Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sunshine on Shanklin

This morning the sun shone. So, given that more grey weather is predicted, it seemed like a day to get into action. Breakfast over, I roused Red Fred from his lethargy and set off to have a little explore in Shanklin. Of course, during my frantic search for South Wight Rentals the other day, I’d covered what I now realise was a certain amount of the visitable town, but today I checked out such items as the old village, the seafront, the theatre.
The old village (speed limit 20mph) is very thatched. Not quite as aggressively thatched as Godshill where the whole ancient part of the village looks as if it had been built yesterday, but thatched enough. Much of it, too, seems to be devoted to serving food and drink. Two huge pubs opposite each other, with a cream tea ‘cottage’ challenging from alongside. I’m sure there are some antique dwellings somewhere as well (I tried ‘Rectory Lane’ hopefully), which may be a little more 'natural', but the public face of old Shanklin is very ‘jigsawpuzzle box’.

The seafront I scanned from above, up on the cliffs where the accent is definitely on accommodation. One large old hotel shoulders the next, almost every one sporting a large frontal extension, each and every one immaculate and welcoming looking, each one gazing out to the blue (today) seas, a Victorian and Elizabethan holidaymaker’s delight. For in Shanklin, of course, the accent is heavily on the holiday trade.

The theatre, too, without being particularly handsome, is substantial and attractive and just looks like a ‘real theatre’. And, for heaven’s sake, not only is my old friend David McAllister due to turn up there in Hello, Dolly shortly, but – good grief! – Tommy Steele, so long a part of our lives and now over seventy, is still trouping, still starring, this time as Doctor Doolittle. I was so shocked I didn’t even look for the dates. If it’s while I’m here … could I?

Shanklin is a nice town. It’s lively and bustling, full of modern life while retaining much of its Victorian charm. I like it.

From Shanklin, I pointed Red Fred along the coast to Ventnor. Ventnor is responsible for my being here, because it was my daytrip there with Andrew and Wendy Lamb this time last year that convinced me I could spend time here. Or, more specifically, there. Remembering the traffic affluence from last year, I had decided that I would leave Fred in a parking lot in the upper town, and walk to the seafront, but somehow I found ourself in a one-way system that sent us inexorably down … and there we were. And there was a reasonably middle-sized parallel parking place! I zoomed into it frontwards.
I photographed the result, but I’m too ashamed to reprint it here. Suffice it that I did not get a ticket. Oh, having parked in a fashion that is against all my principles, I then found there were large half-empty carparks at both ends of the boulevard. Grrrnch.
I strolled along the front, delighted to notice that the brightly-coloured, eccentric old house whose death I had last year predicted was still there, and bright as ever, watched the little ones playing on the dark tan sand alongside the colourful old-fashioned bathing boxes, and then lit out along the clifftops.

I’d expected this well-known ‘walk’ to be reasonably flat and uneventful but, no! Clifftop paths occasionally succumb and have to be realigned. This one has suffered much and been much remade. Anyway, I stuck with its ups and downs (as did many folk much older and less agile than I), passing through Castle Cove – where there is now no castle, the cretins of the sickly sixties having knocked it down for monetary gain – and Steephill Cove (well-named) where the newest and as yet incomplete addition to the heteroclite clutch of homes and food-and-drinkplaces is a wonderful hardiplank home-to-be with the airs of a plastic lighthouse.

At the top of Steephill Cove’s steep hill you arrive at the Botanical Gardens. It is mostly greenery at this time of the year, but everything is prettily laid out, and so quietly ‘labelled’ as to give you the pleasant feeling that you are simply strolling in someone’s private gardens, rather than being educated. There was a New Zealand section in which I recognised some flax plants … but not much else.
Back in Ventnor, I stopped in for a shandy and sandwich at the Spyglass Inn, where the Lambs and I had lunched happily last year. Alas, no food served before midday (why? don’t people eat in the morning?) so I contented myself with the shandy and returned to Fred.

Getting out of Ventnor is as inexorable as getting in. It is also all 1st and 2nd gear driving and very twisty. So I was quite relieved to find myself on the Whitwell Road and heading homewards. But Fred, whose sense of direction has been excellent so far, got a bit above himself and we overshot our yellow-road turning. Soon, I realised that he had got us lost. But he hadn’t. A few minutes later we rolled up at ... the Rookley co-op! Quite right, Fred. I emptied their shelves of Chateauneuf du Pape and Vache qui rit, grabbed a bottle of pickled onions that definitely wasn’t there on my last visit and some fresh bread rolls (for tonight is picnic on the lawn night), and let Fred take me safely back to Hermitage Court.

Part one of my sunny day accomplished.

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