Once upon a time, there was a plan. And the plan was looked at, checked for internal flaws and scrutinized mightily. And, Lo, the plan was good.
Which was why I decided to abandon it completely in July and head for my 9th destination. The original plan was simple. The first 8 places had been visited and I had some leave booked for September. In September, I would try and cover I – M and then have a break until May next year. However, in July I had managed to accidentally take a week off work (yes, it was accidental and involved changing jobs after having booked 2 days leave to make sure I could go to my own leaving drinks). In the spirit in which my journeys had started, I didn’t want to waste my leave so I checked the weather and booked my train ticket to the Isle Of Wight.
To say that my journey started badly was a bit of an understatement. Having packed my faithful age appropriate hoody and baseball cap as well as a suitable book or two, I was clearly ready and strode out on the usual walk to the station. My good mood was immediately foiled by the weather which was miserable with spotty rain and the sort of low, looming cloud that promises more rain to come. On the way to the station, I stopped at the bank to top up the £80 in my pocket, only to have the machine refuse to give me any money. I then got to the station to find that my train was delayed and I was going to miss my connection.
I then spent an entertaining 30 minutes on the platform at Slough on the phone arranging to have my overdraft extended. You see, I’d booked my guest house online and was pretty sure that the £54 had to come out of the money on my pocket. As a result, I was very keen to get the overdraft sorted. I have to credit the lady I spoke to. Despite the repeated interruptions of passing trains, it all got done and I put my phone away in a much better state of mind. Though, of course, still a bit worried about the state of my finances.
Now I could try and sort out my journey. My original train was still on its way, but it was so late that when it turned up it was better to ignore it and wait for the fast train in 10 minutes time. This seemed completely counter-intuitive, but the surprisingly helpful staff suggested it – and were correct. I was still going to miss my train at Reading. I sit down on the platform and take out todays book – The Complete Stories of Saki.
Saki’s dry humour can do little to settle me down. I hate being late. As a result of which, I am usually at least 30 minutes early. I decide that at my funeral, instructions will be given to bring the casket in 30 minutes late, just so the handful of people who bother to turn up can understand how I’ve felt for most of my life.
I am further unsettled by the gaggle of Japanese tourists waiting for the connecting train to Windsor. While I watch them taking selfies (who on earth would want a selfie on Slough station?) I wonder what the collective name for Japanese tourists is.
Despite me willing the train to travel faster than normal, I miss the connection at Reading by 10 minutes and have to spend another 20 minutes at this delightful edifice. My connection to Southampton is at platform 7b, though after my experience on the journey to Avebury I avoid the delight of the purgatorial waiting room. Sitting down, I try to check the rest of the details of the journey and am so engrossed in it, that I completely fail to notice my train arriving.
Boarding the stealth train, I find that for some reason they have decided to refrigerate the carriage and somewhere between Basingstoke and Winchester I give up the fight and put the hoody on. As I stare outside at the relatively warm English countryside I reflect that so far this journey has been a particularly poor one.
At Southampton I have a bus ride to get to Town Quay. I’m actually at Southampton in time to get the original ferry — I’m just not at the right part of Southampton! The way the whole journey is done is actually quite efficient. The ticket I bought takes me from Slough to Cowes and covers 2 trains, 1 bus and 1 ferry. I’m suitably impressed – though I can’t really concentrate on that as I’m still smarting at missing my original ferry. The good thing is that the sky is clearing and things are much warmer – though that might just be the reaction from leaving the refrigerated train.
At Town Quay, I’ll be catching a Red Funnel Line ferry. Although it’s very difficult to catch a glimpse of them, I spot a picture of one and immediately realise that they seem to have a mild misunderstanding as to the meaning of the word funnel.
So I join the queue for the Red Keel Line ferry. The queue works in the way all queues work. People stand in line. Those who arrive early (like myself) are near the front and everyone else queues up behind them. I have gone to the effort of explaining this as clearly one person was unfamiliar with the concept. Having heard some excited conversation behind me I looked up to see an old lady dragging a younger man behind her and forcing her way past people. Several people complained, at which point she fixed them with a withering glare and pointed her wizened finger at a small child stood about 10 places ahead. She was familiar with a system where you sent someone ahead to save you a place and then you swept past everyone when you could be bothered to turn up. By the time she got to what she clearly considered Her Place, the man with her and the child were both beetroot red with embarrassment and I was chuckling quietly to myself. I didn’t really care as she hadn’t tried to pass me. If she had, I would have been on her like a ninja. By which I mean, I would have tutted loudly and fixed her with my commuters stare in the hope that she didn’t turn me into a toad.
After the mild amusement in the queue, we eventually get onto the ferry. I find, to my disappointment, that there is no open-air seating and I grab a seat as close to the front as I can. The ferry is a catamaran and looking at the seat belts on all the seats, I wonder at how rough the crossing can get. The ferry is rather excitingly named Red Jet 4 – but I suspect that the crossing will be tame. As the engines start, the deep sound and reverberation throughout the ferry make it clear that they are quite powerful given the size of the vessel so I might be in for a surprise.
I’m not. The whole feeling is of an engine desperate to be let free from its constraints. It’s a shame, but the measured voyage down Southampton Water and into the Solent does give me the chance to have a good look around. It’s a busy stretch of water with a huge contrast between the tiny romantic sailing vessels darting around and the huge, blocky container vessels that look as though they were designed by a particularly unimaginative Lego architect. There’s too much salt on the side windows to get any decent photographs and the signs everywhere forbidding us from standing up prevent me from trying to get some out of the front windows. The reason for the signs become clear as we emerge into the Solent and the catamaran lurches from side to side. I don’t bother to hide a grin when this happens. I love boats!
As we get off the boat, we walk up past the queue of people waiting to get on. In the queue is a police officer heading back to the mainland. I had heard that they had to travel to and fro rather than being based on the island, but had never really believed it.
For the first time today, timing has worked in my favour. I had decided to head out to The Needles today and in order to do that I have to get a bus to Newport and another one the rest of the way. The bus I want is stood waiting and I dart on board. Things are looking up.
Or are they? Halfway to Newport we hit a traffic jam. From the increasing strident muttering on the bus, I gather that this is an unusual occurrence. I initially think that this will be a short queue, but it goes on…and on….and on. You can tell it’s bad when we catch up and overtake an earlier bus. My chances of getting to the Needles seems to be getting slimmer.
Eventually we get to Newport. To describe Newport as a two-horse town would invite the question “where do you stable the second horse?” We approach down it’s only dual carriageway – which lasts nearly 200 yards. Staggered from such a display of modern road building, I get off at the bus station and join the queue for the No 7 which will take me the rest of the way. The weather by now is much better – warm and sunny though with a strong breeze. I get on and head upstairs and sit as near the front as I can get. As we pass an Iceland, I tag myself on Facebook — just for the people who had guessed it as my destination for I.
We head out of Newport a different way and the character is completely different. The roads are smaller and the houses more cottage like. As we get out of the town, the character of the island becomes apparent and I start to relax and enjoy myself. The roads are narrow with farmland either side and the occasional small village. The roads are also clearly not built with modern vehicles in mind and the bus is way too big for them. On several occasions, I look at the potential roads the bus will go down and gape with disbelief as it somehow managed to fit itself into the tiniest gap possible. For a moment I wonder if I have somehow got onto the Night Bus.
As we drive along the shrinking lanes, I can see lots of signs for foot and bike paths and I think it would be far better getting around like that rather than squeezing a bus along what is often a single track road. As we progress, the Solent opens out to the right and I get some great views across to the mainland.
Arriving at Alum Bay is initially a disappointment. The bus stops beside an area of shops which is the entrance to a fairground and has all the subtlety and tackiness of Disneyland. I hope the rest of my visit won’t be like this and head uphill, walking through a coach park so large that it has a small oasis at the halfway point. By now, I am a bit disheartened and I am convincing myself that the Needles are going to be a disappointment. Past the coach park I follow the signs for the Needles up a steep road. I’m happy that I can relatively easily outdistance the family that is heading up as well, and stride out as the road comes out of a little wooded area. Ahead of me the road goes along the clifftop and the Solent is blue and attractive to my right. As I head up, I can see down into Alum Bay and the fairground pales into insignificance in comparison to the cliffs.
The wind is still bracing and as I head up the cliff top. I can see a kestrel using the wind to hover in place. It’s amazing. It’s not moving at all, just rock solid in position. Until I raise my phone to take a picture and the damn thing flies off. Typical. But even the camera-shy kestrel can’t do anything to dampen my mood. Walking up this hill has bouyed up my spirits. The countryside and the views are fantastic and I feel enlivened. I head on towards the Old Battery and the Needles.
I had worried that the Needles wouldn’t look good from the land, so I was ready for a bit of a disappointment. I was very wrong. Even if you don’t go into the Old Battery (a National Trust site) you can still get a great view of the Needles and the surrounding cliffs. I loved it here.
I have a great time wandering around here and then head up the southern cliff towards Tennyson Down.
It really is remarkably beautiful here. I love mountains and cliffs and this place really appeals to me.
I head up past the old rocket testing area and onto the Tennyson Down. It’s remarkably secluded here and as I walk along the top of the Down, I only see two other people. The sense of seclusion is amazing.
I’m tempted to walk all the way along the Down to the Tennyson Memorial, but good sense prevails and I head off the Down and back towards Disney. As I’m heading down through the interminable coach park, I can see a bus parked up and have a terrible fear that it’s the bus I want. I start rushing down towards it and get there before it leaves — and then find it’s not my bus anyway. Mine is nowhere to be seen, so I head into one of Disneys souvenir shops to get myself a bookmark. Typically, as I’m stood in the queue my bus arrives. Now, as there is only one person in front of me this should not be a problem. However I had not reckoned with the glacially slow performance of Sommer. She seemed at one point to be deliberately taking as much time as humanly possible, and when she finally finished with the person in front of me I virtually threw my money at her. Despite her, I managed to get to the bus on time and headed upstairs again only to find that a mother and her two delightful children had already taken the front seats. I felt quite sorry for the mother as she was trying to be upbeat while her children were clearly not enjoying themselves. Their main complaints were that they had been made to walk and look at “a load of rocks that will still be there in 1000 years”. Little shits.
My journey back to Cowes is relatively uneventful. The moaning children settle down and are engrossed on their phones throughout the journey. After I change buses at Newport, I am mildly amused by two teenagers who are sat beside me discussing their workout routines and the fact that they are both getting “hench”. It’s difficult not to laugh when they get off and have the same level of musculature as Jack Skellington.
It’s been a long day, and I have a pleasant surprise when I get to The Caledon Guest House. One thing I should have mentioned already, is that their customer service is great. I booked through a generic site, and was quite surprised when the GH emailed me the next day to make sure I had their phone number and to confirm my time of arrival. I had told them that it was varying dependant on what I did. During the day, they had texted me to confirm what time I would see them. So by the time I got there, I felt welcomed already. They aren’t cheap – I was paying £54 for a room without an en-suite bathroom (although I did get a free upgrade to an en-suite). The coffee machine in the rooms was amazing! Seriously. The room overlooked a road, but was so comfortable that I didn’t care. It was a great and relaxing end to the day.
Except, of course, I had to go out to get some dinner. Given the parlous state of my finances, I wanted to find somewhere cheap – and that’s when I found out that the concept does not exist in Cowes. After settling for a beer and a burger and chips I expected to pay a lot less than £18! I headed back to the GH a bit worried about money again. I now had £60 in my pocket, £54 of which was for the GH!.
The next day I got up and found that the Caledon does an excellent breakfast — a good job, as I wasn’t going to be able to afford lunch! I then tried to pay my bill, and found out that they had already taken the money out of my account when I booked the room. So, with more money in my pocket than I expected, I headed out to explore Cowes.
I started off by heading for Northwood House which sits in the centre of a very attractive little park. The weather, which had turned sunny yesterday, has stayed the same and it warms up very quickly.
I then head down and walk out of Cowes along Egypt Esplanade. I have no idea what the connection to Egypt is, but it’s a very enjoyable walk with some great views across the Solent.
After a couple of miles, I turn around and head back into Cowes. The town reminds me of a lot of the working towns in Devon and Cornwall. The streets are narrow and twisting and parallel the shore and you only get glimpses of the sea between them once you get back into the town itself. This gets a bit frustrating and I’m glad that I’ve had such good views of it already today.
Before I leave, I head down to the excitingly named “Floating Bridge”. I am filled with expectation and excitement. What will it be? Is it a pontoon bridge? Is it suspended from a giant dirigible? No, it’s a car ferry. With a mental noie to send a letter to the Torpoint Ferry about a new marketing opportunity, I head back for my Red Keel Line trip home. I have really enjoyed my fleeting visit here and I will definitely return. Next time, I shall seriously consider bringing my bike and seeing if I can circumnavigate the island.
The journey back is uneventful – except for another person who feels that the queueing system is beneath them. It must be something in the water!
So, that’s it for the moment. My next journeys will not be until May next year, so I hope you can control your excitement until then.