Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bold Brigand: Revisiting the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is located south of Portsmouth, across a body of water known as The Solent - not to be confused with "Soylent Green", which is allegedly people. To the best of my recollection, I first became aware of the Isle of Wight in 2003 while doing intensive research into the Roman conquest of Britannia. During the first century invasion of southern Britannia as ordered by Emperor Claudius, the Isle of Wight - "Vectis" - was conquered by a Roman officer named Vespasianus, who would later become Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, the ninth emperor of the Roman Empire. Suetonius records:
"In the reign of Claudius he was sent in command of a legion to Germania, through the influence of Narcissus; from there he was transferred to Britannia, where he fought thirty battles with the enemy. He reduced to subjection two powerful nations, more than twenty towns, and the island of Vectis [The Isle of Wight], near Britannia, partly under the leadership of Aulus Plautius, the consular governor, and partly under that of Claudius himself. For this he received the triumphal regalia."
- Suetonius, The Life of the Deified Vespasian, ch. IV
Being the Roman history aficionado that I was back in 2004, I determined to visit the Isle of Wight. In early August, I arranged digs for a couple of days and took first the train, then the ferry, then another train, to get to a town called Shanklin on the southeast end of the island. One of the fascinating things about the rail line on the Isle of Wight - a mere shadow of its former self - is that it uses retired coaches from the London Underground. So, if you love the Tube, but hate London, then the Isle of Wight is the place for you!

As in 2004, I stayed at the Avenue Hotel. It's fairly centrally located, only about ten minutes walk from all of the "action" in Shanklin. Not that there's actually much "action" in Shanklin. While it's theoretically a big tourist destination, it doesn't seem that much actually happens there - as evidenced by the fact that the Bon Jovi concert from the 16th of June was still being advertised on buses in late September. That's part of Shanklin's charm, I suppose; and it's allegedly part of what drew the likes of Charles Darwin, among others, to the island during the nineteenth century. At any rate, the Avenue was just how I remembered it: friendly staff, comfortable rooms, big disused rear courtyard, and a great breakfast.

One big difference was that, in 2004, the Isle of Wight was about ten degrees cooler than the weather where I was living (and working with Pockets). That was quite a welcome change, as it was wayyyyyy too hot where I was staying. This time around it was really warm and humid - not thrilling. I wandered around a bit more this time around than I did the last time, but didn't wander all the way down to the Esplanade - I got a look at it from above, which was quite sufficient. On the other hand, I wandered entirely by chance into a pub called Indy's, operated by Emilee, better known as "Indy" owing to her longstanding obsession with Indiana Jones; and her mother, Lorraine. I enjoyed a couple of long chats with Lorraine, and a couple of regulars named Mark and John.

After a couple of nights in Shanklin, it was time to return to my island paradise. The time spent in Shanklin was bittersweet, as I remembered some good times I had there, as well as some of the less fortunate fallout that followed my departure from the United Kingdom. I'd wanted to revisit the Isle of Wight, sure; but in some ways, I wanted to overwrite some of those memories from 2004. Even though I visited some of the same places where I'd wandered all those years ago, I think that the new memories will prevail... To include a great memory of an Isle of Wight beer called Undercliff Experience from the Yates Brewery. Thanks, Avenue Hotel and Indy's for making my repeat trip to the Isle of Wight one to remember. As to whether I ever wind up making it back... I suppose only time will tell.

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