Hovercraft – the geekiest way to travel?

When I heard that Bonn had another job over on the Isle of Wight I knew I had to go with him. Heck, one of the first conversations the pair of us ever had was about the island’s train service (a post on that soon). The place is a transport geek’s paradise. Now only do you have vintage tube trains providing a mainline service. But there is also the geekiest method of sea travel known to man. The hovercraft.

Hovercraft Hovertravel Isle of Wight

Hovercraft to the Isle of Wight

Hovertravel have been providing passenger hovercraft services between Portsmouth and Ryde since 1965. In fact, it’s the only commercial hovercraft service in Europe. Can you get any geekier than that?

The fact we had to take a car with us meant that we travelled over to the Isle of Wight by more traditional car ferry this time. We’re determined however to take the hovercraft next time. Even if it does mean going backwards and forwards across the Solent a couple of times to make the logistics work! With it only being a ten minute journey that shouldn’t be too problematic.

If you’re on the island there’s a fantastically positioned footbridge over the train line that provide a brilliant vantage point. You can stand there and watch the hovercraft arrive and depart for as long as you want. I can promise that you’ll be astounded at their turnaround time.

That’s one of the big advantages of a hovercraft for foot passengers. The fact that they can just pull up onto a beach or other landing area means that there isn’t time spent docking. You also therefore don’t need so much infrastructure to support them.

And not forgetting. It just looks damn cool!

Understanding how it works

I’m pretty sure that any true transport geek wants to get their head around how the hovercraft actually works. That’s where the wonderful Ladybird books has all the answers for you.

Collecting vintage Ladybird books is one of my hobbies and I was therefore thrilled to see a copy of their “How It Works – The Hovercraft” book when I was in the Hovertravel terminal in Ryde. You can read all about it here and pop over to their website to buy a copy online too.

Hovertravel provide a passenger hovercraft service between Southsea, Portsmouth and Ryde, Isle of Wight. In Portsmouth there is a Hovertravel run Hoverbus that connects Southsea to Portsmouth Harbour. In Ryde it is only a short walk to Ryde Esplanade station on the Island Line and Ryde bus station. You can find out more about Hovertravel, including their timetable and fares, over on their website.

Guernsey – Five quick facts

With the recent release of the film The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society tourist numbers to this part of the Channel Islands is on the rise. Not everyone knows where Guernsey is though, or much about it. So here are my top five facts that I think everyone should know about Guernsey.


German Occupation of Guernsey

Probably the best known fact about the island, and core to the film, is Guernsey’s occupation by the Germans. The Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey were the only parts of the British Isles to be occupied during the War. The occupation lasted from 30 June 1940 until 9 May 1945, and so 9 May is celebrated as liberation day.

American Mary Ann Shaffer found herself stranded at Guernsey airport by fog and picked up a book about the occupation to kill time until flights resumed. This is what inspired her to write the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Bailiwick of Guernsey

When people say “Guernsey” they assume you’re talking about one island, but the Bailiwick actually consists of four main islands. As well as a plethora of smaller islands. There is Guernsey itself, the biggest of the islands and home to the majority (63,000) of the local population. In comparison, Alderney has a population of approximately 1,900 and Sark 600. Herm (population 60) is part of the Parish of St Peter Port, on the island of Guernsey.

Guernsey, and Jersey are Crown Dependancies. So, whilst they are not part of the United Kingdom, The UK is responsible for the defence and international relations. Each Bailiwick has its own independent laws, elections, and representative bodies.

The Guernsey Pound

Whilst not having a totally separate currency, Guernsey (like Jersey) issues its own bank notes. The Guernsey Pound is linked to the British Pound and you can use either notes in the Bailiwick. Around places like St Peter Port you can find cash machines that distribute British Pounds, but any that are unmarked will give you local notes.

Trying to spend them in the UK will result in blank faces, but go to any bank and they will exchange them back to Sterling for you.

Oldest Postbox

Guernsey post box

Whilst most postboxes that you find in the Bailiwick are blue (the postal service being run by Guernsey Post) there is one red one to be found. On Union Street in St Peter Port is what is believed to be the oldest pillar-box still in use in the British Isles.

Guernsey post box Guernsey post box

It has been repainted in the livery that it is though to have had in 1852/53, when it was first installed.

Guernsey Sweaters

You may not have needed a jumper at all when we visited, but the Bailiwick is famous for its knitwear. Developed in the 17th century these traditional sweaters were primarily worn by fishermen. A traditional style “diamond” insert under the arms made it easier for those wearing it to move their arms around.

The jumpers had distinctive stitches within the pattern that mirrored things like a sailing ship’s rope ladder, crashing waves and pebbles, stones and sand. Each family had variations on the pattern and many fishermen who were lost at sea were identified by their jumpers.


For more information on Guernsey please visit the local tourist boards’s website and look out on Penny Travels for further posts about our visit there.

Learning to travel

travel os maps

I was trying to work out the other day when it is you stop just “going on holiday” and instead start “travelling”. Is there really a difference? I mean, you can obviously travel out being on holiday, but can you holiday without travelling?

When you’re a child you’re normally just taken on holiday, but I do know some lucky children who would describe themselves as going travelling. Strangely, for me, I think there was an obvious moment when I realised the difference.

I was “on holiday” with my parents up on the west coast of Scotland. My Dad was off taking photos somewhere and being a typical stroppy teenager I stayed in the car. This being before mobile phones I picked up the Rough Guide (probably the one for the Scottish Highlands and Islands) and started leafing through it. I found myself in the section for Ullapool (a place I am now desperate to return to) and remember suddenly realising that I was reading  listings for laundrettes and where you could get internet access locally (this dates the story).

It was reading those listings that I suddenly had this lightbulb moment in which I realised that travelling was different to being on holiday. On holiday you tend to go where where you want to go and then come home again, bringing your dirty washing home with you. Travelling you look at places totally differently. You try and understand how the locals live. You don’t just go to the main tourist sites, but instead you try and get a feel of how the locals live.

Years ago, I used to attend a series of European conferences for young engineers. At them we talked lots about the mobility of engineers across Europe and how we could better ourselves by travelling and understanding the different work cultures. One important lesson I was taught by a German delegate was that to properly travel somewhere you needed to work out how to take public transport and also find and eat the local fast food. When I first heard this I just laughed, but then the more I thought about it, the more I realised he was right. It’s now exactly what I try to do whenever I go somewhere new.

It’s also not just about the destination, but the journey to get there. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of train travel, but I’ve also got a soft spot for ferries and any other slower mode of transport. Air travel is fine, but you don’t get to see as much from the air as you do when on land or sea. As a child I watched Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days and I was hooked.

Yes he want to some amazing destinations (and was the reason I was always so keen to visit Hong Kong) but it was so much more about the travel adventure to get around the world. The modes of transport, the routes they took and the people that he met during the journey. If I ever had a travel dream it would be to recreate that journey and share it online. It really would be the ultimate bit of travelling.

I might not be able to afford to take 80 days out to travel around the world, but I try to squeeze in as much travel as I can (both close to home and further away) and plan to share as much of it as possible. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.