Day 374 Train to Brighton (Twice)

Saturday 13 August 2016

Brighton

4 miles

Brighton Caravan Club Site

After walking such a long way already this week it was nice to enjoy a lazy morning before my early afternoon train back to Brighton. I wasn’t sure how far I was going to walk in the afternoon. 

magnificent Brighton
Despite the South-East train strikes that had been going on earlier in the week, my train was on time. I picked up my bag and got on board. It was only when I arrived at Brighton and picked up my bag to disembark that I realised I hadn’t got my walking poles. Where were they? I must have left them on the platform at Clapham Junction. That was the second time is left my poles behind when catching a train (remember Barrow-in-Furness?). This time I was able to get a station worker to phone Clapham and my poles were still there. Phew. The bad news was that I had to go and collect them so I endured another round trip to Clapham Junction and back. What an idiot. I’m so glad I retrieved them though, and relatively easily, as I couldn’t put my tent up without them and the cheapest bed and breakfast in Brighton was well over £100. 

another beautiful building in Brighton
It was almost 6pm when I finally left Brighton train station. I walked down to the sea front and along the esplanade to the Marina before turning inland to the only available campsite. It was my most expensive campsite stay at £26.40 for 15 hours. There was nothing I could do and I was tired so I put my tent up and went for an early night. 

looking back at the pier (coaches everywhere!)
I didn’t get much sleep as I pitched next to a group of profoundly deaf people who started barbecuing at 10 pm. They were incredibly noisy, which I guess was because they couldn’t hear how loud they were. I was too tired to care.

…and more coaches!

Day 373 Sunny Brighton

Friday 12 August 2016

Shoreham-by-Sea to Brighton

8 miles

Chris and Sonya’s house, Clapham

Sarah had made me an amazing packed lunch; I think it doubled the weight of my rucksack. Phil drove me back to Shoreham Beach and drove me around. I was amazed how many houses there were here. It reminded me a bit of Sandbanks; there was only 1 road in and out, and it felt quite exclusive along the sea front. It certainly wasn’t an exclusive area back in the early 20th Century when it was known as Bungalow Town. It was developed as a theatre and film colony, and most of the bungalows were made from a couple of old railway carriages with a roof stuck over them. Most of the colony was demolished to make way for WW2 sea defences. 

Phil and I stopped to take a look at Shoreham Fort, built in 1857 as one of Palmerston’s forts. Phil and his mates used to play here as kids, right at the entrance to Shoreham Port and the River Adur. 

standing on top of Shoreham Fort
Phil dropped me off next to the pedestrian bridge across the river into Shoreham town centre. He recommended I take a look in the Marlipins Museum, so I did. 

Shoreham’s Marlipins Museum
There was a great exhibition about the Mystery Towers that were built in Shoreham during WW1. The Admiralty had a plan to block off the English Channel from German submarines by positioning defended, concrete towers in a line across the Straits of Dover. They were to be constructed at Shoreham but only 2 were built before the war ended. It was obviously impossible to hide such large structures from view so there were plenty of photographs, and even postcards, of these towers. Such an amazing feat. 

Shoreham Beach on the right, at the entrance to the harbour and the River Adur
I had to follow the main road to Southwick before I could cross the Prince George Lock, across the harbour to Portslade-by-Sea. This was the equivalent spit of land to Shoreham Beach, but not as nice. It was an industrial area with a power station and lots of huge lorries driving past me. Not an attractive place, which might be why there was a nudist beach just the other side of the sea wall. 

crossing Prince George Lock
Portslade-by-Sea’s industrial promenade
I reached Hove, and the start of the long esplanade that heads all the way through Brighton. I wasn’t alone as there seemed to be hundreds of people walking, cycling, scooting, rollerskating along the lovely, smooth Tarmac. 

brightly coloured beach huts lining the esplanade at Hove
Brighton and Hove city is the most populous seaside resort in the UK and it showed. There were people everywhere. Despite the large numbers of people the city still had a relaxed, bohemian feel to it and it was very brightly coloured. 

approaching Brighton
I loved the huge Georgian apartment blocks and the squares filled with trees. 

beautiful Adelaide Crescent
Brunswick Square
I got as far as the Palace Pier and then headed into the city centre to the train station. 

Brighton Pier
On the way I passed the impressive-looking Royal Pavilion. 

the Royal Pavilion
I also walked down The Lanes, a series of narrow alleyways full of small, quirky shops and cafes. This was a completely different side to the city than the huge esplanade and beach. Brighton definitely had a wealthy air to it. 

busy Brighton Beach
Chris and Sonya had invited me to stay with them as it was only a 50-minute direct train into Clapham Junction. I hadn’t seen them for ages so it was lovely to spend the evening catching up over dinner. 

crowded small shops and cafes below the promenade

Day 372 Promenading from Bognor to Shoreham

Thursday 11 August 2016

Bognor Regis to Shoreham-by-Sea

20 miles

Sarah and Phil’s house (Laura’s Aunt)

How nice to have a lovely breakfast in the B&B. I had a homemade haddock fish cake topped with poached egg. Delicious. 

Bognor Regis sea front
I set off with a spring in my step to walk the rest of the way along Bognor Regis seafront, past the pier and the famous Butlins holiday camp. Unfortunately I was a month too early for the Bognor International Birdman competition (i.e. jumping off the end of the pier wearing fancy dress). 

Bognor’s pier – perfect for jumping off in a flying machine!
The East side of town was not so plush but I still thought Bognor was a lot nicer than its name sounds. The seafront was nice. A lady told me the beach used to be sandy until several years ago when the groynes further West were removed and now the beach is shingle. 

Butlins at Bognor
Bognor morphed into Felpham and then Middleton-on-Sea. Felpham in particular looked nice; a nice beach, low-rise buildings and a well-kept sea front with fancy street lights on the promenade. The Felpham sailing club seemed to be gearing up for some sort of regatta. 

Felpham (with its fancy street lights)
At Middleton-on-Sea I was back to walking along wide grassy strips of land sandwiched between enormous houses and the beach. These grassy areas are called greenwards and there seem to be a few along this stretch of coast, just as there are a few private estates with big houses. 

a greenward; this one with very sedate beach huts
Something was bothering me about these big houses and I couldn’t work it out. Since West Wittering there have been lots of big houses. I guess I am now within commuting distance of London and the South East, so these houses are first- rather than second- homes. I can imagine there is a lot of one-upmanship that goes on, competing to have the best house. But there was something else. Somehow these houses seemed less connected to the sea than others further West. It was almost like being next to the sea just added value in the competition to have the best house. I couldn’t imagine anyone who lived in these houses worked on or near the sea, it was just there as a backdrop outside their enormous windows. It was just a feeling I had. Some beautiful houses though. 

walking the sea wall
It was very hot as I skirted inland to cross the River Arun at the pedestrian bridge heading into Littlehampton. On the way I stopped very briefly at Clymping Beach Cafe for a much wanted cold drink. 

crossing the bridge over the River Arun, from West to East Littlehampton
According to the map, Littlehampton really lies on the East bank of the River Arun; however, the town’s shipbuilding heritage was founded on the West bank. The Ropewalk seemed to be the only street on the West side and it was named after the rope-making factory that used to be there. 

random fish recipes around town
I crossed over the swingbridge to the East bank of the Arun and the main town of Littlehampton. It seemed quite busy as I made my way to the sea front through the crowds. It seemed there was a sandcastle building competition in full swing on the beach. 

a sandcastle building competition on Littlehampton Beach
I started walking along the promenade, which took me past Rustington and on to West Kingston and Kingston Gorse. Yet more big houses here and I found myself walking along greenswards in front of them. 

a big greenward East of Littlehampton
Finally, between Ferring and Worthing there was a gap; the Goring Gap to be precise. This narrow strip of land (and one other smaller one just after Worthing) was the only section of seafront between the River Arun and Brighton that was not built up. All the towns merge from one to the next. 

the Littlehampton promenade
I had reached Worthing. It followed the format for these South Coast seaside towns: shingle beach, wide promenade, big hotels, a pier. It must be a favourite destination for seaside coach trips as there were loads of coaches parked alongside the esplanade. 

arriving in Worthing
The activity of promenading began in Worthing after the esplanade was built in 1821. The pier distinguishes itself as having been “blown down, burnt down and blown up”. I was confused that the town has a lido, but it’s not a swimming pool it’s an entertainment centre. That was disappointing. 

Worthing pier
Next town was Lancing and then Shoreham-by-Sea. Just before Shoreham there is a set of lagoons and then the spit of land that is Shoreham Beach. It is caused by the River Adur taking an abrupt left turn just before it reaches the sea and means that Shoreham Beach is split from the rest of the town. 

the Widewater Lagoons at Shoreham-by-Sea
There was a big digger in the sea and the water around it had been churned up so that it was a really light green in colour. Quite striking. I asked a passer-by what the digger was doing and was told it was digging a trench for the cabling from the new wind turbines that were being installed further out off the coast. Apparently the opposition to the turbines has cooled somewhat as they are hardly visible (I couldn’t see them).

the colours of the sea and the cycle lane began to match (note the digger in the sea)
I was exhausted so as soon as I reached the Church of the Good Shepherd, right on the edge of Shoreham, I phoned Sarah and she drove to collect me. 

looking along the coast to Hove and Brighton
I had a lovely evening being fed and pampered by Sarah and Phil. Eighty six miles in 4 days in the hot sunshine had worn me out!

Shoreham’s shingle beach

Day 371 The Witterings and Selsey Bill

Wednesday 10 August 2016

East Wittering to Bognor Regis

21 miles (+ bus)

The Swan Guest House

Chichester Harbour to the West of West Wittering
I was up just after 6 am and walking before 7. I left my damp tent pitched and set off, minus rucksack, to walk 6 miles across the fields to West Wittering and then back along the coast. 

looking across the entrance to Chichester Harbour, from West Wittering Beach to Eastoke Point on Hayling Island
This is definitely a moneyed area; the inland houses are big and secluded, and then there are some enormous houses facing the beach. 

brightly painted beach huts at the back of West Wittering Beach
It was very peaceful as I walked through West Wittering to face onto Chichester Harbour again. The spit of sand dunes called East Head protects this little area from the main harbour. When I walked into the front, facing the English Channel, the wind picked up. 

looking along East Head sand dune spit
I headed along the beach back to East Wittering. The sand was lovely and fine but a dirty brown colour. Behind the beach were enormous houses, sat in big gardens with a small, dry moat out front and little bridges; a bit like a country pile at the seaside. I found it rather amusing to see how the housing changed as I got closer to East Wittering. The large gardens gave way to small ones and the houses, although still enormous, got smaller too. Finally, there were apartment blocks. This was a graduation of wealth from multi-million pound to million pound and then a bit less for an apartment. 

the ‘dry moat’ back garden entrances to the multi-million pound houses…
…next came the million pound houses…
…and finally the apartments in East Wittering
I stopped at the bakers in East Wittering to get some breakfast and then headed back to the campsite to pack up. The last couple of days had taken their toll and I was tired, and it wasn’t even 10 am. 

the shingle beach at East Wittering
I forced myself to get going and headed inland towards Selsey. I had been led to believe it wasn’t possible to walk the beach all the way from East Wittering to Selsey Bill so I was forced along farm tracks. It was another glorious day. 

the beach and lifeboat station at Selsey Bill
Selsey Bill was strange. The town was built right up to the shingle beach and so I either had to walk across the shingle (very hard) or weave up and down side roads through the town. I did a combination. Selsey Bill, the point where I waved goodbye to the Isle of Wight and turned North East, was nothing at all. There were houses with big concrete walls that pushed you onto the shingle and that was it. No sign, no nothing. Strange place. It could be marketed “Selsey: a housing estate by the sea”. 

looking across Pagham Harbour at low tide
I was exhausted. I decided to catch a bus to cut out about 4 miles. I had to go inland again anyway to get around Pagham Habour. I got off the bus by Pagham Harbour RSPB reserve and an industrial estate. There was a diner here and I went inside. It had only been open a week and Dave promised me the best burger I have had in a long time. It wasn’t, but I didn’t tell him. I ate it because I was hungry and listened to Dave tell me all about his health issues that prevent him from walking far. 

this path around Pagham Harbour is only walkable at low tide
It was a slow, hot, tired walk skirting the edge of Pagham Harbour when the tide was out. I didn’t even see many birds until I got around to a pool on the other side of the harbour. Here there were geese, ducks, plovers, herons, egrets and others. 

a small pool with birds; I saw hardly any in the harbour
I reached Pagham and took the road through the village to hit the shore again. I was on the outskirts of Bognor Regis and it was lovely. Unfortunately there was no coast path so I swapped and changed between walking along the shingle beach and walking through suburbia. This suburbia was rather plush! The Aldwick Bay private estate was very nice, with lovely big houses set on a quite road just back from the shore. 

hard going walking along the vegetated shingle beach from Pagham to Bognor
I reached Bognor Regis town and found my B&B. This one had been more reasonably priced and there weren’t any campsites. I bought some food from the local Tesco and collapsed on my bed for the evening. 

the amusements at Pagham didn’t look much “fun for all”

Day 370 Around Chichester Harbour

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Hayling Island to East Wittering

23 miles

Stubcroft Farm Campsite

Where should I start on the state of the B&B facilities? I was so angry that I felt I had been ripped off, and so disappointed that I didn’t get the little bit of comfort that I wanted after such a hard day yesterday. The manager wasn’t there and I left without breakfast (that’s how bad it was). I revisited tescos to make myself a baguette instead. I was fuming for a couple of hours. 

looking back across Langstone Harbour towards the South of Hayling Island (at low tide)
I followed the Hayling Billy Line (a WW2 train track turned into a cycle path) straight up the West side of the island. It was shaping up to be another hot and sunny day. 

the view towards Portsmouth from the Langstone Bridge
The tide was out and wherever I looked there were mud flats, channels and lots of shoreline. Chichester Harbour is huge and has 2 ‘fingers’ of land poking into it (Hayling Island and Thorney Island), as well as lots of other tiny islands. 

crossing the Langstone Bridge
I crossed Langstone Bridge, leaving Hayling Island and following the Wayfarer’s Walk along the shoreline from Havant to Emsworth. 

pretty Langstone, just across the bridge
The small town of Emsworth used to have a big oyster trade, selling 100,000 a week to London. The harbour would have been full of Oyster Smacks, the biggest being the 110 ft long Echo. This Emsworth boat was said to be the largest sailing fishing vessel ever built in England. 

walking around Emsworth’s Fisherman’s Walk
In Emsworth I had a quick cafe stop to get the coffee that I had missed by not having breakfast. I was still angry, and tired, and rehearsing how I was going to get my money back. 

looking across Chichester Harbour at the East side of Hayling Island (still low tide)
More footpath confusion as I tried to find my way around Emsworth Marina, crossing the River Ems and into West Sussex. It did little to improve my mood! Perhaps a nice walk around Thorney Island would help. 

walking the sea wall towards Thorney Island, just across the Great Deep
Although now connected to the mainland thanks to seawalls, the Great Deep channel did once cut the Thorney Island off. It is now cut off by big, locked gates as it is MOD land (it used to be an RAF station until 1976). The Sussex Border Path tracks around the edge of Thorney Island for 6 miles and access is granted by buzzing the Guard Room, and the guards remotely unlock the gate. No problem. 

another view of Hayling Island across Chichester Harbour
It was a nice walk and there were a few oystercatchers and boats for me to look at across the harbour. It took me 2 hours to get around to the east access gate, complete with handwritten sign indicating the gate was broken. That couldn’t be right. I pressed the buzzer and was told the gate was broken, as per the sign, and I would have to go back the way I had come. This was red rag to a bull. The steam coming out of my ears was probably visible for miles as I blew my stack. Why wasn’t there a sign on the other gate? Why hadn’t they told me this gate was broken when they let me through the other gate? What was wrong with the gate? Were they really telling me I had another 6 mile, 2 hour walk back around Thorney Island to get back to where I started? Who was their commanding Officer? I wanted him to come and explain this to me ASAP and I wanted a car to drive me back around (not possible I know). I had almost reached the point of resuming my military rank and they had put me on hold while they fetched someone of superior rank who would come and see me. Suddenly I heard a buzzer sound and so pushed the gate. It opened. Not so broken after all! Had I not been so stressed and so tired with so far still to go I would have taken them to task on this as it was shocking behaviour. 

this time looking across Chichester Harbour towards West Itchenor
I carried on skirting around Chichester Harbour. I decided not to bother walking around the next ‘finger’ of land at Chidham and just followed the A259 straight along to the final ‘finger’ at Bosham. This one had a ferry across the Chichester Channel to West Itchenor so I avoided having to walk back inland to Chichester and around. 

the tide coming into Chichester Harbour; the view towards the harbour entrance from Nutbourne
Bosham was a very well-kept and smart little town. The houses looked lovely. I stopped at a cafe for some lunch and a break from the hot sun. It was also time to phone the West Town Inn and ask for a refund. I was calm and reasoned and Marcus was very nice about it, apologised and offered to refund me in full (even though I was prepared to pay half what I was charged as a fair fee for the service received). A small win. 

Bosham
I caught the small, seasonal ferry and walked through West Itchenor. 

the ferry across the Chichester Channel to West Itchenor
I was headed for the Witterings and there were plenty of campsites so I thought I’d be fine. Mistake. The first 2 I phoned didn’t have room, not even for a hiker with a small tent – they didn’t even think about it, just a flat ‘no’. The 3rd campsite wanted £25 and the 4th, £16. By now my search was getting too far away so I resolved that I just had to pay the £16 and acknowledge that this section of South Coast is just very expensive. 

It was a longer walk to the campsite than I wanted and I headed straight there along the roads. Fortunately the site was quite nice and it was an easy walk along a track to East Witteribg for some dinner. After a pretty stressful day I was pleased to find a nice Italian restaurant with wifi, a plug socket and wine. 

On reflection, I had managed to get winning outcomes to my frustrations today. I had shouted at the military and reasoned with the civilians. I am adding adaptable and tenacious to my CV. 

I made it into Sussex; unfortunately it only has a border path and not a coastal path!

Day 369 Three Ferries in One Day: Hamble, Gosport and Hayling

Monday 8 August 2016

Hamble-le-Rice to Hayling Island

22 miles

West Town Inn

I was up and away in time to catch the first pink ferry across the River Hamble at 9 am. I was too early for cafes so made a brief stop at co-op for a bit of breakfast. 

looking back across the river at Hamble, just visible through all the boats!
Hamble was chocolate-box pretty and I saw lots of expensive cars in driveways. I didn’t know that the RAF has its yacht club base here; if I had I might have joined!

how to find the ferry amongst so many boats – paint it pink!
The pink ferry navigated its way through the hundreds of moored boats and dropped me at Warsash. I walked up to the main street and found somewhere to get a coffee. Chatting to the lady in there I discovered that Hamble was considered the more pretentious, boaty town than Warsash, but these Hamble Valley neighbours do get on. Warsash has a world-renowned maritime academy. 

Warsash Clock Tower
The sun was shining as I made my way past Warsash’s old strawberry fields (strawberries are no longer grown here), around the edge of the River Hamble and back onto the banks of Southampton Water. 

looking back towards Warsash, along the edge of the River Hamble
I was following The Solent Way, which seems to be Hampshire’s coastal path. Unfortunately it is very badly signed and I had to backtrack a few times today as it was at times difficult to discern the route on the map and there were very few signs to help me out. 

the shingle alongside Southampton Water
There was a lot of open ground, a mixture of grass, mud and shingle, along the edge of Southampton Water. The path ended up on a small cliff top and there was significant erosion that had closed a section of the Chilling Coast. What a shame no one bothered to put any diversion signs up. Fortunately some holiday home owners gave me directions. 

looking back at Southampton
I reached Lee-on-the-Solent and had a promenade to walk along, past the old Naval airfield where I once spent a University Air Squadron summer camp. 

Lee-on-Solent promenade
I had reached Gosport and I passed The Diving Museum, next to Browndown Army Camp and kept going, around Stokes Bay, to Gilkicker Point. 

Neufeldt and Kuhnke’s 1939 design atmospheric diving suit; unfortunately the joints leaked!
The 1860 Grade II* listed Palmerston Fort at Gilkicker Point was boarded up and fenced off; not that this seemed to bother the kids who were scaling its roof. It did look in a sorry state and certainly no longer capable of defending the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. 

the rather dilapidated Fort Gilkicker
To get to the narrow harbour entrance I had to pass HMP Haslar, now an immigration detention centre, and the old Haslar Military Hospital. The hospital had been turned into luxury apartments. 

passing the old Royal Hospital Haslar
Portsmouth waterfront looked impressive, particularly Spinnaker Tower. 

looking across the water from Gosport to Portsmouth
I also picked out the BAR team shed but no sign of the America’s Cup yacht. 

the BAR headquarters and boat shed
There was an interesting contrast of the old Naval warships berthed alongside the new. 

an old Naval Warship…
…berthed alongside a new one
I walked straight onto the Gosport Ferry, which reminded me a bit of the Mersey Ferry; it was a big boat and a slick operation. They don’t sell single tickets so I need to go back sometime. 

The Spinnaker Tower
I have been to Portsmouth many times, but never to the old part. Once out of Gunwharf Quays, the busy, updated shopping precinct, I found myself in Old Portsmouth. Just like Plymouth, there were lots of memorials and commemorations of various sailings from the historic docks. I could have spent a day here looking around. 

memorials to the Falklands War and the convict ships that sailed to found modern Australia
the Royal Navy War Memorial for all those from Portsmouth’s ships
Instead I walked along the Millenium promenade, past Southsea Common and all of its memorials (including the main Naval one that is the equivalent of the one in Plymouth), to Southsea Castle. This castle complements Gilkicker Fort on the other side of the harbour entrance. 

Southsea Castle
The path followed the long beach, past South Parade Pier, past the Royal Marines Museum, and all the way to the entrance to Langstone Harbour. 

Portsmouth’s beach and promenade
the entrance to the Royal Marines’ Museum
I had decided not to walk up the the East side of Portsea Island (the island that Portsmouth inhabits) but instead to get the ferry across the mouth of Langstone Harbour to Hayling Island. Both Portsea Island and Hayling Island are a bit bell-shaped so they present a long south coast to the sea and then the harbours of Portsmouth and Langstone open up considerably after a narrow entrance. 

Spitbank Fort in the Solent
On my way to the Hayling Ferry (which only re-opened a few days ago after a couple of years with no operator) I passed a campsite. I was tired and there was a bar so I changed my mind and went in to see if I could stay. After waiting 15 minutes to speak to someone at reception I was told there was room for me…at a cost of £30. I left. It was another one of those holiday parks. 

I had to rush to catch the ferry after that as they only ran every 40 minutes and I didn’t want to miss the 5.40 pm crossing. I just about made it and walked straight on…and then straight off the other side. I was so preoccupied with wondering where I was going to stay that I didn’t notice I hadn’t paid. I asked some cyclists and they said that, just like the Gosport Ferry, this one only sold return tickets so the operators must have assumed I was on my return journey. No wonder they went out of business for a while!

It was almost 6 pm and I had nowhere to stay. I was very tired and wanted some luxury so I phoned a guest house in West Town and splashed out. It seemed every type of accommodation, from campsites upwards, had suddenly jumped up in price. As I was about to find out, that did not reflect a jump in quality or standards. 

The bed was clean and there was a Tesco nearby so I was alright for the night. However; there were people screaming at one another in the street from midnight for an hour and the accommodation was awful: window blinds that wouldn’t open and fell down, dirty floor, no hand soap, and the list went on. I was unhappy at being ripped off and more would follow in the morning. 

A disappointing end to a long and interesting day. 

the beach at Hill Head, before Lee-on-Solent

WEEK 52 The Isle of Wight

67 miles walked

(total 3,044 miles walked)

I walked around most of the Isle of Wight Coastal Path. I figured I could miss out the bit between Cowes and Yarmouth as it is mostly inland anyway and this would mean I could get the ferry to Southampton. By doing this I missed out an inland walk from Lymington to Hythe, past the oil refinery. 

a stunning “Jurassic Coast” along the South of the island
Eight thousand years ago the Isle of Wight was part of the mainland and the Solent was just a river. That was before the Ice Age made it into an island. Having walked from The Needles to Foreland, I was struck by how this whole South Coast section of the IOW was really just a continuation of the Jurassic Coast. 

Bembridge lifeboat station
Finally, I can’t believe I didn’t see any red squirrels all week. Gutted. 

follow the IOW coast path signs

Day 368 Experiencing Cowes Week

Sunday 7 August 2016

East Cowes to Hamble le Rice, Southampton 

10 miles (+ ferry)

Riverside Park Campsite

Despite an interrupted sleep I was up early. It had rained! Only for about half an hour at 5am. The skies were grey with no sign of sun. 

looking at Cowes across the River Medina
I headed for the chainlink ferry across the River Medina to Cowes. Although only separated by a river, and sharing a name, East Cowes and Cowes are quite different. East Cowes is small and known for its shipbuilding. There are still big sheds facing onto the river. The most famous is the Columbine Shed, which belonged to the Saunders-Roe firm who built seaplanes (beginning in 1913) and then hovercraft. The world’s first hovercraft was built and launched from here in 1959. Since the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977 the Columbine Shed has been recognised by its Union Jack door. 

The Columbine Shed in East Cowes
The chainlink ferry has been running since 1859 and before that there was a rowing boat and a horse-winched barge. It cost me £1 for a return ticket, which saves a trip into Newport and out again. What a bargain. 

the chainlink ferry crossing the River Medina
Cowes is known as the home of world yachting and the birthplace of the America’s Cup. At 8am it was pretty quiet, which was understandable after last night’s party. Sailing types were appearing though and could be distinguished by their slightly dishevelled (but not too dishevelled) appearance, Musto clothing and enormous kit bags. I did not look the part. Never one to let that deter me I headed straight for the marina. 

one of the Cowes Marinas during Cowes Week…so many yachts!
Around the moored yachts sailors were scurrying around like little ants. I stood on a jetty and watched. From the variety of accents and the markings on the boats (e.g. a big silver fern) it was obvious that this was an international event. 

even the RAF had a yacht racing at Cowes Week
I had company and we started chatting. This man was sailing on a very nice yacht (worth £80k) that his (very rich) friend owned. He filled me in on what happens at Cowes Week. It did sound like a lot of fun. In return I told him about my trip and he thought it sounded cool so we were even. 

the race start…avoid the tanker!
Next I wandered through the town. More sailors. Everywhere. All getting coffee. I bought a pain au chocolat from the bakery and carried on. I wanted to see the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS): the home of  yachting. I wondered if I might be able to blag my way in for a spot of breakfast, but that was never going to happen. One has to be a bonafide member of this place. 

The Royal Yacht Squadron
I discovered that the RYS runs Cowes Week. In front of the exclusive clubhouse was a flagpole (able to hoist 9 flags) and a row of cannons. Katy was prepping the cannons and then Paul arrived in ful rig (complete with hat). They were both employed by the RYS. I chatted to the two of them and learnt lots about how the racing works. Essentially, flags are hoisted to signify which class of boat is due to start, then the small cannons signify prep and the big cannon the start. However, while some are prepping, some are starting so it all gets complicated.

Peter outside the RYS, operating the flags and cannons to start (and finish) the races
The first race started around 10am and by then there looked to be scores of different sized yachts milling about near the start line. To add another complication, there were also ferries, container ships, sea kayakers and moored yachts. This was chaos. Fun though. 

prepare to fire…
I wandered back through town and stopped for a coffee and bacon sandwich. I had had enough of the “sailing set” so caught the chainlink ferry back to East Cowes and returned to the campsite to pack up. Within an hour I was on the ferry to Southampton. 

…fire!
I had a great view of all the races as we crossed the Solent and entered Southampton Water. The wind had picked up and some of the boats looked like they were flying. 

on the ferry, aiming at the racing yachts…how many can we take out?
Welcome to Southampton! (I think this sign might indicate that more people arrive by boat than car)
We docked in Southampton and I walked along the edge of the old town and across the bridge over the River Itchen. 

one of 4 docked cruiseliners
God’s House Tower (built 15th Century to protect Mediaeval Southampton from attack)
I walked all along the Weston Shore, past Netley Abbey and the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, both of which were landmarks from the ferry. 

the (derelict) Royal Victoria Military Hospital
Aside from the wind, it was a lovely walk along the shoreline to Hamble-le-Rice. There were lots of anglers out and plenty of people enjoying the parkland.

looking bacl along the Weston Shore towards Southampton
The sun had come out and I walked up the River Hamble to my campsite. 

WW2 anti-aircraft gun on the beach at Hamble-le-Rice
I was relieved to find the campsite was next to the Mercury Yacht Harbour, which had a bar and restaurant overlooking the marina and the river. Perfect. 

the view from the restaurant overlooking the Mercury Yacht Marina on the River Hamble

Day 367 North Wight: The Solent

Saturday 6 August 2016

St Helens to East Cowes

9 miles (+ bus)

Waverley Park Caravan Site

The wind had died to nothing overnight and so my tent and the long grass were soaking in the morning. The situation was not helped by my pitch being totally in the shade on a very sunny day. Not too much of a problem because the wind had picked up again so I just took my tent down, stood in the sunshine, and “flew” it like a kite. 

the view from St Helens across Bembridge Harbour
The campsite/farm had an onsite cafe that opened at 9am. By 8.50 there were 30 people outside. I was hungry so went in the back door that had been opened to let some cool air in. The lovely lady let me get my order in before the rush and so, when the doors opened at 9, I was already eating scrambled eggs and drinking a mug of tea. I left a big tip (even though the fare wasn’t that good so I’ve no idea why there was such a queue). 

St Helen’s Beach, looking at Bembridge Point
I set off feeling happy with the world. 

No Man’s Land Fort (one of 3 visible in the Solent)
Before Nettlestone and after Ryde the path veered inland. It seemed to be taking me on a tour of the posh homes. Seaview in particular seemed to be where the sailing fraternity live. There were some lovely houses facing the Solent around Nettlestone Point, and lots of people milling about near dinghies. On such a beautiful, sunny day I wished I was joining them on the water (or in it). 

Seaview Beach, looking at Nettlestone Point
It was so hot that I stopped at The Boat Inn, at Puckpool Point, for a break in the shade. They had newspapers so I lounged around for a bit pretending that my Saturday was just like everyone else’s. 

Seaview Beach (boats in the Solent and Portsmouth in the distance)
It wasn’t far to Ryde, just along the seafront through Appley Park. I stopped to admire the lovely Appley Tower; a coastal folly built in 1875 and used as a summerhouse. 
Appley Tower
There were lots of people strung out along the very thin beach and in the sea. Some people were really quite far out in the sea and yet still stood up, which was a good indication of just how shallow the water was at high tide. With such sheltered, shallow water it’s no wonder Ryde has been such a popular resort since Victorian times. It is also a SSSI and supports many migrating birds, eating on the mudflats at low tide. 

Ryde East Sands, Portsmouth across the Solent
I watched the hovercraft ferry coming and going; there was no way a boat would make it anywhere near the shore. There is a very long pier to service the regular ferry. 

the Ryde hovercraft ferry
It was not a day for walking far so I stopped again, this time for a spot of lunch in a nice Italian restaurant near Ryde seafront. I wasn’t getting very far very fast, but it was too hot and I had decided to catch a bus the last few miles to avoid walking on the road. 

I walked through Ryde suburbs (more nice houses) before hitting the parkland around Quarr Abbey. By now it was early afternoon and there were scores of yachts in the Solent, taking part in Cowes Week. 

a great view of Cowes Week racing from Ryde suburbs
I walked past the ruins of the Mediaeval Quarr Abbey. I thought rather ironic that a building of peace should have 2 gun loops for self defence against pirates. I wonder if the monks carried out regular firing practices?
the ruins of the mediaeval Quarr Abbey facing the Solent
I reached the current Quarr Abbey and stopped to admire it. It was a very large building to be built using small bricks and was architecturally very striking. It was designed by Dom Paul Bellot and built with Belgian bricks. 

Quarr Abbey, made of bricks
I walked through Fishbourne, up Kite Hill and across the bridge over Wooton Creek. Here I stopped and waited for the bus. The coast path to East Cowes followed a road and I thought I’d rather see it from the top deck of a bus. 

I couldn’t get a glimpse of Osborne House as we went past it and down the hill into East Cowes. Although it was Cowes Week the campsite was happy to let me stay and I pitched in a nice sheltered patch. There was a bar on site and high speed wifi so I stayed put to eat and catch up with my blog. There was a singer crooning old favourites in the bar and I had a lovely view of the Solent. All was well. I had debated heading across the River Medina to Cowes to see what was going on for Cowes Week but was advised it would just be full of drunken partygoers. I could hear the music loud enough until well after midnight anyway. It sounded like a good party!

sunset over the Fawley Oil Refinery, from East Cowes

Day 366 East Wight: The IOW Riviera

Friday 5 August 2016

Ventnor to St Helens

16 miles

Fakenham Farm Campsite

After a relatively chilly night everything was soaked in the morning so I took my time waiting for the sun to dry my tent. I caught the 9.30 bus back to Ventnor and went for a nice breakfast. 

a map of the IOW (upside down) in a paddling pool in Ventnor
Ventnor seafront
I love it when I find a good cafe; La Cantina in Ventnor was very good. It was almost 11am by the time I set off, walking along the Wheeler’s Bay to Bonchurch Seawall. It took 6000 cubic metres of concrete to make this ugly thing in 1988. I think I’d prefer a path on the high, chalky cliffs above. 

walking the Wheeler’s Bay to Bonchurch Seawall
In the 19th Century Bonchurch was a fashionable centre for writers and artists, now it seems rather quieter. I passed through, noting the pretty St Boniface Church tucked into the trees.

St Boniface Church
 The day was heating up and I suddenly found myself walking through the trees, across The Landslip. There was no wind in here to cool me down. I might have been walking from Seaton to Lyme Regis as it was very similar terrain. 

a “wishing seat” in The Landslip
The end of The Landslip coincided with the end of The Undercliff at Luccombe Bay. I couldn’t see the Bay without descending but I did see lots of large and well-hidden houses. 

the view to Shanklin and Sandown
I popped out at Shanklin, the site where the Pluto oil pipeline left British shores and pumped oil across to France in 1944. There was more promenade and beach huts than there was beach but lots of people seemed to be enjoying the sunshine. 

Shanklin promenade
I carried on to Sandown, which seemed quite rundown in places; there were a few buildings boarded up and even the zoo looked very tired. 

Sandown beach
Out of Sandown, ahead of me were Red Cliff and Whitecliff. Appropriate names for these sandstone and chalk cliffs. 

Red Cliff and Whitecliff
The headland itself was called Culver Cliff and from the top there were commanding views back to Ventnor, and across Foreland and Bembridge Harbour to the Solent and Hampshire. I could easily make out Portsmouth. 

Sandown Bay around to Dunnose
the view over Bembridge Harbour, Portsmouth in the distance
looking down on Foreland
Whitecliff Bay was where the French landed in 1545 in an attempt to invade Britain before King Henry VIII had built his fort on Bembridge Down. 

Whitecliff Bay and Culver Cliff
The path took in some of the shoreline around Foreland as well as some of the more affluent streets in Bembridge. Here the water looked a rich caramel colour. Eventually I found Bembridge Harbour. 

the ‘caramel’ sea along Foreland
Bembridge beach
Bembridge Harbour is well protected by a huge sandbar called The Duver. 

Bembridge Harbour entrance
Around the harbour were lots of houseboats, some of which were quite big and all were permanent homes. 

one of many houseboats moored in Bembridge Harbour
I stopped at a small campsite in St Helens, across the harbour from Bembridge. It had been another long, hot day. 

St Helen’s Church ruins, almost on the beach