FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Brown leaves, blue skies and red squirrels

Posted in England, Poole by folkestonejack on October 16, 2020

It is hard to imagine a better antidote to a year spent largely cooped up in a single room than a trip to Brownsea Island in the autumn. All it takes is a twenty minute ride by ferry from the quayside in Poole and you are off wandering the pathways through this magical wildlife sanctuary.

Arriving at Brownsea Island

As an outdoor attraction Brownsea Island is ideally suited to the world of covid-safe sightseeing which means online ticket purchases for boat and island access, a socially distanced queue on Poole quayside and seats well spaced out on the ferries across to the island. To ensure that numbers on the return boats don’t exceed the reduced capacity you are given a return ferry time as part of your booking.

It soon became clear that three hours on the island wouldn’t be anywhere near long enough. To be honest, you could spend the entire time absorbed by the sight of red squirrels darting about the woodland gathering nuts. On first entering the woodland I thought there was nothing to see but then you hear a little rustle here and there, then out of nowhere a squirrel appears. Stand still, stay quiet, and the scene comes to life around you.

I wanted to see the whole island so I didn’t spend all my time watching the squirrels but I could see the logic to the approach of the dedicated photographers with massive lenses who found a spot and stuck with it. I’m quite sure such patience must have been rewarded with some wonderful close-up photographs, especially with the autumnal leaves as a backdrop. I managed some grab shots but I can see the effort it takes to get a really sharp freeze-frame of that frenetic activity.

A less than sharp shot of a friendly red squirrel

Before I arrived my knowledge of Brownsea Island was limited to its place in Scouting history, but soon came to discover that there was much more to the story of the island. The island was the location of an experimental camp set up by Baden-Powell, testing ideas that would later be encapsulated in the book “Scouting for Boys” (1908). There are a couple of statues of Baden-Powell – one on Poole quayside and one on the island. Many of the views of its creator are rightly seen as unacceptable now but there’s no doubting that the movement he created has done a lot of good.

I naively assumed that Brownsea Island had always been uninhabited, so it was fascinating to learn that the opposite was true. The island has been inhabited for around 2,000 years and some of its owners have been instrumental in shaping the development of the island.

William Benson purchased the island in 1722 and created the castle, now a hotel for John Lewis partners, which is one of the first landmarks you see as the ferry docks at the pier. Other owners have shaped the island as dramatically, but their contributions are not always as obvious. William Waugh built a pottery on the southern shore with homes for its workers in the village of Maryland. The village and pottery are long gone, but the rubble footprint of the village can still be seen and broken pieces of pottery are clearly visible in the water around the island. Thankfully, the church he built is still very much in evidence.

St Mary’s Church

At the opening of the twentieth century the island had become a country retreat for the wealthy van Raalte family, transforming the island into a secluded spot that attracted royalty. Hard as it is to imagine now, the island featured a nine hole golf course, working farm and daffodil fields. All of this was swept away when the island was sold to Mary Bonham Christie in 1927. Under her ownership the island population were told to leave and the landscape allowed to return to its natural state. On her death the island was acquired by the National Trust and has thrived in their care.

I enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed circular walk of the island, with hardly a soul in sight. The squirrels were everywhere (including some showing signs of leprosy) but there were also peahens, sika deer and a rich catalogue of birds whose chatter I enjoyed even if I could not name a single species. Along the way I had the chance to see some of the remains of the island’s past with the old vinery, the beautiful south shore and the clifftop views across the water to Arne.

One of the sights you see everywhere on the island is racks of fire-beaters and there is good reason for this. A terrible week long fire in 1934 ravaged the island with fifty-foot high flames, destroying acres of woodland. Another sobering sight, in these times, was a hand sanitizer station in the middle of the woodland.

A hand sanitizer station in the woodlands

You could easily spend an entire day on the island, mesmerised by the wonders of the natural world, but my time came to an end all too quickly. I had one last chance to see the red squirrels in the woodland walk. Needless to say there were a few more photos as squirrels briefly stepped into patches of dappled light.

The island is inevitably quieter than usual with no camping, reduced ferry-loads and many facilities closed (the visitor centre, outdoor centre and trading post are currently shut). The Villano cafe is still open – serving a limited range of food and a small selection of items from the shop. The grounds of the cafe also form the waiting area for the boats back to the mainland (a one way system to/from the pier is in operation).

I took the 9.30 boat over to the island which meant I was required to take the 1pm ferry back. My stay on the island may only have lasted three hours, but I was happy to get a chance to visit in this strangest of years. I am quite sure that I will be back. There are good reasons to return, including the possibility of checking out the new hide currently under construction (“The Lookout”) which will offer terrific views over the lagoon.

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Diesel convoy

Posted in Eastleigh, England, Poole by folkestonejack on May 5, 2011

The Swanage Railway’s annual diesel gala and beer festival is a great occasion in a beautiful location and I usually try to make it down there for at least one day. On this occasion I couldn’t make it but did manage to see the diesel convoys heading to the gala, witnessing the combination of two class 73 electro-diesels (73136 ‘Perseverance’ and 73205 ‘Jeanette’) and one Crompton (D6515) depart from Eastleigh.

Later in the day, I saw the convoy on a second occasion as it passed through Holes Bay, Poole with 1498 3 CIG. A second convoy passed through a little later in the day (with 57601, 37503, 55009, 56301 and D1062) but I only managed a grab shot of this one and it’s probably best that it doesn’t see the light of day!