PETER and ANN frost love to find a ferry.
Today we tend to take river crossings for granted. Drive along big roads and small and you’ll cross bridges too numerous to mention. We soar over rivers and canals often giving just a tantalising view of the unknown waterways beneath.
It wasn’t always so easy. Once upon a time many of those bridges would have been a ferry crossing and this month we are off to find some smaller and interesting ferries that are still plying their trade here in Britain.
Many are disappearing. The mighty Humber ferry has been replaced by a huge bridge but if you want to cross the Mersey between the Wirral and Liverpool then the best way is still by ferry. We’ll tell you later.
London has a score of bridges across the Thames but the Woolwich Ferry – butt of many an old joke – still takes traffic free from south of the river near the O2 Dome into Docklands on the northern bank – and it is still free.
Island groups like the Shetlands, Orkneys and Hebrides can only be reached by ferry. Large lakes will often have at least one ferry that can make exploring just a bit more romantic.
All over Britain you’ll still find ferries crossing rivers, lakes and estuaries. Let’s visit a few of them.
Walberswick to Southwold , Suffolk
Dani Church and her family have owned the tiny Walberswick to Southwold ferry for five generations. Dani took over from her father David in 2001.
Buy a ticket and you will get change from a pound so it’s a cheap and popular crossing for the many walkers and visitors to these pretty twin ports on either side of the fast flowing Blyth River in this pretty corner of Suffolk.
There has been a ferry here since at least the thirteenth century and using the ferry and the bridge upriver can make a superb circular walk exploring both sides of the river which is always busy with yachts and small fishing craft.
Near the ferry jetty you can buy fresh fish and even sit down to a splendid meal from simple local fish and chips to a plate of exotic local seafood.
Newport Chain Ferry, Isle of Wight
It would be easy to build a bridge across the River Medina on the Isle of Wight. The tidal river is quite narrow where it separates the two sides of the Yachting capital of the world – Cowes.
Those yachts are the reason they have never built a bridge. Traffic on the river includes vast numbers of the most elegant, most expensive and most famous racing sailboats in the world. Every one of them has an extraordinarily high mast and rigging so any bridge would need to open to let them past.
That’s why cars and delivery lorries have to make do with a humble ferry that pulls itself across the narrow but fast flowing tideway on strong chains.
In fact the deck of the ferry is one of the best spots for a close up view of the elegant racing fleet. Today Cowes builds mostly yacht but within sight of the ferry you can find the huge sheds which built gigantic seaplanes and where the hovercraft was invented and developed.
Reedham Ferry, Norfolk Broads
Quite simply it’s the smallest car ferry in Britain. Maximum load is three cars at a push, or as in our case, one large motor caravan
If you are touring the Norfolk Broads it can save a few miles in crossing the meandering River Yare as it rolls across the flat open countryside to meet the North Sea at Yarmouth.
Actually saving the mileage isn’t the main reason we touring holiday makers take to the ferry. There are two much better reasons and here they are.
For more than fifty years the ferry has been owned by the Archer family and on the northern side of the river the family runs two other businesses.
The Ferry Inn is one of the best places to eat in all of the Broads. When the sun is shining meals are served in the riverside gardens with spectacular views along the river and a ringside seat to watch the pleasure boats avoiding the ferry. There is a comfortable restaurant too or bar snacks in the pub.
The Archer family’s third business? Just next door to the pub and a short stroll to the river their very own comfortable and well equipped all-year-round campsite.
Ferry ‘cross the Mersey, Liverpool
Liverpool is a great city with a rich maritime historical waterfront and well as its culture everything from the Beatles to galleries and concert halls.
Mersey Ferries make it really easy and enjoyable to discover this exciting city. We made our base the Wirral Country Park Caravan Site. This pretty site looks out over the River Dee and to Wales.
From the site it’s only a short drive to Hoylake station with free parking (and no height barrier). After 9.30 you can buy a ticket (£5) that gives all day use of Merseyside buses and trains as well as those Mersey Ferries.
Some of the ferries dart across the river but others take longer and offer a fascinating commentary. We treated them as an extended river cruise. The landing stage at Liverpool is the old pier head right at the heart of the best bits of the city.
Mersey Ferries have the prefix ‘Royal’ on their names. Not because the Queen uses them a lot but because of the heroic part they played at Dunkirk in the Second World War.
This article first appeared in various Times Warner Magazines.