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     Every now and then I like to visit the Isle of Wight for a walk, however it is not a cheap day. This one cost me £38 before putting foot to path what with a day's car parking and a return hovercraft ticket to Ryde. The hovercraft provides a unique way to start a walk. It departs Southsea and Ryde every half hour. Two years earlier whilst performing on Southsea Common Eddie Izzard struggled to be heard over the loud roar of the engine and quipped he was the only comedian to be heckled by a hovercraft. During the ten minute crossing I looked from the spume covered windows to the Solent forts. Three of these unique structures, built in the late 1800’s to protect Portsmouth from a perceived French invasion, have been given a makeover in recent years and today operate as luxury hotels. The Solent is the strait of water that separates the Isle of Wight from England, it is roughly 20 miles in length with gaps ranging from just over a mile to 5 miles. Thousands of years ago it was a river valley with the Avon, Itchen and Test, as tributaries. At that time the Isle of Wight would have been part of the mainland but after going independent it is now England’s largest offshore island. The island has its detractors, The Men They Couldn’t Hang penned a song called Island in the Rain and, after a less than enjoyable experience recently, American comedian Rich Hall called it, 'The Island that fun forgot, no wonder Jimi Hendrix died after playing there! ' All very harsh!


    From the hover terminal I climbed the railway footbridge and tried to think of a redeeming feature for the Isle of Wight only to be reminded that David Icke moved there in 1982 - oh well, I tried! As the hovercraft departed on its return journey to Southsea I turned right beneath a thick covering of cloud. The day threatened rain and maybe the odd thunderstorm later in the afternoon, how exciting! From Western Gardens I took an anticlockwise walk out of Ryde via the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, a 67 mile LDP that does what it says on the tin. The path is waymarked by a seagull on a blue background and led me beyond Holy Cross Church in Binstead to the old Quarr Abbey remains. As I stood on a park bench taking photos one friendly local invited me into the field to take a closer look. The small Cistercian foundation here was formed in 1132 by Baldwin de Redvers, Earl of Devon and Fourth Lord of the Isle of Wight. Eleanor of Aquitaine, the meddlesome wife of Henry II, was exiled here before her death in France in 1204.


     A little further from there was the fascinating new Quarr Abbey. On the 1st July 1901 a new law in France removed national tolerance to religious orders and as a result the Benedictines at Solesmes in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in north western France migrated to Quarr Abbey House in 1907. The same year work began on building the new abbey with the church consecrated in October 1912. Following the Great War further social changes in France saw the Solesmes community return with a small number remaining at Quarr. As it became more of an independent order the gradual introduction of English monks has meant that today there are no longer any French speaking monks at Quarr.


     Turning left off the Coastal Path, a footpath to the A3054 began my route southwards via Newnham Farm to Havenstreet at 3½ miles. Footpaths on the Isle of Wight are very well marked and named, R10 brought me to a small lane and from that I followed R19 into the cool of Rowlands Wood to a grassy field. The rise of Ashey Down was my next objective, or at least the ridge it ran along was. My arrival at a crossing of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway was expertly timed with a train coming from the direction of Ashey. Footpath R22 climbed gradually to R13 which I followed below Mersley Down to the curious sight of a broken down treehouse in the middle of the field to my left. This was no ordinary treehouse, more like something out of an adventure playpark which was a clue as away to my right I could see the rise of Robin Hill Country Park, one of the island's top attractions. This theme park plays host to Bestival each September and several of the nearby footpaths still showed closure notices from the previous year’s festival. The cloud had cleared and the sun was hot and humid which did little to improve the climb up Gallows Hill to the 442 foot ridge of Arreton Down. The A11 path provided the best route to the village below where I stumbled across Arreton Barns Craft Village, a strange affair and so very Isle of Wight. St. George’s Church was thankfully less of an attraction to the steady throng of people milling around and at 1:30pm I could sit in its porch and eat my lunch.


     I needed more water so bought two bottles from a nearby farm shop and continued east along track A9 and the Bembridge Trail. Now it was hot and sticky and easy to see why they had predicted thunder. Just beyond the 9th mile I turned south and joined the A13 past Hasely Manor to the tarmac surface of a disused railway coming from Horringford. This I followed eastwards for nearly 2 miles alongside the River Yar on the Red Squirrel Trail. As I arrived at the Alverstone Road crossing next to Station House the disused line continued for another enticing mile to Sandown but I needed to head north along the Nunwell Trail. I was frazzled and what remained of my spirits were fried out. I’m not a fan of walking in the raging sun, invariably in the UK a pleasant breeze can be found on such days but my 410 foot climb up to Brading Down was overgrown and airless. Only at the top could I appreciate the fruits of my toil, a breathtaking view to the south and east of the island. Public Bridleway B26 dropped me off Brading Down with views north revealing the outlines of Ryde, Portsmouth and the Solent through the haze. Hazy maybe but the sky remained blue without much cloud to threaten. At Nunwell Farm I stopped for a guzzle of water, sparkling water as it turned out - bugger, I didn’t mean to buy that! I still had 4 miles remaining but the weather had worn me down, I just wanted to be back alongside Ryde's half mile pier once more and crawl aboard the next available hovercraft.

     I hauled my flagging spirits over a thread of connecting footpaths and lanes to a disused railway line beyond Whitefield Farm that had turned into an extension of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway from Ashey. I crossed just as another train passed me by once again. Some 2½ miles later I found myself on Ryde Esplanade alongside Ryde Sands amongst folk doing summery type stuff. The lack of any immediate threat of rain or thunder was a relief as I still had to get over the water. Back at the hovercraft terminal I had come full circle, a hot and sweaty 17 miles I had no desire to repeat anytime soon. I collapsed into a chair in the waiting room a sorry sight indeed. So, was it worth the money? Not really. There are better footpaths on the Isle of Wight to be honest, but I did enjoy one or two including the disused railway. It was just too darned hot, my mojo had melted away by lunchtime and I spent the afternoon gasping for air. It didn’t matter though, I get days like these and it was not the Island’s fault. Nothing wrong with another trip over there again one day, I still like to visit the Isle of Wight for a walk every now and then, why? Coz it’s there man, coz it’s there!


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