At breakfast I met some of the B&B’s other residents this week, a pair of guys who came across from Dorset to trim cow hooves ( my hostess Setsuko called them the cowboys, but she probably lacked the term for cowropodists in her vocabulary ), and John Rust, a retired art director seeking to transplant himself to the Isle on a more permanent basis. John had spent a number of years in the Australian outback in the early sixties and had many stories of his time in Mount Isa, or working as a hygiene officer and art teacher amongst the aboriginal peoples around Alice Springs. We traded travel stories back and forth between our tables for about an hour, with our well-travelled host (also John) sometimes passing through to collect breakfast plates and interject fragments of his own experiences.
Setsuko gave me a local map for us to investigate the area on foot and I got it into my head to walk down the Avenue (yellow line top right in the map above) through the shopping area, across the western peninsular end of the Isle of Wight to Freshwater Bay. I remember Howard describing it as an especially beautiful location during dinner last night.
We didn’t get going till about 10.30am and followed the road downhill through a high street completely unremarkable other than the number of domestic-animal focused store fronts: after All About Animals came the RSPCA shop, and then a pet store and a veterinary surgery. That seemed to account for about ten percent of all the businesses on the street. Then there was the black cat with a white star centre-breast looking suspiciously like Candyshop from the farm, waiting on the bench at the bus stop; and the assemblage of very large scale dinosaur models stationed in the drive way and rear garden of one of the houses we passed at the bottom of the road.
I also saw the first of several descriptive plaques describing the life and works of Freshwater’s greatest son, Robert Hooke (1635-1703) known as England’s “Leonardo”, who made significant contributions to our knowledge of physics, microscopy, palaeontology, and astronomy, not to mention being Christopher Wren’s assistant in the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire of 1666. His architectural designs allowed for the construction of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and numerous landmark buildings around London. Hooke was the first person to use the word “cell” for organisms and came close to making discoveries in physics, chemistry and neural function that were later associated with Newton and Lavoisier, or even with work done in the 20th century.
Our day wasn’t going to yield anything so productive as one of Hooke’s, but as Freshwater was also the birthplace of Sir Vivian Fuchs, who lead the first overland crossing of Antarctica, my stroll with a malamute was ever so faintly in line with his achievement. Fuchs used his dog teams to scout ahead to ensure that the mechanised transport wouldn’t fall into a crevasse in the same way that I send Munson ahead to ensure I won’t be startled by a cat in a bus shelter.
It took us an hour to get to Freshwater Bay on the southern side of the peninsular, low chalky cliffs embracing a pebbly beach sorted in size with heavy stones to the west and smaller shinier pebbles to the right. The gradient of the beach further sorted them into more minute divisions, and a sweep of the hand across the shiny “grains” showed finer particles below, on their way to becoming sand after being pounded and rolled on the shore another million times.
Munson took to the water with great enthusiasm, while I found myself sprawling in the pebbles like Scrooge McDuck in one of his treasure rooms, turning this small pebble and that toward the light to appreciate the different mineral contributions to its aesthetic.
We spent a happy hour down there, Munson alternating running around and exploring the shallows with rests on the cool pebbles. I decided that we should continue our walk westward to The Needles – the weather forecast said the next four days would be rainy so this would be our best chance to see them. At the top of the stairs at the end of the beach we found the Dandelion cafe where I watered Munson and hot-chocolated myself. One of the staff asked if it had been me lying on the beach for so long as it seemed like a body had washed up there.