Thursday, March 07, 2013

Crossing the Bar: poetry and rockets

Tennyson and West High DownFrom the cafe at the top of Freshwater Bay we continued uphill along a broad open area running alongside the cliffs. Me having my usual vertigo panic, and the knowledge that those cliff edges crumble away quite suddenly, kept us well away from them so that they weren’t even properly visible as we walked towards The Needles.

Tennyson Monument ahead Tennyson Monument - looking towards the Needles
There was enough thistle about to make me wish I had my farm hoe out, but in every other respect the walk was like walking over Hatterall Hill on the Offa’s Dyke trail to Hay-on-Wye. The landmark we trudged towards was a tall celtic cross marking the poet Tennyson’s years on the island. The high down we were on was renamed Tennyson Down in his honour as he walked this area constantly during his many years living at Farringford House on the western side of Freshwater below us. The cross was erected in 1897, five years after the poet’s death.

Tennyson DownIt was up here that Tennyson drafted The Charge of the Light Brigade only weeks after the military disaster in the Crimea that it details. Beside the cross is a stone plinth with a polished top showing distances to other points around the globe. Around the top are the opening lines of Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
  And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
  When I put out to sea,

What a place Farringford must have been during the Tennyson years when visitors included Lewis Carroll, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edward Lear and Giuseppe Garibaldi.  Queen Victoria summered (and died) on the island, and her husband Prince Albert was part of the Tennyson brigade.

multicoloured sands of Alum Bay IMG_4217

The last stretch was along to the Needles proper. The headland encompasses a coastguard station and an old fort where rockets were tested prior to full deployment at Woomera in South Australia. Just past there you could trip down to a viewing point to see the jagged blade of rocks projecting into the Solent.

The Needles

P1130102Heading eastwards again we dropped down a coastal path towards Alum Bay. When I encountered this stile with a tiny dog gate I exhaled with frustration as I was feeling a bit too tired to have to lift Munson over, but unbelievably he was able to squeeze his way through it when the wire frame was lifted.

Alum Bay is known for its fine silica used for glass and china manufacture and the multicoloured sands which are often presented in this glass. Marconi lived here in 1897 (the same year the Tennyson monument went up) to conduct radio experiments from his 40m mast outside the hotel here.

After a quick inspection of the glass wares and a sweet factory store I bundled Munson into a bus for the journey back to Totland. Blisters ahoy!
gnome garden
No 7 bus Munson on the 7 bus

1 comment:

  1. I photographed that gnome garden in 1986 - there were lots of gnomes but no dogs from memory!