Monday, 22 September 2014

Isle of Wight - the final days

Our heroic efforts of the previous day had sparked off a fierce debate: just how far had we walked? I perused the map and suggested three miles but the others rejected that figure as risible. John, supported by the rest, suggested five to six miles. Hurt by the rejection of my calculations and fearful of mutiny I re-examined the map. Allowing a few wiggles for detours around cow pats, I offered a figure nearer four miles; this received grudging acceptance.

Whatever, we were tired. Predictably Ann and Chris suggested retail therapy as an efficacious remedy and, knowing when we were defeated, John and I threw in the towel. Reaching the main shopping area involved a (short) walk into Cowes. It is not a beautiful town but it is interesting. The architectural styles are worth noting, particularly the brickwork, where bricks from several local sources are used to great effect. These bricks have several different colours and textures depending on the origin of the clay and many attractive patterns have been created.

Wracks exposed by a low tide. Cowes, Isle of Wight.
17 September, 2014
We approached the town via the sea front. The tide was out and several species of seaweed were exposed. We tend to take the organisms for granted but they are really quite remarkable, with a few hours submerged in salty water followed by exposure to perhaps blistering sun, drying winds - or both. You have to be tough to cope with that. Those in the picture are all wracks, with the familiar Bladder Wrack, Fucus vesiculosus, prominent.

The ferry, approaching the quayside, reminded us that we would by departing the next day. It loads and unloads it cargo of vehicles and people near the mouth of the River Medina. Apparently there were once two sand banks nearby, looking like large animals in the water, hence the name "Cowes".

The financial damage turned out to be limited, allowing us to indulge in a lavish evening meal - fish and chips at Corrie's Cabin.

The following day, Thursday, may have been our last day but we weren't booked on the ferry until late afternoon so we had time to visit a favourite spot, Gurnard.

Once a separate village, Gurnard is now a sort of suburb of Cowes. It is reached by a pleasant stroll of a mile or so along the esplanade. 

In the hazy distance dozens of sailing boats were plying back and forth in some sort of race; there seems always to be 'some sort of race' going on. They made a colourful sight but sailing as a pastime has never appealed to me. I was happier crunching along the shingle of the foreshore.

Our destination was a delightful cafe on the sea front and fond memories of delicious food spurred us on. Its name, the Watersedge Beach Cafe summed it up.

Ann and John tucked in with a will

Regular patrons of the cafe risk obesity. It isn't that the food is unhealthy but it is both delicious and reasonably priced - not a common combination. As I say, not really unhealthy but the cream scones and the ice creams... 

The cafe is always busy, a faithful clientele returning again and again.

Castor Oil Plants at Cowes
17 September, 2014
Ann and John drove back into Cowes but Chris and I decided we needed the walk. Following a previous visit to the island I had published a whingeing blog about the unimaginative flower beds adjacent to the sea front. This time I was pleased to see that use had been made of two of my favourite bedding plants.

Castor-oil-plant, Ricinus communis, was one of them. It is an odd species, an atypical member of the Spurge Family and therefore related the Rubber Tree, Hevea brasiliensis and our common garden spurges. The word 'ricinus' mean 'tick', and the bean does indeed look tick-like (but there is a tick called Iloxedes ricinus because it resembles a castor oil bean - a curiously circular situation!)

The plant is notorious as the source of ricin. one of the deadliest naturally-occurring poisons known. Huge amounts of ricin are in the residue left from the production of castor oil but deaths are rare. This seems to be because ingestion of the stuff would induce severe vomiting, thus expelling any ricin from the body before it could enter the blood stream.

The plants being used in this bedding scheme have pinkish inflorescences but a bright red form is more commonly used and is, I think, preferable, having more impact.

Cleome hassleriana  in flower.
Cowes, 17 September, 2014

Cleome hassleriana was also being used (In gardening books it is usually given the incorrect name of Cleome spinosa). For decades it was included in the Caper Family (Capparidaceae) but more recent studies have led to the creation of the Cleomaceae family.

By mid-September the plants were past their best but remained attractive. Its common name of Spider Flower presumably refers to the long, slender fruit capsules. The flowers are available in a wide range of colours from white to a striking purple but here only a muted pink was being used.

After a detour to look at the by-now rather tatty flower beds we resumed our crunching walk along the shingle. Sea shells rarely survive for long in a this kind of environment but the pebbles themselves were of some interest.

The shingle, though largely flint, includes many other stones of interest.

Flints, eroded from the island's chalk deposits, dominated, with pebbles of a harder limestone also present. A good deal of quartz was also in the mix, some in the form of carnelian (aka cornelian). This is an attractive, slightly translucent stone, almost blood-red due to the presence of iron oxides, and I came away with a nice specimen.

Cowes recedes into the distance

Once back we completed our packing and set off for the ferry and, as soon as we were aboard, we made for the top deck. There, sitting in still-glorious sunshine, we watched Cowes slip away into the distance.

Chris and Ann enjoy the late afternoon sunshine on the ferry.
17 September, 2014

When I say we made for the top deck I should mention that John had stayed below, having a snooze. We were due to arrive in Southampton in the middle of the evening rush hour, so he was being very sensible.

The traffic was indeed heavy but, once free of the city, we made excellent progress and were home in good time. Our very welcome break had all been arranged by Ann and John and for that we are very grateful.

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