A bus to Ryde (Isle of Wight) through villages and towns, down country lanes and across high Downs, to take a coastal walk along the sands at Appley Beach, a walk full of interest, from dogs on the beach (my favourite was the Caucasian Shepherd which refused to stand still to be photographed) to horses being exercised in the waters and even to a group of hardy folk picnicking on the sands! And on a crisp November day we had a marvellous view across the water to the Portsmouth skyline, dominated by the Spinnaker Tower.
The distance between Ryde and Portsmouth is approximately six miles. In the middle of the sea are the armour-plated Palmerston Forts commissioned by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston in 1859 to defend Portsmouth dockyard at a time when the country feared invasion by Napoleon III.
Heavy guns were installed on the forts during the two world wars and it is said that the troops stationed there were chosen for their inability to swim as the damp, dark, and lack of all but the most basic facilities made this a very arduous posting. Although the forts were armed and re-armed as technology advanced, apart from training their guns on French ships in the harbour after the fall of France in 1940, the forts were never used and in the 1960’s they were de-activated. One has been retained by the MoD and three were sold to private buyers in the 1980’s, one of which is now a super luxury hotel and spa, another a museum and the other in private hands.
Continuing along the sea-front we enter Appley Park, a green oasis on the sea-front where the beach huts are set among the trees but with a view of the Solent and easy access to the beach: a snack bar and restaurant caters for walkers and site-owners alike.
The Solent as a whole supports 13% of the entire world population of Brent Geese and 30% of the UK population of same, and the beach at Apply is one of the most protected areas in the world. When the tide is out the mudflats are rich in winter-feeding nutrients, worms, molluscs, invertebrates and other creatures needed by the Geese as well as bar-tailed godwit and other birds who rest over here on their way to Siberia. Further out to sea at low tide you can see the rare eel grass – it looks like bright green meadow grass – where seahorses, pipe fish and sea urchins make their home.
Appley Park has two especial points of interest. Appley Tower which is a rare coastal folly is one. Most follies were built in inland private parks and gardens, but in 1875 Sir William Hutt had the tower erected which he called his watchtower. It is a delightful building and has withstood the test of time.
Beyond the tower is a fascinating monument to an event linking the Isle of Wight to Australia, a monument to HMS Sirius, the principal Naval Consort of the First Fleet which sailed to Australia from the Motherbank just off the shore on 13th May 1787. The First Fleet carried the convicts and soldiers who were sent to start a penal colony there so the Monument celebrates the start of the European settlement in Australia. The ship arrived in Sydney on 26th January 1788 then subsequently went for repairs to Mosman Bay before sailing to Norfolk Island with personnel and where she ran aground in March 1789.
The bas relief of HMS Sirius, erected on 29th June, 1991, is one of 3 commissioned by Mosman Council from sculptor Alex Kolozsy to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the arrival of Europeans at Mosman Bay and Norfolk Island where the other two memorials have been installed.
Beyond this point and round the corner and you are just a short distance from Seaview, one of the nicest little towns on the island, but with a pebbly beach, quite different from that in Ryde.
The views across the Solent on a sunny day can be stunning, the white chalk cliffs of Portsdown Hill (where U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower established his HQ during the D-Day invasions) shimmering across the Solent, matching the white tower of the Spinnaker that looms over Portsmouth’s waterfront.
I confess to spending too many days here just watching the ever changing traffic on the waters of the Solent, one of the busiest waterways in the world. The Catamaran from Ryde runs twice hourly to Portsmouth on its 12 minute journey linking the island to the mainland and the fast train to London; double-decker car ferries sail between Fishbourne and Portsmouth and the Hovercraft runs from early morning to dusk, carrying passengers and small freight to Southsea. Sometimes there are naval vessels, gunships and battleships in Portsmouth Harbour, some visiting, some home-grown, and always, of course, the huge ocean liners that sail majestically over the waters of the Solent, past the Isle of Wight to destinations unknown.