Thursday, June 5, 2008

Up, then down...

I could see from my bed, at 5am, that it was going to be another sunny day, so I leaned over and grabbed the ordnance survey map and my glasses …

A walking day, not a driving day (lucky Fred), and something where I could do a circuit, not a there and back. So I decided on the village of Chale. Up to the downs, down to Chale Green, along to Chale, round the coast to Blackgang, up to the downs again and home. The bridle paths were clearly marked. No problem.
So, after a sumptuous breakfast, I hoisted on my new backpack and set off for Hoy monument. Having read up on Mr Hoy a bit last night (my goodness those British merchants made a mint in early C19th Russia!), I enjoyed his folly even more, but I paused only to photograph the lush lands I was about to descend to (these two pictures are a panorama, notice the same cows in each) and plunged on down the indicated bridle way.

Hmmmm. I'm beginning to get a theory about bridle ways, which anyway certainly couldn’t take a horse the size of my Elena. They exist in theory rather than in practice. I think perhaps I should be sticking to ‘public footpaths’ instead. This one was muddy, overgrown with bramble, nettle, grass and other unidentified flora, and one didn’t ‘walk’, as you can on the downs, but rather scrambled down it. Still, someone else must have been using the thing, for I found two gates left culpably open.
The descent was uncomfortable but uneventful. I got a fright when, stopping for a pee (which one can do on bridle paths), a pigeon flew out of the grass at my feet. The fright was a retrospective one. I remembered a similar occasion in Australia, a decade ago, when, stopped for similar reasons, I had for audience a kangaroo and two sidewinder snakes. Here (although one field I saw was labelled ‘beware of the adders’), the main hazard was flies, and I was jerked back into song when one flew into my left ear and another right down my throat. ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…’
What was a path, what public and what private, was almost impossible to tell. There was only one signpost in all the descent, so I was not surprised when I came upon a road which was not the one I’d been aiming for. I was at Upper Appleton Farm. Nice it is, too. But I was, for once, quite pleased to see tarmac.

The first event on the tarmac road was the village of Chale Green. Charming. Some nice houses, a pretty green, some thatch -- but this was non-threatening thatch that seemed intended as roofing not as a statement or an advertisement – but more stone and neat grey slate, and, heaven’s sake – a general store. I purchased a fresh bread roll and a bottle of Fanta, pulled out a box of Vache qui rit from my pack, and had a delicious morning tea on a bench by the green.

A mile and a half of delightful country road (a red road, but still not room for two cars and a pedestrian) and I arrived at Chale. This was supposed to be the scenic attraction of my walk – an old inn, a fine church, and (so the map said) a Post Office where I could post my ebay cheque to Brad and Beatriz, and buy a postcard for Gerry. I was disappointed. The hostelry is a vast and uncomfortably bitty affair rejoicing in the twee name of ‘The Wight Mouse’. And, guess what, it doesn’t serve food till midday. St Andrew’s church was fine indeed. From the outside. But it is Anglican, and thus it was closed. God, or his English representatives on earth, only receive the tired, the weary, the halt and the lame, by appointment on certain days of the week.
Still, from the comfy bench in the graveyard (dedicated to Florence Slater! No, not the Florrie Slater in my last book, but what a coincidence), I could see a lovely big red King George letter box. The post office! Strike three and out. The post office is gone, and the box’s mouth stuffed up with a piece of wood. Chale Green 2, Chale 0.

From Chale, I took the coastal path to Blackgang. Or tried to. Part of it was boarded out, and suddenly it came to a premature end. Road closed. The reason was obvious. The missing bit was in the sea. Goodness knows what went in with it, but the little group of very nearby houses looks in imminent danger. Several are abandoned, but the Merlin Tandoori Restaurant hangs grimly in, alongside lemon-walled Pixie Cottage and one other altogether-too-seaside house which has a notice up ‘For Sale’. You have to be kidding!

Avoiding the ‘Fantasy Theme Park’ at Blackgang Chine, I headed up the road in search of the footpath back up to the downs. It was a bridle path. It was also invisible. So I guessed. And, thus, followed a sheep track right up the hill and splat into a man mending fences. I didn’t offer to help (my experience is limited largely to watching Wendy do it), just mumbled ‘sheep track?’ and headed off across the hillside to a visible bit of official path. It ended, hurrah!, at St Catherine’s Oratory. And so I sat down on what the map tells me is a bronze age tumulus and lazily consumed the other half of my roll and cheese and the rest of my Fanta in blissful, carefree, sunwarmed peace.

The downs are definitely my favourite bit of Wight so far. I shall be up here most days. Amongst the gorse and bluebells, the tiny rabbits, the crows and the pheasants (and, alas, I saw one stoat/weasel/ferret), and the mad monuments.
Today, they gave me a picturesque finale. As I headed down the slope towards the plateau, from the bush round Hoy Monument a horse galloped forth, heading across the downs in my direction. Instead of grabbing for my camera, I just gaped in delight. What a wonderful sight. To make it perfect, of course, it should have been a fine stallion with a flowing mane mounted by a sexy cavalier in a mighty cape… when we met at the gate, I was introduced to a nice little mare ridden by a cheerful middle-aged lady. But never mind. It was still a grand sight.

So now I’m home, showered, foot-bathed and ready to spend the afternoon out on the lawn attacking my article on Victorian Vocalist number 150, Miss M S Edwin…

This is the life!

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