so I had five minutes to survey the scene. They certainly don’t want any pigeons nesting here: I have rarely seen such prolific anti-pigeon measures, though I suspect that from the occasional feathers and droppings some such avian trespassers haven’t read the rules.
The next part of the ride is through the New Forest, which is neither New (it probably dates from about 12,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age) nor a Forest (being mostly heathland these days). However, it was William the Conqueror who called the area the Foresta Nova, and reserved it for hunting purposes. It is one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed land left in south-east England, and ponies, pigs and other domestic animals still have the right to roam here. It is a biodiversity hotspot, and I often see grazing roe and red deer from my train window. Several of the villages and towns on my route are in the New Forest, and there seems to be a new enthusiasm for making the stations pretty.
Here is a splendid tub at Christchurch station – the town has one of the oldest populations in England (with 30% of its residents being over 60). Maybe a preponderance of people with time on their hands makes for a pretty platform. However, they have strong competition from the folk just along the line at New Milton.
New Milton dates back to the arrival of the railway in 1888. It, and the surrounding villages, were the centre of the seaborne smuggling trade, and a detachment of armed ‘Coast Guards’ were stationed here to try to stop them. These days, we think of the main job of the coast guard as being the rescue of folk who drift away on their lilos or of fishermen who get into trouble in heavy weather, but in those days they literally ‘guarded the coast’. Some of the offshore sea routes were actually named after the main smuggling families. I Imagine it was a time of intrigue and double-dealing. These days, it’s all a bit more sedate.
Brockenhurst is the most popular stop in the New Forest – you can hire a bike here, there are many small hotels and bed and breakfast establishments, and lots of walking trails start here. However, they need to pull their socks up with the floral decoration, as I would say that New Milton and Christchurch are currently in the lead. The town itself has a long military tradition, with a hospital for Indian and New Zealand soldiers wounded in the First World War. The woods around Brockenhurst were used for jungle training for soldiers destined for the Pacific during the Second World War. I imagine they weren’t much of a substitute for the environment that the soldiers were soon to face.
I was at university at Southampton. It wasn’t a particularly happy time for me: I missed my home and family. Also, it was the first time that I realised that I was a different class from everyone around me: one of the ‘posh’ girls told me that ‘when I first heard you speak, I thought you were common, but actually you’re ok’. Gee, thanks. But it was nice to see happier students sitting at the station, although their floral decoration could definitely do with some work.
Southampton Airport Parkway
Strangely enough, though, the planting that I like most is at Southampton Airport Parkway. Someone has taken a tiny strip of ground behind the fence and in front of the boxes for the telephone exchange, and has turned it into a little spot of insect heaven. Technically, i suppose it isn’t even in the station, but hey.
Ah, Winchester. How prosperous. How pretty. How august. But what on earth is happening on your station platform? Surely there is room for a pot or two.
I must admit to having a dislike for Winchester, having been knocked into a bramble patch by a completely naked man whenIi was a student here back in the early eighties, but I am prepared to be converted. Just sort out some pollinator-friendly plants and I’ll reconsider, I promise.
I rather like this planting at Basingstoke. I am wondering what on earth the fruit is? Could it be nectarines, or is it just some small, colourful apples? Help me out here, gardening friends.
Although we think of Basingstoke as a new town, it is probably on the site of an Anglo-Saxon village settled by ‘the people of Basa’, Basa being the tribal leader. The word ‘stoke’ probably derives from the word for a stockade.
And now, I’m eight minutes from Waterloo and, if all goes well, about forty minutes from East Finchley. Clapham Junction is the busiest station for trains (though not passengers) in the whole of Europe, with 200 trains passing through per hour. However, what it is not is plant friendly. There are some isolated buddleia plants, and a few sad weeds, who look as if they have been sprayed (this is often the case if the plants would impede the progress of the trains). However, maybe the seeds from the willowherb below will find more inviting ground – there are huge drifts of them all the way along the edge of the lines.
The Entry into Waterloo
It’s funny. You’d think I’d love the countryside, and yet my heart lifts at the sight of the building work on the way into Waterloo station and the little glimpses of the London Eye. I’d like to share a few of the final moments of the journey with you below. And then, I’m off. Home, a cup of tea and my husband await!
Photo One (Bridge) – By Chris Downer, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18372969
Photo Two (wounded soldiers) – PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12300298
Photo Three (trainees in the woods) – By Oulds, D C (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//31/media-31047/large.jpgThis is photograph A 27308 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25076005