Whilst this website is mostly about walking, today I’m going to make an exception. Seeing the coast from the sea gives a whole new perspective. You see the cliffs you were walking on top of you sometimes see bays and beaches you cannot legally get to on foot (perhaps because of no footpaths) and you get to see the incredible variety of scenery and how quickly it can change.
There are various companies running boat trips on parts of the UK Coast but sadly there isn’t a boat service along most of it, making this tricky unless you have access to your own boat (I don’t) and know how to drive a boat (I also don’t). Sadly nothing like the Hurtigruten service that Norway enjoys exists in Britain.
However there is a boat that does occasional trips along the coast of Britain and that is the Waverley. Waverley is a paddle steamer that entered service in 1947, operated by the London and North Eastern Railway she operated as passenger ferry, operating services in the Firth of Clyde. The ferry service was later nationalised and eventually became Caledonian MacBrayne (or CalMac) the company which today still runs most of the ferries in Scotland, including the majority of routes on the Firth of Clyde. Waverley was withdrawn from service by CalMac in 1973. There was growing demand for cars to be able to travel on the ferries and Waverley was a passenger vehicle. In addition more modern boats offered more efficient propulsion, so she was considered outdated and expensive to operate and taken out of service.
This was not the end for Waverley however. She was purchased for £1 by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society with the aim of restoring her and operating trips around the coast. This seemed a very ambitious aim. However successful fundraising meant Waverley was restored and began a series of trips around the British coast less than 2 years later. With a few breaks for repairs (often extensive, taking a year or more) Waverley has continued in this role ever since and is now the oldest sea-going paddle steamer still in operating in the world and is celebrating 75 years this year.
The Waverley Excursions website shows details of the trips Waverley is operating in 2022 and the fares and you can book tickets on the website. It is also possible to buy tickets on board on the day if space is available (tickets are only actually checked on getting off the boat, not when you get on).
She was taken out of service in 2019 for a boiler replacement, which was carried out over the following winter and could only operate in a limited capacity in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid restrictions. However in 2022 Waverley has resumed the tradition of leaving her native waters of the Firth of Clyde for a couple of months of the year to operate cruises on other parts of the British coast too.
In 2022 this includes a couple of weeks on the south coast and the Thames estuary. I was aware of Waverley and had seen her before and had vague plans that it was something I’d like to do one day. However coming across a leaflet I discovered I was actually free on of the weekends Waverley would be on the south coast operating a cruise from Southampton to Lulworth Cove and back. The price was £55, not cheap, but not crazy expensive either. So I thought I’d book and have a day cruising the coast of Hampshire, The Isle of Wight and Dorset. I was a little irritated to discover on booking there was also a mandatory fuel supplement of £4 (this sort of practice annoys me, just include it in the ticket). However given the trip took 10 hours in total I still thought this was good value for money, especially on reading the leaflet that came with the tickets and discovering that when running at normal cruising speed it costs £12 a minute to operate Waverley!
Fortunately on the day the weather forecast was good so I was somewhat dismayed to open my bedroom curtains to a misty grey, drizzly morning. I had originally planned to travel on the train to Southampton (which would allow me to have a drink or two on board), but weekend engineering works meant no trains at all from my local station and I’d have to endure nearly an hour on a “rail replacement” bus just to get to Basingstoke. So I abandoned that plan and drove instead, it took me under an hour to reach a car park near Southampton Central station.
Mystery surrounded the departure point in Southampton when I booked. The leaflet simply said the departure point in Southampton would be advised shortly before departure and to check the website. In fact I got an email stating that there would be a bus departing Southampton Central station 20 minutes before Waverley was due to depart (which was 10am) which would take us to the port.
Arriving in time the buses were already there. I wondered if Waverley would depart from the town quay or perhaps the cruise terminal? No. It turned out she would be departing from about the grottiest bit of Southampton Docks, around derelict buildings and waste ground about a mile from the station. Still it was an opportunity to see parts of the dock not normally accessible to the public (most of the roads through the docks are private and gated). The departure point was in fact right next to the container port. Southampton is a major port, for cruise ships, ferries, container ships and more.
The plan for the day is that Waverley would sail to Lulworth Cove stopping at Yarmouth and Swanage on the way and the same again on the way back. As I was on the first bus from Southampton I took the opportunity to have a look around the ship before it got too busy.
Heading below deck there is this is a corridor that goes either side of the engines.
I was pleasantly surprised you can walk through here and view the engine (and feel the heat from it). In fact the only toilets on board are down here and the metal area on the floor is where the shaft for the paddle wheels comes out from the engine. The engine is a triple-expansion steam engine giving 2100hp.
I later took a video of this in operating which is quite an impressive sight.
Upstairs was a restaurant (where I had lunch), which serves hot meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) as well as sandwiches, cakes and so on.
I also found this lovely old poster of the Firth of Clyde where Waverley has operated for most of her life.
It was fun to trace out the parts I have walked already!
There is also a bar
With another small “snug” lower down. On deck is a viewing area for when the weather is not so good (as you see, it was not getting much use today as the weather was good).
The view from where Waverley birthed was not too scenic!
However on deck you could see all the lovely wooden panneling, which I’m sure must take a lot of looking after.
Further down Southampton Water could be seen several cruise ships. These would all depart today as they had gone when we came back.
Whilst on the other side of Waverley was a huge container ship and it was interesting to watch the cranes unloading the containers.
Soon it was time to depart. Waverley is not the most manoeuvrable of vessels by modern standards (the paddle wheels on either side cannot operate at different speeds for example) and so has a large turning circle. This meant a tug was needed to get out of the birth (though this was the only time on the whole trip a tug was used).
Looking down Southampton Water I could already see the Solent ahead and the Isle of Wight beyond.
Soon we passed the Queen Mary 2, soon to depart on a voyage to New York. It looked like the lifeboats were being tested before departure. She had left by the time we returned to Southampton 10 hours later.
Next to it was a smaller cruise ship, Balmoral.
I’m not sure where this ship was going, but it had also left by the time we got to Southampton.
Lastly was a huge cruise ship, Anthem of the Seas. Given the name of the company I assume it was going to somewhere in the carribean.
I don’t like cruise ships so large, it’s like a floating town! I did wonder how long it would take to get on and off the boat at each port. I don’t think I’d enjoy a trip on such a large boat.
Further down we passed the Town Quay. Here ferry services run to Cowes (both East and West) on the Isle of Wight and across Southampton Water to Hythe. There was one of the Ref Funnel ferries just arriving as we passed.
Beyond the town quay was a huge car-carrying ferry.
Southampton port is used to import cars from abroad and presumably there was many on board this ferry, which we saw departing on the way back. In fact it soon became apparent that Waverley liked to sound her whistle at passing vessels, most of whom responded in kind.
Looking back, Southampton was soon receding into the distance.
We soon rounded the corner, out of Southampton Water and into the Solent, passing Calshot.
This was one of the attractions for me of this trip. Much of the coast of the New Forest is sadly private and out of bounds to walkers and I remember having to walk on roads a mile or so inland, so now I could see parts of the coast I couldn’t walk before, albeit from a distance (we were much closer to the coast of the Isle of Wight).
Beyind the beach huts can be seen the towers of Fawley Refinery, a large oil refinery along part of Southampton Water.
There used to be a power station here too, but it was demolished a few years ago. I soon spotted somewhere I did recognise, Lepe.
It’s about the only beach on the New Forest coast and is a country park with large car park, so populate with visitors.
Looking the other way was the yachting centre of Cowes on the Isle of Wight, famed for Cowes Week.
Now I was enjoying views of parts of the coast I’ve not been able to walk. Much of it was wooded, as you might expect given the name (New Forest), but dotted with some large houses.
I think this is Bucklers Hard, at the mouth of the Beauiue river.
The refinery at Fawley was still very much in evidence, though.
Continuing west I could enjoy more views of the otherwise inaccessible coast.
Lymington soon came into view. This is the main town on the coast at the south west corner of the New Forest. Another popular sailing and yachting centre, ferries also operate from here to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. The distance between Lymington and Yarmouth is only around 3 miles. For this, for foot passengers alone (it’s MUCH more expensive to take a car) the ferry company Wightlink currently charge £19.40 for a day return (and more for a period return). Given the distance I had already travelled on Waverley the fare of £59 was looking very reasonable (and you could pay less if you only went Southampton to Yarmouth). It is crazy how expensive the ferries are to the Isle of Wight and it is said that it is the most expensive ferry crossing per mile in the world (I haven’t verified this, but can well believe it). By way of comparison perhaps this is why I always find the ferries in Scotland to be cheap, as this is what I’m often comparing with!
Soon I could see Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight ahead, and here is one of the ferries in the port.
I was expecting us to dock at Yarmouth. I know that Waverley doesn’t use the ferry terminal but is meant to dock at the end of Yarmouth Pier. Yet we sailed straight passed! I wondered if no one was scheduled to get on or off here, so we had simply skipped the stop?
Anyway beyond Yarmouth, here is Fort Victoria named after Queen Victoria, who loved the island.
A little further along the coast is Fort Albert, named of course after Queen Victoria’s husband and beyond can be seen the famous white chalk stacks of the Needles at the western tip of the island.
On the mainland there are fine views of Hurst Castle and the lighthouse. The oldest parts of the castle date from the time of Henry VIII and it is built at the end of a narrow shingle spit. Unfortunately it’s exposed location was to be the downfall when part of the wall collapsed a couple of years ago in a storm and is now being repaired. You can see the missing part of the wall on my photo below (and the extensive rock armour put in front of the castle walls to try to protect it). At the time this part of the castle wall was unprotected and the sea came up to the walls at high tide. English Heritage was aware of this, but was too slow to act and it was undermined and collapsed.
Anyway the mystrey was soon solved as Waverley began to turn to head back to Yarmouth. I’m not sure why she over shot (the same happened on the return journey) so I assume it was intentional.
There was quite a crowd on the pie!
Piers like this were of course originally built for steamers like Waverley to use. Many fell into disrepair when they ceased and modern ferries, being mostly roll on, roll off ferries need dedicated docks, not piers. So it must be a challenge to find suitable piers to dock at. I know for example Waverley used to serve Bournemouth Pier, but neglect of the pier by the Council there means the landing stage at the end of the pier is now so badly deteriorated it is unsafe to use, so Waverley no longer stops in Bournemouth.
Yarmouth Pier was itself extensively restored, I think around the millennium and there are the names of people that contributed money printed on the planks along the pier. Today there was a huge crowd gathered. Some were due to board Waverley, some meeting passengers on board and many just to watch. A gate had been put in to keep the public back from the end of the pier and there were quite a few staff members at the end of the pier.
It turns out Waverley docking is quite a spectacle, with several ropes needing to be thrown to staff on the pier (some of which missed and had to be hauled in and thrown again) and tied up then pulleys on board the ship pull it gradually closer until the gang-plank can be put out for passengers to get on and off.
Soon this was done and passengers could get on. In general more got on than off but we also had some musicians playing violins and guitar who had I believe been involved in a folk festival and were given permission by the crew on the ship to play on the outer deck as we crossed over to Dorset, which added a nice atmosphere. It was a pleasant warm day, a little over 20 degrees and calm so it was nice to be able to spend most of the crossing on the deck without being cold.
Now back on the move, we passed Hurst Castle once more.
Now the captain took us in close to the spectacular Needles at the west side of the island. Fortunately weather conditions were calm enough to allow this, as the Needles are often very windy. In fact in Storm Eunice in February this year (2022) a wind speed of 122mph was recorded here, the highest ever recorded in England.
I also got to see Fort Albert from the coast side (it’s much more attractive this side than the landward side).
Beyond it was the famous beach of Alum Bay, known for it’s coloured sands.
Now it was time for a closer look at the Needles.
Waverley soon picked up speed as we left. The next port of call was Swanage Pier. Here too are white chalk cliffs and millions of years ago the chalk cliffs were joined to the Isle of Wight and the Solent a river, but eventually the water broke through making the Isle of Wight an island. Now we were heading directly for Swanage, though this did mean being further out to sea, views of the coast were a little more limited.
I used this opportunity to have a roast lunch from the restaurant. Somewhere we crossed to Dorset and here I could now make out Hengistbury Head at the eastern end of Poole Bay, behind which is Christchurch Harbour.
Behind, the Isle of Wight is gradually receding into the distance. (The flag was flying at half mast due to the sad death of Queen Elizabeth II a few days before).
Ahead, the chalk cliffs at Swanage can already be seen.
In the distance to my right I can also see Bournemouth (where Waverley used to stop).
After lunch, the coast of Dorset was now far closer.
There are now more chalk stacks, these known as Old Harry Rocks and mark the start of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, which includes all the coast west from here as far as Orcombe Point near Exmouth in Devon.
Rounding the corner we were now entering Swanage bay. It’s a pretty town in a beautiful location with the rolling Purbeck Hills behind the town (which you can follow for a few miles to Corfe Castle).
Waverley was docking at Swanage Pier. I come to Swanage several times a year (and spent a few days staying in the town over New Year this year) and I have never seen so many people on the pier!
I think you have to pay to access the pier and if I remember rightly it was also restored about 20 years or so ago.
Once again the docking process was fun to watch and this time the staff catching the ropes were on the lower deck (you can see their High-Vis jackets on the photo above) so the public could still use all the top level. Again the docking was quite fun with ropes being thrown (some missing) before eventually being tied securely.
More people got off here than got on as the company was also offering the possibility of a trip on the Swanage Steam Railway up to Corfe Castle and back, to rejoin Waverley for the return journey. I guess the prospect of travelling on a steam power boat and train on the same day was too much for many to resist!
Soon we were on our way and this was the part I was looking forward to the most. This part of the coast is one of the most spectacular in Britain (and the world) and now I got to see it up close from the sea, which I’ve never done before.
Rounding the corner at Peveril Point the fast-flowing tide was in our favour and Waverley reached a speed of 17 knots.
Now rounding the corner these flats on the edge of Swanage certainly look vulnerable, with a large cliff fall just below them.
Durlston Castle soon came into view. After many years in dereliction this was restored and re-opened a few years ago and is now the cafe and visitor centre for Durlston Country Park.
This whole area, Purbeck, is famed for it’s high quality stone which has built or clad many buildings all over the world and of course as a result there are many quarries to be seen on this part of the coast.
Ahead now I could see the lighthouse at Anvil Point.
Below it, you can see the evidence of old quarries. Heading a little further along I got a view from a different angle.
To the bottom right you can see the Tilly Whim caves, caves created by old quarrying. Many years ago (I think before I was even born) these were open to the public as a visitor attraction (my dad remembers visiting it), but have of course since been closed as too dangerous.
Above the two white posts are the first of two mile markers, which have been used to measure ships speed (the idea being when the two posts line up you start timing and there are another two posts a mile west, so when you line up with those, a mile has been travelled).
Heading west from Durlston is now a coast of many quarries. None are in use any more, but the remains can clearly be seen and you can walk in the caves at some of them.
One thing I hadn’t realised you’d be able to see is the village of Worth Matrevers, you an see it above the cliffs above, it’s just over a mile inland so I hadn’t realised it could be seen from the coast (you can’t see it from the coast path).
Waverley had now reached St Aldhelm’s Head, with spectacular high clfifs.
Beyond it I remember a long haul down and then straight back up on the coast path, so it was nice to see it from the sea where I didn’t have to go so much effort!
Beyond is Chapman’s Pool a beautiful place quite similar to Lulworth Cove but with grey clay soil rather than chalk and far fewer people (there is no car park close by and access is difficult, though not impossible).
It actually doesn’t look anything like as spectacular from the sea as from the coast path.
To the west is Houns-tout cliff and it’s a long haul up on the coast path!
West of here the geology changes again as we approach Kimmeridge with the famous ledges in the cliffs very visible.
Soon Kimmeridge Bay itself came into view.
The tower here, Clavell Tower was move back stone-by-stone a few years ago and is now a holiday cottage. The road down to the beach is private and is a toll road.
West of here the cliffs become even more spectacular. The forces that shaped them must have been incredible and here are two distinct layers of very different rock, almost like the ones on top have been built on top (though of course, it is entirely natural).
We have now entered the Lulworth Ranges. The army use of this land is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it has kept it from development. A curse because it is mostly only accessible to the public at weekends as a consequence and I suspect Waverley can only sail here at weekends when the range is not in use as the Danger Area spreads out to sea.
One of the most impressive beaches in this area is Worbarrow Bay which we were now passing.
It doesn’t look as good from the sea as from the coast path, actually.
Heading west we passed some more remote beaches, Arish Mell and Mupe Bay (the former still inaccessible to the public, though many climb over the fence anyway).
There are rock stacks off Mupe Bay and it was lovely to see them from the other side.
Now we had reached Lulworth Cove and the end of the Lulworth Ranges.
The cove is beautiful but does get very crowded in the summer. Boat trips do operate from there and there is a small jetty on the beach. I did wonder if we were going to head into the cove, but it was soon clear that Waverley is too big to be able to get into the cove, so this is as close as we can get.
Now this was advertised as the turning point, where Waverley would turn and begin the journey back to Southampton. Fortunately we had made good time so the captain opted to continue a little further, to Durdle Door. I was very pleased about this!
Here is Stair Hole and the busy path up to Durdle Door an be seen on the cliffs behind.
Now we got to see Durdle Door from the back, which I’ve never done before.
The captain explained it has been called the dragon and from here I can really see it, like a dragon with the left end of the door being it’s head, drinking from the water. I hadn’t heard of this before, but it certainly does look like that.
A sight seeing boat also headed out to see Waverley.
Now sadly, it was time to head back.
Out to sea, the Isle of Portland can be seen. I’d love to have continued on a bit further but sadly that wasn’t possible. I did wonder if Waverley could dock at Weymouth (then you could return to Southampton by train) but if it can, it wasn’t going to do so this year.
Here inside can be seen the original plaque from when the ship was built on the Clyde in Glasgow, 75 years ago.
The ship yard where she was built no longer exists. A&J Inglis was taken over by Harland and Wolff who later closed the yard on the Clyde (though they are still a large ship builder in Belfast).
The boat headed back a little further out, but it was nice to see a slightly different view.
Soon we were back to Swanage Bay.
After docking again at Swanage, Waverley continued east towards Yarmouth.
Here is Milford on Sea.
Many people were still on deck enjoying the views, just like me.
This time the captain took as in closer to the Dorset shore, so here is a closer view of Milford on Sea.
Then we had a run alongside the spectacular Hurst Spit, which stretches for about a mile.
Beyond Hurst Castle we were now approaching Yarmouth once more. Again we seemed to “over-shoot” and then turn back, I’m not sure why. Now it was into the evening, there were fewer people on the pier, I think mostly just passengers.
The ferry passengers also got a good view and we could exchange waves with the passengers on the deck of Wight Light.
Leaving Yarmouth the sun was now getting low, but it was still pleasantly warm.
Continuing east from Yarmouth we were soon nearing Southampton Water as the sun now began to set.
Here you can see Calshot as the sun is setting.
There is a castle here and the long low building was used as a Sea Plane base during World War II whilst the control tower like structure is now used by the National Coast Watch.
Here is the sunset over Fawley Refinery.
On the east side of Southampton Water I spotted the Royal Victoria Country Park (not all of Southampton Water is industrial).
Dusk was turning to night as Waverley headed further up Southampton Water to the container port and her berth for the night.
It was interesting to see the change, now it was getting dark.
Now all the cruise ships that were here this morning had all gone.
Waverley didn’t need tugs to birth and sadly now the trip was at an end. Of course one issue about spending the entire day on the boat is I never actually get to photograph the ship herself, so this is about the best I could do in the dark from the rather grotty berth in Southampton.
Having disembarked it was now time to take the bus back to the station where I had a couple of minutes walk back to the car park for the drive home, though it took less than an hour for me to drive home.
What a fantastic trip it had been. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was so glad I had chosen to come on it. It was wonderful to see such spectacular bits of the coast up close. I’m very grateful for the charity that operates Waverley and all her staff. I can’t begin to imagine the difficulties in operating a 75-year old steam ship with hundreds of passengers aboard when she was designed at a very different time. To keep it going for so long is a remarkable achievement and I hope Waverley will continue to be able to sail around the coast of Britain for very many more years.
In fact I enjoyed it so much I plan to take another trip next year if the dates work for me. Waverley normally operates a cruising season during the summer months only. For much of that time she operates around Glasgow but generally travels away from the area for a couple of months. I have it from the crew that the intention next year is she will spend some time on the coast around the Bristol Channel, so I hope to be able to take a trip there if this turns out to be the case.
All in all it was a wonderful trip on a beautiful (and very well maintained boat) with good facilities and friendly crew. I thought it was actually very good value for 10 hours cruising the water of the south coast. The only negative comments I had heard is warnings that the ship can get unpleasantly over-crowded. Given the cost to operate Waverley it is understandably the charity that does so wants to get many paying passengers on board as it would otherwise be un-economic even as a charity to do these trips. However whilst it was busy at no point did I think it was over-crowded. There was always space on deck to enjoy the view or sit down and I there always seemed to be seats free inside too, so I had no issues with the number of people on board and it was a pleasant atmosphere with everyone appearing to enjoy themselves.
Details of the trips Waverley is running can be found on the website – Waverley Excursions. For 2022 Waverley is operating on the South Coast until 21st September, then running cruises in London (including passing through Tower Bridge) and the Thames Estuary from the 23rd September until the 9th October and then for a final weekend of the season back on the Clyde near Glasgow from the 15th October. Hopefully the schedule for 2023 will be announced soon.