Camino Inglés 3: Isle of Wight Coast Path (western half)

Previously:

Camino Inglés 1: two ways to prepare for a pilgrimage

Camino Inglés 2: Isle of Wight Coast Path (eastern half)

Any illusions that I might have had about being the sensible one (who knew when to stop) were shattered by the third day. This was a day that would have been much improved by my stopping at Shalfleet for lunch. I didn’t, and I was miserable, although I did see some interesting things. Consequently, the first half of this post is mostly pictures.

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The Round House, from the Round House bus stop

I started out with a bus trip, of course, back to the Round House where we’d caught the bus home yesterday, and found my way back down to the seafront at Gurnard. The coast along this first stretch was not spectacular, with low earthy banks sloping gently down towards the sea, but there were interesting things to see: woolly black sheep; a fox; dwellings made from railway carriages. It was when I went inland that things got tedious.

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The north-east coast of the Isle of Wight, as seen from somewhere east of Gurnard

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Woolly black sheep

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Railway carriage house

 

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There was lots of this stuff about. I don’t know what it is. No doubt someone on the internet can and will tell me.

The trouble with the north-west coast of the Isle of Wight is that there’s a lot that has to be got around. There’s the Ministry of Defence land at Porchfield (which meant interminable road walking for me) and then there are all the creeks and swamps that go into the Newtown River. In between the two there is Shalfleet, where I should have stopped. Instead, I pressed on along paths and duckboards towards Bouldnor, hating everything. Particularly myself.

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Bluebells at Newtown

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Walked around the edges of a whole lot of this

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Sometimes I could just go straight across it, but not often

I’d meant to lunch in Yarmouth. And so I did. At half past four. I considered going on to the Needles, but thought it better not to take my bad mood along one of my favourite stretches of path. So I wandered around the town a little bit and then took the bus home.

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Stained glass window in St James’, Yarmouth, showing St James and St Paul

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Embroidered panel in St James’, Yarmouth, showing St James as a pilgrim

It occurred to me that it was possible that on my previous Coast Path walk I’d managed a five-day walk in six days, rather than (as I’d thought) a four-day walk in five. This being so, I was unlikely to manage the whole thing in four days. I decided that this didn’t really matter. I’d already walked the entire circumference before, and this was really an exercise in knowing when to stop.

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The Solent from the front at Yarmouth

The westernmost tip of the Isle of Wight is always beautiful, and on a sunny day it’s glorious. I got the bus back out to Yarmouth and set out westwards. After a quarter of a mile or so alongside the beach the Coast Path heads up and a little way inland into Fort Victoria Country Park. Wide paths slope upwards through woodland, and eventually a narrower one pulls you up above the tops of the trees, and the Solent is there, now with the context of Hurst Castle and the Hampshire coast on the far side.

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Hurst Castle from the top of Fort Victoria Country Park

I pressed on along a shore that was always changing and would always change, through sleepy Totland and down to the sea again, past the sad remains of its pier; up, along the springy turf and the gorse bushes of Headon Warren. The gorse was out in exuberant bloom and alive with bees: no question about whether kissing was in fashion at the moment.

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Kissing: still in fashion

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Towards the Needles

At the Needles Park I stopped for an ice cream, feeling sweaty and unkempt and wildly out of place among those who had come to ride on the chairlift and fill jars with coloured sands, although of course it was unlikely that I was the only walker there that day, or even that minute.

I kept going westwards, still higher, climbing the road where only the buses and the pedestrians go, and seeing the sea blue far below me, and the white crumbling chalk of the path, and the grass dotted yellow with cowslips.

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Sea pinks

I went as far west as you can without paying to get into the Needles Old Battery, and took a superficial look at the rocket launch site and the coastguard station. Then I turned east again, climbing a steep path up past the coastguards’ cottages and towards Tennyson Down.

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The south-west coast from Tennyson Down

I heard, and then saw, skylarks rising up from the long grass: the first time that I could remember. I kept on up towards the Tennyson memorial. The grass was very short here, by contrast, cropped close by cattle. Up and up, and over and down the other side: it was a lovely walk, but for the lingering spectre of the Last Bus. I didn’t really want to have to cut things short at Freshwater Bay, but if I went any further along the south-west coast and the Military Road then I’d be off the route of the regular service buses and would have to time things carefully so as to be sure of catching the once-daily-in-each-direction Coaster.

All the same, I stopped in a café for a sit down and a cup of coffee and a chocolate bar before I committed.

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Freshwater Bay, looking back towards the west

At the eastern end of the beach I met a whole party of walkers coming the other way. I had to wait for them at the bottom of the steps. 19, they said. I didn’t count them. After a sharp climb up, I was walking parallel with the road and watching the coast unfolding in front of me, bay after bay.

I did my best to ignore a dull pain in my toes. There were other things to think about. An adder, slithering out of the way before I reached the bottom of the steps down from road level. Cows. (I was more worried by the cows.) And where to stop. I thought about pushing on to Isle of Wight Pearl, but there are public lavatories and an ice cream van at Compton Bay, and both were worth stopping for.

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Waiting at Compton Bay

I got the bus home, and left the southernmost points unwalked. In fact, I’d walked around about as much of the Island in actual size as I had around the paddling pool. Coincidence, of course. Wasn’t it?

 

Next time: a family wedding; we actually set foot in Spain in two trains; and what’s going on with that pain in the toes? Probably more photos, too.

Camino Inglés 2: Isle of Wight Coast Path (eastern half)

Previously:

Camino Inglés 1: two ways to prepare for a pilgrimage

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The English Channel, looking moody

I went down to the Isle of Wight to walk the Coast Path over the long weekend of the May bank holiday. This was cutting things a bit fine, and I didn’t really have a plan for what I would do if I discovered that I wasn’t up to a long walk. I didn’t think too hard about that. The Isle of Wight is, quite literally, home turf; I know its footpaths and byways better than I know those of any other county. It was where I first discovered the sanity-saving practice of walking, and the combination of a familiar landscape and a moderately challenging parcours would make the perfect warm-up.

I took a train straight down from London on the Thursday evening, and started out walking from Ventnor the next morning. My mother accompanied me as far as the seafront. I walked around the edge of the paddling pool, which has a concrete map of the Isle of Wight in the centre. Perhaps I was setting an intention on the micro scale to work through on the macro scale or some woowoo like that. I didn’t walk all the way round, which, considering how things worked out, might suggest that there’s more to the woowoo than I’d first thought.

I set out eastwards along the sea wall; I’d decided to go anticlockwise around the Island, as I had on my previous Isle of Wight Coast Path attempt. Some public benefactor has set up a scale model of the Solar System along the coast between Bonchurch and Ventnor. I counted off paces between planets. The sun is about the size of a football, an orange-painted sphere springing up from the end of the railing. Shortly afterwards the path heads away from the sea, up the cliff, over a delightful little stream with wild garlic blooming on its banks, and past St Boniface Old Church. I looked in. It’s a lovely church: ancient, tiny, and set apart from hustle and bustle, even more than the rest of the Isle of Wight, even more than the rest of Bonchurch.

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Hartstongue and ivy underfoot at the Landslip

The sun was trying to break through as I kept on eastwards, and managing it in selected patches on the sea. I lost sight of the sea when I plunged into the tangled vegetation of the Landslip. I don’t think I’d ever walked through there in spring before. It was lovelier than ever, erupting in green, with intensely purple bluebells – possibly they weren’t bluebells at all. I followed the path up and down and up again, picking my way through tree roots and flights of worn steps, emerging at last between brick walls at Dunnose. I headed on past sprawling Victorian hotels into Shanklin.

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Extreme blueness

The great thing about going anticlockwise is that at Shanklin one goes down the steps that run between the clifftop and the beach, not up them. I stayed on the seawall all the way to Sandown out of sheer laziness: I couldn’t be bothered to find where the route goes inland. Besides, I thought, if one’s walking a coast path one might as well stick as close to the sea as possible.

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Black-headed gull on the beach at the foot of the Shanklin steps

I bought and ate Turkish Delight ice cream from the children’s activity centre on Shanklin seafront, which didn’t seem to be doing a huge amount of business otherwise. When I got into Sandown it was just about lunchtime, so I sat in a café and waited for their fryer to heat up, then ate chips before heading off on the long climb north-east to Yaverland and Culver. All day it had been getting steadily brighter, and by the time I reached the top of Bembridge Down there was brilliant sunshine.

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Looking south and west from Culver

This took me about as far east as it was possible to get; now I turned the corner of the island and went around the edge of the harbour at Bembridge, picking my way across the causeway and then moving a little way inland along the edges of fields. Unlike the last time I’d walked the Isle of Wight Coast Path, I managed not to get lost around the Priory Bay Hotel: there was some sort of organised run going the other way and lots of little pink flags marking the route. I had to stand out of the way of runners every so often.

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Bembridge Harbour

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Also Bembridge Harbour

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Crossing the causeway

I ate another ice cream – rum and raisin, this time – in a stiff breeze at Seaview. After that I thought I might as well push on to Ryde, where I had a better choice of buses, so I followed the sea wall around the edge of Puckpool Park. That meant more concrete, and my knees and the soles of my feet didn’t like it much. But the bus home to Ventnor was a nice forty-five minutes’ sit-down.

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The magnificently appalling Appley Tower

I ended up setting much later than I’d meant on the second day. I was just about to leave without John when he got up and wanted to come, and then we were about to miss another bus so delayed another half hour…

We messed around a bit buying snacks (vegan for John) in the Sainsbury’s at Ryde, then got going properly. We admired the magnificent Victorian houses on the way out of town, with their cupolas and their barge boarding and their fish scale tiles. We admired the lodges and the more modern houses on the way into Quarr, and debated a bit as to whether one of them had been on Grand Designs and, if so, which.

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A Quarr lodge

We talked to a jolly old buffer working in his front garden; he told us that at one point in the 19th century house prices in Ventnor outstripped those of central London. We stopped in the grounds of Quarr Abbey to look at the pigs; the previous time I’d done the Coast Path there were piglets as well, but not this time.

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Quarr Abbey

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A Quarr Abbey pig, reclining

It started raining at Wootton Bridge. This was at least an excuse to try my new waterproof trousers. John had the sort of poncho that’s basically an oversized binbag. On the way up through the housing estate above Wootton Bridge we met one of John’s colleagues, who was rather horrified by the state of his face and then caught him up on all the workplace gossip.

After that it was a long, long descent towards Whippingham, walking on the road all the way. A little way down the road I lost the vision in my right eye so stopped to take my jumper off and wait to be able to see again. This had been happening intermittently ever since I trapped a nerve in my neck the previous summer, and seemed to be associated with overheating. (Some months later, I took it to the GP, who had never seen anything like it, and referred me to a consultant, who had, and told me that it is fairly common in, I quote, ‘young people’. It had been a while since anybody had called me a young person.)

We met many cyclists coming the other way, some coping better with the hill than others. This was the beginning of a long tedious traipse into Whippingham (no pavement, a lot of criss-crossing the road to be on the safer edge of blind bends) and then East Cowes (pavement alongside main road). It was boring and, given the unforgiving surface, painful. I promised myself that I never had to do it again, and that I wouldn’t.

We stopped for lunch at one of the fish and chip restaurants in East Cowes. The floating bridge was out of action, so we were ferried across the Medina in a little launch called the Jenny Lee. It had stopped raining by this point but was still pretty gloomy. Having taken my waterproof trousers off, I managed to sit in a pool of leftover rain.

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Aboard the Jenny Lee

West Cowes seemed yachtier than ever. We went on along the sea wall as far as Gurnard, at which point we got the map out, engaged in some posturing about being able to go on if the other wanted to, and I finally called it in favour of giving up. This was, I thought, a useful data point for the Camino. I hoped there would be less road walking. We called on John’s local bus knowledge (he has driven a lot of Isle of Wight buses, on and off over the years) and walked up to the nearest bus stop and went home.

 

Next time: the rest of the Isle of Wight Coast Path – or is it? Will the paddling pool woowoo be too strong? Have valuable lessons been learned? How many more photographs of the Channel and the Solent can there possibly be?