The BBC South walking team
Walking the Wight way!
A team of BBC South walkers joined thousands of others on this year’s rain and windswept Walk the Wight. This is the story of their day.
Sunday morning, May 17 2009, and it seemed the whole population of the Isle of Wight was on the move.
Stunning rural views in between the showers
The Walk the Wight has grown into the biggest organised sponsored walk in the South of England. This year an estimated 11,500 people made an early start to walk all, or part of the way, from Bembridge Airport in the east, across the centre of the island, to the Needles – 26.5 miles away.
This is the 19th year of the walk – originally conceived by walkers Frank Stevens and the late Bill Bradley as a way of raising money for the Isle of Wight’s Earl Mountbatten Hospice:
"The sheer community of everyone on the walk makes it a great day, almost whatever the weather!" said David Cheek from the hospice.
And this year a band of BBC South walkers decided to embark on the journey. As we travelled to Bembridge on the coach, we passed earlier starters already reaching the five mile mark – we would have a bit of catching up to do.
8.21am and we're off - straight up the steep hill to the Culver Monument and the rain started. What should have been our first break, taking in the picture postcard view, was actually spent with rain coming sideways, pouring down our necks and with Sandown barely visible in the mist – 25 more miles of this wasn't going to be fun!
A terrier prepares for an epic 'walkies'
But by the time we hit Brading Marshes there was clear blue sky – maybe this wouldn't be too much of a struggle - the Island is famous for its micro-climate after all.
On through the villages of Brading, along Ashey Down, Knighton and Arreton through gently rolling fields – "only five miles to Carisbrooke!" quipped one marshall.
Some of the narrow country paths had been 'Glastonbury-ised' after the earlier rainstorm, slowing us all down as every step was made with precision and we heard the odd scream up ahead as people lost their footing.
There was a great Walk the Wight spirit with hardcore walkers, friends, families chatting along the way – a white Yorkshire Terrier, legs dipped in mud, kept overtaking us.
"How far to Carisbrooke?" "Five miles" …hmm, hadn't we heard that before?
Walk the Wight check point
Talking to other walkers, as well as the challenge of the walk and exploring the Island’s countryside, it is showing support for the work of the hospice which drives everyone on.
One team from Southern Gas Networks were walking in memory of their colleague Marcus, who had recently passed away. It seems that everyone is willing to endure the discomfort of a few blisters to help their hospice.
On through the gently rolling countryside - Mersley Down, St George’s Down - with Carisbrooke still 5 miles away according to anyone we ask (this was getting ridiculous!).
As we walked, we Twittered our progress - social media now means its easy to keep in touch with other walkers and users of the BBC Hampshire website logged in at home.
With VentnorBlog and others also tweeting while they walked, the comments and good luck messages gave us a bit more of a spring in our step.
Rather than 21st century technology, it was an 800 year old castle which exercised us most as the great edifice of Carisbrooke Castle was our stop for lunch. Once it finally stopped being "five miles away", we had our sandwiches buoyed by what had been a good morning's work, despite the mud, rain and late-ish start.
Re-fuelled by sandwiches, bananas and coffee we were soon on the move again, rounding the great ramparts of the royal castle, ready for our own battle ahead.
True to form, whenever we reached high exposed ground – this time through Idlecombe past the Rowridge transmitter - the rain and wind started – hitting us sideways. As we struggled along the side of the barley fields, the shelter of Brighstone Forest was like an oasis in the desert.
Under a canopy of green beech leaves, we continued to clock up the miles. Our GPS beeped away – 11 miles … 10 miles … 9 miles.
Heading up Tennyson Down
The last checkpoint looked like a medieval battle camp – small groups of disheveled walkers tending their aching feet, and considering whether to tackle the last big push – up onto Tennyson Down and over to the Needles.
With the promise of a well known brand of jellied confectionary at the top of the first hill, we went for it.
We were rewarded on the long, steep climb on the chalk downs with the spectacular view of the English Channel battering the Island on our left, and our first view of the western Solent on our right, as we picked out Hurst Spit, Lymington and Mudeford appearing through the haze.
Keeping up the pace
We had moments of nervous hilarity - realising we were in a field with a rather large local bull, we all simultaneously tried to work out whether we would have enough energy to sprint if the bull decided to come our way.
More hills followed, this time towards Freshwater Bay, through the golf course on the top of East Afton Down. Legs started to seize up, blisters popped and questions were asked – surely only completing 20-odd miles isn't so bad after all? But we've come this far, we're not stopping.
Medals in sight
The Celtic cross of Tennyson’s monument had been a speck in the distance for much of the previous couple of hours and on the final climb up to it, it very gradually became a bigger target.
The crowds of walkers who left Bembridge, had now thinned out to small groups of hardy battlers, struggling on against the wind and seemingly taking two steps back for every step forward.
At the top, there was wind but there was also sunshine and the Needles Battery in the distance - the end really was in sight. The final stretch was completed with the stunning multi-coloured cliffs of Alum Bay down to our right and the Needles lighthouse just over the cliffs ahead of us.
The blister pain barrier!
There was one final walk back along the gusty road to Alum Chine, the finish line and our medals which the organising team had kindly waiting to give us – let's just say there weren't too many other walkers behind us.
So ended an unforgettable, sometimes painful, but exhilarating experience - with the backdrop of the Isle of Wight's countryside and coastal scenery shared with thousands of others, all helping a great cause.
As we made our way home with a healthy glow of windburn and sense of achievement, someone asks ‘Did anyone actually see the Needles?’ – In the excitement of finishing, we didn't actually go and see the iconic landmark we'd come all this way for. Still, there'll always be another opportunity, but I think we'll get the bus next time!
The BBC South team was: Sue Hendey, Jill Sainsbury, Lewis Coombes, Stephen Stafford, Eleanor Williams, Chris Howe, Kathryn Coombes, Tyler Coombes.
last updated: 22/05/2009 at 14:11