The Isle of Wight Coastal Path – Day 4

August 3, 2001: Sandown to Ryde

Culver Down

Culver Down

Skies were far brighter when I got up at 6:00 the following morning. I replaced all the curtain cords and the room was soon full of sun. At 7:45, as promised, Mrs. Radford called to get my breakfast order – the invariable orange juice, muesli and poached eggs on toast. We took our full packs down with us at 8:30 because a cab had been ordered for that hour. I saw the cabby arrive as I was waiting in the sitting room with some of the other residents and Harold and I sent him off to our Ryde hotel with our bags. Then we had a nice breakfast amid the tour bus drivers and the little old ladies and at 9:15 we were off. Both of us started in shorts – on days when we started in long trousers it didn’t take us long to unzip anyway.

We returned to the High Street and I went into a Boots to buy some more Savlon  – though my sore spot was not bothering me much this morning. I noticed that next door to the Boots was another pharmacy but what I couldn’t find was a place to buy a book (I feared I was running out of reading material) by a real author. Then we continued down the hill in a northerly direction and soon joined an esplanade that accompanied the main road. The Grand Hotel had lost its “n”  – “If you pronounced that,” I told Harold, “It would only be a Grade D Hotel.”

Joggers and dog walkers were our chief companions as we strolled up to a parking lot where the B3395 left us for Yaverland – and we reached footpath again. Ahead of us was the one major climb of the day, Culver Down, but things were not too steep initially and it was lovely to be back on greensward.

We had glorious sunshine, a sky with ever moving clouds, and behind us wonderful views of a coastline that we had sloshed through the day before. The camera came out the daypack and I took quite a few pictures.

Down the hill, in the opposite direction, we noticed several groups of black vacationers, a real rarity on the trail. They were of mixed ages and sexes and they greeted us effusively, laughing as they marched down. We had some ambiguities to solve as we neared the steeper sections at the top (the guidebooks didn’t seem to agree) but we tended to stick close to the wire fence on our right and soon passed beneath a line of coastguard cottages. A coast path sign, to my surprise, invited us to continue forward around the nose of the down rather than continue up to the hilltop monument – and so we did. But as we rounded the corner the route came to an end – and there was no clue as to how we were to make our descent in a northerly direction. The views were spectacular, if you discount the trailer parks. We could see Bembridge harbor and the mainland across the sea.

We were at the spinetop roadhead and so we climbed back toward the monument, hoping to find something more useful than a parking lot. Still no signs. Eventually we came to the summit road and soon passed a cafe and thus reached the Earl of Yarborough’s obelisk itself. It was sitting in a foul field of scrub occupied by fat cows and it was into this unsavory sector that we were at last invited to proceed by a coast path sign. We did so, though there wasn’t much of a path, and scrunched our way in a northwesterly direction until we at last saw a path plunging over the side. It continued steeply down in the direction of the caravans but it was soon obvious that we had rediscovered our route.

I could now follow most of Charles’ directions and spot our location on the OS map too. On our left were chalets and holiday camps; we passed beneath the arms of outstretched foliage, walking on rutted surfaces, some of which had fallen away. A bridge over a concreted gully was closed for safety reasons and we had to take to the grass of a holiday camp to get around this. There was a nice bench here so we had a rest in the sun and drank some water. Woodland followed and views were often restricted but it was pleasant enough walking. We crossed an earthwork and emerged at a spot opposite the playing fields of the Bembridge School – which seemed to have a summer role as a work-study camp. The first thing we heard as we approached the fence was the blast of the public address system: “Will Miguel Rodriguez please report to the office.”

The territory through which we were now traveling is evidently subject to subsidence and menaced, at certain times of the day, by high tides. The Isle of Wight web site had announced several diversions in the Foreland area and so I was not too surprised to see us directed inland after we had cleared the school, our backs now to the sea. When we emerged from our track on a suburban road there was no sign to help us back to our original route, but I spent some time studying the OS map and I was pretty confident I knew where we were. We turned right on the road we had just reached  – it was heading back to sea again – just as a few drops fell from an increasingly cloudy sky, and we followed the postman on his rounds as he delivered the mail to a series of downmarket bungalows. Then, as signs reappeared, we turned right and followed a few twists and turns to reach the coast at the Crab and Lobster. This pink pub looked quite inviting but it was just 12:00 and I wanted us to make a little more progress before lunch.

We were not invited to resume a coastal path here but sent almost immediately back into suburbia on a route better provisioned with signs; I was also able to follow this one in C&B’s directions too. After a few twists and turns we entered much more posh surroundings at Lane End and reached the sea at a jetty swarming with trippers. Charles had suggested that if the tides weren’t a problem then we could use a shore route to Bembridge harbor and this we attempted to do. But the shore route put us on unforgiving shingle and it was slow progress for the next few minutes (well, I was also looking for interesting rock specimens.) Once we were tempted by some inviting steps, but they did not seem to lead us to the woodland path I was looking for. Still, I’m glad we took them because the trees here provided us with excellent protection from a brief squall that sent the rain tumbling down.

When the weather was a bit calmer we resumed our trod on the shingle, Harold becoming a bit agitated over the possibility of the tide’s advance. I argued that, in fact, it was in retreat. The woodland path I was looking for seemed overgrown so we persisted in our struggles until we reached the mouth of the harbor, where steps lead this time to a road mentioned in Charles’ narrative, and we were able to follow his description through back lanes near Greylands College to emerge onto the B3395 opposite the Pilot Boat Inn. We had to wait some time to find a break in the traffic but at 1:00 we had reached our lunchtime pub. I took Harold’s picture at the door – having finished, on cue, the first of my two rolls of film at the exact half-way mark of our trip.

It was obvious that you had to be a pretty young blonde to work at the Pilot Boat. I changed my film while we were waiting for our burgers and chips and drank a pint of lager. There seemed to be a stateside influence in the menu but neither Harold nor I could figure out what American turtle cheesecake was – “I know it doesn’t have any turtles in it,” our waitress assured us.

We were in the pub for an hour or so and then we re-crossed the highway and did a semicircle of Bembridge Bay on the road pavement. This wasn’t the most pleasant stretch, with all the whizzing buses, lorries and cars, but there was an interesting houseboat culture on our right, with some boats serving as restaurants and one “floatel” as a b&b. I was looking for Latimer Road at the end of this stretch – for here was our next turnoff. I found it, but one had to walk several blocks before encountering the first coast path sign (why not one back on the main road?).

Along the causeway to The Duver

Along the causeway to The Duver

Again my two guidebook descriptions did not seem to agree on how to continue here and Harold believed that we had run out of options for further progress along the north side of the harbor. But I persevered down alleys and behind houses and soon we had reached the beginning of a causeway that held the waters of the millpond behind us. This was exhilarating walking, with water on both sides and only a narrow strip of broken concrete under the feet, even a footbridge in the middle. Families were trying their luck at fishing from this spot, which we soon left behind for the grass and scrub of the Duver, a site of special scientific interest which we now had to cross without benefit of path. (Rooftops and trees were the assigned targets to help us in negotiating this stretch.)

We reached a road and passed an old golf clubhouse that can be rented as NT accommodation. Here there was a recommended diversion to the right to see the old St. Helen’s sea-mark church tower. There was a nice picnic area opposite the tower and we sat down on one of the benches (two of which, it seemed to us, had undertaken a curious and mischievous migration up onto to the foundations of the church.)

Then we reversed our steps and climbed a stile into a field to head uphill. Another strange sight greeted us – a woman in a black bathing suit sunning herself in splendid isolation next to the footpath. (It was, perhaps, a less public place than the trailer camp next door.) We reached the lane to the Priory Hotel at the top and turned right here, but we did not penetrate the grounds of this establishment  having been offered instead a more northerly bridleway under trees. This lead to a rough drive which headed back to the sea, with houses appearing in its last stretches and loos, which we used, just as this lane reached saltwater at Seagrove Bay.

Once again, however, we were not offered a coastal route but sent, instead, up along back lanes and streets into the village of Seaview. Here we turned right at the High Street, Harold becoming instantly smitten by a t-shirt with the legend “Give Me Coffee and No One Will Get Hurt.” Halfway down the hill to Nettlestone Point he decided to go back to buy it for Tosh – so I waited on an abutment at the seashore while he had a long conversation with the shop proprietor, who was also the author of the shirt. Then I had Harold sit down on the cement wall so I could take his picture. He had just completed his 2000th mile on British footpaths. (What an irony that the far less obsessive Harold had accomplished this goal before his wife – who had been talking about it for years.)

Appley Tower, Ryde

Appley Tower, Ryde

To celebrate we repaired to the Old Fort pub across the street and here we each had a whiskey. It was now half past four and we still had two miles to go. The route was much more straightforward, however, and we always had the sea on our right as we made our walk along various types of esplanade and sidewalk. Shabby cottages succeeded one another until we reached the precincts of Ryde’s Puckpool Park. We disdained the fun rides and a visit to the motor battery. A man was walking eight Shelties tethered together in a furry and uncomfortable mob here. We walked around Appley Tower, a folly, and soon reached one end of the boating lake. I was afraid that the heavens would open up again at any moment as we walked along the shoreline. Families were out in pedal boats shaped liked swans and this was interesting because there were real swans in the lake too.

We had a brochure for the Tenerife Hotel so we were able to aim unerringly for it on The Strand, just a block away from the coast road on the southern outskirts of Ryde. It was 5:30 and we had again walked twelve miles (with gates enjoying a rare victory over stiles 4-3). Harold performed his song and dance about the missing Tosh (who had insisted that we make sure she was not charged for the evening meal) – but our receptionist said we were not down for the evening meal anyway. This was good news to me since it was obvious that we were in coach party heaven and dinner would only be served between 6:30 and 7:00.  Having retrieved our backpacks we used a lift to get to our rooms on the top floor and got cleaned up and had a little rest.

I tried to call the next hotel, but the number Tosh had supplied was faulty (she had reversed two numbers) but I got things straightened out when we went downstairs at 7:00. In the meantime Harold had discovered that we had been charged for dinner after all and there was a long palaver while they worked out his refund ­– by this time it was too late for us to join the pensioners in the dining room; the whole hotel smelled of gravy.

It did take us some time to locate Ryde’s pulsating town center as we walked along the esplanade, but at last we reached Union Street and headed steeply uphill opposite the pier as we looked for a likely eatery. This proved to be Joe Dufalo’s, a trendy wine bar cum restaurant. It was very crowded and Harold changed his mind several times about where he wanted to sit down (most of the tables were reserved) but at last we sat down upstairs and had our drinks. There was a busy Friday night scene and service was slow. I had the crab soup and a seafood pasta, a good deal of which I left uneaten. We had ice cream (toffee chocolate chip) and finished up about 9:00.

As we strolled back down Union Street we were surprised to see burly bouncers out in front of two of the local bars. “Are they there to keep drunks out – or just geriatrics like ourselves?” I asked.

It was quite dark when we returned to our hotel, where the entertainment had begun below stairs. I could hear it well enough on the third floor as I called Dorothy – “They’re playing ‘Hotel California’ and I feel as if I’m staying in Hotel California,” I complained. I was able to fall asleep in spite on the din below, shortly after 10:00.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 5: Ryde to Cowes