August 1, 2001: Freshwater Bay to Chale
We were to spend two nights in Chale because we had not succeeded in making a reservation anywhere in the Freshwater Bay area. This meant that after a good night’s sleep in our motel rooms it would be necessary for us to return to Freshwater Bay – so that we could now walk back to our motel. But we had the luxury of not having to worry about moving our packs on this day.
At 8:30 we returned to the motel’s restaurant and had our breakfast. I never ordered the full English on this trip, sticking to a glass of juice, a bowl of Alpen, and either scrambled or poached eggs on toast. Harold did the same – often skipping the juice. There seemed to be only one or two additional units in occupancy at our motel and no one near us at all. I stood looking back down the coast on a cloudy morning – which nevertheless offered good visibility. You could see all the way to the end of the island and when you stood next to the fishpond the koi, sensing a meal, began to swim in great agitation.
One of the lessons to be learned from the previous day’s bus ride along the military road was that there were almost no places of refreshment on this stretch. So we had ordered packed lunches from the kitchens in the Clarendon and we now headed over to the hotel. Naturally they had forgotten about these objects and had to start from scratch. “What kind of sandwich would you like?” the receptionist asked. “I’d like roast beef,” Harold responded. “We don’t do roast beef,” was the reply. At this point the Wight House bar menu was produced and I chose honey roast ham while Harold settled for cheese and tomato. All of this took fifteen minutes.
There is bus service back to Freshwater Bay but not until 11:00 or so and we clearly wanted to get started on an eleven and a half mile day earlier than 11:30. The receptionist tried to find us a cab, but they all seemed to be busy – so she said, “Never mind, the courtesy van will take you.” Sure enough the driver of this vehicle was summoned and we were soon speeding back down the highway. We arrived at 9:55, revisited our loos, and crossed the foreshore to begin climbing some steps at the foot of Compton Down. I was beginning my 300th day on Anglo-Celtic footpaths.
Our first ascent was perhaps the most protracted climb of the day, but I did not find it too strenuous. It was a brisk morning and brightening all the time and there were lots of trippers and dog walkers on the path as well. We paused to read the pathetic inscriptions on a monument to a fifteen year-old boy who had fallen from this cliff in the last century. Near the summit the path joins a causeway above the road surface and so we had the whizzing traffic of the military road as our accompaniment on the descent.
Near the bottom a finger post put us onto a rough path back to the coast but as we made our way forward I could see that the official route stays with the road a bit longer than we had. I was worried that we would end up on the wrong side of a wire fence – but this wasn’t the case. Instead we had to wait for a beach-laden family to pass us before climbing a stile and continuing along the cliff edge. There were lots of stiles on this day and I persisted in counting them and their rivals, gates. Yesterday it had been four stiles to two gates; today it was eleven stiles, four gates.
The walking surface was often quite rough today and there were huge cracks that would some day lead to the disappearance over the cliff side of this portion of the path altogether. Still, there were lovely views at every twist and turn, the sea on the right and distant farmsteads, villages, woods and hills on our left. Sometimes we approached the road again and one such instance was at Shippards Chine, where there is an NT car park and loos. I put a pound that I had found on the hill below the Tennyson monument into the collection pillar. There was an ice cream van in the car park, but it was too early for us to be interested.
The sun was beginning to make an appearance and it wasn’t too long before Harold and I were lathering ourselves with sun blocker – both of us having started in shorts today.
One characteristic of this coast is the succession of streambeds that have cut miniature ravines in their descent to the sea. These are called chines here and for the walker their presence often means a retreat inland in order to locate an appropriate crossing place. This occurred for us at Brook Chine, where we returned to the military road before scrambling over the line of cottages at Brook Green and returning to the coast. We passed between an old lifeguard hut and a thatched cottage and had a rest on a bench here.
Then we continued forward along a pasture, one in which curious cows came out to greet us, before turning inland for Chilton Chine, passing through the outskirts of a holiday camp (where people had set up tents and plastic windbreaks), and using a road to return to the highway. On the latter we walked by the huge parking lot of the Isle of Wight Pearl, a kind of shopping center for the local jewelry business. Then we followed a sign back to the cliff edge and headed east again.
It was now close to 1:00, we were near the halfway point, and we decided to sit on the grass to eat our lunches – which contained a bag of crisps and a Kit-Kat bar as well as the sandwiches. While we were eating this we encountered a young American couple who were doing the walk in just four days. They didn’t seem to have any packs and their young legs could cover a great deal of distance at the pace they were maintaining. On our seven days on this trail we never met any other genuine coastal path walkers.
Miles off in the distance we could see the white tents that had been set up for the Chale Show in a field next to our motel – but hours would pass and they didn’t seem to be getting any closer. At Grange Chine we had to scramble down from the holiday camp (I suggested to Harold that if he wanted a nap he could just dive into one of the tents) and up the other side and, indeed, the walking, if anything, began to get more complicated. The trail was often overgrown with foliage (fortunately not with nettles) and even more rutted and uneven. There was also another large hill to climb after Barnes Chine.
We detoured around Cowleaze Chine and had a desperate time of it inside Shepherds Chine, where the finger posts put us onto the broken ledges of a muddy canyon wall with no real path to help us work our way inland to a bridge – this followed by a steep climb as we scrambled up the opposite side. It looked impenetrable. “You just have to take it on faith that there is an exit point,” I said to Harold as I climbed the mud wall in large steps – emerging at last into a field at the top.
We passed a row of coast guard cottages at Atherfield Point and headed inland again at Whale Chine. We had some 300 meters of highway walking at this point and again we followed a finger post back in the direction of the sea. The white tents were at last beginning to seem reachable and we neared them as we followed Walpen Chine back to the military road. At 4:55 we reached the highway only a short distance from our motel. It had been a surprisingly strenuous outing, but very enjoyable.
Harold said, as we were just facing the driveway to the Wight Mouse, that he’d like a beer, so we crunched the gravel and penetrated the garden. I had a shorter wait at the bar this time and we were soon sitting at a shaded table sipping our drinks. Youngsters in the service of the Wight Mouse would charge from the kitchen and then down the back steps carrying trays and shouting food order numbers to the hungry multitude. Kids were running about, pushing themselves on the swings, tootling on xylophone whistles and tucking into their chips. There were lots of tired babies. The carpet van which he had passed at one of the holiday camps was now in the parking lot.
We returned to our vacuumed motel rooms at 6:00 and had an hour’s cleanup and rest before returning to our pub for more drinks. I called the landlady at our next hotel to make sure it was okay to send our packs ahead in the morning. After several minutes in the cooling garden we took our drinks with us and at 7:45 we went into the Clarendon’s dining room, where we had booked a table for two. There were quite a few families with kids here too, but they were pretty well behaved – although the kids could never finish anything on the menu.
I had a seafood cocktail and the chicken korma while Harold ate a steak. Service was very slow but the meal was pleasant enough – even though I could not finish anything either. It was almost dark when we returned to Chale Bay Farm at 9:30 – well past our bedtime.
To continue with the next stage of our walk you need: