September 10 – Isle of Wight
I started the day with a run along the coastal path through Cowes. What a wonderful place to run. Along the Esplanade, by the water, then up some steep streets and finally along a bridle path. It was made even more fun by the fact the town was blanketed in fog. By the time I was heading back, I could see the sign saying I was entering Cowes but not much beyond that, and all was silent except for the blasts of a foghorn sounding through the mist. It was very cool indeed. It was lovely to run beside the water, past some historic buildings and then to have that grey cloak shrouding everything around me. Beautiful.
Over breakfast I heard a lady at the table beside us comment “I think it’s brightening.” It was indeed and the fog soon burned off and was replaced by the most spectacular sunny autumn day. We decided to be locals today and explore a part of the island using local transport. We hopped on the number 12 bus and joined the other island folk who were doing their shopping or travelling from one village to another as the bus weaved its way along the narrow country roads and through villages, depositing or collecting people along the way.
It was lovely not to be doing a tourist trip but simply taking the local bus to make our way around. After a stop in Newport to change buses, we set off for Mottistone Manor. The bus dropped us off on the side of the road, no town, just a stop on a country road, then a short walk and we arrived at a this lovely National Trust property.
The first record of a manor on this site dates from 1086 and the manor that we see today was built in the 1500’s. Over the years it’s been owned by a number of prominent Island families and was given to the National Trust in 1963 but it’s still lived in today as a family home. We couldn’t go in there, it being a family home and everything, but they do open it to the public twice a year.
We had a couple of hours until the next bus came through and even that made us feel like a local, waiting for the less than regular buses that run through the sleepy island villages. So we spent some leisurely time wandering around the Estate. First stop was elevenses in the Tea Garden and then a stroll around the grounds.
We wandered through the formal gardens and along the tracks and trails through woodland areas. Every now and again we would stop to sit on a bench, take in the view and soak up the sun. It was glorious. It was so nice to sit there and feel warm because that autumn sun had some real heat in it. Wonderful!
I did learn some fun facts along the way, such as:
- The Isle of Wight is not self-sufficient in water and during summer, water has to be brought into the island via a pipe under the Solent.
- The Mottistone Gardens are being used for climate change research to see which plants will best adapt to a changing climate. It has been developed as a ‘dry garden’ and the only parts that are watered are the roses and the plants in the kitchen garden.
- There are banana plants in the garden and banana is actually a herb, rather than a tree. After dying down each year, the banana plants here grow 10 feet in one season.
There you go! Fun facts for the day!
As we left, we called in to the chapel across the road because a sign outside made it look like it had some connection to the First World War so we went to investigate. What interesting stories I discovered inside about General Jack Seely (Lord Mottinstone) and his horse Warrior, who he took to the First World War and rode into battle on the Western Front.
General Seely said, “As I rode along, whether it were in rest billets, in reserve, the line or in the midst of battle, men would say, not “here comes the General,” but “Here’s old Warrior.”
Warrior galloped into battle for the entire war from 1914-18. Twice he was buried by bursting shells and then there was the mud. The General said, of one day at Ypres, “After a time the road seems to disappear. All of a sudden Warrior went deep into the mud up to his belly…it was only with immense difficulty that four of us managed to get him back onto sounder ground, but it was a narrow escape.”
Warrior survived the war and returned to the Isle of Wight and lived out his days with Lord Mottinstone and the family. Lord Mottinstone was so fond of Warrior, he even wrote a book about him. He said, “In the late War nearly all Warrior’s comrades were killed and nearly all of mine, but we both survived, and largely because of him. It is with a sense of duty that I write his story, the story of Warrior, my faithful friend, who never failed and never feared.”
He was the most famous horse on the island and every now and again, Lord Mottinstone would provide updates in the newspaper about his welfare, to keep the locals informed. When Warrior died at the age of 33, he was actually given an obituary in The Times. I spent some time looking at the pictures, reading the information and thinking about the animals that are sent to war. They don’t have a choice and their fear is as real as any of the people serving in the same conditions, yet with no understanding of where they are and why. Still, they do the bidding of their “masters” in unimaginable situations. If ever the word “hero” was to be rightly attributed, I think it is to those animals.
Onto the bus again and we were off to The Needles. From the bus stop on our arrival, we had a walk up the hill along the cliff top to The Needles New Battery. This was the place where British rockets were secretly tested between the 1950’s-1970’s. It was really interesting to discover an Australian connection we hadn’t known about. Just as Australia played a key role in the US Space Program, with the images of the Apollo moon landing, so too did Oz play a role in the British Space Program. The rockets were given ‘static test firings’ on the Isle of Wight, going through every procedure except the actual launch. For that, the rockets were sent to Australia to be launched from Woomera. The rockets were used to gather data about space travel and reentry, information that was then used by NASA on its mission to the moon in 1969. So Australia had a part to play in that event in more ways than one.
Down the hill and we explored the Old Battery. This was built in 1862 for a war that never took place but was then called into action during both World Wars.
From the Batteries we had a great view across the chalk cliffs and down to The Needles, the rocks that get their name from the rock that is no longer there. Originally there were four rocks and there’s an obvious gap where it once stood. It was needle shaped and was the tallest of the four rocks at 36.6m high. Its collapse during a storm in 1764 is said to have been felt all the way across to Portsmouth.
Back on the bus and we took a different route up the west coast to Yarmouth before changing and heading back to Newport where we changed again for our return to Cowes.
It was a full day, including managing the challenges that come with bus travel such as delays and making a connection and slow travel in lines of traffic at the end of the day, but that was another great thing about the day. We didn’t have it easy with a designated tourist bus or a set loop or route, we just did it like the locals do, and rode the regular service that wasn’t always that regular, but that just made it more real. It was a terrific day with time spent in the sunshine strolling around a lovely garden and estate, then discovering some more history from a horse to rockets. For such a small place the Isle of Wight has a wealth of things to do and places to see and it’s been brilliant so far. We hit the pedals again tomorrow and move to another part of the island to see what we can discover from there. A further taste of island life awaits…lovely!
An extra fun fact from a sign on the bus:
At high tide, the Isle of Wight becomes England’s smallest county. When the tide is low, the historic county of Rutland, near Leistershire reclaims that title!
Distance ridden: 0 km
Distance run: 9 km
Distance roamed: 7.3 km
Weather: foggy, then fabulous sun, 18C