Day 5 : Bonchurch to St Helens : 14.3 miles (inc. a detour down the beach in search of a place to camp, and a trip to the pub)
I think it did rain a little bit last night, I definitely woke up at least once to the sound of rain pattering on the tent, but we’re not talking a deluge here and the fly sheet was mostly dry. We packed up and decided to get out of the woods to where it was a bit lighter to have breakfast but very quickly realised our error when we saw the clouds. Yeeaahhh… might just get fed now in case it pissed down in the very near future. We plonked our arses by the side of the path and knocked up a tasty, hot feed. I think I’ve eaten more frankfurters (not a euphemism) these last few days than I have in my entire life. Turns out I really like frankfurters. Who knew? I chopped one into my Mug Shot and tried not to think too hard about what it was made from.
Guys, we need to talk about the woods we walked through straight after breakfast. They were utterly magical. I think this area is called The Landslip which is only mildly disconcerting, but these trees were somehow so lush and green, towering either side of narrow trails. It could almost be the Tropics if it weren’t a bit chilly. We weren’t talking nipples visible from space or anything, you might take someone’s eye out in Portsmouth, but the weather had most definitely decided that it was September now. We hiked through the woodland, marvelling at it as we went. It probably took longer than it should have because I had to stop and take about a hundred photos of it, plus there was a lot more up and down than my early morning legs were happy with.
We descended into Shanklin and found a café so we could get our tea and coffee fixes as the sky tried to make up its mind. Come on then, Isle of Wight; are you going to piss it down or not? We sipped our respective beverages and talked about how far we wanted to walk today. Ryde was around sixteen miles away, either a long day or an easy two days. If it rained we’d probably want to take shelter, if indeed there was anywhere within nipping distance to nip into. There was also the issue of where we would camp, it was getting pretty built up, just looking at the map we couldn’t see a huge amount of options. After a while we figured that we’d get as far as St Helens as a minimum then let the fates decide; if we could find somewhere to camp, we would camp. If there really wasn’t an option, we would press on through to Ryde. This seemed like a good plan and, after the lovely chap at the Lookout Café kindly filled our water bottles for us, we continued along the seafront.
The trail proper actually leaves the seafront at the toilets before the café we stopped at but we thought it might be nicer to stick by the sea. It does join the esplanade again at Sandown, but who doesn’t love a beachside walk of a morning when it looks like the sky wants to drown you? It didn’t look awful ahead of us but if you stopped and turned around to admire the view it was a lot more threatening. Also, the path where the trail re-joined the seafront in Sandown was well and truly closed so I’ve no idea where the detour takes you but we were chuffed that we’d stayed below and… wait, was that… is it spitting?
Yeah, it had started to very very slightly rain just a teeny tiny little bit so we beelined for nearest place with indoor seating, which happened to The Beach Café, where I applied the first cream tea of the trip to my facehole. It actually stopped spitting almost straight away but I took it as a sign from the deities that I needed a cream tea. Who am I to argue with the gods? Wouldn’t want to anger them now would we? No one likes god-wrath and anyway, I’d been on holiday for five days and still hadn’t assaulted my arteries with something delicious and obnoxiously bad for me.
It didn’t take too long to get to the other side of Sandown, and of course it waited until there was nowhere with a roof before the wet shit started cascading from the sky again, and it was inevitable that it’d wait until we’d climbed the hill out of the town before the wind whipped up and battered us with the kind of gales you could lean into and remain upright accompanied by a torrential downpour. For all of about ninety seconds before it rapidly buggered off again in the direction we were heading to bother someone else. Oh. Well. That was that then. We continued our climb up to the Yarborough Monument, eyeing the clouds suspiciously.
We’re still not entirely sure what the Yarborough Monument is all about. It’s not to honour the war dead or anything like that and the huge, stone plaques on the sides are quite rambling. We think it’s for a rich bloke called Charles who had something to do with a yacht club, because I guess that’s what rich folks on an island did with their time back in the day. Apparently he was held in “great affection by the Islanders”. No idea. The views from up there are pretty epic though, and there’s a café and a pub. We didn’t partake in either of these things choosing instead to complete the assault on our knees and descend past one of the ubiquitous holiday parks and into Bembridge where we stopped for lunch at the Lifeboat Station pier.
Nothing like getting your feet out in the middle of a walk to let them breathe a bit, if Covid-19 wasn’t keeping people away from you right now then this certainly would. We shovelled butties into our chops and let the wind blow through our toe hairs, we were trying to get into the habit of airing our feet during breaks because it’s nice to let them dry off a bit, and check them for hot spots and blisters. I’ve been wearing Drymax socks, they’re brilliant, but nothing will stop your feet from actually sweating (and I’m not sure it’d be advisable to do so) and foot admin is important if you want to complete a walk without pus-filled holes on your heels. My ridiculous little toe that was giving me so much shit was fine now too, turns out chopping bits off it did it the world of good. Always keep your calluses in check, kids.
So just after Bembridge the path is closed, probably because it’s fucked like so much of the coasty bits. You have to walk on the shingle beach for a short while which is a bit of a ballache, especially with weight on your back, but you’re soon off the beach and back onto the path. The only worry being, I have no idea if you’d be able to do this at high tide, knowing how far the tides come in around the island. Once you’re into Bembridge, you’re on tarmac again, and you stay on the road all the way around the harbour passing some pretty impressive house boats. I mean, they’re excellent. I’m not sure of the pros of living on one though, I can imagine they get cold and damp, I really am quite fond of gas central heating and I would bet real money that these buggers weren’t hooked up to the gas mains. Some of them were set up as B&Bs and I wouldn’t be blown away if some of them turned out to be AirBNBs.
We slogged around the harbour and over a causeway to an area called The Duver and started eyeing up potential camping spots. All quite exposed really, but maybe this area would be used a lot less once it got dark. We’d have to be careful of boggy ground too, especially with the rain forecast for tonight. It changed every time we looked at it, going from rain, to heavy rain, to storms, back to rain, but one thing we could guarantee is that it’d be wet as fuck. We took a short cut to the beach, checking out tiny sections of woods, none of which were suitable for various reasons. Okay then. The beach. Let’s have a look along there. There was a dry patch plenty big enough which had a couple of charred piles, obviously old campfires. The tide probably didn’t come up this far but it was very exposed and there were still a lot of people about. There were some woods directly behind but they lead right into the commercial campsite behind. It’d probably do in a pinch but it didn’t feel right, not the beach and not the woods.
Whatever. It was too early to pitch and there was a pub in the village so we started walking towards that, talking about our options. Ryde was only four or five miles away but we were done walking for the day, that last bit on the hard road had done our feet and legs. We COULD still get to Ryde if that’s what we ultimately decided to do, the ferries back to the mainland and the trains back to Brighton ran until late enough, but we currently didn’t want to. The road to the pub led us past some more woodlands, a bit bigger and thicker than the ones by the beach, so I popped in to have a look. I found a place where I could get through the trees and not too far in it opened out enough that we could easily fit our little tent in there. It was a bit lumpy, but it’d do. So it would be this or the beach, and we carried on into the village. I was happier now we had another option.
The pub is called The Vine Inn, and it is warm and dry and does a pretty decent feed for juuuuuust under Brighton prices (read: try not to cry when you see the bill), but that’s to be expected really, and the portions were excellent. To be fair it was just nice to have food. Real, actual food and not rehydrated something with is-it-or-isn’t-it-pig sausage sliced up and stirred in. A pint and a half in and the decision was made; given the weather it’d have to be the woods. We live near the sea, we know that just because a tide doesn’t reach a certain level usually, if there’s a storm it’ll go where ever the fuck it wants. Plus the thought of all that sand covering all of our wet gear in the morning… ugh. No. I wouldn’t cope, I’d have to go and cry in a corner somewhere.
We got back to the woods just before it got dark, pitched the tent and I popped back out to the path to see how obvious we were. We weren’t. You wouldn’t see us if you weren’t looking, and once it got properly nighttime, no one would see our dark coloured tent in the dark woods unless they shone a torch in and lit the guy ropes up like a Christmas tree. This would do nicely for our last night on the Isle of Wight.
Day 6 : St Helens to Ryde : 6.62 miles (inc. a stroll back into St Helens for breakfast)
I’d described the ground as a bit lumpy. Ha. A bit. It was lumpier than than my spotty arse and neither of us slept well. I found myself perched precariously atop a long hump which I spent the night rolling off one way or another, and Tarrant was lying on a mound right in the middle of her back. It was still better than waking up on sand after the rains we were both very awake to listen to last night. It would have sounded worse because we were under trees, but everything was drenched and if we were on the seafront half the beach would be clinging to every surface and my sanity would have been washed away with the tide and chewed on by fish. We packed up and shuffled back into St Helens because there’s a shelter on the green that we could sit in whilst we cooked up our last meal of breakfast noodles. Not far to Ryde now, we’d be back in Brighton by the afternoon.
The first toilets we came to were at Seagrove Bay which was doing a very good impression of good weather. Oh you tease! We didn’t think we were going to get back to Ryde and remain dry but this was a lovely little place putting on a cracking morning light display to lure us into a false sense of security. The rest of the walk into Ryde was just really quite wonderful and all along the coast. We could see Portsmouth on the other side of the Solent, until we couldn’t because it was eaten by a sod off great big cloud. Honestly, it looked like the apocalypse had descended upon us and we were all going to be consumed by a soggy expanse of grey. We were pretty lucky, it mostly skirted us, we remained relatively dry all the way into Ryde.
It’s odd how quickly expectations are realigned. Coming from Brighton to Ryde, the latter is a quaint little place, quiet and relaxed. But after you’ve spent five days hiking and camping, even in places which couldn’t exactly be described as “remote” by anyone’s definition, Ryde suddenly seems like a bustling place and a man drinking wine for breakfast started chatting to us outside some toilets. We were back in civilisation and I felt distinctly dishevelled and unwashed. Not that it stopped me from buying souvenirs, and popping into a restaurant for a cup of tea and a bacon roll. Ryde would just have to put up with my stench. I’d had a bit of a wash here and there and I use the term “wash” very loosely. I sort of just wet a cloth and wiped parts of myself down with it. Most of the sinks in the public toilets on the island are those hole in the wall thing which spit soap vaguely in your direction, give you enough water to lather but not rinse, before blasting you with lukewarm air. No good for a wash or brushing your teeth.
Well, Isle of Wight. You have blown me away. You have exceeded expectations. Not that I knew what to expect, but it wasn’t such a wonderfully varied landscape from one side of the island to the other. I thought it’d be flatter, I’m not sad that it’s not though. I didn’t realise there’d be such dramatic, crumbling cliffs leading down to long, beautiful beaches. The wild coastline along the south contrasts with the built up north with its shiny accommodation and picture-perfect villages. I was nervous about wild camping but I needn’t have been. Wild camping has gotten a bad rap in the press recently as people missing their festivals and sunny holidays flock to the countryside, cutting trees, lighting fires where they shouldn’t and scarring the landscape, shitting everywhere, leaving their cheap tents and camping chairs for someone else to clear up. I think we’re calling that fly camping now to try and differentiate between what real wild campers who respect the countryside do, and what those selfish fucktards do. But when we’d tentatively told the locals we chatted to that we were wild camping their eyes lit up, they were happy for us. It might be because the island has taken a hit in tourism like everywhere else and it’s quiet, but it’s been so easy to do here.
I think I could definitely do more of this though, this whole “not planning shit” thing. Don’t get me wrong, I do adore planning, it’s part of the fun for me, it whets the appetite for the destination and the adventures ahead. But waking up, deciding how far we were going to walk day to day and scouting out a campsite before it got too dark? I felt like I was back long-term travelling again, where you have an idea of where you want to go but you’re beholden to all manner of external forces preventing you from detailed planning; local transport, weather, discovering something so damn awesome you can’t pass it up. We’re meant to be travelling in Asia right now, as I write this we’re meant to be in Sikkim, but obviously Covid-19 has buggered up that plan. This is a good alternative though, this multi-day hiking thing. I just wish it was for longer.
Isle of Wight, England
Stayed at: Wild camp on in some woods at St Helens Common
Activity: Walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, anti-clockwise
Useful shit to know…
- The drinking water tap at the clocktower in Shanklin is fenced off but we did pass more taps as we walked along the seafront.
- There are plenty of toilets, including one at Chine Bluff just as you get into Shanklin, on the seafront (technically below the path) next to a café called Hinks, just after the zoo as you leave Yaverland, at Bembridge Pier, and by a café on the beach at St Helens. There are more, but these are the ones I remember because we used them.
- Toilets once you’re past St Helens include the one at Seagrove Bay, one inside Puckpool Park, and one in Appley Park, as well as a few in Ryde. We passed a few drinking water taps along the seafront too.
- We booked our ferry tickets to Portsmouth Harbour online whilst we had our cuppa and second brekky at The Alamo, but there are ticket machines at the terminal you can use too.