Exploring foreign lands

Last year was spent travelling from one island to another around the Atlantic, walking in the hinterlands and getting to grips with strange ( to us at any rate ) cultures. It is an adictive pastime , so this week saw us once more set off across the water to come face to face with our strangest culture yet- the Isle of Wight!

Festina lay at anchor in a deserted Newtown river , bathed in the sunshine of a glorious Indian summer , whilst we rowed ashore and took a bus to Carisbrooke with its Castle and museum . Did you know that in the 12 th century the French sacked Newport and laid seige to this place? No , nor did I , so the morning was spent time travelling back to medieval battles , on to the Civil war and so to Victorian times before setting off on foot South to the Downs that run along the Southern edge of the island.

There were birds everywhere. To my surprise , hundreds of swallows and martins were busy stocking up on insects ready to move South – surely later than normal. Our footpath was taking us up a valley and gradually we began to put up more and more grouse. The penny dropped when we met up with a young man in his early twenties , thin as a whippet and dressed incongruously for his age in a tweed suit and tie with waistcoat. He politely told us that we were about to run in to a shoot and suggested we take a detour ( “follow the fence to a single tree , turn left til you come to a concrete dew pond then right til you come to a copse……..”) which we duly followed. Our detour took us through a line of beaters , all looking like Eddie Grundy , and shortly afterwards it seemed that Paschendale was being re-run to our left .

Half an hour later we had forgotten all about it when we were overtaken by a bizarre convoy. Lynda had just gone for a pee behind the smallest of bushes , and ignored my frantic whistled warning ( “I thought it was your usual false alarm ” ) so gave a treat to the young gamekeepers towing a caravan full of beaters. Shortly after ,several plush Rangerovers passed a now decent but rather red faced Lynda . These were full of more tweedy folk – distinguished from the gamekeepers by being considerably older and fatter , and to a man wearing flat tweed caps. Lastly some more young gamekeepers drove by towing a sort of mobile morgue – a trailor with a frame from which hung a hundred or so dead grouse , swinging mournfully as they clattered down the track.


From Walk on the I o Wight


As we swung along the ridge towards Tennyson Down , and then down through woodland and back towards Newtown which lay spread out below us , we reflected on this countryside culture which is so alien to us and undoubtedly stranger in its way than much of what we experienced last year. We didnt see any more grouse , but the whole island is covered in pheasants. I suppose their turn will come soon , and in a few weeks it will be their bodies swinging gruesomely from the back of that trailor.


From Walk on the I o Wight

Dusk saw us limping down a footpath following the Caul bourne and collapsing gratefully onto the sofa of Martin and Roma – aka the Apples – whom we had last seen when we left the Azores together. What a pleasant way to end the day – perhaps bits of the Island are civilised after all!

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