Friday column: The Sandbanks to Studland ferry

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Friday 10th August 2018

One of the best things about living by the sea is having to catch a ferry to get home. Sandbanks Ferry clanks back and forth across the entrance to Poole Harbour three times an hour, linking glitzy Sandbanks to peaceful Studland, with its miles of unspoiled, sandy beaches and remote heathland walks.

Five years after moving here I’m as fascinated by the ferry as ever. It has been operating since 1926 and can take 48 cars and the odd bus or lorry at a time.

It starts at 7am, laden with early morning commuters heading off to work in nearby Bournemouth and Poole, and keeps going till 11pm. My husband’s so entranced by it that he goes up on deck every morning, whatever the weather, and gazes out across the sea. He’s such a regular that he knows all the ferrymen (yes, they are all men) by name.

Sandbanks has its own unique appeal too. Famous for its eye-wateringly high house prices and celebrity residents I always think of John Lennon’s beloved Aunt Mimi as I drive off the ferry. In 1965 the Beatles legend bought Mimi a house at Sandbanks called Harbour’s Edge and often visited her there with his first wife Cynthia and their son Julian. Much to Mimi’s annoyance tour guides on pleasure cruises around Poole Harbour used to bellow into their megaphones and point out her house.

When I was 11 my family lived at Sandbanks for six months. The setting was like something out of an Enid Blyton story. Our garden backed straight on to the beach and me and my sister spent hours building sandcastles on the shore, skimming stones and leaping over the waves. We could see the sea from our bedroom and used to watch the dinghies tacking to and fro as we did our homework.

Our house was a very ordinary-looking, white-washed bungalow called Flintshore. We rented it over the winter, when the beach was deserted and rents were low, but sadly, once Easter arrived and the summer rental season burst forth, our short, blissful sojourn was over and we had to move. Funnily enough, Flintshore hit the headlines a few years back when it went on the market for a cool £4 million. It was snapped up in a trice, only to be demolished and replaced by a chic, clapboard house that doesn’t have half as much character.

Now, all these years later, the ferry is back in my life. Amazingly, it runs throughout the year and in all weathers – and is just as dependable as ever. When storms lashed the country last year I arrived at the ferry late one Sunday night and found it was oddly deserted. Not another car in sight.

“Is the ferry running tonight?” I asked anxiously. A ferryman, clad from head to foot in a fetching yellow sou’wester and matching oilskins, beamed at me. “It would have to be a lot worse than this for us to stop,” he said.

If you get the chance to see The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre cancel everything and hotfoot it to the South Bank at once. Directed by Sam Mendes and starring Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles, this a masterclass in acting. The three actors play all the parts themselves as they portray the story of the Lehman brothers and their journey from a humble background in Bavaria to launch a vast banking empire. Insightful, funny, touching – just brilliant.

August is the slowest of months, when the days are too hot and everything seems an effort. Patrick Gale’s new book is a beautifully written novel that will absorb you for hours. The story of a solitary child whose life is transformed when his difficult mother signs him up for cello lessons, Take Nothing With You is utterly engrossing. As well as being a pinpoint portrayal of a boy on the cusp of adulthood, it also paints a fascinating picture of living in an old-fashioned seaside resort in the 1970s.

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