Friday, June 6, 2008

Brightstone and Mottistone

In one way, today’s outing was less successful than those of the previous days. For I didn’t accomplish what I had set out to do.
I had decided to drive to the Brightstone Forest, and then take the rather unnecessarily christened ‘Tennyson Trail’ from the country carpark, through the trees, some 10 km on foot to Carisbrook. Carisbrook, of course, has a famous castle which needs to be seen, and also I wanted to haunt the churchyards and see if I could find any trace of the Jupe family, the ancestors of Greg, partner to brother John.
I didn’t get there. I marched for 5km along vast wide tracks (bigger than many of the island’s roads) with only occasionally lovely sylvan views of overhanging trees and beds of ferns, which truthfully couldn’t excite someone brought up around the fabulous forests of New Zealand, until the track suddenly died. A signpost saying Carisbrook 3 miles pointed directly at a quagmire. How long is a quagmire? I suppose I could have clambered up the hill through the trees to see if, a few hundred metres further on, things got better, but what if it all got worse again in the next 5km? Irritated, I aborted and returned to the car park.
However, if the Tennyson Trail was a first class failure, the rest of the day was anything but. The drive to the forest via Chale Green and the really delightful villages of Shorwell and Brightstone was without a doubt the prettiest ‘inhabited’ drive I’ve done here yet. Glorious countryside, truly beautiful buildings including a heap of non-threatening thatch .. look at this little wee feller in Brightstone!

But my favourite building was a fine elderly bourgeois mansion (?) in Shorwell. It was on a corner, so I didn’t get a proper look and, as ever in Wight, there was nowhere to pull in and stop (though the locals do, simply reducing the barely 2-way highway to a one-way street), so I planned to snap it on the way back. Alas, concentrating on the road, on the way back I missed it, so I will have to go there again.

In Brightstone I did find a place to stop. A little municipal carpark (free!). So I found Fred a spot, and I spent a good hour in this most charming of villages. To start with I visited its delicious old (thatched) post-office. Not only was it there and open, it had a red King George postbox that worked and it was manned by a delightful elderly gent who sold me a postcard of … Newport. There aren’t any, apparently, of Brightstone, which is crazy. I posted my cheque and Gerry’s card in the robust red box with a feeling of great satisfaction.

Brightstone also has a fine church, St Mary’s, with a surprisingly large graveyard. And, guess what, it was open. God lives on in Brightstone, even if He has fled some other places. It’s a splendid church, basically Norman with the usual accretions of later ages and it is also very much in use today. I took a photo of its nave and some of the fine stained glass, and the plaque to its famous rectors, including a son of William Wilberforce who became a Bishop, but alas it didn’t come out very well.
The graveyard was explained when I visited the little (thatched) town museum (free!), next to the post office. Brightstone has a considerable history, not least as a lifeboat station.

I glanced self-abnegatingly at a fine, cheerful pub and a busy tearoom-cum-B&B-cum-all sorts, but forewent them in favour of following the local heritage trail to an old mill. What purports to be the mill has been converted into natty lodgings, but the walk back along the mill stream (why is the race so far from the alleged mill?) was pleasant.
So is Brightstone. Thoroughly pleasant, thoroughly pretty, and thoroughly lively. My last glimpse, as Fred rolled out of town, was of the local schoolchildren playing shriekingly twenty-first century games on the green. Brightstone is a thoroughly living village.

If, from the country carpark, you walk in the opposite direction to the muddy Trail, you climb Mottistone Downs. Well, I’m game for anything downy, so up I went. Grand views, east back to whence I’d come (and my ‘pepperpot’ a speck on top of the hills), or west, where the cliffs of the Needles shine whitely through the intermittently cloudy air.

I scaled the downs to their peak, cast a brief eye at some bronze age tumuli (I’m sorry, tumuli are just like Pacific islands races to me: they all look the same), another at some jolly if baleful highland cattle who didn't seem at all fazed by me nor by the many folk walking their dogs, then plunged down the other side, turned off through the forest and returned by a leafier route.
And then, having nibbled my bread and cheese in the carpark, I wended homeward.
Carisbrook will be for another day. Of today, I have Brightstone and Shorwell and the Mottistone Downs to remember.

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