Harwich Cruise Terminal
As well as the regular ferry services Harwich has become a popular international cruise port both as a departure and arrival dock as well as with visiting ships. The modern terminal building was built in 1996 and during the summer months now greets three or four boats every week.
The cruise terminal building is located behind the railway station, from which it has direct access, and shares its facilities, including vehicle parking for up to 600 cars, with the ferry terminal.
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Harwich's Railway Stations
Harwich became connected to the mainline railway following the completion of the section from Colchester in 1854. Three railway stations serve the town and its immediate neighbours of Dovercourt and Parkeston. The town's main station is appropriately Harwich Town which is on the edge of the old town. Dovercourt is more central for the new town's main conurbation whilst Harwich International serves the port for ferry and cruiseline passengers.
Trains from Harwich Town run roughly hourly to Manningtree where they are timed to connect to services onwards to London Liverpool Street, on the main commuter line connecting London to Norwich and Ipswich. There are also a couple of direct services between Harwich International and London Liverpool Street which meet departing and arriving ferries to/from the Hoek.
For those taking the ferry across to Hoek van Holland Stena Line offers a "Rail-Sail" package which includes the train from London (or from any National Express East Anglia station) to any Dutch station with prices starting from £29.
First website is National Rail, second is for Stena line.
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The Mayflower Line...
The Mayflower Line is the branch line between Manningtree Junction, along the south bank of the River Stour, terminating in Harwich Town...
It's 1 of the most scenic railway journeys in Essex, as the embankment is parallel with the river almost throughout, & runs right beside it towards the approach into Harwich...
After leaving Manningtree Station, the line crosses the eccentric & inadequate for road traffic, arrangement of bridge & level crossing, that almost marks the border between Essex & Suffolk...
(From there, the mainline diverges, in order to cross 2 metal bridges over the Stour, towards Felixstowe/Ipswich - an image filmed in the final episode of Michael Palin's series; 80 Days Around The World...)
The Mayflower Line follows a different track, inland towards the river, but first stops at Mistley - only 1&1/4 mile into the journey...
The Mistley section of the route provides a good opportunity to see the private accommodation block made out of the old maltings buildings, where the line passes under the main road, via a high red brick bridge...
A further 1&1/2 miles on from Mistley, was a stop at Bradfield, but this has long since been demolished, so this is the only part of the route where the train picks up some speed on this rather short branch line...
The next stop along is Wrabness, a station notable for the public mural on the side of the line towards Harwich...
After Wrabness, the line enters Copperas Bay Nature Reserve - a thickly wooded area on the banks of the Stour, & this is 1 of the highlights of the journey, especially in autumn when the leaves are turning, or spring, when the primoses are flowering...
A wartime munitions dump was built within the wood & can still be seen today, the area it's situated in being where the farm crossing gates are located...
As soon as the train leaves the woodland, the embankment is parallel with the riverbank, & the scenery alters dramatically, with estuary on the left, & the Carless oil refinery on the right...
This must be 1 of the iconic images of Essex as a county - nature reserve & hydrocarbon processing plant, side-by-side...
Harwich International Port station is the stop as soon as the refinery area is cleared, but I think this is a confusing name for what was once Parkeston Quay...
Even locally, there is confusion about where Harwich begins, & for a fact, it's not in Parkeston, which is the outskirts of Dovercourt, so this new title for the stop, only adds to the confusion!
Here, the modern track ceases to function as a double line, although the double layout continues, only a single track has been electrified...
After rounding the line around the container parking areas, the scenery becomes more domestic than industrial, as Dovercourt Bay town station comes into view, after passing under the Phoenix road bridge...
This is the truly disappointing part of a great ride, because Dovercourt Bay station is a boarded-up, rundown old building, which gives an awful first impression of the town...
2 level crossings later, the train terminates in Harwich Town, the line towards the ferry port now derelict, leaving an unsatisfactory ending to a journey that started with such promise...
There are rumours that the old station will 1 day be turned into a railway museum, but until then, like so many of these branch line, Victorian buildings, it's a sadly rundown place for where to get off...
The Mayflower Line is far from long enough to warrant the title 'great railway journey', but its stunning & conflicting scenery make it a must for any rail enthusiast...
I'd recommend it as worthy of the fare, just for the view of Copperas wood in autumn or spring, but to travel by train without necessity is awkward to justify on this short brach line, simply because of the audacious cost!
Calculating the fare in terms of cost per mileage, approxiamates about £1 per 2 mile of track covered - hence, despite the steep hills & twisting road, I always prefer to cycle!
The ferries from Scandinavia are now limited to the ones from Esbjerg in Denmark so that is still an alternative, and a very pleasant one too (around 17 hours). Most will come from the continent though, and will find a ferry from the Hook of Holland more convenient and a much shorter crossing. See the links below.
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Harwich Bus Services
Harwich and Dovercourt are easily, and pleasantly, walkable as apart from the busy-ish main roads such as the A120 leading in and out of the town most of the streets are relatively traffic free. All the attractions are within walking distance of the old town and even the beaches out at Dovercourt are only about 15 minutes away.
If you do need local transport there are a couple of circular bus routes out to Dovercourt and Parkeston. For travel further afield there are regular services to Colchester and Clacton which go through the villages en route.
Most buses are run by the First Eastern National company and the buses terminus is the forecourt of the railway station.
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Harwich Foot And Cycle Ferry
During the summer, from May until September, you can take the ferry from Harwich's Ha'penny Pier across the rivers Orwell and Stour to Felixstowe and Shotley respectively. This is a foot passenger only service although bicycles can also be carried as can small freight items.
As well as the daily summer service the ferry also runs at Easter weekend and at weekends only in April. THe ferries run roughly every two hours during the day with a crossing time to Shotley of about ten minutes and fifteen to Felixstowe.
One-way adult fares start from £2.50 and bicycles are charged at £1.50.
Website below has full details of fares and timetables.
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Stena Line Ferries To Hook Of Holland
Harwich's International Port is still quite a busy freight and cruise terminal and is also the base for Stena Line ferries to and from Hook of Holland. There are two daily ferries which ply this route the Hollandica and the Britannica and both take freight, vehicle and foot passengers.
Daytime sailings leave Harwich at 9 am whilst overnight services leave at 23.45. The crossing time is about six and a half hours although the overnight boats allow an extra hour before disembarkation.
The ferries are modern and comfortable with plenjty to do aboard and the brand new (as of May 2010) superferry Hollandica even has WiFi throughout the ship (including in the cabins).
For foot passengers the company offers a "Rail-Sail" package which includes train travel from any National Express East Anglia station to any Dutch station with prices starting from £29. For overnight crossings a cabin booking is compulsory but these are quite cheap with off-season rates from about £25.
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Trains to and from Harwich means either Harwich Town, Dovercourt or the ferry terminal called Harwich International. Wherever you get on, it invariably involves a change at Manningtree, ten minutes away from town to get further. Manningtree is only a small place and trains on to/from Colchester and London match the little Harwich train so it is an easy change (although no lift or escalators on the platform FROM London where you have to change sides). There are also frequent connections to Ipswich from here so you can get on to Cambridge.
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