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Trip 31 -- Isle of Wight Walk

Day 4: Chale to Totland
Saturday, May 14, 2022

Yesterday around the island: 25174 steps/17.72 km/11.01 mi/3h 55m
Yesterday including group walk and access: 46507 steps/29.17 km/18.13 mi
Today, group walk and access: 35983 steps/20.98 km/13.04 mi
Total around the island: 116982 steps/87.15 km/54.15 mi/16h 16m

Yesterday I woke up and started moving without moaning. That was encouraging.

Like the Medehamstede, the Wight Mouse Inn was a rambling building of that appealingly cozy variety: seemingly more stairways than necessary, a not-quite-logical room-numbering system, old-casino-style carpeting, worn upholstery, a pub that attracts people who aren't lodging there, and floors that slope slightly -- not consistently in the same direction, depending on how many pints you've had.

Google Maps calculated the journey at 19 kilometers from the inn to where I was due to meet the group for yesterday's exploration of the walking route associated with the life of the scientist Robert Hooke. It would be a mostly straight shot along the coastal path, and I had more than four hours to complete it before the 2:00 meeting time. I could travel at a leisurely 12 minutes per kilometer and even take breaks.

I followed the road briefly until I saw a sign for the coastal path. Once across a field, I was suddenly in a different world, one where hills undulated all the way to the chalk cliffs of Alum Bay in the extreme west; where sheep, horses, cows, and alpacas grazed; where the brown English Channel lapped against the beach a sheer drop-off below; where the wind intermittently reminded me that nature was in charge. It was another sunny day.

The path soon veered perpendicularly back inward, to the road; there must have been some private land in the way. Occasionally the path goes through private property, but the town council has an arrangement with the landowner (often involving compensation) to turn the segment into a "permissive path." The permission can be renewed or revoked. In this area they hadn't come to an agreement.

Well, I didn't have time to keep going between the coast and the road. I stayed on the road for the next hour, until the obvious path headed for the beach after the Isle of Wight Pearl jewelry shop. My shins were hurting, and I emitted an occasional grunt. I wasn't even making 12 minutes per kilometer, and I had lost some time going between the coast and the highway. Still, I should have a buffer, I thought.

History abounded, and I wished I'd had more time. Near Mottistone Manor, where there's been a building for about 1400 years -- but where the current mansion is a mere half-millennium old -- is the Long Stone, actually a pair of stones thought to be part of a 5000-year-old burial site.

But that's but a speck of time compared with the history just ahead at Compton Bay, where molds of dinosaur footprints have been filled in. I hurried down to the beach in search of them. A couple with Britain's unfriendliest dog approached, and the animal evidently had behavioral cousins over in Lagoen Hill on Bonaire. But I didn't have time to make peace with the dog.

"Excuse me, do you know where the dinosaur footprints are?" I asked.

It was an unfairly timed question. "Sorry, I don't know," the woman said offhand, trying to control her pet.

I did see what looked like a moss-covered three-pronged rock. Was that one of the footprints? I didn't expect it to rise up out of the sand, but research revealed that that was in fact what I was looking at.

I continued along and looked back a couple minutes later. The obnoxious dog had left its owners and was headed for me again. I hurled a couple of rocks in its direction, and it finally went away.

I had an hour to get to my group walk, and I still had to climb up over the first chalk cliff, descend to Freshwater Bay, and head north to reach All Saints' Church. My grunting took on variety: a long grunt, or sometimes three medium grunts, or a bunch of rapid-fire grunts. I sounded like I was doing the Rosh Hashanah shofar calls.

I chugged along, waddling more than walking, with my left foot pointing ahead and my right pointed perpendicularly outward. This happened to be the arrangement that worked best for my body and I wasn't about to argue with it.

At 1:58 I paused at the bus stop at Freshwater Bay to remind myself of the route up to All Saints' Church. I'd remembered it being about ten minutes. I could be eight minutes late. Based on previous walks, I estimated that they'd take that long to make announcements and check everyone in.

So I was horrified when Google Maps spat out the distance: 2.6 kilometers.

On this day when I had been happy not to have to run, now I had to run. But first I had to reset MapMyWalk (so as to separately count my around-the-island journey and the group walk) and find the phone number of Arnold, our group leader. Maybe he would answer, and maybe they would happen to be heading south and I could find them.

It was 2:07 when I found the number. Arnold answered.

"Hello. This is Seth. I'm so sorry but I'm running late for the walk. I'm still about fifteen minutes away. Where are you now?"

"We've just gotten onto the causeway," he said calmly.

I hadn't seen anything on the map resembling what I'd call a causeway, but all I'd looked at was which way I had to go first: to the street on my right.

"Do you know where you'll be in ten minutes?" That was an unfair question, but it was my best hope of finding the group.

"By then we'll probably have started the walk." Fair enough. It wouldn't have been right to push for more details.

I was coming to the end of this road. "I'm sorry, I have to look at the map," I said, and as I took the phone away from my ear I pressed the side button, which I learned is one way to disconnect a call.

I had to turn left and then immediately right, I saw. I did so and there, on that street sign to the right, were the best two words of the day.

The Causeway.

I called Arnold back. "I'm on the Causeway now!"

"Oh! Well, just come along, and you'll see the group."

I didn't expect to find a man leaning against a car. "You beat me here," he said. "You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I'm a cripple."

Maybe an assistant was bringing the rest of the group, so he didn't have to walk as far. "Really? Well, you're marvelous," I said.

"Polio got me when I was a child. Then I worked in building construction for fifty years." My mind was still racing and I may not have gotten the number right, but that was the idea. "Then it caught up with me."

I eased into the conversation, expressing wonder at his defying such a disease for so long.

Then I finally caught on to the obvious. "You're not with the walking festival, are you?"

"Have they come through yet?"

"I'm so sorry...I have to meet them," I trailed off, running ahead again.

I found them standing on the trail about ten seconds later. It was a big group, about 30 people and one chocolate-lab mix. I checked in with an assistant just as Arnold was finishing his introduction. Then it was time to walk.

A Freshwater native, Robert Hooke had a couple of carefree habits that were detrimental to his legacy. A member of the Royal Society, he was tasked with coming up with some scientific news every week. Often this came in the form of sticking things under a microscope. From doing so he drew an astonishingly accurate and detailed diagram of the anatomy of a flea. He also connected the makeup of cork to the pattern of a honeycomb, and in doing so he established the term "cell" as the basic unit of life.

But he was sloppy about patenting his work, and he didn't like to stay with one subject for very long. He is best known for his law of springs, which states that multiplying the weight of an object hanging from a spring by a certain amount will, in turn, multiply the distance from the spring to the object by the same factor -- at least until the contraption breaks. His disagreements with Isaac Newton resulted in his being all but forgotten, but the Robert Hooke Society in Freshwater has helped to turn that around.

The area was also a favorite of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and the story is that Tennyson's son helped build the island's only thatched church in 1908, using stones from Hooke's cottage. Hooke himself built numerous churches, even though his scientific revelations conflicted too much with the Bible to be accepted in the 17th century. He contributed to the design of the dome at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, determining that the layout should mirror a naturally dangling chain.

Hooke was never wealthy (and he often had to press hard to collect his salary), but when he died, a chest containing £8000 was found in his home -- money saved from a side job settling property boundaries for the architect Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.

All Saints' Church is next door to the Red Lion pub (every town in Britain must have a pub named for a colored lion), and I took a needed break before trudging over to the Highdown Inn in Totland. I circled the inn's pub looking for a reception desk; the busy bartender took a break between pint-pouring to gesture up to room 1.

The bar was busy with people who all seemed to know each other or the bartender. A frisky dog named Mack was investigating its tabletop and came over to check me out. In the back was a group of about 13 boys, aged around ten, plus their chaperone. I would have dined at the bar, but such an activity is not done in Britain; food is at tables only. And so I enjoyed my starter of mussels and my lamb's liver with bacon off to the side, stopping occasionally to sip a tonic and gin from the island's Mermaid distillery.

In addition to writing "Rosie," Alan Titchmarsh has been dispensing gardening advice to the British for decades, and he hosts a Saturday-morning program of classical music on Classic FM. An early segment in the show is a welcome of listeners into his Wide-Awake Club, in which they can write in and explain what the hell they're doing up before 8:00 on a Saturday.

I had sent a message explaining that I'd be heading through the footpaths near Yarmouth as part of the "Meander With Malcolm" walk, and I mentioned my 26-walk project and the fact that "Rosie" had given me insight into the geography and mood of the island.

He gave a lovely acknowledgment, saying that he was "enormously flattered." For the next six days (until the next episode of his program airs), the broadcast should be available here: https://www.globalplayer.com/catchup/classicfm/uk/episodes/BUqzCk7X74cWQz49pujKbWJfT/

The segment about the Wide-Awake Club starts at the 31:41 mark. It's possible that listening requires setting up an account with the site.

Further along in the program was the "Titchmarsh Teaser." This week the question was: What's the record for eating three cream crackers?

I thought someone must be able to funnel them down in a few seconds, so I was surprised to see that the world record is 14.45 seconds, managed by a Singaporean, while the British record is 34.7 seconds.

How big are these crackers? I thought. I'm sure I could wolf down three saltines in about ten seconds. But cream crackers are about the size of a drink coaster. Perhaps I'll try it sometime.

I walked up to Yarmouth, passing the weekly "car boot sale" on a patch of green in Totland. After an hour and a quarter I crossed a drawbridge and rolled up to Malcolm's group at precisely the appointed time of 10:30.

"Were you the one on the radio?" someone asked.

"You heard it?"

"No, but he did," she said, gesturing toward Mark. He was Malcolm's son and his assistant on the tour. He had worked in London last night, left at 5 a.m., and heard Alan's program just as he was getting on the ferry.

Around 20 of us headed out past a former tidal mill -- not a particularly effective type, Malcolm said, as the tides at times aren't very strong -- and then through the forest of Mill Copse, home to numerous red squirrels who usually keep to themselves. We came to the hamlet of Thorley: "There's no pub, but there are the best eggs on the island," Malcolm said. "Though they just went from one pound forty to one pound fifty" (for six). We passed the house where the eggs are usually ready for the taking, but they were sold out.

We could see Tennyson Down, topped by the Tennyson Monument, way in the distance, a vague stick protruding from the cliffs. In the distance we heard a cuckoo. We came to Broad Lane, where Malcolm and Mark used to live, and we passed a row of sloe plants. "In the autumn, people come to harvest them." Broad Lane -- "It's not very broad, but it was the old highway" -- was in appalling state, Malcolm said, until he moved closer to the center of Yarmouth and then the road was promptly paved.

A few of the attendees invited me to join them for lunch at the Bugle, for some Wight ale and crab sandwiches. Neil was from Essex, east of London. He has lived in about 20 places, including Malta, where he had bought a flat just before Brexit and sold it soon after the event when the abrupt change in the exchange rate resulted in an immediate £50,000 profit.

But he wouldn't live in London; he hopes to settle on Wight.

"What if you met someone who said, 'I love you, but I need to live in London'?" I asked.

"No way. Unless she's extremely wealthy. And if she's got a heart condition, it's even better." He paused, wondering whether he had offended me. "Do you get British humor?"

We finished up and I walked as far as the entrance to the Yarmouth pier. The 50-pence pedestrian toll put me off, so I reversed course and, at Malcolm's suggestion, stopped in at a Harvey's grocery to pick up some Isle of Wight gallybagger cheese. I paused for a pastry and tea at Off the Rails, the eatery that occupies the former Yarmouth train station, and then slowly walked back to the Highdown Inn.

The place was once again busy in the evening hours. I rested for a while and went down just before the kitchen closed at eight. Once again the bar was hopping, so I sat in the back room with a couple from Southampton who came to kayak and a group of three men who rounded the island by bicycle yesterday. We talked about Wight, sports, and politics.

"We settled abortion in nineteen sixty-seven," the man from Southampton said. "It hasn't come up since."

Well, of course.

As I ate my duck-breast starter and whole sea bass, I massaged the muscles in front of my shins by rubbing the back of one leg against the opposite shin. It seemed to help, and somehow the end of today's walk was easier than some of the earlier parts. But tomorrow's walk starts early, and it vies to be my longest to date.

Go on to day 5