Isle of Wight Ultra Challenge for African Adventures

Having left home at 0600 for a sunshine cruise to the Isle of Wight from Southampton, we traversed clockwise around the island in our support vehicle – manned by a nurse and driver President Deborah and Andrena respectively, to Bembridge airport area for the start of stage 4 of the Ultra Challenge. At this stage, we were unaware of the truth in that title!

Nick and I set off on foot from the start from Culver Down near the airport at 1000, much enthused by the downhill trek along the coast to Sandown, and the nice flat seafront, where early holidaymakers frolicked on the sandy beaches, – striding at 5.5 km per hour we thought – we will be there at the Chale finish by 1600. However, soon some steps and a climb began as we ventured between Sandown and Shanklin, which dropped our average speed somewhat. We soon climbed to Shanklin Old Village where some tarmac road walking increased our time a little.

However, this is where the plan went wrong, the route – excellently marked, now took us off road, over some rough meadows slowly rising to the base of the extended Himalayas, of which you may not be aware, surface over the southern end of the island. Soon some serious orienteering was experienced, as we climbed through woodland up an extremely steep track – as yet without oxygen!

Descending again through extremely hazardous muddy tracks to around 3,000 feet we entered Luccombe village and even worse – Luccombe Chine, steep rocky formations surrounding our “path”, before reaching the village of Bonchurch. By now we had adjusted our eta at the finish to 1630 to our support vehicle, which, we found very supportively, to be on the end of RYDE pier!

It is worth mentioning here, that walkers doing the Cowes to Chale leg (twice as long as ours), who had started from Cowes at 0600, started overtaking us by this stage, quite worrying until Nick pointed out that they were half our age. I then told him that some of them were in fact a QUARTER of our age.

After Bonchurch we finally arrived in Ventnor, where we had been told that the first rest stop was located 12 kms from the start. This in fact turned out to be more like 15kms, and on arrival with coffee, energy bars and more cold drinks, we settled down to enjoy 30 minutes of heaven overlooking the English Channel. However more walkers were arriving and departing, and we were told “reliably” that we were already well over halfway, and would soon be at the finish!  However, one more honest person told us that the next leg was rather hilly !!  This was probably the understatement of the day !! Once again adjusting our eta to 1700!

Traversing the lower road between St Lawrence and Niton was in the main on tarmac, but our morning speed of 5.5km/hour was sadly being reduced. But undaunted, Nick assured me it wasn’t a race and all we had to do was get there. Leaving the road at Niton we again braved the cliff edge with its warning notices, and at times the path venturing to within a metre of the cliff edge, as we gazed down 200 feet to the beach below. Here we came across an “old man” (about 50) holding onto a tree and drawing breath, and we enquired if he was OK.  He said he had left Chale –  4km ahead of us, at 0700 Saturday, walked via the Needles to Cowes, stopped at 2100 for a meal and resumed walking at 2200, while everyone else on that leg went to sleep in the marquee. He had walked through the night via Bembridge and was now within striking distance of the end. However, he said he was only making 1km an hour!  This gave us a boost as we felt quite athletic after that !!

When I pointed to a gap in the hedge and told him there was a good view of St Catherines Lighthouse from there, he replied in the same vein as King George the Fifth did to his greeting from the people of Bognor!!

Now with only three km to go and on a narrow path, a young 40-something came up behind us, and not wishing to delay her, I stepped to one side to allow her to overtake us, not noticing the drop by the path and fell back-first into a bramble bush from which Nick and the lady had to extricate me!

A call to our support vehicle – by now back on the south of the island, to advise them of yet another eta of 1730  assured us that they were now at the finish awaiting our triumphant arrival.

Finally, we arrived at the finish line, medals duly awarded and a new finishers tee shirt, I had my cuts and grazes treated by the medical team – and by virtue of having “staggered over the line” I had earned myself a massage in the medical tent to relieve the aching back and calves.

Nick however had taken the whole journey in his “stride” and appeared non the worse for the event. We are holding the next year’s event in abeyance for the time being !! When we checked our walking distance we found that we had in fact walked 30.7 km or 19.2 miles !!! On reflection, I would not recommend over 15 miles !!!

In all a successful day, especially as we had raised over £1100 between us for the African Adventures charity.

Thank you for supporting us, it was very generous of you and of course, much appreciated by the charity too.

Tony Catesby

A few photos here: Isle of Wight Challenge

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