Recent outings and activities...

An Isle of Wight Weekend - 22nd-25th October 2010

The car parking area at Alum Bay covers a fair area of the clifftops, but the land that it covers is no longer fair. It sheer size indicates the popularity of one of the Isle of Wight's main attractions, but on the day that Pam, Jenny, Garry and myself visited, cars were pretty sparse, although in total there were probably quite a few visitors nevertheless.

This was our first destination on the morning after we had arrived to meet the rest of the EFOG group staying at Shearings' Broadway Park Hotel at Sandown from 22nd-25th October. We had indeed met some of them at Portsmouth while waiting for the ferry, and others on the ferry, but our Saturday group of four had pre-decided what our basic itinerary for the weekend would probably be. Pam had researched a walk which took in Alum Bay, a view of the Needles, and Tennyson Down and Memorial. That certainly suited me, as I'd memories of Tennyson Down from a distant-past lone-walk around the Isle of Wight, and of the coloured sand on the cliffs at Alum Bay from childhood family holidays.

The amusement area at the top of the cliffs was open, but the amusements were mostly closed, with non-galloping gallopers and shuttered shooting ranges. But the chair-lift to the shore was operating and as we'd a walk planned anyway, we booked a return journey to save our energies. Chair-lifts are chair-lifts, unless you are afraid of heights, and completing a few photographs of Jenny and Garry waving from the chair-in-front, we obviously reached the base of the cliffs. I suppose unless the chair had to be reversed back up, we'd have achieved the bottom whatever happened.Race against the tideA race against the tide at Alum Bay

The tide was well in to the pebble beach, a high tide, and only a narrow strip separating the soft cliffs from the sea. It's easy to see on a day like that how vulnerable much of the island's coast is to erosion. We had to wait until after the seventh wave had receded to attempt access to a bit further along the shore, at the risk of wet feet or being swept out to sea. We four - and a few others - succeeded triumphantly, to enable views up the steep, soft sand and clay cliffs of many colours. There is a prohibition on climbing them now, but I was tempted to re-try my childhood experiment of a climb up the heights and the pleasure of throwing oneself out into space to hit the sands at an angle such that you travelled a long way down without injury. Perversely, it was the “without injury” bit that deterred me, rather than the “Do Not Climb These Cliffs” notices.

We caught the last chairs back to the top - a lunch-time interlude, apparently - and made our way to the Marconi Memorial. Of course, ultimately we would be heading for the Tennyson Memorial, but this - to my mind - is just as important; it is all to do with communications. From near here Guglielmo Marconi experimented with radio: in 1897 he set up a 40 metre radio antenna and established contact with ships in the bay below and in early 1898 communicated with stations in Bournemouth and then Poole, 20 miles away. Shortly afterwards he demonstrated that ships out of sight in the Channel could also be communicated with. We now carry the descendants of his experimental equipment in our pockets.

The walk along the no-through road to the battery and cliffs above the Needles was glorious, but a bit wet. Great rain-belts were rolling eastwards along the sea to pass through the Solent, and we caught the hail-edge of some of them. You get some views of weather from sea-sides and cliff-tops that you miss from houses and woodland, and the sea and the sky rewards with changing prospects and colours. We decided not to visit the historic Needles Battery, perhaps because we didn't need that re-charge, but continued up past the coastguard cottages and round the point to view the Needles. One is missing – in fact the one that is missing is the one that gave the chalk formation their name, and I overheard someone telling his party that he'd dived there and seen it laying on its side in the depths. I asked him if he'd tried to put it back up while he was there, but there was a lack of appreciation.

Just over the cliff-top from the Battery and hidden in a shallow bay from the Dorset mainland is the experimental facility which the British rocket programme used to test the Black Knight and Black Arrow space rocket engines prior to these being shipped to Woomera for launching. We dived into the facilities' command centre as another rain cloud struck the island, had hot chocolate and watched Alice Roberts explaining on a video taken from the Coast series about where we were (or at least I did). We then went deeper into the centre to see the display about “Prospero”. Look it up – not many people know that - but don't confuse with Shakespeare.

Prospero (and Jenny) on the Isle of WightProspero (and Jenny)The rain having cleared, we hiked on to Tennyson Down with its magnificent both-sides sea-views: the Channel to the right and the Solent to the left – or perhaps that should read starboard and port? From here we could see the Spinnaker at Portsmouth north-eastwards and Solent and Dorset coast towns glistening in the sunshine. Northwards was Lymington with its marina, Barton with its beach-huts, and the town of Christchurch. Then there was Hengistbury Head, and westward - beyond Bournmouth and Swanage - Durlston Head and St. Adhelm's Head were clearly visible.

At the Tennyson Memorial, surrounded by messages written with chalk pebbles, Pam read us some poetry – such that she felt was apt for where we were. Of course, it was by Tennyson.

As we descended the down, we paused to peruse a kestrel performing for us a personal aerial display, then our last visit of note as we returned to the car was at the farm tea-room, voted one of the best in Britain for its cream teas. We each had a cream tea, and then watched the Kunekune pig eating a turnip, or maybe it was a mangle-wurzle. We watched the goat too, but that was trying to eat our hats. We also raided the sea-buckthorn we found growing below the downs for its vitamin-C-rich fruits to keep us healthy.

So, that was Saturday. Sunday had been forecast to be the less settled of the weekend, so Jenny, Pam and Garry - and I – had decided we'd do a walk closer in to the pleasures of Sandown or Shanklin, in case of inclemency. We set out on a beautiful morning (having kicked the red squirrels out of our path) down to the pier and along the sea defence promenade towards Shanklin. There are a line of coloured beach huts along here that gave us a lot of pleasure, for they all have a humorous name associated with them. It was sunny and warm, so we sat just above the sands with the sounds of waves breaking gently near us. I awoke to find a Hitchcock-style scenario which involved seagulls; could it be that one of my companions had dropped some food? Halfway to Shanklin we ascended by a stairandslopeway (I did that deliberately) to the cliff-top path, and reaching my remembered “Hideaway” cafe above Small Hope Beach, we sat on a bench where we possibly all nearly or did doze in the sunshine. I couldn't do that in Wanstead.

SandownSandown Bay from Dunnose Head

Shanklin Chine was next - certainly my main objective for the day - where we had poor repast in the cafeteria and watched gannets feeding with the gulls on some great shoal of fishes out at sea. We also saw the remnants of Pluto. (look it up). Exiting the Chine, we ate from a Strawberry Tree and then trudged up and up the street leading out of town through Luccombe Village to the lovely coastal walk towards Dunnose Head. This is an area of chines and landslips, with occasional grand views back across Sandown Bay to Culver Cliffs and beyond. We were heading towards Ventnor, but I wanted to re-find the Devil's Chimney. In an area of wild oakwoods, ferns and lichens, I began to feel we may be close, and then a metal hand-rail helped in a journey upwards - and for me pastwards - into a dramatic and narrow cleft in the rock that I'd remembered since childhood.The Devil's ChimneyThe Devil's Chimney

We arrived just as the “Smuggler's Haven” cream-tea establishment was closing, so had to decide on how to get back. It had been a longish walk that had taken a longish time, so we decided that the nearby bus-stop might be an asset. A bus was conveniently due heading for Shanklin and Sandown, so we hopped on (well – perhaps not quite hopped). At Shanklin Old Village we got off, cos there was much to see and it wasn't time for tea, and the tapping and waving from the upper deck proved that we'd been on the same bus as other members of the group returning from their expedition. Well, ours wasn't over, so after hostelry refreshment in an old-village pub with a new-town interior, we walked through Shanklin town and back down to the lower promenade to walk back to Sandown as night fell. It was so pretty, with the lights of Sandown in the distance, the moon coming up over Culver Cliffs, and the planets and stars gradually appearing in a black sky.

We made it with enough time to join the others for our evening meal and for our drinks in the lounge in the evening.

I won't bore you with details of the wonderful next-morning's visit to Culver Cliff-top, its kestrels, ravens and pipits, nor the stop-off at St. Helen's beach-side before reaching the ferry terminal in the afternoon, nor the enjoyment of the ferry crossing itself. Pam, Jenny, Garry and myself had a pretty good run home via the M25 and the Queen Elizabeth Crossing, and we stopped for an evening meal not too far from our homes. It was great weekend, with great company. Even though the four of us had done much our own thing, it had been an EFOG trip and we are grateful to Ken for getting us all together to do it. I am grateful to Jenny for doing the driving and I apologise for forcing Jenny, Pam and Garry to climb the Devil's Chimney. Wasn't it good, though!

Paul Ferris, November 2010

Team Efog cycling on a dreary day - 31st Oct 2010

Despite the weather not looking very promising five hardy souls (Duncan, Ann, Jill, Ralph and myself Val) turned out for Ann’s cycle ride starting from the car park of The Garden Centre near the M11 roundabout in Harlow.

Although there was a light drizzle in the air the first few hours we spent pleasantly cycling along the pretty autumnal lanes in the local area, taking in various Matchings and Lavers towards Hatfield Forest where we planned to have our lunch break by the lake.

Lunch achieved sitting under the trees to keep out of the rain a bit we started our journey back promising ourselves a nice hot cup of tea back at the garden centre where we had parked the cars.

Not too long had passed when Jill and Ralph disappeared from the back of the group – a bit of back tracking finds Ralph repairing a puncture to Jill’s bike. Job done and we think on our way again. Not 5 minutes had passed when they disappeared again – more back tracking finds Ralph repairing a second puncture to Jill’s bike, this time it needs a new inner tube and tyre which Ann and Duncan just happen to have along with everything else in their bottomless panniers, so off we go again.

By this time with the clocks having gone back an hour overnight daylight begins to wane a little earlier and we are thinking we need to get our acts together and do some serious pedalling. Very little distance had been achieved when my bike went on strike and succumbed to yes you guessed it, a puncture. Now I am thinking smugly that I do not have a problem because my off road bike has these thick tyres filled with the dreaded ‘green slime’ which self repairs as the air rushes out – the thing being  I did not fill my panniers as Ann & Duncan do and I did not have a pump with me – Ralph came up trumps with a very small pump that managed somehow to get a little air in the tyre but doing so nearly gave Duncan heart failure with the effort required to achieve it. At a crossroads trying to read the map in fast diminishing light we set off again and somehow Jill and Ralph end up in an unceremonious heap in the road and Jill has hurt her knees, don’t ask how it happened, it just did.

Now we know we are definitely not going to get that hot cup of tea but are also in danger of not getting back to the garden centre in time before they lock our cars in their car park at 4.30 and go home for the night. I am struggling at the rear with a half inflated tyre on an off-road bike which seems to weigh a ton so we send Duncan and Ralph off at pace to at least get the cars out of the car park so we can get home. Jill, Ann and me then carried on at my reduced pace comforted by the thought that we would actually be able to get home.

We arrived at the garden centre at 4.25 just in the nick of time and found Duncan & Ralph anxiously waiting for us. I felt that I had run and carried my bike this last 5 miles and was a little worse for wear as was Jill with her rapidly stiffening knees. But team Efog rules supreme, we had beaten everything in the course of the day and there is another cycle ride on the programme in a few weeks and yes we will be going (and I will remember to take a pump).

Thanks Ann for a great days cycling – nearly 31 miles - we would still have been out there now if I had been reading that map.


Camping for all - Annual Pilgrimage 2010

Each year, somewhere around the middle of June, we descend on the campsite at Debden House near Loughton, for our traditional local camping weekend.

All are welcome, adults, children, cats dogs the lot.

The first few hours are spent in total chaos as we all try to pitch the tents and organise things in general for the mass BBQ to be held later that evening.

Around mid-day we are all so worn out that we have to tramp through Epping Forest to the nearest local watering hole for a bite to eat and some liquid refreshment. The round trip takes us some 3-4 hours. We have done this walk many times but never tire of the peace and beauty of the forest.

On return to the campsite we adults then return to our childhood and play Frisbee, rounders, or whatever the chosen game of the weekend is. Of course there is the occasional trip or crash in the process of the games but in general we all survive intact (even if a little exhausted).

Early evening finds us hungry from all our exertions so we set about the BBQ – this process can take the whole evening one way and another as we gather round eating and chatting and swapping tales of various past and present adventures at the club. This is all the more enjoyable when accompanied by a certain members homemade blackberry wine.

Slowly we drift off to our tents for a well-earned nights sleep under the stars.

Tomorrow is another day – Camp breakfast, another walk and then mid afternoon we pack up the tents and make for home which fortunately for most of us is not so far away as the campsite is quite local – One thing about the forest is that once surrounded by it you can in your mind be anywhere that you choose to be.


Camping / Cycling / Walking weekend in Suffolk 24th/25th July.

Keeping fingers crossed for good weather, we loaded cars with camping gear & bikes and set off for Sudbury. After several circuits of the Sudbury one way system we found our way out of the town to the camp site where we were signed in after the owner’s grappling with our confusing  mix of people, cars, bikes & tents and began to set up our small tent village. During this performance, Charlie (Val’s nephew) plus bike arrived courtesy of his parents.

Bikes sorted, the six cyclists set off leaving Steve, the only walker, to do his own thing. Down the road, first left and, surprise, surprise, a big hill!  This surmounted, we followed the back lanes to lunch stop at the famous old town of Lavenham. Leaving town we passed an army surplus store, an emporium ‘not to be missed’ by Charlie, so we wandered round observing the minutiae of warfare while Charlie was kitted out with a camouflage suit, courtesy of Auntie Val. Fortunately Parviz had an empty pannier to transport it all. Forward again through the beautiful Suffolk countryside, with undulating lanes and golden cornfields, via Preston St Mary and Monks Eleigh back to the campsite. Approx 31 miles. Showers, an excellent meal at the local pub (The Brook Inn) followed by a dodgy walk back in the dark and variously origami and a search in the grass for the bits of our gas lamp, which decided to self destruct, filled the evening.Morning, and what’s this? Drizzle? But it soon cleared into another beautiful day. Packing up camp, the cyclists set off again, this time into town to pick up the old railway track (and lose each other in the process). Eventually we and the track were united and we had an easy ride to Long Melford where we partook of the most expensive cup of tea ever! Those who read the menu first just had an ice-cream – cheaper!

Here the group split, with Ken, Val & Charlie taking a relaxing ride back to base while Duncan, Parviz & I carried on to Glemsford, which turned out to be on top of a big hill. At least we had a wonderful view from the churchyard where we had our lunch stop. Oh, well! it would be downhill on the way back we thought. Silly! Our route back via Foxearth and Temple End felt like it included most of the local hills, but eventually we arrived back at the campsite to load up bikes.

Excellent campsite (Willowmere), beautiful weather, good rides, what more could we want (except for better leg muscles!)


Camping Weekend at Debden House Campsite - 10th/11th July, 2010.

Our annual camping weekend at the Debden campsite on 10th/11th July was different this year, in as much as we weren’t all crammed in our tent drinking home made wine, whilst keeping out of the rain. Even so, it was still very enjoyable.

We set up the tents on a very crowded site. In fact to make one camper not feel too lonely, we completely surrounded her tent with our tents. As usual we walked to the Forest Gate pub, Epping, for lunch. It was very pleasant to stroll in the cool forest, but the full sun offset this at other times on the open horse rides.

When we returned to the site, the lone camper got her own back, or rather was on her own back, sun-bathing topless! Unfortunately she covered up before Paul was able to have words with her about her conduct.

At about six o’clock the barbecue was ready for the group to start incinerating their food, and because food was on the programme, the EFOG party was twice as large as during the day.  The food finished, it was games time - boule, and funny shaped ball caught only with difficulty.

The night’s sleep wasn’t the most peaceful I have encountered, as exuberant campers entertained each other with gay banter and screams of delight, accompanied by loud music of a thumperty, thump variety. Oh well!

Breakfast was very entertaining. You had a choice of four or eight cooked items. I ordered two breakfasts - a four item, and an eight item. There it was on the order slip - 4 x bacon, mushroom, tomato, and egg, and 8 x sausage etc.  When I was called to collect the meals I was confronted with four breakfasts of bacon, mushroom, tomato, and egg, and an argument between the man who wrote the order and the woman who served it up. Fortunately she hadn’t started serving up the eight plates of food. Gill had the same trouble when she ordered a double portion of bacon.

After the lack of a night's rest it was decided only to do a short walk as we were tired, and it was getting very hot again.


Peter G.