Our gamble with a British holiday in late September has paid off. Another glorious day on the Isle of Wight.
We hit the road early and took the Newport-bound B3399 to Calbourne and the charmingly named Winkle Street. The B3399 is part of the Needles to Newport road system dissecting the island from West to East. We barely saw another car as we tore our way through the Island's heartland.
Winkle Street is a little gem of a scene. A row of quaint cottages nestled alongside a stream called the Cal Bourne, from which the village gets its name. Half way up the stream is a sheep wash; a small, now disused pen that farmers drove their sheep through in order to clean them. Outside one of the cottages, there were greetings cards, prints and a guide to Winkle Street all for sale. Attached to the display was a sign informing passers by that if they wish to buy anything and no one is around, then the money can be put through the letter box. The concept of the 'honesty box' always amazes me. Maybe its because I'm a Londoner! At home, not only would all the products be stolen but so would the money... and the box!
The morning sunshine shone through the tree canopy and dappled the grass. Robins twitched and busied themselves overhead and a family of sparrows danced between bird feeders. It was a beautiful rural idyll.
Carisbrooke Castle was a destination for the young Doris Mankerts in 1929. She wrote: “We walked around the ramparts, peeping through the spy-holes and imagining the archers of Norman days keeping off the enemy.
The Keep was visited and also the ruins of that part of the castle where Charles I was imprisoned. The Chapel of St Nicholas drew our attention as it is very beautiful and serves the two-fold purpose – in memory of Charles I and the men who fell in the Great War. Ned the donkey next drew our attention as he was just “off-duty” from the well house. Jack the older donkey turned the big wooden wheel to draw up water from the well that was sunk 800 years ago and cut through 160 feet of chalk to the clay below.”
And our experience was pretty much identical. Carisbrooke Castle is a lovely place to visit when the weather is great , but I would imagine it is a living hell in wet weather. There are lots of steps and stairs and it is great for clambering around. However, if it rained I would imagine the whole place would be utterly treacherous. We climbed the steps of the Wall Walk and enjoyed stunning views of the Island and beyond. I could see the New Forest on the mainland but morning mist impaired the view just enough to remove the detail from the horizon. The castle has, as my Grandmother has already informed, is where Charles I was imprisoned. What she has neglected to tell you is that Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Charles I died there aged 14 and Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Beatrice made it her family home.
The stars of the show, however, is the team of donkeys who are used to demonstrate how water is drawn from the well. All of Carisbrooke Castle's donkeys now have names beginning with 'J'. Today it was Jigsaw's turn to draw water from the well. He was placed in the treadmill (and, I must add, didn't need much encouraging) and drove the wheel for around three revolutions before stopping, stepping off the wheel and moving to the front of the pen to receive the adulation of the observers.
The well is a pretty interesting feature. Firstly it is very deep. In fact, Nelson's Column would nearly fit in it. The demonstrator from English Heritage dropped some water down the well and it took around 5 seconds before we heard the splash. The well is also used to act as a 'barometer' of the Island's water situation. Representatives of the Water Board regularly send lines down to measure the depth of water. It is important because the well cuts through a layer of chalk and taps directly into the water table. By all accounts, if the water in the well goes below a certain level, the Island is put n a hosepipe ban. The water in the well is now poisonous. Over the years, people have accidentally dropped cameras, mobile phones, sunglasses and even dentures into the well. As a result, it is now not possible to drink the water. In fact, only recently a diving team were sent down to attempt to clean up and gallantly braved the cold water and claustrophobic conditions to remove around twenty bags of rubbish. They finally reported that the bottom four feet of the well is now packed solid with coins and also said they would never go down there again!
We continued our dissecting line of the Island and drove the short distance to the Newport Roman Villa. This excellent little display, deep in the heart of a residential suburb of Newport, was excavated in 1925. Archaeologistscovered a Roman Bath, comprising a hypocaust, frigidarium, tepidarium, calidarium and sudatorium as well as a medium sized Villa.
The Newport Roman Villa also takes a degree of license with the integrity of the findings by adding to the in situ archaeology to provide some context. Models of bathers and kitchen staff are added, along with plaster walls adorned with decorations based upon those found at Pompeii. For the novices amongst us who's archaeology experience is based upon the presence of Time Team on our Sky+, these crowd pleasing additions help us understand what we are looking at.
I visited the lavatorium and we left.W
From archaeology to palaeontology.
We travelled South down some of the narrowest lanes we had so far explored in order to visit the Dinosaur Farm. Remarkably, on this farmland, Europe's largest Sauropod, the Barnes High Sauropod was found. This remarkable find has been commemorated in the most tacky and disappointing way: Lined up in the car park is a sad selection of life-size fibreglass dinosaurs, all peeling paint and broken limbs. Two lying on their sides as if recently felled by the cataclysmic meteor that brought about their extinction.
Inside the museum there is a selection of local finds, one dated as recently as only a few weeks ago. Most impressive is a collection of giant ammonites (all for sale, rather strangely) and an assortment of skeletons dating from Lower Cretaceous up to the last Ice Age. As we walked around, a bluebottle hummed annoyingly and the models and display cases also featured spider's webs. I became depressed within minutes and began to resent them the three quid they asked me to stump up. As a resource, the Dinosaur Farm provides a valuable service; if you are ever lucky enough to find a fossil, you can take it along and someone will verify your find for you. As a museum, however, it defies the trades description act.
In order to blow the cobwebs away, we walked down Brook Chine and spent an hour walking along the Brook Bay beach. I got barefoot, rolled up my trousers and had a good old British paddle. We looked along the cliffs in the hope of finding a fossil but, as ever, my attention was drawn towards the stratum of river bed deposits and beautifully coloured orange and purple Cretaceous layers.
We returned the car to our base and walked down Widdick Chine to admire the sunset from the Waterfront Restaurant by the beach at Totland. A perfect end to the day.