Trip 31 -- Isle of Wight Walk
Day 2: Ryde to Shanklin
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Today around the island: 30455 steps/25.16 km/15.63 mi/4h 10m
Today including group walk: 56652 steps/41.58 km/25.84 mi
Total around the island: 67216 steps/52.19 km/32.43 mi/8h 31m
I set the alarm for 6:15 (and three more alarms within the next five minutes, just in case), but my body knew better and got me up at 5:54. Ryde was calm at 6:20; the first hovercraft had just departed for Portsmouth and the first Island Line train had left the end of the pier for Shanklin. I'd seen the train go along the pier on my arrival last night; if this hadn't been a walking trip, I could have ridden to Shanklin in under half an hour.
I followed the coastal path east to Seaview, exchanging greetings with joggers and people with their dogs. At Seaview the route of the coastal path was ambiguous; a sign indicated that the following stretch could not be passed at high tide. I seemed to be high above the water, so I proceeded.
A private estate blocked the way forward, so I took the stairs down. There was another concrete way some distance above the water, though it sloped toward the sea slightly. Still easy to continue.
I came to a patch of algae or lichen. Careful steps, I told myself, but I went down anyway. My nearly horizontal body slipped slightly down the slope, my feet dangling off the cement, but fortunately I didn't fall into the sea. I got up, retraced my steps, and found the proper continuation of the coastal path along the main road.
The path wound its way along properties, sometimes the width of a bridle path, sometimes extremely narrow, and sometimes cutting across fields and through gates. Signs informed of wildlife: the pipistrelle bat (Britain's commonest) and the stoat, "a savage and ferocious hu--" ...clearly destructive enough to eat half the sign.
A crumbling stone façade marked my arrival at the dune beach known as the St. Helens Duver, and then I followed the path around and past the houseboats of Bembridge, the island's easternmost town. The path climbed high up past a horse pasture to the chalk cliffs of Culver Down, where a monument paid tribute to Lord Yarborough, the strict commander of the warship Falcon (he paid crew an extra weekly shilling if they agreed to be flogged when necessary) and then Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron.
I could see Sandown ahead of me and Shanklin in the distance. I had an hour to get to my group tour in Shanklin. How far was it? I plugged the location into Google Maps.
The result: 7.2 kilometers.
Well, that meant a faster journey even than yesterday. I started running. I did the next kilometer in 6:39 and several more in under nine minutes, alternating walking with running. (I've run in other places during the Abecedarian Walks, usually if it's raining and I'm headed toward shelter. I'm not disqualifying such sections from the "walks" even if I was technically not walking. My project, my rules.) I arrived at the Shanklin Theatre a few seconds before 10:30 and was the only member of the group to sit on the steps as our leader, Jacqui, introduced us to the walk.
We'd climb steeply up to Wroxall Down, walk down through a field of bluebells, and pause at the remains of Appuldurcombe House, where we'd have lunch. "So hopefully you all brought some food," Jacqui said.
What's this? I hadn't heard about a lunch break, though I could have deduced that a five-hour tour beginning at 10:30 would include one. Still, none of the information about the tour had mentioned it.
"Is there any food for purchase where we're having lunch?" I asked.
"Not until the donkey sanctuary." That stop was later.
"I'll get something on the way and catch up."
"We won't pass anything. But there's a place here," she said, gesturing toward the convenience store next to the theatre.
"Great. Which road are you taking? I'll meet you."
Two of her assistants waited for me while the others began, and we caught up. They took a fast pace, and about half of our group (22 people and a clumber-spaniel-cocker-spaniel mix) had walking poles. I moaned as we ascended Wroxall Down. It wasn't a particularly long section, but it was very steep and not what my body wanted after what had already been a long morning.
At the top was a marker, where we paused for a few minutes. Others circled it and took pictures of the view. I sat on the marker, leaned back, closed my eyes, and let the strong wind wash over me like water in a hot tub. I tilted from side to side, my body in a resting euphoria.
When we continued, I did so without moaning. We crossed over to the Ventnor radar tower, the island's highest point, and then descended a steep hill full of vibrant bluebells and wild garlic. We passed over a tunnel from the old railway line and then wound our way along rural roads to the shell of the 18th-century Appuldurcombe House, which was bombed in World War II. It had started raining, so we ate inside on the floor, in one of the few places that still had a ceiling.
We continued to the donkey sanctuary, the road this time brightened by red and white campion. I talked with Emma, who lives in West Cowes but had spent years in Brooklyn Heights and Paris.
"Are there foods associated with the Isle of Wight?" I asked her.
"Yes: tomatoes, garlic, and cheese. There's a hard cheese called gallybagger. There's also a blue cheese and a soft white cheese like brie. And we have a distillery; you can try Mermaid gin."
She also told me about a new guidebook to the island called the Slow Guide and a bookstore in Cowes called the Medina. And she had seen Alan Titchmarsh while driving the other day.
In addition to being a haven for donkeys who have been abandoned or whose owners could no longer care for them, the sanctuary also rescued a group of Shetland ponies who, Emma said, had been left in a roundabout after a traveling circus had come through. We paused for a while, happy to sit in chairs, and listened to the donkeys' chorus. "You should sing it in E-flat," I told them.
Emma also suggested I see Shanklin Chine at night, when it's nicely illuminated. I could have dinner there and then take the lift back up. This chine (a word of Saxon origin meaning "gorge"), one of many on the island, is attractively landscaped and has been welcoming visitors for 205 years. In addition to two waterfalls and the stream that carved the gorge, there's also a tearoom, Britain's only brine bath (seawater was heated in a copper vessel at the bottom of the chine in the 19th century), a tribute to the PLUTO (pipe line under the ocean, built in secret for World War II to carry oil across the English Channel with a connection at Shanklin), and a display on the area's rich tradition of smuggling.
Neither the lift nor the restaurant was open, but at the attendant's suggestion I descended the chine, had dinner at the Steamer Inn along the esplanade (fish chowder, baked mackerel, and Isle of Wight-brewed Goddards Starboard beer), and walked back up after dark to see the changing colors light up the gorge and the waterfalls: somehow simultaneously subtle and dramatic. Then I had a walk around the lovely stone buildings of Shanklin's old town before retiring to my hotel, Medehamstede ("MEED-am-sted").
Tomorrow's walk starts at a much more humane hour, but I've been informed that breakfast is at eight and my table number is 25, so with such detail I'd best play by the rules.
Go on to day 3