Sunday 7 September 2014 – Ryde, Isle of Wight.
It felt like it had been ages since El and I last had a weekend away in England together, so we were eagerly looking forward to this weekend trip to the Isle of Wight. We took a day trip there last summer and had committed to ourselves to returning and exploring some more. I holidayed there on a couple of occasions when I was a child and had retained some vague memories of visiting places on the south coast like Ventnor and Black Gang Chine. I was looking forward to revisiting both locations – though I suspect things have changed in the last forty years…
In a previous life El and her then husband owned a flat in Ryde, one of the larger towns on the island, and the destination of the Portsmouth ferry. El’s ex still owns the flat and we were going to stay there and use it as our base for exploring. In summer the prices of everything on the island increase significantly – as they do everywhere I guess, so it was really nice to have some free accommodation.
For a change we had a weekend away with no rain forecast and in a mood of total optimism I did not pack either my rain coat or an umbrella – even more optimistically I threw my togs in my bag (togs = swimming costume in NZish). I have not been in the sea for well over a year and it was definitely well over due.
We were going to catch the 5:30 train from Waterloo to Portsmouth after work on Friday, but discovered at the last minute that the large Bestival music festival was also happening on the island over the weekend so elected to sneak away from work a bit early and catch the train at 5:00. We made it to the train in time and surprisingly it was not too busy, with only a few festival goers adding to the normal number of commuters heading home. I have no idea how they do it, I find the twenty minute train ride I have in the morning to be enough, how people do the almost two hour trip each way every day I do not know. Though living by the sea must make up for it.
The flat is about 500 metres from the end of the pier at Ryde so we were inside and unpacked before 8:00. We decided to keep it local for dinner and just headed over the road to a newish Mediterranean restaurant for pizza and wine and then back to the flat to chill. I had a big day planned for us the following day…
We were up earlyish on Saturday, and as this was a holiday we didn’t bother with making breakfast – just popped over the road to a cafe for, in my case, a bacon and egg roll and a cup of coffee.
We had a bit of an ambitious mission in mind: Catching the train to Shanklin, walking to Ventnor for lunch, then on to Black Gang Chine, catching a bus to Newport and walking to nearby Carisbrooke Castle – then back to Newport and on to Ryde. Sweet, a nice mix of bush, beach and castle!
We headed down to the quay at Ryde and did not have to wait too long for the train to Shanklin, there is only a small line on the island and its sole train is an old London Underground ‘tube’ train.
Shanklin is on the south side of the island and is very much an old beach town, I loved the old town theatre – still thriving and still showing family pantomimes, just like when I was a child.
Before I went to New Zealand when I was eleven, I lived in North Cheam, a working class south London suburb. My neighbours on one side were an old couple Mr and Mrs Aubrey – the strawberries as I recall naming them. They were very interested in ancient history and collecting fossils and played a huge part in my fascination with old things, I still have the books they gave me as birthday presents – rare and treasured things left over from my childhood. The island and this section of Britain’s south coast are well known locations for fossil and stone hunters and it was nice to see that this is still the case.
Like many of Britain’s small towns and villages Shanklin had a ‘new’ part and a historical old part, as we were on a mission we just passed through the quaint old part of the town as we headed for the coastal track.
We found the coast walk easily enough – by following a map, one made of paper, not one made of Google – it was refreshing to work off a paper map for a change , I didn’t need to keep getting my glasses out to keep track of my location either!
Soon we were heading out of town and over the cliff tops towards Ventnor, though there was not really much of a view as the horizon just blurred into the grey of the sky.
It was a nice walk, through a mix of gentle forest and past the back of small villages and through the Bonchurch Landslips, a section of the coast that has been slowly sliding in to the sea for the past thousand of years so. Walking in rural Britain is always such a joy.
We stopped at the lovely moss laden Wishing Seat and rested our butts on the rock worn smooth and slightly concave through the wear of a thousand butts before us.
We stopped to admire the complete lack of view of the French coast, before coming into Bonchurch.
We didn’t head up into the old village itself, just paid our respects to the lovely lovely St Boniface Church between the village and sea. I love the fact this church was rebuilt in 1070!
Though in fact a lot of the church is far newer, mostly being finished only 500 or so years ago… Inside there is still some of the original fresco left.
We reluctantly left the church and its grounds and carried on through the last of the landslips till we popped back out into the 20th century (not quite the 21st here !) just outside the town of Ventnor. As I said at the start I holidayed here when I was a child, and have a photo of my dad sitting on the concrete steps somewhere around here, smoking his pipe.
I kind of like this old fashioned concreted beach front and wall – and I of course utterly hate it. It is part quaint and old fashioned and part hideously ugly and un-necessary. Neither side of the argument in my head particularly held a strong hand, and I left undecided about it. I wasn’t tempted to swim here though, hot and sweaty as I was.
We carried on walking to and then through Ventnor town, past the sort of pleasant beach and sat down for lunch in the pub at the far end of the beach.
One of the things I loved about Ventor and its beach is that it summed all that is great about parts of the English coast. A kind of average beach, sort of sand, beach huts and deck chairs. Fabulous.
Realising we would not be able to walk to Black Gang in the time we had left in the day, while we waited for lunch we checked out the bus timetable from Ventnor and then onwards to Newport. Public transport on the island is notoriously bad and off season on a Saturday was even worse, so we decided to flag Black Gang – much to my dismay ! Black Gang is one of the few real memories I have of my childhood holidays and I was quite looking forward to going there. We will just have to come back to the island again.
After a very average, yet expensive lunch we walked up the hill into central Ventnor with leaden legs and full bellies and just arrived in time to get the half hourly bus through to the administrative capital and centre(ish) of the island in Newport. From a tourist point of view there are few features in Newport, but a short walk from the busy bus centre is Carisbrooke Castle and a castle is always something to get excited about in my book.
I got into the habit of walking around the outside of ruins when I was in Cambodia looking at the Khymer ruins around Angkor. There was always less people on the perimeter and it provided a different perspective on what I saw, before following the more usual route through and around the centre.
There has been a castle at Carisbrooke since Saxon times but construction of the castle we visited today was started around 1100 by the de Redvers family when they were gifted the island by the crown. The outer walls were added much later in 1588 when the infamous Spanish Armada came close to the island.
Carisbrooke’s main claim to fame is being were the ex-king Charles 1 was imprisoned after his defeat in the English Civil War in 1647. It is a pretty awesome place and we really enjoyed our visit, though due to time pressure and being a bit knackered we did not stay as long as we could have.
Naturally I took a LOT of photos…
After the castle visit, walking back into Newport and catching the bus to Ryde we did a bit of family visiting before heading out for a tea at a new local Thai place. The service was slow due to a few staffing issues, but we were not in a rush and the food was really really good, some of the best Thai I have had in the UK, it was also incredibly cheap and they gave us a free glass of wine each for making us wait – a very nice touch. I very rarely mention places I have eaten in or stayed at, but Ryde Thai – you were great !! We took a half an hour walk along the Esplanade after dinner to allow all that food to digest a bit before bed.
We were up pretty early on Sunday, the flat is on the main road in Ryde and it a bit noisy at night. With my complete lack of ability to sleep in anything other than ideal conditions I had a couple of restless nights, the street sweeper coming through about 5:30 am didn’t help much either. The streets were pretty quiet when we left for a pre-breakfast walk. The flat was above a shop.
We walked back up the Esplanade again, looking for somewhere to stop for breakfast while I waited for the sun to crack through the low cloud, giving me a reason to get into the sea. The beach along here has some lovely sections and these are groomed over night to really make them shine.
As I had damaged my new Canon G16 camera on my microadventure I had brought my increasingly unreliable Panasonic GX1 with me, and after a few moments yesterday it finally stopped working altogether this morning and this was the last photo I got.
We had an incredibly average breakfast at a place on the waterfront, and then came across a cafe further along the beach at Puckpool that looked really nice, damnit… By this time the sun had finally hit the beach and it was soon time to be brave, take a concrete pill and get into the sea. El grabbed a picture on her phone of me shivering my way in to commemorate the occasion.
It was a very quick swim, but I did get all the way in and made an effort. My swim for 2014 has been done !!
And that was it really. Weekend over. We walked back to the flat, packed and cleaned and headed back down to the ferry. A lovely weekend away. Sea, sand, sun, bush and beach – and castles. Magic.