As the days are getting longer and dare we suggest it, a little warmer too, we thought it was time to go down to the sea again. So here are a few coastal destinations we love, spread over just 50 miles of coast, and within easy reach by train.
1 Hour 45 minutes from Waterloo
Let’s start with the shining star of the south coast. Bournemouth has been wowing the seaward bound for years and it shows in its time-travelling looks. A smattering of hipster coffee shops and chi-chi beach huts have sprung up but there’s still the whiff of kiss-me-quick fun here too. And much of the architecture harks back to its Victorian heyday.
It’s like getting a fun-size pack of trips in one. You can simply head down to Bomo to smell the sea air and eat the candy floss while wandering the seven-mile-long beach... Or you can go down the cream tea route after taking in the beautiful art deco Boscombe Pier. Our fave attraction on the pier is feeding the fish via the medium of golf. Then there’s the thriving entertainment scene including the Bournemouth International Centre, it’s sister venue the Pavilion Theatre and the O2 Academy. So you can either plan your route or just turn up and trust that there’s bound to be something here that takes your fancy.
Just over an hour from Basingstoke
Founded in the 7th Century, and close to Bournemouth, Christchurch had a good 11 centuries of existence before that noisy neighbour turned up,. It still pulls in the visitors though, with attractions both ancient and modern.
The Priory has been around for 900 years and you can take one of the tours before enjoying a well earned slice of cake in the cafe. If you want great views of the Isle of White and the chance of some successful crabbing then Mudeford Quay is the place to be – it’s a 50-minute stroll from the station but there’s also a taxi rank at hand.
Christchurch Castle comes in two parts: a motte-and-bailey castle and The Norman house which was begun in 1100 by one of the lads who crossed the channel with William the Conqueror, back when he was just William. It’s a couple of wonderful slabs of history and the Norman House is one of the few examples of Norman domestic architecture we have left.
Just over an hour from Salisbury
Hamble, as it’s known by the locals, is a beautiful bijoux village with amazing riverside views and a bustling marina. Calm meanderings are the aim of the game and a 30-minute walk from the station will have you at The Quay where there are pubs, restaurants and even a ferry that will take you across the river to Warsash for further wandering.
Heading west from the station you’ll come to Royal Victoria Country Park with its miniature railway and children’s play park. The park hides a fantastical history having once been the site of the largest hospital in the world, but now only the chapel remains.
If you want to hop on a train to get the city out of your head, there can be few better places than humble Hamble for looking across the calming water, surrounded by soothing greenery.
Get the bus from Shanklin station
Good things come to those who wait but the Victorian haven of Ventnor is just 1 hour 55 minutes from Portsmouth. This tiny treasure of a town has its own microclimate – which back in the health-obsessed 1800s transformed it from a tiny fishing town into a bustling resort filled with sanatoriums. The town has calmed down now but it’s still a popular destination – not least because that microclimate means getting in the sea here is a lot easier than in other parts of the nearby coast.
It’s not just the climate that’s micro in Ventnor either – the size of the place means that while it has a beach, and even an amusement arcade and the regimental trappings of a British seaside resort – it’s all done on a modest and incredibly charming scale.
The botanical gardens are definitely worth a visit if you venture to Ventnor – filled with sub-tropical and exotic flora, it’s open daily and has a range of events and activities running through the year. They even grow their own hops, which they then turn into beer, which is available to drink. Oh yes.
Get the heritage train from Wareham – 40mins every hour.
Swanage is one of Britain’s most beautiful spots so, to us, it’s worth the extra travel time of getting the heritage train from Wareham. (Wareham is about an hour from Southampton Central).
When you arrive here you’ll find a quiet English town stitched like a particularly ornate button to the hem of the land as it gives way to the sea. It’s flanked on either side by the huge hills that funnel the land to the ocean so expect beautiful greenery, seaside shops, parks and a heritage railway that makes for a heavenly day trip.
As well as the tiny, popular, harbourside town and the beach, Swanage is also wonderful for turning your back on the sea and heading back inland. If you can get up to those hills you’ll find views to make your heart glad and amazing tiny towns to explore. Those hamlets include the delightful Worth Matravers, home to the fantastic Square and Compass pub – though that is a trek at around 2 1/2 hours of walking.
1 hour 30 minutes from Southampton
Weymouth wears its maritime history on its waterproofed sleeve, and well it might – it’s been a seaport since the 1200s. The beach, the harbour and the impressive Nothe Fort as well as tons of events throughout the year attract daytrippers and holidaymakers and serve them well.
Weymouth Old Harbour is the ideal place to wander around and pick up a nautical knick knack. Here you’ll find boats of all shapes and sizes bobbing along and you can hop aboard for a trip along the Jurassic Coast or just get the ferry over to Portland. Anyone with sturdy sea legs can consider getting a rowing boat to shuttle you over to Nothe Fort. Here you’ll find a formidable fort and gardens that flank the west side of the harbour and, in summer months, you can grab yourself a picnic and eat it up on the ramparts with a stunning view down the coast.
Photo credit: Visit Dorset