Guest author: Tim Wiggins
Start as you mean to go on — that is a good mantra for the new year; but it is easier said than done when your resolution is to “spend more time outdoors exploring new places”, and the January days are short, cold, and stormy.
The Wild Wight Winter Walk was an idea we rustled up while trying to motivate ourselves to keep on exploring the Isle of Wight, even in the winter months. We designed a challenging two day walk, covering 73 kilometres (45 miles), that would ensure we embraced the outdoors on an exciting weekend walking adventure.
After planning the route on Komoot, using local knowledge of the footpaths and quiet country lanes that criss-cross the Island, we set a date – the second weekend in January – and committed to venturing out, whatever the weather…
So it was that Fraser and I made our way from the Ryde Pier Wightlink Fast Cat port through to Shanklin Railway Station on a wet and blustery morning in January. The Island Line train was buffeted by the winds as it made its way across flooded Brading Marshes; but we were not deterred – this was our first adventure of the year and we were eager to get started.
Kitted out in full waterproofs, we headed out from Shanklin along the dismantled railway line to Wroxall, before diverting up onto Stenbury Down past Appuldurcombe House and on the infamously steep Span Lane. The rain was persistent, and the paths resembled streams in places; but we pushed through in the knowledge that the weather was forecast to improve (it had to!).
After a Thermos flask coffee stop at Hoy Monument, we could see the skies clearing out to the west; the view of the West Wight fields and The Needles beyond was promising – things were brightening up.
It was faster walking through the lanes around Atherfield and Yafford, and we relished the end of the rain and the opportunity to strip off our wet weather kit. A small celebration took the form of diverting into Brighstone village and picking up a Grace’s Bakery Belgian Bun and an Island Roasted Coffee from the village stores – perfect to rekindle our energy levels.
From Brighstone, we made our way down to the Military Road and crossed over onto the coast path near to Isle of Wight Pearl. The kite surfers were out in force at Brook – jumping the huge rollers that were tumbling in on the beach. Bracing ourselves against the strong westerly wind, we continued along the coast path to Compton, then up onto Freshwater Golf Course; watching the sun slowly dip below the horizon.
With the hills behind us for the day, we descended to Freshwater causeway and then made our way along the western side of the River Yar on a quiet footpath in the fading light. By 5pm, with weary legs but smiles on our faces, we arrived at The West Bay club – our end point for the day and our luxury overnight accommodation at which to rest and relax.
We found our cosy little cottage – Plimouth 9 – tucked away in the corner of the West Bay village, and made ourselves at home with warm showers and comfortable surroundings. A hamper of Isle of Wight produce had been sent ahead of us, and we unwrapped it with glee: Isle of Wight Cheese Company cheese and Island Biscuit Company crackers with Garlic Farm chutney for starters; followed by fresh pasta, and then a hot chocolate made using Briddlesford Dairy milk.
We went to bed tired but contented after the first day of our wonderful windswept walk.
Kickstarting our engines with an Island Roasted coffee on the morning of day two, we headed out into a glowing sunrise over Yarmouth Harbour.
Following the lanes through Wellow and Thorley, we then trekked up and over the fields to Chessell and Brighstone Forest – where we connected with the Tennyson Trail. The famous bridleway taking us through the forest and out onto the open ridgeline heading into Carisbrooke; fields around us full of sheep and cows bathing in the much welcomed mid-winter sun.
Descending to Carisbrooke, we were taken by a sudden impromptu hailstorm that swooped through on the still strong westerly wind; but we found warmth, shelter and sustenance in a Caffe Isola lunch stop. Such a great place to rest and relax.
With renewed energy levels, we continued out of Newport alongside the River Media through to Island Harbour – the quiet of the estuary and bird noise a beautiful contrast to the bustle of the café and town centre.
From Island Harbour it was up onto the cycle track that runs through to Wootton Bridge – another great example of a disused railway line repurposed for leisure activities.
As the afternoon light began to fade, we strode past the Wightlink Fishbourne port, Quarr Abbey, and the quaint little Binstead church. Then, before we knew it, we found ourselves on the final downhill into Ryde, and our finish at the pier.
It is safe to say that the legs were feeling it after another 36 kilometre day; but our spirits were high, and we were overwhelmed by the satisfaction and gratification that comes from completing a challenging outdoor activity. Making our way up the pier to the Wightlink FastCat, we recounted the highs (and lows) from the weekend, and already started planning our next Island Adventure…