Farewell to my Forties…

Another decade has ended and I am thinking back to those months just after I turned forty, when my mindset completely changed about who I was and what I wanted out of life.

I stood and took a selfie of myself in a hotel room in Cannes, in a Mediterranean Blue maxi dress, looking nervous but excited about the night ahead. That night (which I’ve detailed elsewhere on this blog) changed everything. Coming back to London, I knew everything had to be different.

And it was.

Thank you, forties, for letting me find out who I truly am; letting me explore my independence, my sexuality, my freedom, my voice, my self.

I look back at the 43-year-old who left a marriage and set out on that first holiday on her own to Thailand, who found herself flying round an island on the back of a motorbike with a black-haired boy and laughing.

I think about the person who stood in a bar alone, having a drink bought for her by a shocked woman (who went back to her husband eager to tell him what she’d done).

There is a scene where a woman buys a flat of her own in a golden building in a new place that turns out to be her real home.

There are beautiful young men who’ve appeared, grinning and eager, curious about the world, and even more curious about her.

I’m watching a woman reading on a beach in Dahab, watching the sun rise and fall behind shadowy mountains, smiling to herself about the evening ahead.

She goes back to the hotel to write a blog post, because writing has become a way of processing her days and recording her experience. Maybe no one will read it, but it doesn’t matter.

There is a woman who finally realises that shrinking her body is not the way of happiness. That being strong and in the world, taking up space, is the way she needs to be, and that there is nothing better than walking – walking along a coastal path or through a rainforest – to put her mind at rest.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, there is a woman who realises she has something to say and has the confidence to say it. It’s only taken forty or fifty years to get there. Yes, it might scare off some of the men she meets, but actually, that’s fine. If they can’t deal, they can’t deal. She has friends who can.

So now I’m fifty and I need to stop talking about myself in the third person. It’s here, and I’m excited and not afraid. I know how to do it – I worked it all out in my forties. I’m off to London Book Fair to meet amazing people and talk on a panel about European illustration (on the day when Theresa May might trigger our departure from Europe).

Let’s do this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1928

Recently, I was asked in a questionnaire what year I would like to go back to and why. After deliberating awhile I realised that there was only one year I could go back to: 1928. This is the year my mother was born; the year that women gained electoral equality with men in the Equal Franchise Act; the year that Virginia Woolf delivered her famous A Room of One’s Own speech to the women of Girton College, Cambridge.

How amazing to have been there, listening to Virginia exhorting the assembled young women to “possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.”

I’ve realised that this blog is my response to Woolf. I left my marriage when I felt I was financially able to – it really was the trigger – and I’d waited a long time for it to happen. Since then, I’ve lapped up my freedom and dipped so deeply into that stream. I eventually felt compelled to write about my experiences. Virginia would be so proud.

I’ve also recently read Gloria Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road and been similarly inspired. It made me smile, the chapter entitled ‘Why I Don’t Drive’ because like Gloria, I can drive but I’ve stopped, preferring public transport. And like Gloria, I don’t drive “because adventure starts the moment I leave my door”.

I remember my honeymoon to New Zealand. The two of us spent the whole time in a motorhome, speaking to no one, having miniature meals out of the miniature fridge and stacking everything back neatly so that it didn’t fall out of the cupboards when we were driving in the mountains. I remember the relief of speaking to the petrol-station attendants as we bought the infamous steak-and-cheese pies from the heated cabinets (try them). I wish with all my heart that we’d at least driven round in a car and stayed at motels – at least we’d have more people to speak to, and I’ve have had less time to ruminate on whether or not I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life.

I’m 50 next year (I know, right?!) and I’ve been having some ideas about what I’d like to do. I’ve decided on a smorgasbord of experiences rather than a big single one, although I am tempted to return to Costa Rica. It’s just too beautiful not to return to…

Anyway, one of the things I’m really settled on is that I will walk. A lot. On my own. I love it, and I discovered that Woolf did too, walking in London, Cornwall, Sussex and Spain, believing that walking benefits mind, body and soul. On  a recent return trip to my beloved Isle of Wight coastal path, I felt my soul sing with every step. I can’t not go back there.

I am thinking about the Camino – the pilgrim’s routes that form a web of walks all over northern Europe to the final destination in northwestern Spain: Santiago di Compostela. I know it’s a well-worn route, but I might try the Portuguese coastal way. The last time I was in Portugal I was miserable, with a ‘friend’ who was bemoaning the loss of a boyfriend and taking it all out on me. I wrote a diary whilst there, detailing my longing to escape. It would be great to go back and reclaim that country for myself.

I’m also thinking of the Norwegian Hurtigruten cruises. I know it sounds like I’m already applying for my Saga reward card but ever since I visited Norway I’ve been keen to go back and see that coastline properly. The Hurtigruten was once a postal ferry that plied along the Norwegian coast – now it does it mainly for pleasure-seekers, it seems, but I’d love to try it. It’s on the list.

And finally, and yet another inspiration I got from a book I’ve recently read (Wildwood by Roger Deakin) I’m thinking about trying Peddar’s Way in Norfolk. I’d never even heard of it until I read the book. And I’d never heard of Roger Deakin until I’d read Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways. And so, my circle of book-based life-enhancement goes on.

And so does my relentless search for another coastline to love. At some point I have to revisit the glorious Wild Atlantic Way, because for me, no other coastline has quite had that magic. Dahab in Egypt has come close, but nothing speaks to me like that west coast of Ireland. I’ve driven it, yes, but I’d like to feel my hiking boots on the ground and the inevitable drizzle and sunshine (often at the same time) on my face.

And then there’s the Guinness and Tia Maria to try again in that bar in Allihies…

 

 

Pura Vida!

It’s almost six years to the day that I first embarked on one of my solo holidays. I deliberately chose somewhere far away (Thailand) so I wouldn’t be able to chicken out and fly home ahead of time. I found the first few days really challenging (read about that here) but once I found my groove I couldn’t wait to go back again. And I did, a few months later.

Since then I’ve found a couple of places I love – Bodrum in Turkey and Dahab in Egypt – and visited them over and over again because I feel so comfortable there. This year, though, I felt like trying somewhere new, not least because I can’t currently fly to Dahab (flights aren’t currently going to Sharm-el-Sheikh from the UK) and Bodrum has been at the centre of the refugee crisis in the last year or so. I didn’t feel right to go there for pleasure.

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Red-eyed Tree Frog seen at Finca Verde Lodge

Costa Rica has recently loomed onto the UK holiday horizon, partly because of the reintroduction of direct flights there from tour operators like Thomson (they started last November). I’d seen a friend’s holiday pictures over Christmas and thought it looked like the perfect destination for me – beautiful beaches, lush forests, interesting flora and fauna. I booked it before I could think about it too much.

My destination was Tamarindo, a surf town in the north west on the Pacific coast. At this time of year, the rainy season, the Pacific side is the driest, and July gives a short respite in the rains, that the locals call ‘Little Summer’. It rains a bit, but not nearly as much as it does between May and November in other months. What the rainy season does give you is a daily spectacular sunset, and Tamarindo is famous for it. Nary a day goes by without one lighting the curious cloud formations in a unique, glorious way.

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One of the many glorious sunsets viewed from the Esplendor hotel…

Towards the end of my holiday I decided to take a ‘sunset cruise’ that hilariously turned into a ‘storm cruise’ with a dash back to the shore and being told to run for it across the beach because someone had been killed by lightning the week before. During my two-week trip, the lightning strike happened, plus a guy got his leg chewed off by a croc in Tamarindo estuary (he was walking where he shouldn’t) and a volcano erupted. Costa Rica is certainly ‘lively’ when it comes to natural-world news.

Tamarindo is happily also famous for its party atmosphere. One of the things I need when I’m away on my own is access to lively nightlife. I’ve found I can lose myself in local bars and clubs, whereas it’s more difficult in a quiet restaurant. I need lots of people around at night, and Tamarindo (or Tamagringo, as the locals refer to it) doesn’t disappoint. As the guides suggest, it has something of a ‘spring break’ feel about it, with a range of bars catering to the American surf crowd.

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Surfer on wave watch at Playa Langosta, Tamarindo

I preferred the local ‘Tico’ places – like Pacifico, where you can’t stand still for five seconds without someone whizzing you round the dance floor to the latest salsa hit. And then there’s the Crazy Monkey Bar, where everyone heads on a Friday night, split between a Gringo and a Tico dancefloor. Guess which one I headed to? Yep – Tico every time. Much more fun, and more relaxed. Beware the free shots given to ladies though – Guaro chilli shots are pretty lethal.

I’ve realised that what I really like is a hotel base, near to a lively town, but just out of the way enough to get away. The Esplendor Tamarindo is perched on the hill above the town and has spectacular views of the sunset from a swim-up bar. Howler monkeys fight for territory in the trees around the infinity pool and the tree-lined hills behind the hotel are filled with birdsong all day. Every room faces the ocean so it’s a place where no one feels disgruntled with their room choice.

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View from my hotel balcony over Tamarindo

(I wondered why the staff were a little bit grumpy in the hotel, when everyone tells you how friendly the Ticos are. It turned out, according to a tour guide, that it’s Argentinian-owned. That seems to be the byword for bad service in Costa Rica.)

The hotel/town situation reminded me very much of my first solo experience in Thailand. There, I was staying in an extremely romantic hotel, upgraded to a seaview, but I had access to a nearby party town that was only two minutes away. I could leave behind the romantic couples looking at the sunset and head into town for fun.

I laughed when I realised the similarity, but not so much when I realised how daunting it is going to a completely new continent so far away, on your own. I’d forgotten, in the years of repeat visits to Bodrum and Dahab, that it’s fairly stressful not knowing how things work. I quickly realised what was going to happen – it would take me several days, or even a week, to get into the swing of things, and then I’d want to book a repeat visit so I could go back and do it properly.

And that is exactly what did happen.

Luckily for me, I had a bit of a false start to the holiday, meeting a guy on his own in the hotel. He had found out lots of local information via an American guy who had retired there, and it gave me an instant solo-holiday boost. He was also great to hang out with, and we ended up touring the local bars one night, in what appeared to be a live Bacardi advert. We packed it all in – karaoke, salsa, house music – it was one of those nights. When he left a few days later I came crashing down with the realisation that I was on my own and I’d have to make my own fun. I really did wallow for a bit and it brought back those first wretched days in Thailand. But I did what I did back then, and booked some trips to shake off the gloom.

And then I met Nolberto the tour guide. My first trip was a guided group hike to Rincon De La Vieja – one of the four active volcanoes. Nolberto, like many of the Tico guides I came across, was well drilled in the history, culture and politics of his country. There is no army, he told us proudly. The money is spent instead on health and education, and education is compulsory for 7-12 year olds. He told us that the first mile or so of the hiking track into the forest is paved so that people in wheelchairs could enjoy the experience.

I realised why people want to live in Costa so much. Everything is focused on a better quality of life – ‘pura vida’ – the pure life statement that punctuates pretty much everything a Tico says.

During a post-hike visit to some hot springs, an American woman asked me what I thought about Brexit. They all did, every time I met one. And all but one was hugely sympathetic to the 48% Remain voters and worried about the threat posed to the US by Donald Trump. Hillary just HAS to get in, said one. I said it might be a good idea to prepare for the worst, just in case. So many of us in the UK had been caught out by complacency and it would be wise to go there in your head before it happened.

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The hot springs near Rincon De La Vieja

Mostly I get scowled at by women in couples on these sorts of holidays. They appear to think I pose some sort of threat, and their partners pick up on it and are invariably too scared to talk to me. A few times I got approached by women who were genuinely interested in what I was doing on my solo holiday and were comfortable enough in their marriages to include me in their family group. I really appreciated it. Thanks, ladies.

I’ve found, especially now I’m older, that I also get ignored by staff in restaurants and beach clubs. I’m told it’s because they can get more money out of couples and groups, but it felt as though it was the ‘cloak of invisibility’ that descends upon women after the age of 46. Seeing a waiter who had previously ignored me, running after a group of young surf girls at Lola’s, kind of confirmed that for me. Mind you, that was during my low point, so I was probably more sensitive than normal. Lola’s is a fantastic restaurant on the glorious Playa Avellanas – highly recommended. Especially the free Imperial Beer you get when you tell the waiter off…

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The view of Playa Avellanas from Lola’s Restaurant

Anyway, back to Nolberto. He’d given me his card on the trip and as he’s freelance, I thought I’d book him to go on my next trip to Monteverde. (Book him by email here: Eltwintours@hotmail.com). I’d tried booking a group trip in town, but they seemed to run only when they could amass enough people and I didn’t want to wait and miss out. On the spectacular drive there (it’s a cloud forest in the mountains), Nolberto had a habit of shouting, “Vámonos!” every time he overtook a slow vehicle (which was a lot). I started shouting it as well, and it made us laugh so much. He was great fun.

I realised how great it was to have a private guide on that day. It happened to be Guanacaste Day – the day that people in the north-western region I was in celebrate their annexation from Nicaragua. And boy, do they celebrate it. On the way back from Monteverde we stopped at Bar Y La Griega near Santa Cruz and they had a cimarrona band playing. It was a group of high-school boys standing outside the bar in the dark playing a frenzied mariachi-style music (which is usually accompanied by dancing puppets). One of things I’d never have witnessed if I’d been on a group tour.

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Holding a young sloth at Finca Verde Lodge

Nolberto also tracked down sloths for me – I couldn’t visit the country and not see at least one. We travelled back to the volcano region to Finca Verde Lodge in Bijagua, which turned out to be a little gem of a place with hardly any visitors. We saw three small slots nestled high up in the cecropia trees they love so much and were told that they only come down about twice a week for toilet purposes.

Amazingly, one popped down while I was having my lunch and Nolberto passed it over to me to hold. It is simply one of the most beautiful moments of my life. It felt like a hairy baby, this 8-month-old three-toed sloth, that naturally curls its arms around you for a cuddle. He was stoned, of course, from the cecropia leaves, but his smile came from being a three-toed sloth. They all have them. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them.

 

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Norberto holding the 8-month-old three-toed sloth

Nolberto also encouraged me to zipline whilst at Selvatura Park in Monteverde. I was really scared but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t do it. It comprises 12 ‘flights’ across 18 platforms and once I’d (literally) got into the swing of it, I was dying to do it again. I had to be ‘accompanied’ across a few flights by random guys – you had to do some of them in pairs. Thanks to the three guys who gallantly placed their legs around my waist without even knowing my name.

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As with Thailand, I’m now feeling an overwhelming urge to return to CR. I wish I’d spent way more time in the mountains and done a lot more hiking. I wish I’d spent more time partying in the evenings and not so much going to bed early. I wish I’d spent more time with the locals. I wish I’d gone one step further on my first attempt at snorkelling in the sea but panicking in a life vest was as far as I got, and that was a lifetime achievement (I can’t swim).

I suppose it’s like that old adage about leaving the dinner table still wanting more.

I’ll be back, Costa Rica, I’ll be back…

 

 

Indecent Exposure **content warning**

Two days ago I decided to take advantage of the warm, autumnal sunshine and take a walk along the Thames Path – the towpath that winds along the banks of the Thames river in London. I chose the south side, starting at Kew Bridge and ending at Hampton Court – a route that would be around 10 miles in length, through beautiful riverside leafiness.

It felt so good to stride out along the well-worn path, complete with dappled sunshine and smiling walkers, runners and cyclists. I came across Ham House, a 17th-century mansion owned by the National Trust, that was offering free access as part of the Open House London weekend – I decided to take a little detour and found the house and grounds enchanting. I tweeted, I Instagrammed, I Periscoped. All good.

Then about half a mile on from Ham House I became aware that I was being followed very closely behind by another walker. I didn’t look round but I knew it was a guy. After a few minutes, at 3.30pm precisely, I tweeted as I walked: “To the man walking RIGHT BEHIND ME on the Thames Path – ever thought that might be intimidating?” I figured he probably hadn’t realised so faked a photo stop on the side of the river next to a woman who was sketching. I watched him walk on – seemed like a normal guy out for a walk – and after a few minutes I carried on.

Then suddenly, there he was, flaccid cock waving in his hands, grinning at me from a spot just off the path in the woods. “Oh you f*cking dickhead,” I muttered and carried on walking, but as two guys – a father and son – cycled past me I asked them to stop. My legs had gone wobbly and I asked them to walk with me for a bit, which they did. The father was suitably horrified – not least I suppose, that this was happening in front of his son who looked about 11 – and said I should call the police immediately. “Really?” I said. I’d fully intended to carry on walking and ‘not make a fuss’ but he was insistent. “I think you should, in case this guy does it again to another woman.” He was absolutely right.

I’m still amazed at the speed and seriousness of the police response. Within fifteen minutes they were with me, further down the track, and taking a statement. They then went on to walk back along the path, using my description to track the offender. They’d offered to take me home, or at least to a station, but I was absolutely determined to carry on. I wasn’t going to let one dickhead stop me from walking freely on a public footpath.

PCs Whitaker and Lau walking ahead of me after the second call-out. Thames Path.

PCs Whitaker and Lau walking ahead of me after the second call-out. Thames Path.

About half an hour later, I saw him again. He was way up ahead, and he’d turned round to carefully check out the lone woman passing him on the path going the other way. I readied myself to join her but he turned back again, leaving her be. I called the police again and they came out immediately. Not only that, but the call-centre officer insisted I stayed on the line while I waited for them, and said that I should call the police if I EVER felt threatened by a man walking too close to me, or whatever. Blimey, I thought. If I do that, I’ll be on the phone every week…

Then came the response to the incident on my social-media feeds. One young woman talked about how being flashed at by a local offender was a ‘rite of passage’ at her school and how the girls were told to tell him to ‘put it away’ and look disdainful. Another had seen a man peeing on a beach that morning, clearly after public attention, but unlike me, it hadn’t even warranted a Facebook mention.

So many women commented that it had happened to them at least once, but it was clear that we’d all been trained not to make a fuss. I am horrified that it took a man to insist I call the police on this occasion, but I’m afraid to say my initial response was to just walk on and process it, after sharing on social media, of course.

I suppose my amazement at the police reaction was as a result of being brought up on the traditional ‘Cagney and Lacey’ response to flashers. Remember that bit in the opening credits where a guy opens up his mac and Cagney just looks so ‘is that it?’ about it? That image flashed into my head on the day, and I think it sets the scene for our cultural response to a man getting his dick out in front of us. Treat it as a joke and move on, because there are bigger issues to deal with. Typically, an old lady I spoke to as the police were scoping out the area simply said, “he was obviously born with a small one.”

Cagney & Lacey opening credits - the 'flasher'

Cagney & Lacey opening credits – the ‘flasher’

I later found out that another incident had happened in the same area, half an hour before mine, involving two girls of twelve and thirteen. The guy had followed them, too, and then revealed himself. Goodness knows how many times he’d done it that day, but I’m willing to bet that only a minority of them were reported. There is some evidence that shows these relatively ‘minor’ offences can lead to greater ‘contact’ ones, when the thrill of the shock and disgust (that’s what arouses them) needs a bigger event to trigger it. We need make sure these offenders are reported and subsequently caught, because like many seemingly ‘harmless’ events, they can often build into something bigger.

People often ask me why I complain so much about wolf-whistling or Page Three – it’s because both can sometimes lead to something so much worse, whether it’s a torrent of abuse if you don’t accept the ‘compliment’ with a smile, or a rapist whispering the name of their favourite tabloid into your ear. All of these things are set on a continuum and the more we let the ‘small’ things slide, the more likely the ‘big’ things are going to happen.

The way the police dealt with my incident that day has made me realise that they are only too aware of the continuum, and the importance of taking these issues seriously. I have received two follow-up emails and a victim care card. My advice to any woman out there who experiences this would be to phone 999. Immediately. Don’t make like Cagney and walk on. These guys are preying on our ‘don’t make a fuss’ culture and they need to be stopped.

I know that there will be some people reading this thinking I’m making a fuss – hell, even I thought I was wasting police time at the start of it all. But then I heard about those two young girls and thought about the lone woman I saw, unaware of the guy scoping her out as a potential victim, and I’m so glad that guy encouraged me to call the police.

Make the fuss, ladies. Seek the attention.

It’s the only way things are going to change.

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(Special thanks to PC Kate Whitaker of the Metropolitan Police).

Read an interesting piece from a police officer on the non-reporting of these crimes:

“We all need to change our attitude towards indecent exposure. This is not a cheeky chappie having a bit of fun. We need to lose this ‘harmless seaside postcard’ image of a flasher that sadly all too often still seems to prevail. We’re talking about people that may go on to commit serious sexual offences.”

Wight Walk – Day Five

Apart from last night’s glorious experience at Cantina, Ventnor wasn’t really appealing to me at first. But after a good night’s sleep and with blisters under strict control, I found it all so much more impressive in the morning.

I decided to go back to the coastal path and made my way to Steephill Cove – a place that has been recommended to me by so many Wight lovers. I can see why.

Steephill Cove

Steephill Cove

A strand of higgledy coffee shops and surf shacks line the cove, and when I arrived there it was bright and quiet. Here’s my Periscope. A coffee at the Beach Shack at the end of the strand has to rank as one of the best experiences of the trip. They have a bar with stools that overlooks the sea – it’s ridiculously beautiful.

View from the Beach Shack

View from the Beach Shack

Then it was further up the coastal path to Ventnor Botanic Gardens. Don’t make the mistake I made and go for the official entrance – I now realise I could’ve got in quite easily round the back of the gardens straight from the coastal path. An unnecessary circuit on still-fragile feet.

Palm Garden at Ventnor Botanic Garden

Palm Garden at Ventnor Botanic Garden

After the relative wildness of the coastal path and Steephill, I found the gardens all a bit too manicured and ‘curated’. I’m afraid I pretty much whizzed around it (after using the wifi in the café – no signal at all in Steephill) and got back to the coastal path as quickly as possible.

And so to Crab Shed for lunch, home of the crab pastie. I managed to grab one of the little tables at the front of the place, which is only open 12pm to 3pm but is oh so popular. They were offering prosecco with their crab – and who was I to turn that opportunity down?

Prosecco and crab pasties at the Crab Shed

Prosecco and crab pasties at the Crab Shed

I hopped back to the Beach Shack for another coffee and a read of my book, but I did feel self-conscious among all the (very middle-class) families there. I felt much more at home among the masses by the main beach at Ventnor in the end, despite Steephill’s impressive strand. I’d love to go back there with a friend.

Main beach at Ventnor

Main beach at Ventnor

I boarded a bus bound for Ryde which took me through the attractive old town of Shanklin and then Sandown. Of course, I should’ve walked through both towns, but sadly my feet weren’t up to it.

And so back to Ryde, into the welcoming abode of Joan and Brian, where I started my journey. It’s funny how quickly you can bond with people – I really looked forward to seeing them at the end of my journey and they told me they’d been following my blog.

The balcony room at San Remo B&B

The balcony room at San Remo B&B

It’s funny how these trips always come down to the people I meet. Mary, the mad cyclist, Clare the Chinese blogger, Christophe the German runner, and John White the walker.

And all the B&B owners: lovely Joan and Brian with their granddaughter Eva, Rowena who picked me up in Shalfleet when I was half dead, and Sue and Joe with their pet seagull, Ziggy, in Freshwater Bay. And then all the dogs and other animals I’ve met – too numerous to list here.

So this is the end of the trip, barring the hovercraft from Ryde in the morning. It didn’t quite go to plan, but there again, I think that plans are sometimes meant to be broken. And there will always be kind strangers there to help you out when that happens.

Hope you’ve enjoyed it all as much as I have – let’s do it again some time.

View from the coastal path, Ventnor

View from the coastal path, Ventnor

Wight Walk – Day Four

Well today was unexpected. In good and bad ways.

This was the day when I had to stop walking due to Blistergeddon and ‘pivot’ into a totally different trip. Freshwater Bay isn’t exactly a terrible place to explore or chill out in so at least that timing was good. Here’s my Periscope of it.

Gorgeous Freshwater Bay

Gorgeous Freshwater Bay

But first I met Clare at breakfast. I’m guessing that Clare wasn’t her real name as she’s from China, but is a blogger like me, studying in Sussex. In fact her blog sounds *exactly* like mine so I’m curious to Google translate it when she emails me the link. We both remarked on ‘the kindness of strangers’ as we’d both bumped into Christophe the German on Tennyson Down the day before. Maybe he’s cruising it…

Pen-Y-Bryn - I'll be back...

Pen-Y-Bryn – I’ll be back…

Before I left the wonderful Pen-Y-Bryn (I can’t recommend it highly enough), landlord Joe let me watch him wake up their pet seagull, Ziggy. Here’s my Periscope of it. Ziggy is a herring gull who hatched just down the road from the property, but couldn’t fly due to a deformed wing. Sue and Joe now keep him as a pet, and he sleeps in a rabbit hutch to keep him safe from foxes and buzzards (he’s already been attacked by both).

Ziggy the Seagull comes down the ramp for breakfast

Ziggy the Seagull comes down the ramp for breakfast

I loved the story of them carrying him down to the sea at Freshwater Bay and him having a nice wander around the beach. Apparently gulls are very territorial, approaching the same fishing boats and perching on the same roofs. Ziggy regularly ‘talks’ to his folks on the neighbouring rooftops.

Dimbola - home of Julia Margaret Cameron, Victorian photographer to the stars

Dimbola – home of Julia Margaret Cameron, Victorian photographer to the stars

Dimbola Lodge in the Bay was a revelation. I had no idea that the area had been a magnet for Victorian ‘celebrities’ lured by Tennyson and his Freshwater ‘set’. Dimbola had been the home of Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian woman who turned the Victorian passion for celebrity into a career, taking photographs of them in her beautiful home. Among her models were Tennyson himself and Alice Liddell, who would become the muse behind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Twenty-year-old Alice Liddell, photographed by JMC

Twenty-year-old Alice Liddell, photographed by JMC

JMC had been given a camera as a present from her children when she was forty-eight. During her lifetime she was accused (presumably by men) of being amateurish, unprofessional and unworthy of her celebrity subjects, or of an exhibition space. I’m so pleased that she is now getting the recognition she deserved then – Dimbola is a wonderful place to visit, and had I not had Blistergeddon I would never have gone there. It’s currently showing a great exhibition about the seminal 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, complete with Jimi Hendrix garden. Fantastic memorabilia of that world-class line-up.

Original 1970 poster for the Isle of Wight Festival

Original 1970 poster for the Isle of Wight Festival

After a slightly terrifying vertiginous bus drive to Ventnor, I discovered that the shoe shop I’d planned to buy comfy shoes from was shut so I decided to use a wine spritzer at The Mill Bay as a method of pain relief. It worked. Enough to see me through popping them all and treating them with spray plaster, anyway.

View of Ventnor from The Mill Bay

View of Ventnor from The Mill Bay

And now to the much-lauded Cantina for dinner. The owner is bringing me aperitivo as I type, along with a gorgeous Elderflower Mojito Frizzante.

What blisters? Salute.

Wight Walk – Day Three

Well today I learned the true meaning of the Agony and the Ecstasy. I slept deeply in the most comfortable bed (Ecstasy) and then sat Compeed-ing my blistered feet for about half an hour (Agony).

I knew as soon as I started that the Agony was not really going to be manageable, but I pushed on through it, and found Ecstasy at the outrageously beautiful Hamstead Quay. Still creek waters, narrow boardwalks pushing out into the reeds, boats silent, waiting for their owners.

The outrageous beauty of Hamstead Quay

The outrageous beauty of Hamstead Quay

I loved the network of boardwalks allowing walkers to traverse the creeks and inlets in this area. A definite must-return for me.

After yesterday, with its many detours and inland routes to avoid the coastal erosion at Gurnard, it was so pleasant to have a day of proper coastal walking. As I made my way through the forested area around Bouldnor I finally met some walkers doing the coastal path in the opposite direction to me. They were two guys, my age, and one of them was suffering from a blister under his heel. At last I could pass on my Compeed knowledge. They hadn’t heard of it.

I had a great meal at Salty’s in Yarmouth – famed for its seafood, but I chose a burger and chips, knowing I needed my strength for the next leg of the journey. I could quite happily have stopped at that point and I very nearly did. But I pushed my way through the Fort Victoria woodland way and wondered how long it would take me to get to The Needles.

Coastal Path near Yarmouth

Coastal Path near Yarmouth

Reader, I caught a bus. I caught a bus at Totland that saved me a couple of miles. I like to read signs into things and a few locals had suggested it along the way. Why not just get the bus to The Needles? As it was I caught one to Alum Bay which seemed like some sort of amusement park that I was happy to walk on from. As it was, I added on a decent amount of mileage at The Needles viewpoint which isn’t counted in the coastal path mileage so I was happy with the trade-off.

The Needles

The Needles

At this point I still had at least another hour and a half to walk and literally hobbled along, taking over two hours. The blisters I’d started the day with had doubled in size under the Compeed plasters so I just put my head down and hobbled towards the Tennyson Monument and my accommodation at Freshwater Bay.

Tennyson Monument

Tennyson Monument

And then my Guardian Angels appeared, as they always do in these situations. Firstly, the aptly named John White. A veteran of Isle of Wight Walking Festival and only too happy to tell me I’d ‘done really well’ walking from Shalfleet. I think he meant to say that I was mad.

John White going on his way after stopping to chat

John White going on his way after stopping to chat

Then there was Christophe (sp?) – a German guy who was running up to the monument and back from Freshwater Bay and decided to walk with me on the way down and keep me chatting. He could see I was in trouble. Bless you, Christophe.

And now I’m staying in the wonderful Pen-y-Bryn B&B and rethinking the whole thing. I need a rebrand. My feet need a re-heel. I have decided to mooch around Freshwater Bay tomorrow, looking in at the Dimbola gallery that John told me about (he’s on ‘the board’), featuring the photography of one Julia Margaret Cameron, the Victorian photographer. Then I shall get a bus over to Ventnor, the next stage of my journey, and enjoy exploring that.

So Wight Walk becomes Wight Wander. I’m still going to complete the circuit but under less painful circumstances.

Wight Walk – Day Two

I’m sitting in a pub called the Horse and Groom in a village called Shalfleet, which is (allegedly) 16.7 miles from Ryde. My feet are throbbing and aching under the table, testament to the extra eleventy one miles they added because of a diversion inland, due to coastal erosion at Gurnard.

Gurnard beach

Gurnard beach

I think I’d rather have risked a cliff falling on me.

What I expected to be a quick detour inland actually turned out to be a whole heap of extra mileage, and at 16.7 miles, the walk was already at the limit of my capabilities. And I’d decided to stop off to see Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s holiday home (at least an extra couple of miles). And I got lost in Thorness which saw me going in a complete circle, thanks to a girl who was so sure the coastal path was ‘just up there’. It was ‘down there’.

Not that bad for a diversion - view over Thorness Bay

Not that bad for a diversion – view over Thorness Bay

Anyway. The question tonight is whether or not I’m going to continue tomorrow? I’ve got blisters – one big one on my right inside heel and under my third toe (weird). I’ve burst them in the hope they will be ‘aired out’ overnight and then Compeed will save me. I’m wearing Merrell cross-trainers – they’ve never given me blisters before – but even they were unable to cope with the strain of today. Really pleased with my Fabletics outfit and North Face jacket though (they’re not sponsoring me).

There were so many good things about today. A full English breakfast to start the day followed by a ‘send off’ from Poppy and Heidi – two spaniels resident at San Remo B&B. Then met at the other end by Mia and another Heidi, resident at Brookside Farm Cottage B&B.

Mia the 'jug' – Jack Russell and Pug cross

Mia the ‘jug’ – Jack Russell and Pug cross

My many encounters with Mary – the woman who is cycling the same route as me, but can’t seem to be able to follow the path. She passed me three times before Cowes, unable to comprehend that I was walking ahead of her. She made me laugh – no doubt we’ll meet again before the trip is through.

Then the glory of Osborne House, an absolute jewel in the crown. I just had time to wander around the gardens (you only have to pay to get into the house, I discovered) and I’ll definitely be going back.

Osborne House

Osborne House

The little chain ferry that links East and West Cowes and costs 40p. Apparently fares have only just been introduced and the locals are outraged. In an Isle of Wight, really-quite-nice-actually way.

And lunch at the Well Bread Bakery in Cowes followed by the insta-glamour of Cowes marina. It literally took my breath away with it’s blustery charm, gun salutes, and outrageously green waters contrasting with white boats. Here’s my Periscope.

Glorious Cowes marina

Glorious Cowes marina

I set off from Cowes, the half-way mark, with so much joie de vivre, mainly brought on by a huge coffee and a massive focaccia baguette containing emmental and ham.

The diversion away from the coast did exhaust me, but even during my lowest point, I was able to laugh about going from Cowes to cows, as I passed a big beef farm en route to Shalfleet.

The final straight - almost too much for me, today

The final straight – almost too much for me, today

I knew this was going to be tough – I like to challenge myself. I will be so disappointed in myself if I wake up and feel I can’t continue. Tomorrow it’s all coastline – white cliffs and everything. I have to do it, even if I end up coating myself in Compeed…

Wight Walk – Day One

No actually walking yet, other than exploring a bit of Ryde, but I’m here in the Isle of Wight for the very first time.

It surprised me how quick it was to get here – around three hours door-to-door from London using public transport. Apart from a young woman on the train who uptalked all the way to Portsmouth, even managing to mix in a bit of vocal fry, the journey to the south coast was rather uneventful. (I’m not sure you want to hear about my unabashed love for a hot tea, a bag of Mini Cheddars and a KitKat when I’m on a train journey.)

Boarding the hovercraft at Southsea

Boarding the hovercraft at Southsea

I loved the speed and power of the hovercraft over to The Island (as it’s known to locals) – it made me laugh that the schoolboys behind me were discussing how they’d quite like to die at sea (the crossing was quite rough).

I checked in to my B&B for tonight, San Remo, which I’ll return to at the end of this odyssey. I was greeted by the friendly owners Joan and Brian, and their delightful granddaughter, Eva.

The garden at San Remo B&B

The garden at San Remo B&B

The room is so comfortable and beautifully furnished, I’m having an early night after writing this. I can’t wait to meet their three spaniels in the morning when I tuck into my Full English breakfast – I can hear the odd bark now and then, coming up from the garden. (I had a King Charles Cavalier as a child – they are absolutely gorgeous.)

Ryde Harbour

Ryde Harbour

I’ve had a stroll around the harbour this afternoon (here’s my Periscope) as I’m rather partial to the clanking sound of halyards in the wind. They didn’t let me down. I was rather surprised, however, to spy two naked women striding into the sea while I was filming. Managed to avert my phone camera in time. Good on you, loves.

There appears to be a rather healthy bowling tradition in Ryde, with two large teams of players dressed in white on the green next to the esplanade. It reminded me that my Uncle Bruce used to play bowls for Wales. True that.

Bowling scores on Ryde esplanade

Bowling scores on Ryde esplanade

I seem to be absolutely shattered already and I haven’t done any real walking yet. Just heading up to Olivo on Union Street for a huge pizza and then buying some snacks for tomorrow appears to have worn me out.

Tomorrow morning will take me to Shalfleet via Cowes, and I’m hoping to look in at Osborne House on the way. I hope you’ll keep me company.

A Walk of One’s Own

On Monday I’m going to be making my way from London over to the Isle of Wight for the very first time. My plan is to walk the entire 69-mile coastline over the course of four days, and blog about it as I go. I will, of course, be doing it solo.

St Catherine's Oratory (photo via www.isleofwight.co.uk)

St Catherine’s Oratory (photo via http://www.isleofwight.co.uk)

If you’re not from the UK, then let me tell you a little bit about the island. It’s in the English Channel, just off the south coast of England. It’s famous for being Queen Victoria’s holiday destination of choice, the world’s oldest sailing regatta, a couple of great music festivals and having dinosaur fossils in its limestone rocks. To get to it you take a ferry or hovercraft from Portsmouth, on the mainland.

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Round the Island yacht race (photo via http://www.isleofwight.co.uk)

After a number of years in which I’ve perfected the art of going on holidays on my own abroad, this summer I felt the urge to explore my own country. I’d been reading Robert Macfarlane‘s wonderful books about walking and knew I wanted a walking holiday. I met someone from the Isle of Wight who extolled its virtues to me and thought a coastal circuit would suit me fine. Then I found Wight Walks, who organise everything for you, including accommodation and transporting your bags between venues.

Yarmouth Pier (© Jason Swain)

Yarmouth Pier (© Jason Swain)

Day one is going to see me travel over to the island and stay for a night in Ryde. Day two will be the start of the walk, from Ryde to Shalfleet, 16.7 miles. Day three will take me from Shalfleet to Freshwater (16.6 miles); day four – Freshwater to Ventnor (17.6 miles), and day five, Ventnor back to Ryde – 19 miles.

Ouch. Here’s the full itinerary.

I’ve already blogged about my new-found love for walking, having been inspired by Cheryl Strayed and Robert Macfarlane’s books. I started walking to and from work in the centre of London (about 4.5 miles each way) last summer and now I’m addicted to it.

Freshwater Bay (© Jason Swain)

Freshwater Bay (© Jason Swain)

I build in a walk into town on most days, weather permitting, and have started choosing my wardrobe based on suitability for walking. Each walk gives me time to listen to the radio, contemplate things and even dream up new ideas for blogging. They also give me the chance to see some wildlife, as it involves a large canal section, where Canadian geese, ducks and moorhens roam. I need a bit of that in the city.

© Jason Swain

© Jason Swain

So I’m hoping to be able to Tweet, Instagram and Periscope a bit on the island, even though I’m told the phone signal is a bit dodgy. If it is, it is. I’ll do an update each evening when I find wifi. I’ll be using the hashtag #wightwalk.

Looking forward to having you join me on my journey.

Headon Warren (© Jason Swain)

Headon Warren (© Jason Swain)