Shad does the Isle of Wight Steam Railway

Talk about planes, trains and automobiles!  John and I took 5 different modes of transport in one day on our trip to the Isle of Wight last weekend and we must have seen 5 different kinds of weather too.  The day started at 6am when I hopped on to John’s chest to wake him up but the gentle back and forth of his warm hand on my head and rhythmic rise and fall of his diaphragm sent me drifting back into a sumptuous slumber.  My eyes opened a while later and I jumped off the bed to find John in the kitchen making a packed lunch and the camera equipment in the hallway ready to go.  It was pitch-black outside and a damp 3ºc when we got into the car for the drive to Portsmouth but John knew exactly how to make the trip go quickly by supplying me with my favourite shrimp snack balls in the car and ensuring that my ears were not subjected to any Christmas songs on the radio.  I know, bah humbug!

Gradually the dark turned to gloomy grey and then burnt orange as the sun struggled to peek through the thick layer of cloud above us and we transferred from the car to our next form of transport – my first ride on a double-decker bus.  We climbed the narrow winding steps to the upper deck and sat at the front where the view through the floor to ceiling glass was fascinating.  The hard plastic seat was cold under my bottom and the window kept steaming up but we were higher than the top of the traffic lights and it felt like we were going to crash every time we turned a corner.  I imagined I was piloting a space craft through a mysterious shadowy nebula and the shimmering red light ahead became the glow of a prototype artificial intelligence seeking information about life on earth to complete its mission.  But before I could make first contact with this high-tech lifeform the bus came to a halt and we bundled out and headed towards our next style of carriage, the Wight Ryder 1.

The Portsmouth to Ryde catamaran hummed steadily across the steely sea of the Solent and by the time we arrived on the island the sun had smouldered its way through the cloud to give us sunny skies and a temperature of 5ºc.  We strolled along Ryde pier past a flock of brown Brent geese bobbing up and down on the water and saw four elegant white swans flying in a perfect row along the coastline.  Our bellies told us it was time for a decent breakfast so we stopped in a small local café for sustenance before the next leg of our expedition.  As John finished his last mouthful of black coffee, we wrapped up warm and stepped back outside for the brisk walk to Ryde Esplanade station and a ride on the Island Line.  The red Island Line coaches are old London Underground tube trains from the 1930s and were a fitting way to transport us back in time as we chugged slowly towards Havenstreet.

Havenstreet Station was originally opened in 1875 and is the focal point of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway incorporating a signal box constructed in 1926 and a water tower alongside one of the platforms that supplies the locomotives before they depart.  We boarded our train and watched clouds of steam puff their way over the glossy paintwork on the meticulously restored engines as the pistons urged the machine forward and I waved to Charles Dickens who happened to be wandering up and down the platform.  After a lovely ride through the Island’s unspoilt countryside I got the chance to meet Belle and Busby, two rescued donkeys who were visiting that day.  A beautiful golden eagle watched us from afar and I heard a rumour that Father Christmas had just landed in his grotto and was busy handing out gifts.  Eventually everyone had red noses as the freezing temperatures got through our scarves and beanies and into our bones and dark clouds wafted across the sky giving us our cue to head home.  We waited frozen on the platform sheltering from the drops of rain that threatened to turn to snow until the little red train pulled up to the station for our ride back to Ryde.  John spotted his opportunity for another coffee as we warmed up in the coffee shop at the end of the pier awaiting the fast-cat ferry back to the Portsmouth.  The hovercraft rose effortlessly on its air cushion and glided across the sand to the open water propelled by those huge blowers and that was the last thing I remember until I saw the twinkling street lights of home.

The Ferry Home

We arrived at Fishbourne at 3.30pm and took our place in line for the ferry.  The sun was getting low in the sky, making it gloomy and chilly, so I was pleased when the ferry turned up and we rolled on to the ramp for the journey back to Portsmouth.  As the ferry turned around to face the right way, the gulls flew around the boat and the winter sun glistened on the water.  John decided he would go outside to snap a few pictures and I said I’d join him shortly.  But as I sat comfortably in the warm listening to the humming engines and the splashing of the water against the sides of the ferry, my head lolled sideways and my paws dangled over the edge of the soft seat and I was gone, snoring my furry little head off apparently.

When I came to, Natasha was admiring a rather splendid photo John had taken of the sunset.  I gave my face a quick lick to get the sleep from the eyes and looked around.  I could the Solent Sea Forts coming into view, telling me that we were almost there.  The four forts were built on sandbanks and shoals to defend Portsmouth Harbour from attack and also have the advantage of warning ships about the shallow places and sandy elevations that constitute a hazard to navigation.  The sea forts were the last thing I remembered when I woke up at home in my favourite bed next to the radiator, and I went back to sleep to dream that I was romping through the forests with the beautiful jaguars and the lovely tigers.

Shad goes on the water for the first time

My closest and most daring experience with water to date has always been my mad dash through the shower as John turns it on.  For some reason, I hear the shower door open and the motor start to run and I am overcome with an impulse to hurtle on to the shower floor and leap across it before the water hits.  But my encounters with water took a fresh turn on Sunday when John and I ventured across the seas with John’s daughter Natasha and her little boy.  When I say ‘the seas’, I mean the bit known as the Solent between coastal Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, which from my perspective was like an ocean.

We arrived in Portsmouth, first in the queue for the ferry, and I felt like Jack Sparrow in Pirates, all villainous and swash-buckling, ready to board the Black Pearl.  I got so excited I had to excuse myself for a moment and use the facilities.  The ferry arrived at port and it looked like a giant rusted metal rectangle floating on the shimmering surface of the water.  I looked resolute at John and he smiled reassuringly as he drove the car on to the boat and parked at the front.  I stayed in my travel basket until we found a seat upstairs and got our cameras out.  As we made our way to the outer deck, I could smell the salty sea air and hear the water swell as the Black Pearl parted the waves.

The Solent was calm and a murky turquoise green and the sky was blue with the odd puffy greyish-white cloud overhead.  An aircraft carrier rested motionless at the harbour, speed boats powered past us and huge cargo ships sat ominously in the distance, their boxy silhouettes a reminder of the other world that exists at sea.  The mainland got smaller and the Spinnaker Tower disappeared into the distance as we cruised towards the roughly diamond-shaped island that is known as an area of outstanding natural beauty.  We soon arrived at Fishbourne, disembarked and set off through the narrow pot-holed country lanes and rural landscape towards the dramatic chalky coastline on the other side of the island at Sandown, where I caught sight of our destination.