August 6, 2001: Shalfleet to Yarmouth
I could see the sky from my bed by looking through the open bathroom door and out the bathroom window – and my first glimpses of this grey patch were not encouraging. I kept hoping to see some brightness returning to the heavens but, as I made my morning preparations, the prospect continued to be dismal. It wasn’t actually raining yet but things looked damp outside and it seemed that the skies could open at any minute.
This sad prognosis was repeated at 8:00 by our landlady – when Harold and I went to breakfast. Marivic Young was from the Philippines and I now knew why the voice I had talked to from Cowes had seemed less than English. She confirmed that the young American couple we had met on day two had stayed here and she was full of apologies because she had made scrambled instead of poached eggs. She also wanted to give us money back because Tosh had sent £60 (that absent lady had told us it was only £20) and b&b for two was only £56. It took a while to sort this out but, of course, Harold refused the refund.
At the end of the previous year’s walk, on the Coast-to-Coast Path, we had carried our full packs on the last day because there would have been nowhere in Robin’s Hood Bay for the Sherpa Company to have left them off – and we might have had to wait around to retrieve them if there had been. I had another solution ready this year. We would leave the bags behind this morning and when we got to Yarmouth we would take a short cab ride back to retrieve them. When I asked Marivic if this would be okay she said she was going to Yarmouth and that she would bring our bags for us. This was an extremely generous gesture and we were happy to accept. I estimated that we would reach the end of our walk at 1:00 and I said I would call her then.
When we left at 8:45 we did so in full rain gear since, to no one’s surprise, a light rain was falling. We walked up to the traffic signal and crossed briefly to the other side so that I could take a photo of the church. Then I stowed the camera in my daypack and we re-crossed the road and headed west on it, marching against the rush of morning traffic. We had about a half-mile of this, finally escaping as a footpath beckoned half way down a hill.
We entered a field and headed north as the coastal path began its long loop around the Hamstead peninsula – with two last visits to the shore. Once again I was trying to follow things closely on my OS map since I wasn’t too sure how well-signed the route would be and because I knew that some changes had been made since Charles had finished his account.
For instance, he mentions two fields encountered after leaving the road but there now seemed to be just one long one. We reached its end, circled to the left and crossed a creek on a footbridge. A short distance after crossing this we turned left at a Y-junction and reached a forestry drive. I was fixing this spot on the map when a lady in a land rover stopped to see if we were lost. I do have to say that the Wight Mice were an extremely helpful and cordial lot, and this gesture was typical. I assured the lady that we weren’t lost and we headed north on the drive – one which lead to several farmsteads hidden in woodland.
After all those anxieties the rain had not lasted more than fifteen minutes and most of our dampness was now due to perspiration. We crossed Ningwood Lake, an arm of the Newtown Estuary – now at low tide – and headed uphill, with Pigeon Coo farm on our left. At a road junction we took the right hand fork and continued uphill in the direction of Creek Farm. It was a lovely forest, even if the track was leading us in the exact opposite direction from Yarmouth. We stopped once for some water and the rain jackets went off here as well.
The road left the woods and began a gradual descent past Creek and Lower Hamstead farms, and at last we continued on a track to the Hamstead Quay on Newtown Creek. We were almost opposite the spot we had visited during our diversion yesterday but how different things looked in the grey of this quiet morning, without a soul about. Still, it was eerily beautiful – this medley of water, marsh and woodland – and Harold took my picture on the pier.
We then headed inland again, using duckboard and plank bridges to circle around two sides of a large marsh. I was a bit confused at the end because I was looking for a stile that had since gone missing (stiles nevertheless beat gates 8-2 today). But it was pretty obvious that we were to continue in a field, making our way in a northwesterly direction. We crossed through a hedge, over another field, across a footbridge and so on to a track up over the lip of a short cliff and down to the sea itself.
It was our last visit to the Solent shoreline and off to our right we could still see a raft of contending sails. We had a bit of a sit down rest and lost our rain trousers here as well. Then we followed an actual coastal path past an overgrown monument and eventually turned back inland again (though this time in the right direction for Yarmouth) as we climbed steadily back into farm territory on a track – reaching Hamstead Farm itself after a while.
There seemed to be many local footpath signs about and these were useful as we crossed fields, ducked under wires and walked past bungalows. At one point we reached a sign that referred to a permanent diversion – subsidence had wrecked a route along the cliff top ahead and required a more inland approach to Yarmouth. I was expecting this and therefore had to abandon the still useful directions of Charles in favor of C&B’s more modern notes.
Even the most modest of graveled tracks out here seemed to have street names and we used Seaview Road, Cranmore Avenue and West Close to reach a path that lead down to an entry point for the Forestry Commission’s Bouldner Forest.
I found the path through the forest to be quite delightful, with tall trees and patches of rosebay willowherb. But there were sections, as the route neared the cliff edge again, that had fallen away and this required a little evasive scrambling. Also, as we neared civilization, the path degenerated in a tangle of overgrown foliage. We fought our way over to a coast path sign but it pointed to an abyss. Here I suggested that we reverse directions and use a better path to return to a suburban street, one that lead us directly back to the A3054.
We crossed the highway here because there seemed to be a bit of a path in the verge but soon enough we had pavement on the other side and we used this to make our final assault on Yarmouth. We disdained the sea wall because I wanted to see if we couldn’t find a pub on an interior street. Yarmouth was crowded with tourists looking for something to do on this grey noon and we fought our way through them before reaching town center where we turned right and chose the Bugle as our lunchtime pub. It was 12:25.
I ordered a Diet Coke and a chicken burger and chips, disappearing while waiting for this order to take a few photos outside and then wolfing the food down rather too rapidly because I wanted to be able to call Mrs. Young at 1:00, as promised. This I did, using the mobile phone for the last time, and we arranged to meet in fifteen minutes or so at the ferry landing. I then zipped my trouser legs back on, used the loos, and we headed west one short block, emerging on the ferry access road where we had hired our first cab the previous Tuesday. We had completed a circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight with a seven and a half mile stretch that brought our total for the week to 72.
It wasn’t quite clear where we were to wait and we ranged up and down the road before Harold spotted Marivic and her two little girls. We thanked her for our packs, which we retrieved from the boot, and headed into the booking office. I was in a bit of a rush because it was 1:25 and I wanted to make the 1:30 ferry. Unfortunately, the lady behind the counter couldn’t sell us train tickets and by the time a colleague who could do so emerged from a back office we had missed our chance. I was mightily annoyed at this.
So we had almost half an hour to wait and we used this time to empty the contents of our daypacks back into our big packs. The ferry wasn’t nearly as crowded this time but the seas were a bit rougher. Harold had a cup of coffee while I reeled about on deck, finishing my second roll of film. We seemed to wait a bit at sea for the first ferry to leave the pier head at Lymington and I was a bit worried we would miss the next train connection.
As soon as we were docked, therefore, I lead a charge over to the train halt (a mum pushing a baby carriage beat me) and we were no sooner aboard then the train took off. We had to change platforms at Brockenhurst –where there was just time for a pee. I could see our next train arriving as I left the loo, the 3:00 for Waterloo. We found seats and both of us dozed for about half the time it took us to reach London, shortly after 4:30.
Harold rode with me on the Bakerloo Line as far as Piccadilly, where we said goodbye after a most successful expedition.
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