72 Miles – 24 Hours

Round The Isle of Wight

18/9 May 2013

It’s this year’s challenge.

Having grown up on the Isle of Wight, it’s a shame to say that I never walked entirely round it – until Sunday.

Last year, I completed my LDWA‘100’ walk only by focusing my mind on thinking about 1 year of my life for every mile walked.

On Saturday morning at 7am I opted for a similar technique. To get me through my ordeal for 2013 I resolved to commit to 24 things to do in the next 24 years.

Assembling at Sandown

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Pier, I survey 31 random randonneurs and extract the checkpoint table from Martin – fresh-faced bouncy leader – Horror.

The preciseness of the timing and the length of 10 mins stop at Check Points, along with speed/hour indicated that this was not only about distance, but as much about speed.

Had anyone else read the small print?

We set off and No. 1 on any list always starts with Fall in Love. Well having missed the renowned speed-dating walk earlier in this festival, I might as well leave that one hanging hopefully in the air.

No 2. Write a book – another generalized goal – with marginally higher chance of success than item no.1.

To do this I just need to find The Perfect Place to shut myself off and unload, maybe some of my fellow walkers will have some top tips for emerging travel writers, let me find out who’s who as we step gingerly out from Sandown Pier.

Well, there’s the Hungarian girl, who’s name shamefully, I never did master, dressed in a hand–knitted stripy, wool jumper, hot and flustered as she scrambled up steps along the cliff paths, whilst walking backwards and simultaneously trying to take a photo and an Italian couple out for a stroll, who soon strolled in the opposite direction from this particular challenge.

I struck up a banter with Our Leaders, Martin and Alan, exchanging notes on how many ‘100’s’ in what time, and pointing out to me that last year this particular walk was completed in 22 hours – hardly reassuring.

I duly followed their footsteps, skipping through the small paths on the edge of the Under Cliff by Ventnor that boasts a micro-climate and oversized undergrowth – I could be in Tobago, there’s my clue, a winter in the Caribbean, and I’ll be a celebrated Author.

“It’s ok. No damage” I’m interrupted by a text from my neighbours. Phew, suspected break in by dodgy builders in Hackney was a false alarm

3. Remove key from under mop bucket and get household insurance

“Oi! No time for phones here” Brings me back to the path. I turn to take in the tall elusive guy with an incredible tan and a very dark pair of shades.

“The only things worth nicking are my Cambridge Audio- Great Aunt inherited – speakers’ I retaliate.

“Well, that’s form” he concedes, and we strike up conversation.

‘This is my gig”

“oh?” Alastair reveals himself, as our Man from Exodus, in heavy disguise.

“So, how come you’re here?”

“I volunteered on Thursday” “I walked 80 Miles once” Later, I discovered, he didn’t mean in one day.

Alastair is a ‘specialist’ in the trekking department, and has plenty to tempt me with, waxing lyrical about the Seven Summits, as I recall my horrendous experiences of falling head first into frozen French mountain streams, and being stranded in storms on Snowdonia last weekend.

4. Make Friends with Mountains

“Well, we’ll have to get you introduced in the Summer Months.” He gives me top tips on his not to be missed list.

5. Go to Alps ASAP, get over fear of heights.

6. Go to Wildest Place on Earth – Patagonia

7. Go to most beautiful summit on this planet – Nepal

Good that’s another three years sorted then.

8. Check Exodus Website and join mailing list this week.

Moving out of Mountain Dreamland, I look out at the Island Coastline stretching before us.

“This is my favorite walk in the world” It’s the place I grew up. I remember, deserted beaches, subsiding cliffs and the changing colours of clay, oozing one into another.

We navigate fallen cliffs, and dilapidated 1950’s holiday chalets.

9. Live by The Sea. Joined now by John from Eastbourne, we happily debate where’s best to settle along the British Coast. The boys vote for The South Downs and reel off names of best British Boozers, as I wonder where in particular I might make my home.

10. Walk Coast of Britain

11. Buy Plot of Land

We’re coming into Brook now, childhood beach territory, families, kids, dogs, surfers, VW Campers and the ever present Ice Cream Van at Compton car park.

It’s a beautiful afternoon, as we head up Tennyson Down, one of the Island’s finest climbs. It’s a gentle incline to the Celtic cross that marks the highest point and there’s a brilliant plaque that tells how far you are from almost anywhere, if the centre of your world is the IOW.

The Island has been an inspiration for poets, musicians, artists and photographers, from JB Priestly to Jimi Hendrix, and my imagination kicks in, wondering about..

12. New Ways of Walking around the World

I walk the next stretch to Freshwater Bay with the Race Walkers, Olly and Ken from Essex. They are in training (I get the impression, they’re always ‘in training’) Ken sports a very small pair of Union Jack shorts, that command cheers from passers by and Olly has a very particular way of walking. I wonder at the eccentricities of British people – determined and focused on insane journeys – then realize that’s what my friends might think of me.

13. Take in the View, and don’t forget to breathe (do NOT succumb to passing fantasy about becoming a British race walker)

We head down to Alum Bay, famous for coloured sands, dubious chairlift and coach loads of Japanese tourists pouring grains into weirdly shaped glass vessels.

The welcome sight of the purple van – our mobile check-point, comes into view. Malt Loaf and Ribena have never tasted so good.

Elaine, our host from the IWCC, asks if everyone is OK. One woman lights a cigarette and pops a couple of painkillers. “yes, fine” She says.

14. Make sure I’ve got enough drugs.

Along the North Coast now, we pass through the delightful town of Yarmouth, smart town houses for DFL’s (local for Down From London) and legendry chandlers, Harwoods for all those yachties.

We glance wistfully at some of them sitting on the terrace in their deck shoes, evening cocktails in hand, watching the bright sails of the Scow dinghies race around the river mouth.

We’re all thinking the same thing. ‘Another time” I say and we press on.

15. Make time to stop in Beautiful Places

A coffee at Bouldnor spurs me on to Newtown, the path takes us through some parts of the creek I’ve never been before, and always stared at from the other side of the water. Walking across a line of walk boards over that special slimy low tide mud, with a very familiar smell that I associate with learning to sail at Shalfleet Quay, wet boots and soggy sandwiches.

Slightly weary from a stint on the road we turn

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the corner and finally arrive at Newtown only to be greeted passionately by Aimee, our Jack Russell, who along with my father, my brother, Laurence and Nila have constituted a very welcome Family Reception Committee.

16. Get a Dog

Heading out into the sunset, we are a much smaller party now, leaving a group behind

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to return home.

It’s dark now and I hesitate for a moment to fish out my head torch, losing time.

“Ever-Ready Ali – not” Alastair overtakes me, and I fall behind.

17. Be Prepared at All Times.

Skirting Thorness Bay, through darkened wood, full of trip hazards, roots and rocks jumping out at every turn, I miraculously emerge in one piece.

And now the ‘longest promenade in the world’, or so it seemed as we felt every foot-step from Gurnard to Cowes. We were rushing to catch another famous Island anomaly The Floating Bridge, a small chain ferry that is the only way to cross the Medina River – if we miss it, it’s an extra 6 miles to Newport and back.

NOW I understand what all the rush is about – catching the ferry- it’s a very ‘island’ thing.

18. Don’t Miss The Boat

Huddled around the trestle tables in the East Cowes Lifeboat hut, I turn down the soup- a couple of Ibruprofen is about all I can stomach right now.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, our trusty leader Martin reappears, having persuaded a group of slower walkers it was time for bed. He’s like a dog that’s been let off the lead, ready to sprint to the finish line.

19. Go at your own Pace

Not me! Some of us – the not-race walking types – get left behind and navigate by iphone across a bog attempting to seek out the Duver sea wall path that crosses the marshes at St. Helens.

We appear to have arrived in Bembridge, walking past a line of quirky boathouses. I jump as I see three Robots staring out at me, before I realize I’ve started hallucinating, as they come into focus as outboard motors.

20. See things Differently

On and on it goes through Bembridge, officially the largest village in Britain. We are vastly cheered up to see Paddy and the Purple Van ready with ‘bucks fizz’ type handouts in luminous orange bottles.

‘It’s straight on and then straight up” says the local runner boy – Great.

21.The Only way is Up

He wasn’t joking, we stand at the bottom and look at the sheer climb up Culver Cliff.

“Are you still alive?” I check on Alastair, half way up. A small moan indicates he is..just.

Moments later we are at the top and the sun has risen and suddenly the world’s a better place

22. Don’t miss the sunrise.

It’s a beautiful view, along the South coast, joining us back to where we started- Sandown Pier beckons, really nearly there now.

Spurred on I belt down the hill and touch down on the prom – and something stops me – Ali, this is NOT a race, wait for your mates!

23. Make time for Friends

The last few hundred metres are calm. Walking a slower pace we can hear the waves lapping at the sea shore, everything has gone into slow motion, as the last 24 hours replay themselves. Ahead, and not a mirage, we spot Paddy and the Purple Van. He shakes our hands vigorously and hands us our certificate.

A couple of days on I remember it as a great experience and now I’m ready to take on those mountains.

24. Try something New (only once)