Thursday, June 12, 2008

The finest folly in Wight

Not unexpectedly it rained last (Thursday) night, so that put walking off the programme for the day .. why get soggy ankles and ruin the Hannah’s of Rangiora boaties when one has a car?
So Fred and I headed out for a wee explore in places slightly further afield.
Travel here is slightly limited at the moment (a) because the road to Rookley is up and the alternative is too much Beacon Lane and (b) this weekend is the Isle of Wight’s annual pop festival, and Newport and environs are already, shall we say, humming. So westward, away from these two phenomena, seemed good sense.
I have been moaning about the lack, here, of the kind of nice comfy country pub where one can lazily devour a lunchtime shandy and sandwich, so Jayne pointed me towards the New Inn at Shalfleet. And Chris suggested the nearby Nature Reserve at Newtown. Since the way to these places is via those lovely roads through Brightstone et al, I thought this sounded an excellent idea, and off we set.

The New Inn at Shalfleet is a grand pub, with a bulging menu, and awards pinned all over it. It’s not too large, it’s not thatched (although the old photos show it once was), it’s nicely modernised in its working parts (a slight extension to the gents’ loo would be good, it’s a little too like the island’s roads .. one at a time!), folk are friendly, customers are plentiful, even at 12.01pm, and I enjoyed my excellent organic ginger beer shandy and ham sandwich, which were a much better seven quid’s worth than their Gorey equivalent.

However, Newtown was the day’s success. I pulled in at the National Trust barn and read the ‘what’s to do’. Lots of walks through wet shrubbery. A bird hide. A chalk board with the currently visible flora. Hmmm. And, what was this? ‘The Old Town Hall’. ‘The Town Hall with no town’. And, yes, there it was, just outside, a quaint 300 year-old edifice at the side of the road. Open three days a week and this was not one. And then I read the wonderful story of the place. The island’s ‘folly par excellence’! It had been erected as part of a plan to build a ‘new town’ at this place, all those years ago. But folk couldn’t be persuaded to come and live there, the laid out allotments went without takers, and the borough lost its ‘rotten’ MPs, then its borough status, and the Town Hall was never anything but a white elephant. So there it sat, going through a variety of uses until the early 20th century, when it became derelict and, in the 1930s, a target for the beneficence of ‘the Ferguson Gang’. These were a group of lively (and well-off) young conservationists who, masked and successfully anonymous in their time, descended upon various buildings and natural features in need of saving, and supplied both publicity for the cause and hard cash, as a gift to the National Trust, for their conservation. Splendid stuff. And there’s an exhibition on them in the building: I may have to go back next opening day. For the moment, all I could do was photograph the now restored building.

Newtown didn’t remain wholly unloved as a place to live. There are a number of charming cottages, a fine C19th church in a heavy state of refurbishment, and somebody is actually building a nice house right next the church. There are heaps of walks, and if you look out over the nature reserve and the water to some unartistic, but I suppose necessary, smoking industrial chimneys, well, nothing’s perfect. I think those folk who didn’t come to Newtown made a mistake.

I made my way home through Yarmouth (lots of yachts, a ferry station and a confusing system of lanes which made me miss the castle) and Freshwater, which didn’t cry out to me to stop, until I saw a sign for Calbourne. So, instead of heading for the Military Road, along the coast back to Niton, I nipped inland and found myself at Mottistone Manor. More National Trust. Sigh, I had to pay 20 pence for a pee at Newtown, here it was 3.35 to look at a herbaceous border. Bring back the Ferguson Gang.
The Manor is very nice, but seemingly lived in and thus closed, the gardens were nice but I think Wendy does just as well at Gerolstein. But I was told the herbaceous border was the thing, so I duly photographed it.
I think my ham sandwich at the New Inn was a more satisfying three quid’s worth.

The rain came then, like a reminder that enough was enough for one day, and so I wended home via Brightstone and Chale Green and via Shorwell, where I spotted ‘my’ house, and on the ‘when in Rome’ principle, stopped Red Fred on the corner and got out to photograph it. And then I saw the pile of builder’s sand. The beautiful house has been gutted, and is to have 21st century innards. Oh, well, its on a corner, and right on the road, I wouldn't have liked that much ... now, if it had been in a situation like that of Hermitage Court Farm, nothing could have stopped me reaching for my wallet. Chuckle.

And now, I’m cosily back at that most desirable dwelling-cum-B&B, for a snooze, a blog, and an evening with the next of my Victorian Vocalists. A little culture, a little learning, a little laugh, a little lunch, a herbaceous border, a few hundred thousand quid saved, a little ziz and, now a little creative activity. Not bad all in one day.

PS Much has been made of the fact that all but one of the Ferguson Gang went to their graves without being unmasked. However, I suspect this is not true, especially as photographs survive. If there hasn’t been a book there could and should be.

1 comment:

Kev Winchcombe said...

Good to see you found on of my favourite pubs on the Isle Of Wight.
Great food, lovely inside especially when it's cold outside.