Isle of Wight Weekend, January 2005

For the fourth consecutive year (does that make it traditional?), we visited Totland Bay Youth Hostel for a weekend break as a group. Our numbers were lower than last year, so there was room to swing the proverbial cat, and we enjoyed a relaxing weekend.

On Friday, people arrived in dribs and drabs, slipped off to the pub or brought food into the hostel, then off to bed. Well, some went off to bed: a good number of us sat up playing and singing, until we realised it wasn't long until we'd have to get up again!

Next morning, Tony (deputising for Peggy in the kitchen) prepared a great cooked breakfast, just the thing to prepare us for a morning's walk. Then it was boots on, coats on, let's walk!

Our route took us pretty much due west to the coast, then south-west following the coast towards the Needles. As we climbed we got good views back, of Totland Bay and its pier, Warren Point beyond, then Fort Albert; across the water, Hurst Castle and beyond towards Fawley and Southampton.

A steady climb brought us to Headon Warren. It was great to be here for the first time without thick fog (2003) or a raging gale (2004), and actually be able to take in the strange weathering of the landscape along this ridge. And to take the view across Alum Bay to the Needles.

At the western end of Headon Warren there is the remains (groundworks) of one of the defensive gun emplacements that litter the approaches to the Solent. A chance to stop and take the view. Then it's on down into the valley - there's always one who takes the quick way down!

The little cluster of shops at Alum bay didn't seem quite as bleak - probably because of the better weather.

As you leave Alum bay heading for the Needles there's a garden full of gnomes and other oddities, including this notice which we found amusing.

Heading out towards the Needles and the Old Battery, you get a great view back of the cliffs above Alum Bay - from which previous generations gathered coloured sand for sale as souvenirs, though now protected. We also liked the lacy edge to the sea along the shingle beach.

You know you're near the end when the coastal path is signed at an acute angle such as this.

But you can walk further west, to the Old Battery, and get a view of the Needles and their Lighthouse.

Having reached the end, we turned back up the spine of the ridge of hills that runs across the island, and started to climb towards Tennyson Down. The strength and direction of the prevailing winds is in little doubt up here.

And so our happy and reached Tennyson's memorial - and realised we'd left Peter behind, so Helen ran back to find him while the rest formed up for the team photo.

From Tennyson Down it's down all the way to the High Down Inn (that's the logic of the English language I guess). Here we were made welcome and were soon tucking in to even more food than we deserved after a bracing walk.

Peter was keen to record the view from above!

After lunch most walked back to the hostel and spent a relaxing afternoon, or went swimming. A hard core of walkers were determined to "do the other half", despite the onset of rain. We walked down to Freshwater Bay then climbed Compton Down and Brook Down (one of us bothering to complete the ascent to the trig point among the Five barrows at 164m) before skirting Westover Plantation to reach the road where Clare had generously agreed to pick us up. Just as well, as it had been dark for the last mile, though the chalk track remained visible.

Back at the hostel, time for a cup of tea and maybe a brief rest before our guests from Wight Bells started to arrive. We were pleased to get a bigger crowd than we'd anticipated, which helped us fill the dining room (with the junior division seated in the adjoining room). Tony's Coq au Vin was delicious, followed by an amazing array of desserts. We enjoyed an unhurried meal, with members of the two sides intermingled, before retiring to the "Quiet Room" for a musical evening.

Patrick led a broad repertoire of communal songs

whilst others contributed more traditional tunes, including the massed squeezeboxes of Wight Bells' band.

Gradually proceedings quietened down, Wight Bells slipped off home, and we rolled into our beds.

Sunday morning - continental breakfast - clean the hostel - then cross the island pretty much from one extreme to the other to visit Brading Roman Villa, recently reopened with an impressive new building protecting the site. We were so busy exploring we didn't take any pictures!

Then it was a short hop up the road to the Bugle pub, where Wight Bells were ready and waiting for a lunchtime dance session.

The squeezeboxes were in evidence again

Soon (well, fairly soon) Minden Rose were in action too - it was so cold you had to do something to keep warm!

The display turned into a workshop as we ran Wight Bells through Beau Knot. Well, you can do that when all the onlookers are friends and supporters of the teams. (Much appreciated friends and supporters, I should say).

Wight Bells start them young!

Our final dance, as ever, was the Rose. But, rather than dance it with just eight, we got Wight Bells to lend a hand to dance it for 12.

We borrowed musicians too, and we all enjoyed ourselves.

And the bands joined forces for Wight Bells' final dance

We then retired into the welcome warmth of the pub, where the aforementioned friends and supporters had acquired sufficient space for us to sit down together for lunch; lunch was just what we needed, then we said our farewells and headed back to Fishbourne, the car ferry, Portsmouth and home.

The sharp eyed reader will have noticed a few missing faces this year. Peggy had to rush to the aid of a sick daughter, which is a reasonable excuse (and thanks for letting us have Tony to cook). But Sylvia had no such reason. She simply thought a weekend in New York was a better offer. Well, while we were enjoying some of the best January weather of the Island, the East Coast of America had heavy snow. Still, Sylvia was determined to be with us in spirit, so on Staten Island she performed a clog dance (to the tune, Staten Island). OK, so I dress up as a tiger, but to dance a whole dance, without music, in the snow...