Sunday, June 1, 2008

From one island to the next

So it’s off with Jersey and on with Wight. Yes, I’ve moved on.

I spent my last few days in Jersey lazily. I will be there many more times, so I’m not obliged (now Kerstin’s ticket has expired) to rush around sight-seeing as if I were never going to return. On Tuesday, Ann-Marie and I went out for a quiet dinner at – where else – the Roseville Bistro, at the end of which I just gave in and booked in there for each night up to the end of my stay. So the famous five restaurants that I was supposed to visit during my fortnight never saw me, and they probably now never will. Why change a winning combination? Kurt plus Bayview plus Bistro. I like it.

I wandered my favourite streets, lazed in the sun when it was around and wallowed in beer with my host and my fellow guests when it was set, snapped a few last photos, and recharged my batteries ready for The Big Move – the one in my schedule with the most ‘movable parts’: Jersey to Portsmouth via Guernsey, taxi from Portsmouth Continental Harbour to the Wightlink, FastCat ferry to Ryde, train from Ryde pierhead to Shanklin, walk from Shanklin station to Sought Wight Motors to collect my car, and finally drive up to Catherine’s Down and the haven of Hermitage Court Farm. Plenty of opportunities for disaster amongst that lot, but, in spite of one threatening a couple of times, none occurred.

The ship to Portsmouth was, of course, my friend the Commodore Clipper due to set sail for Guernsey at 1900. But at 1850 several hundred people bound for St Malo were crowding the gate to security and I was in confusion. A kindly couple of locals came to my audio-impaired rescue as the Condor staff shepherded the couple of dozen Guernsey-Portsmouth foot passengers out a back door. Whew! The ship was rather more full than last time and, having dumped my bags in my nice, modern little cabin, I snaffled the last of the verandah bar’s few tables and ordered the pint I wasn’t going to have. But space was too rare not to share, and that’s how I met Richard, Sarah and Oliver from Guernsey (below) with whom I spent a thoroughly enjoyable crossing … and devoured another pint or three! I told you, didn’t I, that I was going to have to have another go at Guernsey. All the Guernsois I’ve met on my travels have been so friendly and nice to know. Especially Oliver.

At 5 this am, I crawled out of bed and down to the brasserie to devour a sausage sandwich and an orange juice, and at 6.30, bang on schedule, we disembarked at Portsmouth. I zoomed to the Brittany Ferries counter to book my outward trip to St Malo for 1 July, to a cash machine for British money, then to a taxi rank. Wightlink, please. There are several. So he took me to the Hovercraft port. It was closed (reason: a ladies charity footrace was to pass by). So we hurtled off to the FastCat dock where at 7.13 I stepped on board the 7.15 to Ryde. I’d counted on the 8.15. Oh, well. I could sit by the sea in Shanklin till the car office opened.

The FastCat takes just minutes to get to the Isle of Wight, and you next get onto a nice little train right out there on the pierhead. 25 minutes later I was in Shanklin. What a smooth bit of travel. I had my little map of the town, from last year, so off I headed to 10 Osborne Road, lugging my impedimenta. Disaster. There were no offices in Osborne Road, and number 10 was a C19th semi. So where was South Wight? I climbed laboriously back up the hill to the Tourist Information. Closed. I asked a strange brown shopkeeper for a sight of his phonebook which became a saga and brought no result. Finally, I sat down on the steps of a bank, pulled out my Macbook, and started to look back through old e-mails for the sign of another address. I had just given up, with evident dismay, when a laddie with a nice big dog pulled up in front of me. ‘Anything wrong?’. ‘Frankly, yes’. I explained. And he directed me. Number 10 Osborne has a street down its front and a street down its back. The front street is Osborne, the back one is a 20th century affair called Palmerston Street, and no-one ever got round to renaming and renumbering the subsequently sub-divided house. So the company’s address is of the next door street, rather than the one it is on. No comment.

Anyway, the boys at South Wight had fitted me up with my red Alto as promised. Red Ted’s very much younger brother with, I was to discover, many a refinement, not all to my taste – eg, they’ve lifted the car’s rear, thus its back window, and I can’t see out properly. Yet. For a nearly new car it was distressingly mini-scratched and bumped which made me pass instantly poor judgement on car-hirers in general. But I was soon to find out why.
I wended out through the previously plotted streets of Shanklin and headed up the main road north, with my hostess’s detailed itinerary on the seat beside me. First shock: I was going 25! Of course, MILES. Oh heck, those old things. Second shock: this is a MAIN road? Barely room for two vehicles to pass, especially when one is a bus. And then a bus stops in front of me and I have to overtake! Through Godshill with its festival of thatched roofs (did I take the correct fork? yes I did), through Rookley. Not many shops. No petrol stations. Not even all that many houses! And why are the roads getting even narrower? And narrower? Just before the last narrowing I meet someone coming the other way. There are no roadsides here, nowhere to pause and read a map for example, so how do we pass? I edge gingerly into the grass and brambles (THAT’s why the vehicles are scratched) and stop, and let the cheery other feller get on with it. And then, at last, Hermitage Court Farm comes into view. I made it! My first ever drive in a rented car, and I made it!

I’m going to be here for a month, so you’ll hear a good deal about Hermitage Court. But, God bless the world wide web (which only lies sometimes), this is a perfect spot for me. I have a lovely big room, with a grand bathroom, green birdy views from my window, perfect peace and quiet, delightful hosts – Jayne and Chris, plus Jack and Charlie – and a list of country walks which I’m sure even I sha’n’t be able to exhaust. But I shall try.
Tomorrow I shall venture forth in Red Fred and try to find a food shop to stock up on walker’s picnics. I fear Fred might be in for an easy month! The places to walk look so inviting!
But we all know what happened to my intentions, good and otherwise, in Jersey, so let’s wait and see. Me, I can’t wait! But today is R&R, and that lovely looking bathtub is calling me.

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