Join the Q: Isle of Wight Adventure
For my summer holiday this year, I resolved to go to the Isle of Wight, because it is a place I have learned a lot about courtesy of h2g2 but was somewhere I had never been before. Plus I could combine the trip with visiting my friends and honorary family (my late partner's relatives), so that was my plan.
The adventure started when I bought my train tickets, as there were a few logistical matters to take into account so I could break my journey in different places. Added to that, I had to do a slightly circuitous route so as to save over £100, and then I had to book all the assistance and get each transport company to talk to each other – one said part of my journey didn't exist, whereas another was happy with what I had chosen – but I managed to sort something out and just had to hope it would work as expected.
The journey down south was good, as there were no problems with the trains. The only small blot on the scenic landscape was when I bought what I thought would be tea and ended up with something that was 'almost but not quite entirely unlike tea' – the milk went in first, followed by the teabag (!) and then the hot water... I somehow managed to extricate some colour from the concoction, but I can't say it was the best drink I've ever had on a train...
I arrived at my destination in the mid afternoon, so had sufficient time to check into the hotel and freshen up before going for dinner with my family. It was an enjoyable evening catching up with them and looking at their holiday photos, but I was glad to go back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
The next day I went for breakfast in the hotel and felt like I was in the computer game Frogger as I tried to obtain food from the buffet and bring it back to my table while avoiding fixed obstacles and randomly wandering people. It was a successful mission, so I ate enough to keep me going all morning. As planned three of us went to Titchfield Haven and had an excellent time there, as the birds, insects and mammals were enjoying the warm weather. The highlight was seeing a watervole eating a stem as if it were corn on the cob.
After another rest back at the hotel, I was ready for more fresh air, as my family and friends decided to gather on the coast in the evening for fish and chips. It was good food and good company, with the added bonus of feeding the birds with the leftovers. After that, I enjoyed a stroll along the prom with my friend, chatting and looking across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, before I went back to the hotel for the night.
Next day, the breakfast room was quieter, so I got my food more easily, but had to fend off the serving staff who were possibly a bit bored and so were keen to clear my dishes away before I had finished. I then had a leisurely morning watching some TV and reading a Charlotte Yonge novel before meeting my family to go on a jaunt round the New Forest.
We had a good picnic in a random place that was mostly quiet apart from the half hour when a coachload of young people arrived before setting off on a camping expedition. We then moved on to Blashford Lakes, another nature reserve, where I saw Grebes, Terns, Canada Geese and Egyptian Geese and was lucky to catch a glimpse of a Kingfisher as it speeded past.
We found a nice pub for our evening meal, then went to Romsey, a nearby Hampshire town where their Summer Festival was just coming to an end. It was very atmospheric to walk past the Abbey while the choir was singing inside, and a fascinating counterpoint to the rest of the town that was adorned with bunting and amusing 'yarnbombing' – all the bollards had been decorated with creative knitwear to turn them into things like a tree stump, a jellyfish and even a Minion.
The next day was when my Isle of Wight Adventure proper would begin. I checked out of the hotel, and then my honorary brother in law dropped me off in Southampton where I had lunch and an excellent catch up with Bluebottle (including a virtual Jane Austen tour of Southampton in honour of the 200th anniversary of her death) before catching the train to Portsmouth. I then made my way into the Wightlink terminal where I was helped on to the modern and speedy Catamaran, so I soon found myself in Ryde. A short walk along the platform took me to where the Island Line train was sitting.
I was impressed by how easy it was for me to get on the train and find a good place to sit, especially given that it was an old London Tube train that predated the Disability Discrimination Act by decades. Bluebottle had warned me beforehand that it would be a bumpy ride because of the age of the line, so I made sure I was securely in place and then waited to set off for Sandown.
The shape of the train reminded me of the Merseyrail trains, as they have to be a similarly compact shape to fit through the Mersey Tunnel. And indeed when the train set off slowly, I felt very at home with the clackety clack sound that was just like the sound of Merseyrail. However, once we had left the station area, the train was able to pick up speed and I soon learned what Bluebottle meant.
Not only did the rapid clackety clack cause the train to bounce up and down, and all the passengers inside it to bounce up and down in unison, but also there was a powerful sideways sway that came as a surprise to me as it was nothing like anything I'd ever experienced on Merseyrail. Luckily it wasn't powerful enough to make me feel unsafe in my seat, but it was quite a sight through the end window of my carriage to see the end window of the next carriage moving round like a towel in a washing machine. Another tourist and I sat there laughing at the fantastic motion while the locals who were used to the sensations sat there reading.
All too soon I was at my destination and I was deposited in Sandown Station. My plan was to go to the Dinosaur Isle museum that afternoon, as it was open until 6pm. However, the first challenge was to leave the station. I went into the car park and looked in dismay at the massively steep hills in all directions. I had brought some telephone numbers for taxi firms with me, so I set about trying to contact one. Unfortunately, it was the end of the school day, so the firms outside the area couldn't help me and nor could the local ones. I went back into the station to regroup and try to think of what to do next.
I had a friendly chat with the staff in the cafe, then had another go at ringing round for a taxi. Still having no luck, I went back into the cafe and announced, 'I had a plan but it has gone wrong'. Before I could say, 'I'll have a cup of tea instead', I was offered a lift into town as it wasn't the first time they had seen someone stranded at the station for want of a taxi. Grateful to escape the confines of the station, I was disappointed to see that town was in the opposite direction to Dinosaur Isle, and dismayed to be deposited at the bottom of yet another steep hill rather than at the top where the taxi rank was, but I decided to make the best of the situation.
The beach was a sight to behold, as it was a very warm day, so the sky was blue, the sand was golden and the sun was glinting off the waves. I really felt as though I was in a different country. I first decided to head for the Pier, and enjoyed seeing it from a distance – I couldn't get any closer because I was thwarted by the lack of a dropped kerb. I then turned round and made my way along the seafront to see what else I could see. I enjoyed taking a few photos and reminiscing about days out with my grandparents, but then I had had enough – carting my bag around in the heat was hard work so I wanted to go to the hotel.
After more unsuccessful phonecalls to the taxi companies, I decided to see if there was a road I could climb, so I headed in the vague direction of Dinosaur Isle. I soon encountered nothing but a flight of steps so it was time for another effort to regroup. I even failed to buy a postcard because there was a step to get into the shop and I couldn't get served on the pavement. I then started getting heatstroke or something so I began to think I'd made a mistake in trying to go on this adventure.
However, I had my mobile phone with me, so I mustered what little energy I had left and went to get this sorted out. I found a shady seat, drank some juice to replace all the fluids I'd lost after I broke into a panicked sweat, and started working my way through my list of contacts. The first few people didn't answer the phone, but then at last I found my honorary brother in law was at home – he searched for some more taxi numbers for me and I finally got through to a company (one I had tried to ring twice before but couldn't get a dialling tone, so it was third time lucky).
The next challenge was where the taxi could meet me. I had looked at a handy poster with a map, but the taxi driver didn't recognise the name of the road, so I suggested the Pier as a landmark that was recognisable. That then gave me 15 minutes to see if I could complete the quest to get to the Pier. I headed back down the seafront to the edge of the pavement, and managed to find a dropped kerb slightly further along the road, so I was half way there. However, I couldn't then find a way to get on to the pavement in front of the Pier, even though some sand had made a sort of ramp, as it was still too steep. Thankfully, another friendly person saw me struggling and happily gave me a boost. I made my way along and had a look at the entrance to the Pier, which was full of arcade machine lights and sounds that I didn't have the energy to cope with, so I just waited in as much shade as I could find for the next few minutes until the taxi finally arrived. I was very relieved to at last check into the hotel, put the kettle on for a proper cup of tea, and get the air conditioning going.
A quick jaunt out to the nearby pub for some food and a welcome glass of cider finished my evening, and then I went back to the hotel and tried to sleep while my brain reminded me of the motion of the Island Line train. I managed to sleep enough to 'recharge my batteries', so the next day I felt much better and was glad I had made the trip after all – I had planned to visit Brading Roman Villa that day and the taxi company was happy to help.
I had an excellent time at the Villa – the weather was so good, it felt as though I could have been in Italy. The Visitor Centre was pleasingly accessible, and the remains of the Villa were superb indeed, bringing back memories of when I studied Classics at school. I didn't rush, so I saw everything I wanted to and had a delicious leisurely lunch in the cafe, but when I had finished the day was still young, so I decided to try again to get to Dinosaur Isle.
The taxi that picked me up was a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) so I sat facing the back window and couldn't really see where I was going, but I trusted the driver knew what was what. However, I didn't realise there was a forcefield or something around Dinosaur Isle that made it surprisingly difficult to get to. My first attempt the day before had landed me on the beach. My second attempt inadvertently took me back to the hotel – I had vaguely recognised a street sign as we were going along, but couldn't see well enough to realise that we were going totally the wrong way until we actually arrived outside the hotel. Luckily the driver was OK to continue my journey as it was the company's mistake not mine, but the third attempt took us to the Zoo. Finally the fourth attempt put me outside Dinosaur Isle and I wasn't charged for the detours.
I was glad I had managed to get there eventually, because the staff inside the museum were friendly and helpful, and the museum itself was extremely educational – I learned about all kinds of creatures including Ammonites that didn't conform to the mathematical rules I thought they were supposed to obey, as well as learning about the Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight in a fantastically atmospheric cavernous room.
By the time I emerged from the museum at 5pm the weather had changed, so the wind was whipping round the side of the building. I ordered another taxi and enjoyed watching someone feeding the birds while I waited. The taxi turned up later than expected so I was quite cold by then as I hadn't brought my coat, but I soon warmed up and was glad to return to the hotel. I went for dinner and was safely back in my room before the thunderstorm started, so I enjoyed watching the torrential rain from my warm and dry vantage point.
The next day was when I was to make my way home. I packed up and set off early, which was lucky because when I got to the station I found it was closed and the only way to get to the northbound platform was by stairs. I found a help button above my head, so a kind tourist pressed it for me and relayed my questions to the person who responded. The solution to the problem was for me to go south instead of north, then stay on the train when it changed direction. Fortunately the friendly tourist was also able to help me on to the train because in spite of me using the help button the railway staff forgot I was there. Thus I arrived back in Sandown and was on the train at the time I had planned, but after having had a little jaunt to Shanklin Station.
At Ryde Pier Head I had just enough time to get off the train and make my way into the Wightlink terminal to catch the Catamaran, so all went as planned for that leg of my journey. I had given myself extra time in Portsmouth Harbour in case of problems, and as it happened the earlier train was cancelled anyway, so I enjoyed a chat with another friendly Islander before having a look out of the window at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard and then making my way to the platform for the next leg of my journey.
Sadly, because of the circuitous route I had chosen, I had to get on the train, then get off it 20 minutes later, then get on the same train but an hour later. However, that was fair enough – I enjoyed a bit of trainspotting while I was waiting. Once on the train again I partook of a cup of tea that was made in the correct order and was able to relax a bit before the next stage. It was a smooth transfer to the penultimate leg of the trip, but by then I had been moving for seven hours, so I was starting to flag. No more tea was forthcoming, so I probably had a little doze and by the time I got to the next connection station I had mustered up a bit more energy.
There had been a slight delay, so I dashed over to the next platform. Luckily I was in time for the train, but unluckily no assistance arrived. More kind passengers helped out to make sure my journey wasn't halted so close to home, and I rang the assistance helpline while I was on the train to make sure someone would meet me at my destination station and not leave me tootling round Merseyside all night.
By the time I got home, I had been travelling for more than 10 hours so I was very glad to be able to put my feet up at last. Even though it had been hard work at times, I had completed a successful mission and was very glad to have taken on the challenge of such a worthwhile adventure.