Hi all. Sorry for the lack of posts recently – unfortunately due to various events and health issues my walking has been somewhat curtailed this year…..although on the positive side I have had my mountain bike out a lot more. This is because two of my health issues have involved twisted ankles which prevented me from walking but not from cycling. I am now fully recovered and looking forward to some great autumn walks :)!
THE FLOATING BRIDGE
I thought I would post a blog about two valuable but very different Dorset ferries, the first of these being the Sandbanks Chain Ferry which plies its trade transporting cars across the entrance to Poole Harbour. It is classified as a ‘floating bridge’.
The Bramblebush Bay
Poole Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world with around 36 square kilometers of water and 100 miles of coastline but the entrance is just 300 meters wide. The peninsulas either side of the entrance were originally just sand spits without roads but now the situation is considerably different with the northern peninsula particularly, Sandbanks, now being covered with houses, some of the most expensive real estate in the world – you would need to be a multi-millionaire just to buy a plot of land here!
Studland Heath with the harbour entrance and the Sandbanks Ferry in the distance
It was in the early 1900’s that the first idea for crossing the harbour entrance was muted. The suggestion was that this should be a transporter bridge although the proposal failed, as did several other schemes. From the early 1900’s foot passengers were catered for as a rowing boat ferry operated during the summer, carrying passengers across to the wild and remote Shell Bay – this must have been really hard work especially when the strong tides were running through that narrow harbour entrance. This first ferry was eventually changed to a motor boat service.
It was just before the First World War that the suggestion was made that a vehicle ferry should be set up and some 9 years later, the Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road And Ferry Company was formed to progress this. Roads needed to be built and slipways formed with Purbeck Stone being brought in from the Dorset coastal quarries either overland or by barge. With some of the land being boggy marshlands, copious amounts were needed. On 15th July 1926, the first ferry, a coal fired, steam driven craft carrying up to 15 cars, commenced service. This continued to operate for over 30 years, although the whole area was taken over by the military during the Second World War.
Traffic boarding the ferry in the evening light
In the mid 1950’s, a new and larger ferry was installed. This carried up to 28 cars and again operated for some 35 years before being taken out of service. The current ferry, The Bramblebush Bay, came into service in 1994 and was larger again with a length of 244 feet and a beam of 54 feet. This carries up to 48 cars but when fully loaded still has a draught of just 3 feet 9 inches.
The ferry operates on two hardened steel chains, each 1,235 feet long, anchored at either side of the harbour entrance. Wear and tear on the chain causes it to stretch and two links have to be taken out each fortnight in order to maintain the optimum length. Although there are two chains, the ferry actually drives on one side at a time only (the side farthest from the flowing tide) in order to make it easier to manouvre at the slipway and to reduce cost. There is a tremendous strain on the chains, especially when a strong tide is flowing and a chain has been known to break – the most recent was in July this year and the suggestion is that the cross channel ferry that passes through the harbour entrance may have clipped the chain on its way through at low tide although this was not proven. The chains are replaced every 15/18 months and the old ones sold off – I bought a 1.5 meter length as a feature for my garden and it took two of us to lift it into the car boot, such is the weight!
Sunset from the Sandbanks Ferry
To travel on the Sandbanks Ferry is a delight and there is no better way to start and finish a walk. It is one of my regular haunts and I thoroughly enjoy both the quirkiness and the amazing views, especially at sunrise and sunset.
THE WEYMOUTH ROWING BOAT FERRY
This is a much different but equally delightful, and quirky, ferry service and it operates to carry passengers across the Weymouth Harbour entrance. It is a short trip and saves around a mile of walking because without it you have to cross at the nearest bridge. It costs the princely sum of £1 but I like it so much that I always pay more. The ferry has operated for over 60 years and is one of the oldest of its type in the UK.
I walk this part of the Dorset coast regularly because it is from here that I start my annual 4 day end to end backpack. I catch the early train to Weymouth and always start day one with a bacon sandwich on the sea front. Partly the reason for this ritual is that the rowboat ferry doesn’t start until 10.30 am and although I could easily walk to the bridge, I much prefer to cross by the ferry – this, and the Sandbanks Ferry above, is just one of those things that makes Dorset such a great place to walk :)!
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
The Dorset Rambler.
If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com – comments and feedback are welcomed.
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Thanks for an interesting article. I live in Broadstone so the chain ferry is just down the road from me. Its amazing what you don’t know. 🙂
Thanks TSoS 🙂
I lived in Swanage for a while, several years back, and used to love going across on the chain ferry. Interesting article explaining its history.
Thanks for an interesting post and all the information. When I was a child we used to go to Studland beach in the summer and sometimes we would take the chain ferry, I can still remember looking at the chain as it went through the engine room and I can still smell the oil.
Sometimes we would take one of the motor boats. These were cheaper and run by two competing companies I think. We had to scramble on near the ferry slipway and scramble off again at Shell Bay after a rapid and sometimes bumpy transit. I seem to recall that the boats had plaques saying that they had been part of the Dunkirk evacuations. I don’t know when they stopped operating.
Thanks Philip 🙂 When I was a child, we used to take the motor boats sometimes as well – that service was started by James Harvey in 1908 and it ran until 1997. The only crossing now is by the ferry – unless you fancy swimming 😉
By the way, I think the other operator was Greenslades.
I have Davis in the back of my mind as a name??
Ah yes, I think you might be right, it was Davis and Harvey who were rivals – I think Greenslades operated from Poole Quay.