Sunday, 16 January 2011

Puddle-dodging on Thorney Island

As I've spent so much time recently in medical establishments, I couldn't help noticing countless leaflets detailing the "health benefits of walking". It's true, walking is free, simple and mostly injury-proof exercise. I do love a good wander in the country too, the fresh air filling the lungs and all that jazz. I felt inspired to take myself off for a stroll and decided Thorney Island would be the destination for my latest two-footed adventure.

Thorney Island is a little outcrop of land right on the border of Hampshire and West Sussex. The island is used as a military base and public access is restricted to the footpath that skirts around the edge, forming a nine mile stretch of the Sussex Border Path.

Whilst contemplating important adventure factors such as weather, snacks and general topography, I thought back to my previous two walking adventures (excluding the ill-fated Snowdonia trip). For both journeys I had worn my walking boots and on both journeys I had regretted doing so. The terrain hadn't really been tough enough to warrant boots and all they had succeeding in doing was slowing me down. As this would be a much shorter excursion and as it was an official path, I thought it would be more sensible to use trainers and go 'fast and light'.

I arrived at Emsworth train station in the dark and ambled through the very picturesque village centre. The only life was a bakery van making it's morning delivery and then down at the harbour, two fishermen readying their boat.. all lovely, wholesome stuff!


I turned off at the first footpath and very quickly realised that I was walking through a particularly sludgy field. My very lightly covered feet were gradually getting closer to total mud immersion when there it was, gone, right into a huge puddle. I looked onward to much of the same, and resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have slightly soggy feet. The worst bit about this was that running parallel to this utterly ridiculous field/footpath I was in, was a perfectly good road that I would end up crossing anyway. Fiddlesticks.

As I continued to negotiate more exceptionally wet and mud-ridden trails, I encountered a couple of chaps in flat caps armed with shotguns and excited-looking dogs. They informed me they were out hoping to shoot some ducks. We made some typically British chitchat about it "being the right weather for ducks" but apparently they weren't coming out to play. Then I came to the gated entrance of the island itself.
When you get to the gate you have a ring a bell and wait. Then, mysteriously, the gate unlocks and lets you in. I noticed there was a teeny camera by the bell. Some soldier has obviously got the easiest job ever: sitting, drinking tea and letting tourists on to the island.

Within half a kilometre I spotted hoardes of ducks, very sensibly staying on the side of the fence where I don't imagine they allow country types with shotguns. I made my way down the Eastern side of the island, teetering on the edge of the path as much as I could to avoid the deep mud. Gradually the mud got worse and worse and the puddles started to get bigger, and bigger. The path was narrow, the tide was in, and there was nowhere else to step. I was on my tiptoes being a proper girl and edging around the small ponds, favouring instead the brambles on the inside edge. It got so bad that there really was no edge left to teeter on. I didn't have a choice, I had to step into the water. I was cursing myself for not wearing my lovely gore-tex boots as my foot sunk into the murky depth. Once I emerged from the other side I stopped, removed the trainers, emptied them out, rung out my socks etc etc. All of that was completely pointless of course as less than 100m further and there was another pond to cross. 

It got to the point where I really didn't care about bothering to try and stay in any way dry, the water was mid-calf deep in places and I ended up happily trotting through, amused at situations I get myself into. As it turns out, trainers were actually a much better option, as the water was so deep it would have gone into my boots anyway and this way at least it squirted out the sides and wasn't trapped inside a layer of waterproof.
Once I hit the Southernmost point of the island, the wind really picked up and I was being buffeted with salty spray. On a sunny day the view out over the Chichester Harbour would have been stunning, today however, it wasn't. I trudged onwards, with watery snot streaming from my nostrils and finding a place to rest on my wind-battered cheeks. I upped the pace to stay warm and soon enough I reached the Western corner of the island. From here I could just about see the harbour at Emsworth and I knew I was on the home straight.

Thankfully the quality of the path dramatically improved and I made quick progress back into the village. I was met here by my sister who took me in and gave me tea and clean, dry socks.. marvellous! Despite it not really being the best conditions for a island walk, I felt hugely refreshed and pleased with myself for getting through it in (reasonably) good humour. 

Sadly the health benefits were lessened by the vast amounts of chocolate I consumed that afternoon, and the Chinese we ate that evening...

If you're considering going for a nice coastal walk I would really recommend Thorney Island. But do it in summer, and wear waterproof socks.

1 comment:

  1. Do you know, your blog has made me want to do the walk IN THE SUMMER, so it can be leisurely and with a picnic! Book a date, and allow plenty of time so my legs don't do that SHOCK thing again lol xx

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