By David Yates
Walkers: David Yates, Ian Crombie, Nat Nelson, Claire Whitchurch (and Roxy), Steve Ausden, Dennis Wilkins and Ed Fellows. Plus (for single days only): Marco Smith, Terry Kennedy and Steve Luckett.
Aim of the walk: To help celebrate Ian Crombie’s sixtieth birthday, and to mark the thirtieth anniversary of my first walk round the Island in 1983.
Introduction: In August 1983, during leave from the Royal Navy, I stepped off Ryde Pier, jumped down onto Ryde West Sands and carried on walking, keeping as close to the coast all the way round. This walk was designed to achieve as much of the same goals as possible and also stop at the same overnight towns.
Day One – Ryde to Yarmouth – Saturday 24th August 2013
The forecast for the weekend was for a good chance of rain on the first day, hardly any chance on the second day, and for clear blue skies on the last. Setting off from Ryde Pier (dry end) at 0830, we immediately took our first alternative route by following the shingle, rocky beach and foreshore to Fishbourne. Parts of this coastline were muddy and slippery, but nothing compared with what was to follow in the afternoon! From Fishbourne car ferry we followed the usual inland coastal path along the roads to East Cowes. Crossing the chain ferry, we then continued along the road, esplanade and coastal path to Thorness Bay Holiday Centre.
After lunch, the group were given a briefing on what we could expect by taking the next alternative route, with predictions of wading, fallen trees, rocks and even a possible swim at the end to cross Newtown Estuary. Being a less confident swimmer, Steve decided to take the normal inland coastal footpath. The rest of us made our way back to the beach and started walking along the foreshore towards the estuary. One of the highest tides of the months quickly made its presence known when we soon ran out of beach and had to put on our wading shoes. Claire also fitted a life jacket to her dog, Roxy! The walk then developed into a seemingly endless wading scrambling obstacle course as we battled our way along about two miles of almost totally submerged coastline, and the water was much deeper than had been envisaged. To some of us it was sometimes chest-deep. To Claire it often reached her chin, and Dennis had to carry Roxy most of the way. Not being a lover of getting his feet wet, it could be sensed that Ian had wished he had followed Steve’s example.
Thankfully, the estuary finally came into view and we were all preparing ourselves for a swim across the estuary, when suddenly our plans took an entirely different direction. Firstly, I was carrying Roxy, when I passed Dennis on a particularly muddy stretch and muttered, “Don’t worry Den, I think it’s all solid ground from here.” No sooner had I said ‘here’ then I sunk into a pit almost up to my chin. Roxy received a dunking and then had to be held above my head until rescued by Dennis. Then a National Trust Warden appeared in his small boat – clearly not impressed by our chosen route. We all gathered together and were asked to board his boat, which could only come so far towards us. Wading and then scrambling over the boat’s side, Ian and Ed then developed quite severe attacks of cramp and lay wriggling around in the bottom of the boat like a couple of giant eels. The warden said that he had never seen anyone walking along that stretch of coastline in forty years – let alone at very high tide! We thought that he was then going to transport us back to Shalfleet Quay, but mercifully he dropped us off a short distance away at a small jetty – right next to the coastal path. Drying and warming ourselves, we then walked about a mile to re-join Steve, waiting for us on Hampstead beach, who, when hearing of our escapades, was really glad he’d gone overland. The rest of the day went without incident, and we quickly made our way to Yarmouth. We never encountered any of the forecast rain, but oh boy did we get wet!
Day Two – Yarmouth to Ventnor – Sunday 25th August 2013
Marco and Terry joined us at Yarmouth for the start of the second day. The rest of us were none too worse the wear for our watery obstacle course, although Ed was suffering from sore Achilles heels, Claire had decided to keep Roxy at home with a suspected limp, and Ian’s twenty year old Nokia phone had not recovered from our watery passage!
We set off at 0830 from the other side of Yarmouth Harbour, taking an alternative route via Fort Victoria up into the country park. Descending on to Colwell Bay beach, we were prevented from continuing along the coast to Totland Pier by a very serious-looking steel fence – recently erected to keep the likes of us away from the large landslip further ahead. Headon Warren, Alum Bay, The Needles, Tennyson Down and Freshwater Bay all followed in quick succession.
At Compton Bay the group again divided. Nat, Ed and I descended the steep steps to the bay; the rest followed the coastal path. On the sand the three of us quickly removed our shoes and walked barefoot – virtually all the way to Isle of Wight Pearl.
Due to the lack of beer in these premises, the others had not waited for us here as planned and had forged on towards the Wight Mouse at Chale. In increasing pain from his sore tendons, Ed decided against further beach walking, so he and Nat also followed the coastal path. I clambered back down the cliff to the beach and walked on the shingle all the way to Whale Chine, where, after a quick swim, I had to risk life and limb by scrambling up the almost sheer face of the chine to reach the top – all the time encumbered by all sorts of beach ‘treasure’ strapped to my body!
Ed knew that if he joined the others at the Wight Mouse he might never get going again, so, after Nat had to get a bus home, we plodded on by ourselves – via the Blackgang viewpoint ice cream van – until the rest of the group caught us up in the woods leading to Binnel Bay. From there it was a simple path back to Ventnor, showers and a great evening of food, drink, chat and music in The Spyglass Inn.
Day Three – Ventnor to Ryde – Monday 26th August 2013
Ed had to use Claire’s taxi to return to my place last night, so it was quite surprising to see him slowly walk down to join the rest of us at Ventnor paddling pool for 0830. Steve Luckett joined us for the day, and Roxy also re-joined the group. At Bonchurch, Nat, Steve Luckett and I took the rocks and beach route to Shanklin; the others went via the usual landslip path.
Unfortunately, now walking like Boris Karloff, Ed had to drop out at Shanklin, where some of us stayed on the beach to Yaverland, whilst the rest plodded along the esplanades. After putting our shoes back on to ascend Culver Down, some of us took them off again as we quickly returned to the beach at Whitecliff Bay. We stopped at The Crab and Lobster for lunch, before continuing along the shingle and sand to Bembridge Point, where Ed, Simone and families were waiting to greet us with four kayaks.
The kayaks added another dimension to the weekend, and, in two relays, we quickly made it across to the other side of Bembridge Harbour – dodging the procession of exiting yachts and other craft in the process. Most of us put our shoes back on at this point, but Nat did not. The group then divided again as we reached the rocky outcrop leading to Priory Bay – which was packed with bank holidaymakers. From there we made it back to Ryde Pier in quick time, with Ed – partially restored by some seawater soaking – re-joining from the boating lake. We arrived at 1600 – and Nat had walked bare-foot since Bembridge!
I promised a walking, wading and kayaking weekend, and that is what we got, plus lots of sunshine and laughs. Some of us spent nearly as much time on the beaches as on the coastal paths, we visited a few bars and most of us completely escaped blisters. Would I do this amount of beach-walking again? Yes, because my feet have never felt so good after a weekend’s walking.
Would I attempt to wade from Thorness Bay to Newtown Estuary at very high tide, sometimes carrying a dog? Most certainly not!