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Trip 31 -- Isle of Wight Walk

Sunday, May 8, 2022

When I saw that the Isle of Wight Walking Festival was due to happen from May 7 to 15, I decided it must be the time for a "W." A concert I'm playing has me rehearsing in Manhattan most Monday nights in May, limiting my time at the festival to as much as I can manage between sessions. So I have been not only rehearsing with the chorus but also rehearsing the walk from our studio on Seventh Avenue and 29th Street to the New Jersey Transit tracks at Penn Station, to make sure I can exit the rehearsal at 9 p.m. (leaving my music binder in the safe care of my cousin who sings in the chorus) and be on a train to Newark airport six minutes later for United's 11 p.m. departure to London. (The 107 bus and PATH-62 bus combination for which I expressed such fondness in the Bonaire prologue, alas, will not help me out this time.)

The Isle of Wight is a half-hour ferry ride due south of mainland England. It's roughly a diamond-shaped island with the notch of the River Medina slicing through the top vertically and separating two of the entry points, West Cowes and East Cowes. A separate ferry connects the two, but to make this a true round-the-island walk I'll follow the river from West Cowes south to Newport and then back up the other side.

Queen Victoria grew fond of the island as a child, and her establishment of a residence at Osborne House near East Cowes inspired Brits to visit the island, making it a popular holiday destination and the home of authors such as Dickens, Tennyson...and Alan Titchmarsh, who wrote the novel "Rosie," my companion for this journey. Two of the main characters earn a living painting the scenery, and the sister of one of them romps around the world and reads Paul Theroux.

The early planning for this trip happened around the time the festival announced the first 50 walks, at the beginning of March. I'd glanced at them, found a bunch that worked with my itinerary, and then gotten busy with other things. By the time I got around to registering for them in April, some were already fully booked. Plenty of convenient options still existed, fortunately, including one for every full day I'd spend on the island, Wednesday through Sunday.

I thought all was set until an e-mail this morning alerted me to the cancellation of my first group walk, an evening stroll around tombs and homes of Victorian residents of Bonchurch in the southeast. Back to the list I went.

The only other possible option was a walk from nearby Shanklin, searching for bluebells and following a former railway line. The good news was that it was five minutes from where I'd planned to stay Wednesday night. The bad news was that it started at 10:30 a.m., giving me about 19 hours to sleep and get there from my ferry landing at West Cowes, 32 walking miles away. I registered immediately and then changed my hotel from East Cowes to Ryde, splitting that journey approximately in half: five hours when I arrive Tuesday afternoon and four and a half very early hours Wednesday morning. By the time I rechecked the site to find the exact starting point, the walk was full: Perhaps I was the last registrant.

One takeaway from "Rosie" is that it rains a lot in spring on the island; it is the second Abecedarian Walks book to feature the exclamation "Oh, God" associated with a drive through a torrent. (The other was Paul Theroux's.) But the forecast for this week is for mild temperatures and partly cloudy skies, which I'll optimistically think of as partly sunny.

Go on to day 1