Almost Off Road.

For most of our first day on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path we had to share the route with some of the busier roads on the island. Now admittedly these roads aren’t major carriageways but having to shout to each other over the incessant burble of traffic isn’t fun. We hike to spend uninterrupted time in each others company, sometimes chatting about nothing, sometimes plotting our futures and sometimes just enjoying the silence. So imagine our relief when, between Whippingham and Wootton we find the first stretch of trail where traffic can’t go and we didn’t have to share.

 

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!

Round the Island; Not a Trip Report

So while this isn’t quite a trip report of our hike around the Isle of Wight, which will come in the next couple of weeks once we’ve sorted the 1300ish photos, I do feel I want to write something about the hike which we finished less than 48 hours ago. (Today is Friday, we finished Wednesday evening, and this should be up Monday).

Lets call it a highlights package!

Day One – Gurnard to St Helens. 17 and a bit miles.

Ryde Seafront

Highlights – The section from Ryde to St Helens. Our first real experience at night hiking. Isaacs reaction to reaching St Helens, which he recognised, even in the dark, from a recent school trip. £6 Camping.

Lowlights – “Tarmac-geddon”. Apart from maybe the last mile and a half, the whole day was on tarmac or alongside a road, and after leaving East Cowes we hardly saw the coast until Ryde esplanade.

Hazels Round the Island - 110Day Two – St Helens to Shanklin. 13 ish miles.

Highlights – Through the Duver and across the causeway at St Helens. The climb up Culver and resulting ice cream. Late lunch on the beach. Playing the Penny Arcades on Sandown Pier (Kids Vote for that one).

Lowlights – The Penny Arcades on Sandown Pier (Dads). More tarmac. Few wild camp opportunities so had to use another campsite.

Day Three – Shanklin to Somewhere along the South Coast – 14 ish miles.

Hazels Round the Island - 263Highlights –  The landslip from Luccombe to Bonchurch, the Sea wall to Ventnor. The Cliff tops to St Lawrence, Steephill Cove, finding new beaches, the views from above Blackgang, Wild Camping on the cliffs beyond Chale, the whole day really.

Lowlights –  None, best day on the trail.

Day 4 – Chale – Totland -Around 17 miles

Hazels Round the Island - 371Highlights – Trail all except last mile. Expansive views.Ice Cream at Totland. Climb up Tennyson Down and along to Needles. Spotting a fox about 3 feet away from us and having a staring contest with it.

Lowlights – Views of Needles obscured by the Old Battery which requires entry fee and was closed anyway. Once again someone commoditising our natural landmarks!

 

 

Day 5 – Totland to Home – 18 and a half miles.Hazels Round the Island - 554

Highlights – Second breakfast in Yarmouth, Bouldnor Forest and Hampstead. Thorness Bay and the last 1/2 mile to Gurnard Beach where we were practically jogging to catch the sunset from our local beach.

Lowlights – Some very dodgy road walking through Shalfleet and around Porchfield. Running out of trail.

We had a really good time on the trail and would definitely repeat some of it again, probably Shanklin round to Yarmouth, but you can keep East Cowes to Ryde, I’m never hiking that section again. #Tarmac-geddon.

I’ll do a full trip report in the next couple of weeks so keep your eyes peeled, click the follow button or find us on social places @justupthetrail

Cheers

Rob

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

Boys Night Out.

Do adventures need to be long, tiring and well planned? We headed to the beach on the spur of the moment on a cold and foggy January evening. Just for dinner. We fired up the storm kettle, feasted on noodles, cookies and hot chocolate and were home before bedtime. A nice “microadventure” after a hard day at work and school.

*apologies for the camera work, dark and foggy with a phone camera!

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

It’s not all Summits and Peaks

Living on an island, probably as far from a UK mountain as you can get, can be problematic when everyday you’re dreaming of high and wild places. Our highest point, St Boniface Down is a mere 241 metres. OK it’s probably more mountainous than Norfolk but you still need a ferry trip and a drive of 3 hours to get to real hills (Dartmoor or the Brecon Beacons).

In the summer we can fill our days with trips to the beach and various activities that involve getting wet but through the winter that’s not really an option so we usually head for the woods. It’s funny really, the kids have climbed mountains and walked in the wilds for whole days and never once complained. This all changes when it’s a quick trot around a local wood. There’s seems to be an inverse correlation between the length of walk and the amount of whining. So we break it up a bit for them. We’ll generally go orienteering or geocaching or den building to give the walk a purpose but the one phrase that gets them enthusiastic about the woods is:

Shall we find some tree’s to climb?

So here’s a few pictures from our last jaunt up to Firestone Copse. Tree climbing is good there because there’s some tree’s that have grown out and over the tidal creek. As parents we can relax because we know that in the event of a fall they’ll either be wet or muddy but at least it’ll be a soft landing.

Walking the Line

A week or so before Christmas we were watching a documentary about the late Dean Potter and his attempt at the highest, untethered highline. All the kids shouted that they wanted to try slacklining. Fortunately I managed to get a basic slackline kit at a reasonable price and during the holidays we tried it out:

 

Lots more practice is needed but the kit fits nicely in a stuff sack and sits neatly in the bottom of my daypack so whenever we head to the woods we can practice. Fun for all the family!