Day 5 Totland to Home

Robs Round the Island - 462We left Totland before dawn, headed done to the bay and followed the seawall around to Colwell. No one was around and the sun was just coming up as we took another alternate along the beach. We climbed the concrete slipway and made our way through the holiday village and into the woods around Fort Victoria. From here we followed our second solar system trail of the trip (The first was Bonchurch to Ventnor) and came out on the top of the island with fantastic blue sky and Yarmouth Pier just ahead. It felt a bit strange to be honest, usually Yarmouth means were just getting home on the ferry and the trip is over but this time we still had a long way to go.

Robs Round the Island - 547We got some doughnuts for breakfast and sat on the benches by the green to eat them. It was 9 am. We wandered along the sea wall before nipping up and along the road for a little way before nipping into Bouldnor Forest and probably only the second stretch of this trail that we hadn’t hiked before. It was wonderful, with proper beaten earth trail being kind on our feet, tree cover for the kids to play their games while charging ahead and seeing just what happens when a forest meets the sea.

We broke out onto heath a while later and were surprised to see how far inland we had come but were soon plunged back into tree cover and then open fields as we reached Hamsptead. (which marks the start of another trail on our list). Here we decided to bypass a 2 mile loop which would bring us out about 1/4 mile down a gravel road led us away from the coast and as we crossed a little bridge we marked passing 70 miles on trail. Strange seeing as it’s only supposed to be a 68 mile trail. Back through tree’s passing close to Newtown Creek and into fields on the way to Shalfleet.

Shalfleet to home was a stretch that was worrying us as it appeared to be mainly on the road, we were pleased when the first section took us off the main road toward the quay and then across the creek to join the quieter back road a bit further along but we still had to negotiate a few miles of twisting, narrow country lanes. With nerves shredded and patience in tatters and feet on fire from the tarmac we stopped in Porchfield for a final treat in the pub before the last 3 or 4 miles home.

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The Trail to Thorness Bay started on the road but soon diverted through some fields and into the holiday park. We garnered some funny looks from holiday makers as these 3 feral kids and there unwashed parents came through with big packs but we were quietly pleased with our “Hiker-Trash” appearance. Thorness Bay opened out in front of us as the sun started to dip and we hastened to get done before sunset. The kids knew the way home from here and with that mission in mind they practically sprinted the last mile and a half, Hazel and I struggling to keep up. Of course they paused at the rope swing, where we did catch them and we hiked the remaining yards to our starting point together.  Looking at the GPS, we had hiked 18 1/2 miles on that last day, our furthest on any trail so far, AND we had hiked a grand total of 77.7 miles on this 68 mile trail.

As we strolled up the lane back to our home, we chatted about how far we had walked, how strange it felt to walk from our door and back to it 5 days later and we started to think about what we might do next?


Day 4 Chale to Totland

We woke up for the sunrise and for the first time on this hike there were clouds in the sky. It was quite chilly so Hazel took the kids on while Evan and I packed up. In our haste to get the children fed the night before we had inadvertently eaten all the porridge and with the alternative being pasta snacks we hiked on empty stomachs and a hope that the snack van that often frequents Compton Bay would be there.

Robs Round the Island - 392Our route took us along the tops of the cliffs that run along the south coast of the island, occasionally cutting inland to bypass a chine and it wasn’t long before we were passing through our favourite island campsite, now closed for the winter, and meeting the first other thru-hikers of the trip, although they did think we were brave to be camping at the end of October. Soon we reached Brighstone and the pearl selling place and into the strangest abandoned holiday park. It really felt like everyone had just left in the night for fear of falling into the sea. Through broken windows you can see cutlery left on tables and what remains of the still full swimming pool.

After a few more miles, Isaac got the stubborn go slows, and the other two had hiked on ahead in search of the snack van. I knew they had spotted it when they broke into a run from almost 1/4 mile away. They waited patiently for the rest of us to catch up where we all had a healthy breakfast of Mr Whippy ice creams (with a flake!!!) and some fizzy pop. Of course, from here we could easily see our next stopping point of Freshwater Bay and with the promise of lunch so soon after “Breakfast” we picked up the pace.

Hazels Round the Island - 393We have walked this stretch of trail so many times before but there was significant land slippage along this section that hadn’t occurred when Lil and I had hike this way for her birthday back in July.  At one point we had to negotiate wide cracks in the ground, just wide enough to swallow a small child. The track takes us alongside the Military Road for a little way but once it had veered off away from the cars, the kids ran on, knowing the trail, most of the way to Freshwater Bay. Here we made a little camp for our late lunch, it was about 2 pm, our stuff spilling out everywhere as we just dropped our heavy packs and sat. I walked the extra 1/2 mile to the shop to get supplies for lunch and some extra food for the evening.

Robs Round the Island - 434After lunch we headed up the second and last decent climb of the hike. Tennyson Down which took us up from Freshwater Bay to the monument to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, he of “Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward,” fame, from where we could see both sides of this little island, and the chimneys at Fawley that we can see from behind our home. Now it felt like the homeward stretch.

We pressed on towards the setting sun, along the headland that leads to the Needles and the most western point of the Isle of Wight. The views back across the island were fantastic, those to the nearby New Forest and further away Isle of Purbeck magnificent. Our view of the Islands most famous landmark however was not so great. It was obscured unless we were willing to pay entrance to the Old Battery, which owned by the National Trust is a worthy monument itself, however with tired legs it simply felt like another commoditisation of our natural landmarks (A rant for another day I think!).

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We dropped down to Alum Bay with a spectacular sunset behind us and hiked a little further to our safe haven for the night, Nana’s basement. We wandered down to the chippy for tea and made some “beds” on the floor of Hazels mum’s cellar. We decided it was the best option for a good nights sleep and without needing to pack a tent away we could get away super early for the final, and long, leg home.

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Day 3 Shanklin to Chale (ish)

We left camp with happy hearts for today held the promise of being the best on the trail. The forecast was great (again), there was very little tarmac, we had only hiked a little of this section before and tonight we would be wildcamping! But first shoes!

Robs Round the Island - 234At the end of the road from the campsite there was a Lidl, which occasionally carried cheap hiking stuff, at the very least we might be able to get Lil some trainers that would have to do. If we’re out of luck we’ll have to go around the charity shops in town before getting back on trail. Turns out, Lidl had one pair of hiking boots left in stock. In Lils size! Amazing luck. We also got some nice pastries for breakfast and made our way back to the trail.

The trail took us twisting and turning through the landslip at Luccombe and the woods had a unseasonal humidity to them for late October. The kids ran ahead through the trees and down onto the sea wall at Bonchurch. From here we followed a scaled down version of the solar system all the way to Ventnor and lunch at the Island shaped paddling pool opposite the little harbour.

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Hazels Round the Island - 264We hiked along another esplanade and climbed the path leading up the headland and onto views of blue skies and shiny seas. The path went from headland to cove and back again until we got to the beautiful, hidden beach at Steephill Cove. After climbing the (unsurprisingly) steep hill we stayed up on the cliff tops for a couple of miles of stunning hiking before heading inland through St Lawrence and up onto downs.

From up her the views only got better, and as we found our stride we covered miles without stopping, past St Catherines Lighthouse, along the edges of fields and down hedgerow lined lanes with the sun starting its descent to meet the the sea once again. We were just heading towards Chale when the sunset began and it was truly magnificent.

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As the sun dipped away, so the moon rose behind us and illuminated our path along the cliff tops where, as it was now getting chilly, we stopped to make some dinner. It was also at this point we discovered Evan had left both his woolly hat and his warm coat in the shower block at last nights campsite. Obviously he didn’t go cold. Hazel gave him her jacket, which lead to me giving her my brand new down jacket (unworn to this point) and Evan my hat. What a Guy!!! To speed things up I just made us all some instant porridge for a quick bite and we hiked on in the moonlight for another hour or so before setting up camp on the cliffs.


Day 2 St Helens to Shanklin.

We woke up cold, a little sore but ready for the day. A heavy dew had formed on the tent in the small hours but a quick shake and gentle rub down got the worst off and it was almost dry as I ploughed it into the stuff sack. The kids and Hazel had left me to pack away the last few things before I joined them down on the beach for a breakfast of coffee and squashed doughnuts, left over from the previous days hiking.

Hazels Round the Island - 097Making our way through St Helens Duver, across the causeway and towards Bembridge, our hearts sank when we hit tarmac again but were soon lifted by the early morning sunshine as we tried to decide which of the houseboats we would most like to live in. The map and signposts tried to take us through the village but as, the tides were in our favour, we took a little alternate route along the beach, passing the lifeboat station, which was both easier on the eyes and kinder on the feet.

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Robs Round the Island - 210From the outskirts of Bembridge we left the tarmac behind again heading, towards Culver Down on proper trail, through Whitecliff Holiday park and hitting our first notable climb of the hike, we were all in good spirits and really enjoying the day.  From here we could see where we had been and where we were heading; a previously promised rest stop at Sandown Pier. It took us about an hour to come of the hill and the kids practically ran along the promenade to play on the penny arcades inside the pier. Hazel kindly allowed me to go to the shop to get some supplies while she supervised the carnage. It was so hot and noisy inside the pier and busy and just about the exact opposite to the reasons we go hiking. The kids enjoyed it though.

Hazels Round the Island - 171From Sandown it we wandered along the prom at Hope Beach to Shanklin where we realised that Lil had once again destroyed her hiking boots! We were hoping they would last the trip and we could get her some new ones next spring but, just like on the West Highland Way, her toes were showing.  We left the trail in search of the campsite which was surprisingly busy but we had a good spot, it wasn’t as cold and we enjoyed the showers and the took advantage of the restaurant for our dinner.

We had enjoyed a shorter day than the one before but felt we deserved it. As we lay in our sleeping bags we chatted about the day, the climb up Culver, the chaos of the pier and whether we’ll be able to get some boots for Lil the shoe killer!


Day 1 Gurnard to St Helens

We got up nice and early with a plan to leave before dawn which didn’t happen. By the time we had a second bowl of porridge and got everything together it was nearly 9 am but hey, we hadn’t confirmed our plan to hike around the Island until only 2 weeks earlier.

I suppose we had always threatened to hike around this little island we call home but the mainland always seemed a little more enticing. Back in the summer we had moved house and the coastal path was only 5 minutes walk away now so it seemed rude not to hike it. Besides, once we’re done we can get back to the exoticism of the UK mainland!

Most of the guides online showed the route going anti-clockwise from a ferry port, I suppose for visitors from across the water, but we would start at Gurnard Beach just down the lane and head clockwise to Ryde and get the worst of the road walking out of the way first.

Robs Round the Island - 012So with laden packs and the sun starting to warm our bones we headed along Gurnard sea front which was nice and quiet, through the sailing mecca of Cowes to our first little “cheat” of the trip, the floating bridge which is the only way to East Cowes other than a 9 mile detour inland along the river.

From East Cowes to Fishbourne was some of the worst hiking I’ve ever done. Either pavement or road, with traffic being all smelly and noisy right next to us and having to cross the busy road multiple times for no apparent reason. So when we reached the path from Fishbourne to Ryde I was both relieved and disheartened at the same time. Great to be away from the road but still hiking on bloody tarmac. Plus, we hadn’t seen the sea since the floating bridge and wasn’t this supposed to be a “Coastal” trail.

Robs Round the Island - 045We pressed on through Quarr Abbey which was beautiful but busy. We pulled faces at the pigs and the kids enjoyed their first opportunity to run on and just hike like kids. Mind you we were seriously flagging when we reached the soft, soft sanctuary of the beach at Ryde, and coupled with a bag of chips and a can of pop we recharged a little.

We had about half an hour on the beach and with the sun starting to make its rapid descent, we pressed on knowing we still had 4 or 5 miles until we could camp and quietly looking forward to hiking along in the dark. The sunset just as we were heading into Puckpool Park, and as Evan and I were ahead we went through the park. Hazel and the the other two went around and we were separated for a little longer than was comfortable but ultimately were reunited after a couple of forays off trail in search of a toilet.

Robs Round the Island - 115It was  proper dark now, but with the occasional street lamp and the bright lights of cruise liners on the water and Portsmouth across it, we had a lovely wander through the night. The trail disappeared at one point so we retraced our steps and found an alternate route which was much nicer and led to a night hike along the beach and we only realised we’d missed the trail when we got cliffed out at the far end of the beach. Fortunately someone else came of the trail as we were looking for it so we weren’t delayed for long as we headed into the trees.

We went from a bright, almost full moon on a deserted beach to thick woods, illuminated by a thin corridor of light from our headtorches, stopping at every turn to make sure we hadn’t left the trail and it was here, on the last mile that the tiredness really hit the kids so you can imagine the excitement when we finally broke from the tree cover onto the beach at St Helens and spotted the campsite.

There were a few other campers on the site overstuffed with static caravans (Funny story, Hazel and I lived in a caravan on this site when we first lived together, long before the kids were around) but there was plenty of room for our little blue tent. We got the beds set up and found out we needed a code for the toilet block. I was going to pay in the morning so I was hoping someone might be around. There was and while he did give me the code for the washroom, he also made me pay there and then. A grand total of £6. I was the happiest hiker ever, we normally have to pay £25 for a night at a campsite so that was a result.

Robs Round the Island - 143The kids were tucked up with their kindles when I got back and it seemed a shame to turf them out into the cold to use the facilities, but we did and it wasn’t long after that they were snoring.

The night hiking was great and even the walk through the dark, dark woods was alright especially compared to the rest of the day. We had hiked 17 1/2 miles, our longest ever day as a family, and I would guess 16 of it was on tarmac, and 13 of it along roads and nowhere near the sea. Not being funny, I would never, ever, ever repeat this section. Fellow hikers, if your doing this trail, start/finish at Ryde. Do not bother with Ryde to East Cowes, I can think of ZERO redeeming features and we only did it to be completist. Its not even worth that.

Please rest assured better days followed on this trip!