Solent-side and mudslides…

For years there had been talk of going to the Isle of Wight, of walking the Coast Path, of taking in the views – but no firm plans ever emerged. Then, about a month ago, the Relief Crew, (Cleddau’s Relief Captain and First Mate) made a proposal.  “We’re going to visit family and to walk the dog, why not share a cottage with us?”  There was no good reason not to go – and so, on St David’s Day, a sandwich lunch was being eaten in the car at mainland Southsea.  From there you try to make sense of what you see:  land over the water – is it Southampton? Or is it the Isle of Wight?  Static lumps in the sea are Solent forts, built in Palmerston’s time to defend against the French; Wight ferries bustled past the viewpoint, followed by a catamaran, both heading into Portsmouth.
 Then appeared a huge high floating tower block, a container vessel, ugly but fast-moving, en route to Southampton Docks…
            Relief Crew were booked onto the 1pm ferry, Cleddau crew on the 2pm. At 1.15pm the car rolled through the dock gates but the 1pm ferry was still tied up – and loading. Cleddau’s crew were barely off the car deck when the ferry pulled away and surged across the Solent.  The vessel hustled past the Spinnaker, the impressive Millennium tower, and headed across the sea.
35 minutes later the ferry was dodging sailing yachts and berthing at Fishbourne.
It was too early to book in to the cottage at Seaview so a walk along the seafront was in order.

The puppy (a ten month old border collie) was unimpressed by splashy waves but time had to be filled…  3pm arrived:  time to report to the cottage.
When you open the door to a rented cottage you want to be greeted by warmth and clean beds. When, though, you open the door to a cold, fusty-smelling place where one of the beds is unmade, towels are casually draped over a hall radiator, the boiler refuses to stay alight and there is only half a toilet roll you begin to lose confidence in the booking. There were phone calls; there was advice; then there was instruction: find a cafe, buy tea and cakes and keep the bill. And so several more hours were spent gazing at the Solent, though this time from inside a gloriously warm promenade-side cafe. Time passed; the light faded; a large Britanny ferry sailed by… There were more phone calls and finally a resolution was reached: proceed to St Helen’s to a different cottage. So, by mid-evening four boaters plus dog were able to install themselves in a clean, well-heated cottage where all beds had clean linen and the (sole) bathroom contained fresh towels and ample toilet rolls.
The mud on this island! Footpaths are clearly signposted and numbered too.  On morning one Boatwif and Relief First Mate joined the footpath opposite the cottage: soggy grass, slippery grassless areas around the stiles, a board walk across the valley bottom, stretches of greasy brown track – and how can mud become greenish in hue…?
 On Day Two there was a circular walk of  four or more miles around Carisbrooke Castle; there were several Up stretches and a couple of Downs, and again there was mud. The dog picked his way nimbly around the quagmires, although adults fared less well.  The steep path, which stretched up the hill to join the Tennyson Trail, was fit for dogs and  horses  – and maybe, on special days,  brides too!
 On Day Three a gentle stroll around Bembridge became an extended mud-wading cliff top scrambling adventure which tested any long ago outward bound skills these walkers may have had.

 Day Four dawned: the haze was lifting, the sun was shining – and on top of West High Downs springy turf proved a perfect walking surface with the Needles and the south coast a stunning vista during a picnic lunch.

That same day there was an unexpected Cleddau reminder…  Those who have crewed the boat may recollect a painted decoration below the boat’s name.  There, outside Yarmouth Castle, midway along a mosaic time line was the familiar Tudor rose and references to Henry VIII and the sinking of the Mary Rose.

Day Five? Kept to tourist attractions with gravel or paved paths, a mud-free day! 
See Ferry Fascination, appearing shortly, for Part 2 of the Isle of Wight adventure…

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