Day 13 - Touring the west coast of the Isle of Wight - 13.8 miles
We awoke with a whole day ahead with no preplanned itinerary. We sifted through the alternatives and decided to take a bike ride along the coast from Freshwater, through Totland Bay to Yarmouth and return. We thumbed through all the brochures we had picked up and found a printed route that was a mirror of what we had decided to do by ourselves and decided it would be a good guide.
We left right after breakfast on stripped down bikes, no panniers, no trunks, just a handlebar bag to hold the camera and that's about it. The weather was glorious, no rain, a few clouds, mild temperatures and little wind, one of those days that race through your mind when you're armchair touring, riding an imaginary bike.
We had only traveled about a half mile when we saw the signs showing the direction to the Totland Bay YHA hostel. I suggested that we follow the signs and check out the hostel for future reference. I had devious intentions when doing so. I was sure that Jeanette would be even more at home with the idea of using the U.K.'s great hostel system if she just had a little more exposure.
We biked the three or four blocks to the hostel, a large clean and attractive two story house on a corner lot. No one was at the counter so we just yelled, "Hello," until we received a response. The manager, a fellow in his late 20's to early 30's came from inside with a big smile on his face, although from his slight ruddiness and rapid breathing, it was apparent he had been doing some fairly active work before being called away.
We introduced ourselves as members and chatted a short time, telling him we had attempted to book but that the facility was full. He smiled and stated he would have much rather had us as guests since he was just about worn out from the group, a bus full of 16 year old boys on a school field trip, that had just checked out. Hearing that we were touring the west area of the island he told us that we just "had" to visit the south or "Tennyson" Downs, near the hostel. He suggested that we walk rather than take the bikes and handed us a map of how to reach the area. He also volunteered a bike trail map that he had printed for those hostel members that wanted to tour the the western part of the island by bike.
The map to the south downs led us through two or three blocks of houses and then onto a foot path past a single farm house. We were soon walking up a gradual grade covered by close grazed grass with gorse and clumps of heather. The grass was covered with rabbit pellets, explaining it's close grooming. I had never actually seen heather or gorse before but identified the two immediately, both often mentioned in landscapes in English novels.
We walked all the way to the top of the downs where we could see The Needles, that famous group of rocks that sailors of old always looked for when returning to England. They stood as they always have, marching in a diminishing row out to sea.
The walk back to the hostel was all down hill. Our gregarious host was nowhere to be found so we climbed aboard the bikes, armed with the new map and headed off towards Totland, Colwell Bay and eventually, Yarmouth. The ride was a wonderful leisurely trip through fields and houses with scenes of the ocean at the edge of the landscape. The map took us onto a dirt path to Fort Victoria at the west end of Yarmoth. We followed it to it's end and found ourselves at a small tourist strip mall with attractions including a local aquarium and a smuggler's and treasure museum.
We paid the small admission to the aquarium but passed up the other stuff. The fish exhibited were for the most part, local reef fish and rays with a small section on tropicals at the far end. The visit only lasted a half hour but since we're both into fish and fishing, was still fun and informative.
Yarmouth was just a short 15 minute ride away on mostly deserted country roads. Yarmouth is a small village with it's principal claims to fame being it's fishing fleet and a ferry to the mainland. Two blocks into the town we were at the ferry wharf. While there we checked on the schedule and then found a place on the water for lunch. The town center was much like other villages we had seen, with architecture from the late 1700's to mid 1800's. Even though now familiar, it still produced a feeling of warmth and hominess that only a small town can generate.
We stuck our noses into some shops and bought some post cards and then looked for a cycle path we had been told of that lead directly from Yarmouth to Freshwater along an old railroad right of way. The path was easy to find. It was a wide, well packed gravel way that ran along the estuary that Yarmouth was built beside. A number of people both on bikes and foot were using the path and we were in no hurry as we rode the 2 plus miles back to our room at Brookside Forge.
It was still early, around 3:30 when we returned. We had planned to swim in the Atlantic as one of the milestones of our trip and this looked like the day to do it. We put on our suits and rode back to Freshwater Bay, the beach that we first came to the day before. We struggled over the gravel beach in our thong sandals and sat down on our towels about six feet from the water. I decided to be first in and walked to the water's edge. It was COLD. I walked in up to my thighs but just couldn't force myself an inch further. Several children and adults were swimming in the bay but I just retreated to the towel on the beach. Jeanette then tried for herself with similar results, she waded as deep as her knees, stood for a few seconds and then retreated to the towel.
After people watching for about an hour we headed back to Brookside Forge to get ready for dinner. We had remembered the promise of the live band at The Vine and decided to make a night of it, with dinner, drinks and music. We arrived at the pub just as the cook arrived, ordered and sat back. The band started playing about two hours after we arrived. They played a mixture of 60-70's music mixed with their own songs. They played until 11. The crowd wanted more but three hours was enough for the band members and playing was cutting into their drinking time. We decided it was time to walk home. It had been a great day, for the first time we didn't have a schedule to keep or a required distance to travel. We tucked ourselves in with smiles on our faces, knowing that we didn't have a thing planned for tomorrow.
Total - 13.8 miles