Walks And Walking – Isle of Wight Long Distance Walkers Association
The Isle of Wight Long Distance Walkers Association, IOW LDWA Group, was re-formed in April 2013 after a seventeen-year lapse. Led by Ventnor author and former Royal Navy Warrant Officer David ‘Rowdy’ Yates (originally from Waltham St Lawrence, in Berkshire), the group had already been completing a wide range of long distance (mostly coastal) walks, following the 2009 publication of David’s second book Beaches Bars and Blisters of the Isle of Wight.
Beaches Bars and Blisters of the Isle of Wight is a lighthearted, travelog of a three-day walk around the 73-mile coastline of the Isle of Wight that David conducted in the summer of 2007. The book captures the unique charm and eccentricity of the Island and recalls the sights and personalities he encountered along the way as he passed a variety of beaches, visited a number of bars and developed a range of ugly blisters on his feet!
The Island previously had it’s own group (for one year only) in 1995/96. Unsure as to why this group folded, and with the Island holding the country’s largest walking festival, David felt that it was only logical to try and re-form the group. Over the past five years, a wide variety of Island walks have been established, and now they are expanding this list even further (with several inland walks) to try and attract more walkers – particularly in the younger age group. With so many tourists or holiday-home-owners visiting the Island, they also want to create a system where visitors can propose their own walks – even at quite short notice – and broadcast them to other members of the group.
The Isle of Wight Long Distance Walkers Association group seeks to combine longer distance walking with sightseeing of such a beautiful Island, and a chance to meet like-minded people. Their walks cover distances from 10 to 73 miles, and a 100-mile walk is also being planned. Most of the walks are quite casual, with lots of beaches and bars. Other walks leave less time for making sandcastles! See the LDWA website for details here.
One of the most recent 24 hour Round-the-Island Beaches Bars and Blisters Walk was from Saturday 18th May to Sunday 19 May 2013 and here is David’s Walk Report.
Last year’s inaugural 24 Hour Walk started in Ventnor, hit terrible 60-mph headwinds on the way to Alum Bay and suffered from a prolonged delay at the Medina Ferry. To avoid these and other problems, this year the walk set off from West Cowes. Three of last year’s successful walkers (Karen, Mark and myself) were again walking. Brad this time provided twenty-four-hour vehicle support, and Alex Richardson joined the walk from Yaverland to Ryde, when much-needed guidance was required as the light faded and our feet screamed with pain.
To take advantage of the maximum amount of daylight hours and ease the after-dark walking, the nine walkers set off at 0400. and quickly settled into a brisk pace. One of the key elements of meeting any target such as this twenty-four-hour walk is to establish a logical pace and then try to stick to it. Based on last year’s experience, the strategy was to aim for a target time of twenty-three hours, by completing the first 36½ miles in eleven hours, leaving enough time to finish the walk, with an hour’s margin of error.
On a day almost perfect for walking, with no wind, a moderate temperature and no rain, the early check-points were reached in good time: Porchfield (6.5 miles) at 0540, Shalfleet (9.5 miles) at 0630, Yarmouth (16.5 miles) at 0840 and Alum Bay (23 miles) at 1020. Having initially transported half of the walkers to Cowes, Brad made his next appearance at Yarmouth. After that he was there to meet us as required. Freshwater Bay (27 miles) was reached at 1135 and IOW Pearl (32 miles) at 1320 – before and after which we passed members of the other 24 Hour Walk going in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, Nat and Debs had to retire at IOW Pearl, but their contribution to the group effort was greatly appreciated.
The long, hot stretch of cliff top coastal path to Chale took it’s toll on legs and minds, and we were glad to reach the oasis of the Wight Mouse, where Brad was waiting with a large tray of ice-cold drinks, and generously, some of the ice from Yuko’s orange juice was used to cool a hot spot on the sole of my left foot!
Ventnor (46 miles) was reached at 1750, where sadly Yuko and Terry also had to retire; Yuko having almost completed her target of walking fifty miles, and Terry with a sore back. With the pace now beginning to falter due to tiredness, the remaining five walkers stumbled on, through the landslip to Shanklin, and along the long, hard monotonous esplanade to Yaverland, where Mark and Andy also succumbed to the unremitting strain of the walk as we passed the fifty-mile mark. With only Karen, Ian and myself left, and spirits noticeably ebbing, our prospects were quickly revived with the addition of Alex and ‘Archie’ his loveable Staffordshire bull terrier. From plodding along dragging our heels, their injection revitalised the group and we whizzed up Culver Down and along to Bembridge Lifeboat Station (56 miles) at 2130 – half an hour ahead of schedule. Taking advantage of the low tide to walk along the sands and over a few slippery rocks to Seaview, we arrived at The Old Fort Bar Café (62 miles) at 2300. Sitting outside the closed pub, Brad, Terry and Debs served us with delicious Victoria Sponge (baked by Simone), a plastic beaker of Peach Schnapps, and a cup of coffee.
With warmed souls, we were all too soon back on our aching feet, stomping along the esplanade to Ryde Pier, where Alex finally had to leave us. We then (on my fuggy-headed advice) took an almost catastrophic decision to walk along the beach to Fishbourne, rather than up through the housing estate and along the path past Quar Abbey. Having taken this route twice in daylight over the past few weeks, I thought that it would offer a much-needed change of terrain for our feet, and a bit of a short cut. Sadly, I hadn’t fully considered the effect that the dark would play in our navigation, and with flickering or failing headlamps and torches, our short cut to Fishbourne almost turned into a shortcut to the knackers yard for our walk, and resulted in Karen having quite a nasty fall. Thankfully, Ian was on hand to save the day, and some time later we finally staggered off the never-to-be-re-visited-beach-in-the-dark, step into the light of civilisation once again, and made our way to Brad’s last rendezvous at the Sloop Inn, Wootton Bridge (68 miles). Five miles at the end of seventy-three miles does not sound like any great deal, but on hard, unremitting roads, on which light rain was starting to fall, the tarmac was torturous to our feet. With burning soles and empty tanks of endurance, Karen somehow led the jog over the final few yards to Brad’s waiting van at East Cowes at 0237, just a few watery feet from where we had set off from just 22 hours and 37 minutes earlier.
Summary: Although we all agreed that starting from West Cowes was far better than beginning at Ventnor, those who could compare were equally sure that for some reason this walk had been much harder than last year’s. In theory we were more aware and better prepared, but it just seemed to hurt that extra bit more. Maybe some complacency had affected certain elements of our preparation? For the last ten miles I was even swearing that I would never tackle such an event again, but sitting down to breakfast with Karen and Brad the following morning some of the pain was forgotten, whilst embryonic plans for next year’s walk were enthusiastically discussed. Some might say that as a long distance Island walker, you haven’t started to live until you’ve completed this twenty-four-hour walk. Others might say that it is not worth dying in the attempt. Despite this, I think that many of those who had to retire early will be back to try their feet again next year – on Sat 21 June 2014 – the same day as the Round the Island Yacht Race. Mark it in your diaries!