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…

 

 

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)