On the Choo-Choo Train

There is one thing we can never pass up if we are around, and that is an old steam railway. Of course they have one on Isle of Wight, and with our very handy buss pass, we could make a very comfortable round trip to the south-east part of the island, where the old Victorians used to go for holiday. The young Elisabethans seem to enjoy it as well, but the English summer holidays were still a few weeks away when we were there and the beaches were hardly crowded. Not that we are into beach life, at all. We are more into constantly moving, slowly, from waterhole to waterhole; that is: pubs, cream tea shops, cafés, and restaurants.

Plant a flag: the English way to conquer the world.
If you want such a leisurely pace to really work for you, you have to be meticulous about your research. These museum trains and summer-only operated railway lines often have a very restricted schedule, and if you want to get the most of your day (and not go peckish unnecessarily), do plan ahead. This is my job, and I usually get it right.

So, we set off in the morning by bus to Wootton (it can be hard to know where to get off, but busdrivers are always helpful that way), which was one end-station on the small bit of track left for the steamtrain. We weren´t the only excited holiday makers waiting, and if I hadn´t known that Mick Aston was no longer on this Earth, I would have thought he was there. Doppelgänger!

The central railway station was Havenstreet, and we stayed there for about an hour while the train made one turn back and forth between Wootton and Smallbrook Junction, where we were eventually getting off to take the railcar to Shanklin. Actually, that was an old London tube train that had been retired to summer duty on the Isle of Wight.

There is much to do at Havenstreet; they have a museum, a shop, a workshop where you can see the enthusiasts working to keep their railroad tiptop. There is also a café where you can buy the famous Minghella ice cream, which I know about from a documentary about ice cream that was on television a few years ago. The Minghellas are from Italy and came to the Isle of Wight in the 50´s. The famous director Anthony Minghella is one of theirs, and for every one of his premiers they composed a special flavour ice cream. I would have liked to try the Ripley ice cream, but it was not available. I had the Famous Vanilla and it was very nice. They do some pretty interesting flavours, if that´s your thing.

Consumption may be a thing of the past, but spitting is still objectionable.


As it was Saturday and lunchtime, we were lucky enough to see and hear a band while we had our Minghellas. It was really a great day, lots of people, and that generosity of spirit that make them hold the train for five minutes so that even the slower folk can get on. It was simply my favourite kind of place to be! 

We then finally got off in Shanklin, which is one of those quaint Victorian seaside resorts. We had lunch, and by the time we got to the end of the promenade, we found ourselves at the entrance of something called the Shanklin Chine. Chine (pronunced tʃaɪn) is a local word for ravine, and in this particular ravine, a park has been built along the stream that runs through it. They have some birds in cages, a small museum, a café (of course), and I imagine it would have been a cool place of refuge from the hot sun for the ever properly dressed Victorians. There is also on display, in situ as it were, a piece of the PLUTO, the PipeLine Under The Ocean, that supplied the allied troups with fuel after the D-day landings. How cool is that?


At the top of the chine one comes out at the Shanklin Old Village and a very conveniently situated pub. After taking care of our thirst, we hopped on a bus to Ventnor, another, smaller, seaside resort further south down the coast. There we had some cream tea and just generally smiled contentedly, which is my dictionary´s translation of the Swedish word mysa. It´s not an altogether satisfactory translation, mysa is more about an inner state than an outward expression. But being content is certainly part of it.

All in all, a glorious day, which is just the thing to sit and remember when the darkness of winter envelops us as early as four o´clock in the afternoon...