In spite of its being Saturday, and in spite of this weekend being that of the Isle of Wight pop festival in Newport, I decided to take Fred on a little jaunt today.
My last feeble hope of finding a photographable gravestone (with birthdate, please) for one of my Vocalists in Wight resided in St Helen’s churchyard, in the village of St Helen’s, out on the eastish coast between Ryde and Bembridge. Thus it was that St Helen’s got the nod.
Getting there was a little trickier than it looked on the map. In fact, I must say that Fred made more directional mistakes today than in all the other days put together: his great failing is that he cannot read road signs. Mine is that I misinterpret them.
Still, we safely negotiated Beacon Alley -- whose slim bit no longer seems a kilometre long, just a couple of hundred metres – found our way to the almost-village of Merstone, and then up on to the decidedly popular orange road across the tops to Brading Downs. Nice views, when you can take your eyes off the traffic. Then, steeply, down into the village of Brading. Fred made a real hash of this bit, but I wasn’t tempted to stop in Brading. It seemed a plain, tidy village, off-puttingly overloaded with Tourist Attractions. Even a substantial bit of a Roman Villa (housed, we are proudly told, in 3 million pounds' worth of complex) couldn’t tempt me. I headed firmly on to St Helen’s, past its supersized village green, and down to my targeted carpark at the Duver (a sometime golf-course) by the seaside.
St Helen’s beach is a charming, uncluttered beach, featuring a bundle of characterful bathing sheds, a trio of staunch houses, a fun-looking café and ice-cream stall with traditional tables and umbrellas, and a nicely interesting bit of a ruin which is designated not as a ‘landmark’ but a ‘seamark’. It is, in fact, the ruined remnant of the original local church (part of an C11th priory) which suffered from the gradual encroachment of the sea until, in 1720, it was simply knocked down by a wave. Probably more than one wave, but you get the idea. The story goes that the stones of the broken building, being sandstone, were subsequently used by seamen to scrub the decks of their ships, and thus was born the expression ‘holystoning’. Hmmm.
From the car-park, I took a stroll along the National Trusted beach till it ran out, then clambered up through the trees to a track allegedly leading to Seaview. It led me to the quiet and decidedly sweet-beachy Priory Bay, after which I decided that it was too muddy, brambly, nettly and root-strewn (a hazard which means you end up, for your view, seeing nothing but your feet) to go further and retraced my steps. Just before I got back to Fred, I encountered a really pretty sight: a group of little children mounted on everything from ponies to a small shire-horse, setting out for their Saturday supervised ride.
After a ‘Mister Mikie’ at the café (it’s a milky ice on a stick), I headed back to the town green, and made a visit to the Mother Goose second-hand bookshop (I don’t buy anymore, but I love to look) where I got directions to the church and churchyard which have replaced the washed out one. They don’t intend to be washed out again: St Helen’s Church Mark II is well up above the sea and right out beyond the actual village. Its graveyard is considerable and, although mowing has begun, largely waist-deep in grass. So Maria B Merest didn’t get her resting place found and photographed. End of mission.
Fred accomplished a nifty U turn in the little lane, ducked into a momentary gap in the streaming traffic, and we cruised home over the downs without taking a single wrong turning.
So now I’m back at Hermitage Court Farm, feet up, watching the Dauphiné Libéré cycling on Eurosport. This used to be one of my favourite races of the year, but – for political reasons – in 2008 they excluded the best Frenchmen, so this time it’s only of moderate interest. By the way, I say I’m ‘watching’. Yes, I switched the sound off, because the appallingly incompetent English commentators were so wrapped up in their own fluffy-navel voices that they chatted for the first ¾ hour about anything but the race in progress. It took them half an hour to tell us who was leading. Now I’m managing contentedly with the French subtitles. Someone should tell that vain pair how dull they are, and that a ‘commentator’ is supposed to comment the images on screen, not bore us to death with superflia.