Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walk 1: Totland to Freshwater Bay

Right then...first full day on the Isle of Wight and I woke up to sunshine pouring into my room. I had printed off a whole bunch of info about walking the island and since I was only going to be able to squeeze in a couple of days of walking I decided on one coastal walk and one inland walk. The coastal walk seemed like a good one to start with and so with the parentals amusing themselves I was dropped off at a little place called Totland.

Oh, I do have to digress a little here as en route to my starting point we came across a car full of cotton tops, the driver of which had taken it upon himself to rewrite the highway code and displayed some original interpretations of the point of the white dotted line in the centre of the road...i.e. he decided that upon driving the twisty turney section of highway, the best course of action was to line up the road markings in the middle of his wheels in some kind of nutty real life Scalextric attempt.....oncoming traffic be dammed. He would also use the length of a bus as a margin to navigate around parked cars....all this and an apparent top speed of around 20mph (I have a sneaking suspicion the vehicle was actually powered like that of the Ant Hill Mob off of Wacky Races)....anyhoo this activity continued for several miles...myself and the folks both laughing hysterically and gasping at each near miss until the driver, in the midst of some left/right highway identity crisis, finally pulled into a local attraction Blackgang Chine....traditionally an entertainment area for the under 12s....The mind boggles.

Like I say I digress...so onward...Totland...not much here and I had some distance to travel so I pretty much walked along the prom a ways and started the climb up through woodland to Headon Hill.

As I walked out onto the 15th Century, cultivated heathland I was met by the most stunning panoramic views back across the island and across the Solent to the mainland....

The pier in the picture was my starting point

Hurst Castle across the Solent

stretching from Portsmouth and Chichester to the East and the cliffs of Dorset to the West. I chatted to a couple of fellow walkers as we tried to identify a swooping bird of prey...possibly a Buzzard....
The cliffs of Dorset

Alum Bay and the Needles

and then I ambled through the heather lined paths, passed Bronze aged burial mounds to the remains of the Heatherwood Battery....set up in the 1860's to keep an eye on those pesky French.
While wandering the heathland I caught sight of the Tennyson Monument across the valley, where I would be heading later.....and it's at this point I realised I'd have to walk down the bloody great hill I was on and walk back up the bloody great hill on which the monument stands....

First I would descend into Alum Bay, a place noted for it's odd geology, the cliffs a interesting mixture of different rock giving the Isle of Wight it's famous coloured sands trinkets. I walked to a viewpoint across the bay sighting one of the Islands most famous landmarks...The Needles....I was tempted to catch the chair lift back to the top, instead funds decided I was to take the 166 steps up the hill.
I bypassed the slightly tacky 'pleasure park'...aka a collection of permanent fairground entertainment and souvenir booths and started the walk along the cliff side. The walk takes you up a steady climb to the Western most point of the Island looking back across Alum Bay, the Solent and the Mainland...

At this point the walk becomes quite interesting as to the right of the footpath is a sloping grassy bank followed by a sheer drop down the chalky cliffs....it's advised walkers don't drift from the footpaths.
The Needles are a grouping of chalk stacks at the end of which stands a Lighthouse built in 1859. Also in the area are the artillery batteries which were still being used into the 1950's and an area which was used to test rockets until 1971...only the concrete footing of this site remains but you can see where the cliff side has been gouged when the rockets were fired.

This was where I decided to pitch up and devour my pasty overlooking an amazing cliff and ocean ensemble and watching a sparrowhawk hunt for his own sustenance.....talk about your perfect picnic spot.....Also, since I was next to a viewpoint for the Needles I spent the next half hour watching tourists puff and pant their way up and down the dozen or so steps astutely observing that the viewpoint advertised as that for the Needles...does in fact lead only to a view point for The Needles.

Fed, watered and knowing I still had a fair bit of mileage to cover before reaching Freshwater Bay, my final destination, I once again set off....ascending a steep hill path to finally reach Tennyson Down via West High Down.

Tennyson Down, looking towards Freshwater Bay and beyond

Looking back towards The Needles

I was met with the most stunning panoramic views...looking back to Headon Warren and as far along the Wight coast as Sandown. The Down stretches around 3 miles and as the name suggest has got something to do with the poet with a monument at the 147m peak.

Once again venturing too near the edge is not recommended as a sheer drop is only ever a few metres away. As I took in the views, sea breeze and sunshine I watched a group of three teens walk close to the edge before crawling on hands and knees before finally flattening onto their stomachs to peer over the cliff edge, only then apparently realising it was indeed....and I quote....'F**kin' high' and crawling back from the crumbling edge.

The cliffs of Tennyson Down

Approaching Freshwater Bay

I started my descent into Freshwater Bay where many folk were taking advantage of the sudden summer like weather swimming in the crystal clear waters of the pleasant little cove and I was contemplating a refreshing ice cream as a reward for all my healthy activity, when the parentals phoned to say they were nearby with my taxi.

Freshwater beach

Looking back toward Tennyson Down

My walk from Totland to Freshwater Bay via The Needles...I estimated it to be 5 1/2 miles....It was actually 7 miles

That evening I devoured a fantastically worthy dinner in a pub after which the folks and I wandered to nearby Shanklin Chine. The Island is full of Chines...which are basically areas of cliff which have been carved by streams and waterfalls and usually lined with lush vegetation....this one I remember going to often when we holidayed here and in the evening it is lit with lanterns and coloured lights which adds to the effect of it's smuggling heritage.

It is one of the earliest tourist attractions on the island records going back to 1817 and was used by soldiers in WWII as an assualt course and here P.L.U.T.O.(Pipe-Lines Under The Ocean) is also visable where fuel was sent through to troops across the channel.

Shanklin Beach at the bottom of the Chine

The pub where we had dinner

Shanklin village

After walking back up the stairs to the top of the chine and back to our hotel in Shanklin I was pretty much plum tuckered and retired for an early night....after planning the route for the next day's walk.....tbc


Firefly mom said...

I've got news for you - old people aren't the only ones who center the car on the line while the drive. My mother's been doing that for years! And the screams for the passengers inside her own vehicle do nothing to dissuade her...

That path leads awfully close to that cliff. Definitely NOT the place to be wearing your Nancy Sinatra boots ;)

'F**kin' high' - yeah, they'd have to be high to get that close to the edge. Oh, wait, they meant it *was* high...idiots.

I think Tennyson Down is beautiful, though Shanklin Chine looks magical with all of those colored lights. Can't wait for the next installment!

Emma said...

What's up with parents huh? my father still sometimes thinks he can still rally drive down the back roads while us passengers define the term 'white knuckle'

I decided Nancy Sinatra boots were a little overly dressy for my downland walk so went with my proper walking boots instead...What I didn't mention was the wind...bit gusty on the hill/cliff sides so I didn't venture too close...4x zoom on the camera...it's all an illusion ;-)

I watched those lads thinking 'much closer and you're gonna be a statistic...though the rescue helicopter would make for some good blogging material'....I know straight to hell....do not pass go etc

Tennyson Down was indeed pretty...though not sure my calf muscles agreed with me.

Firefly mom said...

That's not even the worst driving bit that my mom does. Normally when she's driving she hits the gas, then the brake, then the gas, then the brake over and over again until everyone in the car has whiplash. Which is why *I* always drove when we went anywhere together.

Ah, you wouldn't got to hell for thinking that. You just would have had a front row to seat to the awarding of a Darwin Award ;)