Wessex Attractions: Poole Harbour

Poole Harbour is the largest natural harbour in Europe, a haven for wildlife and watercraft alike. It features a marina for yachts, an area for jet-skis and personal watercraft, and another for wind- and kite-surfing.

The area is rich in wildlife. Nearby Brownsea Island will feature in its own blog post in due course, but the harbour itself is an SSSI, a SPA and a RAMSAR site. A mile offshore is a marine conservation where over 40 species of fish (including rays and black bream), 50 species of seaweed, and 40 species of sponge and sea anemone can be found, along with lobsters, oysters and crabs.

Birdlife includes cormorants, teal, great crested grebes and spoonbills (see photo above). The latter are attracted by the warm, shallow water. Unfortunately, this shallowness makes the area uncongenial for divers. A project is currently underway to reintroduce a breeding population of ospreys, with birds translocated from Scotland.

A marina guide detailing all the harbour's facilities is available from the tourist information office.

Wessex Attractions: Avon Valley Railway

The Avon Valley Railway is a preserved 3-mile stretch of the former Midland Railway route between Gloucester and Bath Green Park. Originally running between Bitton and Oldland Common, the line was extended southward by 400 metres in 2004 to a new station, called Avon Riverside.

The railway is currently operating a weekend-only service, with occasional Wednesday running. An all-day ticket costs £8.50 for adults (£7.50 concessions) and £5.50 for children aged 5-14. Under-5s travel free. Season tickets are available.

The railway's headquarters are at Bitton Station, which can be reached by taking the number 42 bus to the terminus at nearby Cherry Gardens. The postcode, for satnav purposes, is BS30 6HD.

Wessex Attractions: East Somerset Railway

The East Somerset Railway (ESR) runs along a 212-mile stretch of the former Cheddar Valley line that originally linked Witham with Wells, where it joined the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. After it was axed as part of the Beeching/Marples rail cuts, the artist David Shepherd purchased Cranmore station with a view to preservation, Cranmore now serves as the headquarters of the ESR.

At the time of writing, the ESR is open, though social distancing measures are in place inside train carriages. An adult day rover ticket costs £11, with childrens, concessionary and family tickets available. Visit their website for details.

Their postcode, for satnav purposes, is BA4 4QP, and bus number 161 serves Cranmore station from Monday to Friday.

Wessex Attractions: Alum Chine

Alum Chine is a gorge near Bournemouth which gives its name to a nearby blue flag beach. It was once home to Robert Louis Stevenson, But his former house there was bombed during World War 2, and subsequently demolished, despite efforts to save it.

Wessex Attractions: Totnes Castle

Totnes is best-known as the landing site of Brutus of Troy in Geoffrey of Monmouth's origin myth for Britain. But it also houses one of the best-preserved Norman castles in England. After William the Bastard invaded in 1066, he ordered a string of castles built in order to subjugate the native English population. Saxon Totnes was a thriving market town on the River Dart, with a mint. The castle was thought to have been built by one Juhel de Totnes, a Breton commander in the Bastard's army, later passing to the De La Zouche family.

Today, the castle is owned by English Heritage. It is currently closed due to lockdown.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is  TQ9 5NU.