The Tennyson Trail

In preparation for our 2017 adventure on the West Highland Way, we took a shakedown hike on the Tennyson Trail, here on the island. At the time I wrote about how thing actually “shook down” but I didn’t go into much detail about the trail itself.

The Tennyson Trail runs from Carisbrooke in the centre of the Isle of Wight for around 14 miles to the Needles on the western tip of the island. It passes through fields, woodland and culminates on the chalk ridge that runs across the island, high up on the downs, offering views of the Solent to the north and the Atlantic in the south.

We left on cold but bright February morning, laden with packs full of everything we thought we might need when we headed to Scotland. So, even though we were just out for the day we carried the tent and sleeping bags and spare clothes and the kitchen sink.

tennyson-trail-017The first mile or so through town from home to the trailhead was hard going, all uphill and on tarmac, and the packs weighed us down. Once we got on the trail itself things quickly improved and the kids ran ahead in the winter sunshine, trying their best to get in every puddle and find the muddiest way along the track.

As the trail entered Brightsone Forest, the conditions underfoot deteriorated as there had been recent forestry works and the heavy machinery had churned the track up. Fortunately they had also left a small clearing with stumps to sit on so we stopped for lunch and tested out the new stove with a brew. After lunch, with renewed vigour we pushed on through the forest and onto the downs.

tennyson-trail-035The February sun was getting lower and in our eyes as we strode westwards, through the National Trust land and the grazing cattle, (also leaving a muddle trail) and we were treated to sea views on the left and right. The kids ran on to play hide and seek among the various tumuli on Brook Down and around 5 we were treated to a spectacular winters sunset. The only downside is we had only done about 9 of the 14 miles and it would soon be dark!

We picked up our pace, which the children started to object to, and started to descend through the golf course as the last rays of sunshine disappeared below the horizon. With the gone, so the temperature dropped and the darkness brought with it what felt like an instant 10°C drop. There were a few tears here because of tiredness and cold so we decided to call it a day when we hit Freshwater Bay rather than continuing on for a mile or two in the dark to Alum Bay and the Needles.

We still had to walk 3/4s of a mile into the village to catch a bus home and surprisingly the kids were wide awake for the whole journey and back to their usual raucous best. However once we were home, Isaac promptly fell asleep on the stairs.

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Chasing Shadows and Searching for Dinosaurs

On a balmy evening, during what would turn out to be the hottest summer for quite a while, I set out on a little hike with Lil to celebrate her 9th birthday. About a month before I had asked her what she wanted for a present this year and when, after some thought, she returned with an answer of “a hiking trip with you Dad” I felt quite proud. How many 9 year olds want nothing more for their birthday than to hike into the night, sleep under a tarp and get up super early the next morning to walk some more? What a girl!

Anyway, due to work commitments and school we left home about 4.30pm, had the car parked up by just after 5 and headed along the chalk ridge onto downs. With the sun on our backs and a gentle breeze we headed eastwards, chasing our shadows which were near perfect silhouettes on the brilliant white chalk trail.

After hiking for a few hours, through the golf course and onto the downs we were spoilt by breathtaking views of the coastline, the prospect of a magnificent sunset and an empty trail we settled down to have something to eat before finding camp. Because the summer had been so, so dry I was a little paranoid about cooking up and the fire risk but with Lil especially being hungry we set up our little kitchen in the middle of the trail by a little bench and chowed down on some noodles and some especially disgusting rice pudding which Lil described as, and I quote “Buttery Blurggghhh!!!”.

Our original plan had been to sleep in hammocks at a spot in the woods that was perfect, we had previously used the same spot for slacklining and knew that this small stand of Beech trees in an otherwise Oak and Hazel populated forest would be perfect. The canopy of the beech trees suppresses the growth of bracken and brambles and nettles on the woodland floor so camping here would be ideal. Unfortunately the Forestry Commission had other ideas and had been in that particular stand, thinning, and had left an awful mess and removed some prime hammocking trees so we were a little disappointed. We had hoped to set up camp and head back onto the downs for the sunset so we decided to throw up a tarp off the trail and settled down to watch the sunset and go to sleep. It got quite chilly, but I suppose that was just relative. I don’t think it got lower than about 15°C but when the sun was up it was about 32°. Lil woke up about 2am and shouted in my ear “STARS!!!” and by the time I asked if she wanted a middle of the night hot chocolate, she was already back asleep.

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Lil's first #wildcamp

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IMG_2085We woke up, slightly damp from the dew, packed up our camp and were hiking again before 6am. We were treated to a glorious sunrise and some fresh cobwebs in our faces as we came off the downs, along hedgerow lined trails, to the coast. We had a porridgey breakfast on the cliffs at Brook before continuing along the beach to Hannover Point and a search for dinosaur footprints. Technically they’re “footcasts” after sediment has filled in the footprint and fossilised. After the softer material around it has eroded we’re left with almost perfect imprints of Iguanadon feet.

Heading round to Compton Bay, we climbed the rickety steps and rejoined the costal path, the warm sun again throwing our shadows in front of us and we were back at the car by 8.30 and home by 9 for a busy weekend with the whole family. We were only out for about 15 or 16 hours but we had such a great time. What a birthday treat for Lil.  (And Me!!)

 

 

 

The Shepherds Trail

The Shepherds Trail runs from behind the castle at Carisbrooke for 7 miles to the south coast of the Island at Shepherds Chine, which is also the home of our favourite campsite so we decided to hike it on the May Day Holiday weekend.

We live in central Newport so its a good three quarters of a mile up to the trailhead, but as it was also “Comic Book Day” we had to go via the comic shop to pick up some campsite reading for the kids. It was already hot when we passed Carisbrooke Priory and headed onto the trail properly and it had seemed to take an age to get through town, but now we were out in the countryside.

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The trail wound its way alongside fields and the occasional patch of woodland and the air was filled the pungent aroma of our sweat (it was baking) and wild garlic which lined the path. The garlic was soon replaced by large fields of oilseed rape and with the sun beating down on it smelled like summers gone by.

We stopped often for drinks and snacks, passed through the villages of Gatcombe and Chillerton and were soon heading into open country where a lack of shade was becoming noticeable. A late lunch was taken in a hamlet I hadn’t known existed called Billingham before we started to climb and were greeted by our first views of the coast. From here we started to descend, through a fairly new mixed woodland plantation, more oilseed rape fields and onto Dungewood Lane where we found cobwebs full of caterpillars in the hedge, some large fungus and a second wind.

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IMG_1749We could see the campsite now so with a renewed vigour and the promise of ice cream we lifted our pace and arrived just before 5 pm only to be greeted by a distinct lack of lollies. It was still early in the season so the campsite freezer hadn’t been stocked.  We found what looked to be a nice quiet spot, pitched up the tent and as an unusual luxury, the tarp as well and then headed down to the beach where we played in the sea, scrambled on some rocks and packed out some plastic.

 

After a dinner of pasta snacks I got a little fire going in the base of the storm kettle and toasted some marshmallows before turning in for the night. Lil and Mum shared the tent while the boys decided they wanted to spend the night under the tarp with me. I was a little concerned as Isaac hadn’t camped in the tarp before but he was insistent on it being set up, open at each end.

It got quite chilly overnight and Isaac woke up a couple of times saying he was cold but really he had rolled off his sleep mat and his bag had got a little damp. He came and got snuggled in with me rather than go in the tent so he was like a little hot water bottle for me. Evan slept soundly and warm, buried deep in his sleeping bag.

We woke up about 6am, and although I’m usually a very conscientious camper, I didn’t tell the kids to be quiet for our neighbours benefit. After all they didn’t care about sleeping kids when they came back from the beach around 11pm and started playing the worst house music as loud as possible. That was a shame really because we like the campsite because its usually very quiet, even when busy, but next time we’ll probably just find somewhere to wildcamp rather than pay to be woken up by, well, other people. We walked back the way we came and were all thoroughly baked by the time we got home so I nipped to the shops and got the kids a well deserved ice cream.

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It was a lovely trail, at a perfect time of year.  I reckon it could be quite muddy during winter and early spring, and we didn’t find many additional water sources along the way so we were rationing our water towards the end so later in the summer might see us carrying more water, although there is a little pub in Chillerton if you need more liquid refreshment.

Official Trail Leaflet

Sea to Summit

On Saturday morning, an hour or so later than planned we left Shanklin sea front on our latest adventure. To climb to the top of the Isle of Wight. An alternative route would have started in Ventnor and involved a steeper climb, mainly through town and a much shorter distance, but to go from Shanklin seemed a better option.

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We follow the coastal path, which circumnavigates to whole of the Island, (a 76 mile route we hope to do at half term) along the esplanade with its crazy golf, fast food cafes and amusement arcades to the steps which take up the cliffs and through the edges of town. For most of this stretch you can’t see the ocean, the view blocked out by large ugly buildings that could be hotels or retirement homes, its hard to tell which at times. The walking becomes better as you leave Shanklin and pass onto the Landslip at Luccombe.

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Its a proper trail from here and as the vegetation closes in around you the Hart’s Tongue Ferns and sedges that line the trailside help you to forget the last forty minutes or so pounding tarmac. It’s safe for the kids to run ahead and its here we spot a Red Squirrel playing in the Ash and Sycamore trees, the kids climb the trunk of a Sycamore that has fallen across the path like an archway. The path meanders on nicely and we start to climb as we head inland.

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We pass through the Devils Chimney, a steep staircase cut through the rock that smugglers use when, well, smuggling, and after crossing the road we’re onto the downs and heading upwards towards something that looks suspiciously like snow. That suspicion is confirmed when I get an icy smack on the back of the head and a wet chill down the inside of my jacket. (I cannot confirm, but I reckon it was my Wife). Further up still we find three sets of eyes staring at us from deformed faces. The snowmen built the day before are clearly struggling to keep themselves together in the warm winter sunshine but the children manage to find enough snow to add to the group of icy watchers.

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We pass grazing goats and follow a long fence line which houses the compound of the radar station. We find the trig point on the top of St Boniface Down (officially a Marilyn) and the views are great. We look down on Ventnor, North to Cowes and the Medina, West over to far away Freshwater and down to the East, Shanklin and Sandown. We can’t, however, stand on the very top of the Isle of Wight because its sits, behind the fence in the radar station. I think about making the kids crawl under the tiny gap between gate and puddle but decide that we’re close enough and take a photo at the gate.

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We return to the sea along Shanklin Down, which is extremely muddy, back through town for a last leisurely stroll along the beach. Sea to Summit and back again. Done.

More photos and our route from this hike can be found on facebook.com/justupthetrail