It was no good. I needed a day-off & I needed one fast. So, I picked up my gear, legged it (well, casually sauntered) to the train station & off I popped for a jolly to the coast. And after 3 trains & 1 hovercraft excursion, I ended up in Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
From the hoverport, I shuffled past a gaggle of school kids from Portsmouth who were in the midst of a serious bollocking from their teacher, & over a footbridge. Although I had been to Ryde during the early 1980’s as a cub scout, I had completely forgotten that the island had a railway line. And that there is (hopefully once it is renovated) a platform at the end of the pier to collect passengers from the ferry. And that the railway uses former London underground trains instead of big trains. But as it transpired, the timetable was out of kilter with my return hovercraft flight, so I didn’t go on it.
As lunchtime was looming & in serious need of sustenance, I ascended the Himalayan foothill known as Ryde High Street. Having skilfully belayed past numerous boutiques & the shops that sell tat, I mean, quality artistic produce to tourists, I managed to get a handhold into the door of Sainsburys & moments later, with one crusty roll & a slab of ham in my mitts, I nimbly abseiled back down to beach level. Finding a suitable spot on the beach well away from other people, which to be frank wasn’t too difficult, I made light work of my roll & set to making a brew.
After lunch I moseyed along the beach towards something called Appley Tower (well that’s what the sign said). Closing in, the tower (actually a Victorian folly) looked like something out of Disneyland, & not in the mood for such stuff, I decided to head inland & try & discover some hidden gems. Zig-zagging along one road & up another eventually I arrived, puffing like a good ‘un, at the foot of the imposing All Saints Church, with its landmark spire that is visible from much the island & from the mainland.
As time was getting on, I started heading downhill towards the shops & spent the next twenty minutes half-heartedly looking at crap in shop windows. (On this note, it was actually really refreshing to see so many little shops & small businesses in the town – none of your normal high street clones).
With a little under an hour to my scheduled return, I decided I would take a little alcoholic refreshment in The Black Sheep Bar, although I wish I hadn’t. The bar was fine but what was meant to be cider, turned out to be expensive, tasteless fizzy stuff. I necked what I could manage & left the rest to be used as toilet cleaner, before I made my way back down to the port.
Embarking the hovercraft at Ryde, I noticed two things; one, that I was possibly the youngest on-board, & two, one of the hovercraft attendants looked very similar to the current Russian premier. With the thought that me & my fellow geriatric travellers had just been unwittingly press-ganged into the Soviet navy, the hovercraft puffed-up & gracefully slipped off the the slip way, swinging 180 degrees to point in the right direction. It was during this process, that I spotted an enormous container vessel passing in front of us through the Solent. Now, if you have never been on a hovercraft you may know that they actually travel on a cushion of air, but you may not know that they bounce over every little ripple on the surface. With the craft at full throttle & the oldies in full voice, I waited patiently, grinning in anticipation as what we were now fast approaching. In an attempt to beat gravity, the hovercraft hit the bow-wave & proceeded to take to the skies, only to come crashing down a moment later, amid cries & shrieks from those around me. Again, again, thought I.
After all the excitement, we arrived back in Southsea at 1630, & with the sun setting, I headed on my own along the recently refurbished Clarence Pier esplanade, towards Old Portsmouth. It was here that I was quite fortuitous. Making use of the decent light, I thought I’d take a few arty-farty, scenic shots of the ramparts & the sea. Climbing up onto Southsea Fort, I was suddenly joined by two members of the local constabulary, who duly informed me that the new Royal Navy destroyer HMS Diamond was just about to set sail. Acting like I knew what I was doing with my posh camera, I then managed to get one or two decent shots as the drab looking vessel piloted out into the Solent. Talk about being in the right place, at the right time.
Wandering past Portsmouth Cathedral, I made my way towards Gunwharf Quay & towards a much needed burger & chips in 5-Guys.