Saturday, April 29, 2017

Wandering In England & France Part 21 (Weymouth)

goodbye Isle of Wight

seagulls riding for free to Southampton

We retraced our steps back from Ventnor to Newport, where we changed buses and arrived at the Red Funnel terminal in E. Cowes in plenty of time before sailing on the Red Osprey. It was warmer than the last few days and the trip back to Southampton was pleasant. We had a surprisingly delicious breakfast on board and were soon tying up downtown. I felt we were in different country as we walked to the National Express coach station - ultra modern glass buildings and shiny new shopping centres all about us. Even the people had more bounce in their step. The bus was on time, sort of, and it was a three-hour stop-everywhere trip, going through the towns of Bournemouth, Poole, Wareham, and the village of Osmington where we could see in the distance the famous White Horse figure, cut in 1808 into the limestone hill. We arrived at the Esplanade in Weymouth, Dorset just as the sun came out behind threatening clouds. Nothing seemed to have changed at all since I had been there in 70s - I immediately recognized the long row of Georgian houses, the beautiful sandy beach and the iconic tall blue and red Jubilee clock tower in the centre of the Esplanade. Our next B&B was a twenty minute walk away, 12 Westbourne Road, where our host Julie was waiting to greet us and show us around. We walked back down the Esplanade to have supper at a fish and chips shop, The Sea Chef. Marie had the beef and kidney pie and battered minty mushy peas and I had a tasty beef pie with fries. The place was crowded with young families and crying babies but he food was hot and tasty.
12 Westbourne Rd, Weymouth
off in the distance from the coach - the Osmington Horse

Weymouth Beach, voted no. 1 in England

along the Esplanade, Weymouth

soon this will be a mass of vacationers, English style
Weymouth sand sculptures, with possibly the world's best sand for sculpting


 Above 4 pictures : from top, Georgian style hotels, no vacancies while we were there, what is believed to be the actual bathing machine used by King III in 1789, the cenotaph to commemorate the city's war dead, and me leaning against the Jubilee Clock erected in 1888 to celebrate the 50th year of her reign.

George III, the Mad King, Weymouth
 The next morning we planned to take the bus to Portland, the next town a mile or so across the causeway, then walk about the cliffs to Portland Bill and back over Chesill Beach, a spot I well remembered visiting before. The day began sunny and clouded up in the afternoon but we didn't get the rain forecast and ended up having a fantastic five hour walk on the Coast Path. Most of the walk was through long abandoned Portland stone quarries that open up right onto the sea, home now to the brown hares we occasionally encountered. From these quarries the stone, a limestone from the late Jurassic period, 135-140 million years ago, has been used in the construction of St. Paul's Cathedral, the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Buckingham Palace and many other memorable buildings. Extraction actually began in the early 17th century, though the remains of Rufus Castle, which was visible to us on the footpath, was probably built with Portland stone in 1080, and these quarries on the Isle are still working. We saw many examples of this stone recently as well in France - the gravestones for British personnel killed in the First and Second World Wars were made out of Portland stone. We would often come across old pulleys and scaffolding used to lower the cut stone into waiting barges, sometimes hundreds of feet below to the sea. The main non-working quarry is the Tout Quarry and the smaller Stone Quarry where we discovered a delightful sculpture park displaying a collection of various animals and figures carved in Portland stone. The very dangerous path (leave the kids at home) was mostly crushed stone but there were long stretches of short grass my feet preferred - it was a walk of over six kilometres, windy at times but mostly warm whenever the sun came out. We met a few people doing the same thing. All stopped to say hello and showed the typical friendliness of trail walkers this country is so full of.


in the distance you can make out the Portland Bull lighthouse

octopus rock carving

Portland stone blocks

Common Gorse -  these have very large and sharp thorns

very old apple tree and blossoms

almost at the end of our Coast Tail walk, Portland and Weymouth behind us

view fit for a King

these flowers were everywhere growing out of the rock but I can't identify them

Chesil Beach, Portland, Dorset


We had a delicious lunch at the Lighthouse restaurant, the Lobster Pot, a ham and cheese ploughman and whitefish followed up with a blackberry and custard crumble. Returning along the cliff tops for another three kilometres we had glorious views of the sea and finally the town and the curving Chesil Beach with Weymouth in the distance. I pocketed one of the smooth flint stones to remember this fantastic 18 mile-long beach, one of three such beaches and the largest in the UK called 'tombolo'. The pebbles go from fist-sized where we stood to pea-sized as it moves further along down the coast. I had found a section of the beach near where we lived in Nova Scotia similar to this and collected these type of stones to paint on. For as far as I could see I figured I had more than a lifetime of perfect tiny canvases that were crying out for my brush. It was getting late and it had been a long day so we caught the bus back into Weymouth, picked up supper at Marks and Spencer and packed for our return to Portsmouth. Although it was too early in the season to watch a Punch and Judy show on the beach or see the famous sand sculptures, Weymouth and Portland Bill turned out exactly as I had hoped, and remembered.   gws

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Wandering In England & France Part 20 (The Needles, Isle of Wight)

one of many thatched cottages I photographed from the bus

Early the next morning in an unseasonably icy cold wind whistling across the island we huddled in the nearby bus shelter to await the no.3 bus to Newport. When we got into town we walked to the County Record Office where we had access to parish registers, census returns, maps and publications on the island's past history in order to see if we could find any new information on my great uncle William Henry Steward. There is also an Isle of Wight Family History Society that could be useful in researching our family history in future. During our two hours there we did come across an old photograph of what looked like to be the post office and small store he may have run in the 1930s near the tiny village of Porchfield, now just an 'off the main road' place of a few homes and an old church. As we didn't have a car we were not able to follow up and confirm this was the actual building so we left our email address with the very friendly and helpful staff who would further investigate for us, and headed out by bus to Alum Bay on the west side of the island.

ferry dock at Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

The Needles Battery at Alum Bay, the most westerly point of the Isle of Wight, guards the approaches to the Solent and the English mainland. From here you can see one of the most photographed places in the whole county, the Needles rocks, a row of three distinctive stacks of chalk that rise about 30m out of the sea. The formation takes it's name from a fourth needle shaped pillar that was called Lot's wife that collapsed in 1764 during a great storm. The multi-coloured sand cliffs of Alum Bay and the stunning turquoise waters were amazing and where we stood on the narrow chalky path the cliff edge and the long fall to the beach were just metres away. It was here that Queen Victoria  used to fill ornamental glass containers with the 21 shades of layered sand from the cliffs, a tradition that is still carried on here. It was here too that Marconi undertook his pioneering work at the end of the 19th century which led to radio and all telecommunications we know today.

 The fort above on the cliff was built in the early 1860s to protect the Solent and the naval dockyards at Portsmouth from the threat of a French invasion, which never came. From 1885 to 1920 the Battery saw almost continual activity although the only time Gunners at the battery actually engaged with the enemy was during WW2. The Needles New Battery situated higher up the headland was built in the 1890s for larger guns that were introduced during that time period and between 1954 and 1972 this site was a secret rocket test site known as Highdown, testing Britain's Black Knight and Black Arrow rockets in huge concrete gantries. The first British satellite, Prospero, put into space by the Black Knight in 1971, is still orbiting the earth, passing overhead twice a day.

view of the Needles, the lighthouse and Scratchells Bay from the rocket test gantries

another thatched cottage

When we returned to our B&B we picked up the ubiquitous fish and chips served on every corner for supper, thanked our hosts for an exceptional stay and packed for the next day's trip by ferry back to Southampton and then a National Express bus west to Weymouth. You need at least a week to fully appreciate this quaint place. Don't expect excitement and 5 star restaurants but do expect peace and quiet and the opportunity to try out those new walking shoes.   gws

Wandering In England & France Part 19 (Portsmouth to Ventnor, Isle of Wight)

Red Osprey and Red Jet

After a bus ride from Portsmouth to Southampton we boarded the Red Funnel ferry Red Osprey and spent the next hour crossing the narrow Solent between the mainland and the Isle of Wight, arriving to another sunny but chilly day in E. Cowes. Two long bus rides later through some pretty scenery (the island is only 26 miles by 13) and we had arrived at the southern end of the island in the town of Ventnor, our home for the next two days. It was both our first visit here and we were discover the island had a long history we were only just able to scratch the surface of. The island has many resorts that have been holiday destination since the time of Victoria, who died here in 1901. The cold weather we were enduring was keeping  people off the beaches so we found most places deserted. The island though is normally known for it's mild climate but we dressed accordingly and enjoyed ourselves none the less, especially touring around on an excellent bus service that followed very narrow roads over rolling green hills occasionally dotted with sheep, cows and horses. I remembered the Isle of Wight from 1970 when it hosted the largest rock music festival ever held and it has continued to this day, the festival this year showcasing David Guetta, Arcade Fire and Rod Stewart.

leaving Southampton

the Solent, between the mainland and the Isle of Wight

20 Newport Rd, Ventnor
 The Isle of Wight has quite a past, previously occupied by the Romans, the Pagans in 865 under King Arwald, the Vikings and then the Normans following the invasion of England in 1066. Today the feeling I got was the island has not kept up with the rest of the country, the thatched cottages, the extremely narrow streets and the old brick houses the dominant features in all of the towns and tiny villages we saw. The only concession to the 21st century appeared to be the profusion of cars zipping about and the packed McDonald's restaurant we discovered in Newport, the main town. Our first evening, after meeting up with our hosts, Jane and Ian, we walked down to the Esplanade in Ventnor. The warm microclimate here (Ventnor even could be considered subtropical in certain area like the botanic gardens there) led to it's development as a winter sanatorium and health resort for invalids from the 1830s. This was the boom time for the town as villas and grand hotels sprang up to cope with the increasing demand for the area's therapeutic air. The Esplanade where we stood was built in 1848 and pictures from that time show masses of people promenading up and down in their Victoria attire but today was windy and chilly and except for a fellow and his dog, absolutely deserted. We were heading for the Spyglass Inn for a few beers and traditional English pub fare before returning up the extremely steep hill via St Alban's Steps to our B&B. Our only full day here tomorrow we wanted to visit the record's office then take a bus to the Needles. Another beautiful spot I have long wanted to see.   gws


at the Spy Glass Inn, Ventnor

St Alban's steps