Once the sun came out,* the Isle of Wight turned out to be lovely. Tiny gardens in front of picturesque row houses, narrow streets with cars parked in both directions on the same side, and High Street cordoned off for foot traffic only. Being an island, fresh seafood is everywhere – we availed ourselves of it as often as our wallets would allow.
Cowes (or West Cowes) is a sailing town, “the home of world yachting.” Businesses to support that industry line High Street. I didn’t know it when I booked it, but we are here during the highlight of the year, Cowes Week, with its premier sailing race. This week the normal population of about 10K doubles in size. Apparently the Americas Cup started here, and the Royal Yacht Squadron from here was the first club to organize races in England.
We love being so near the water; after all we were raised on Lake Michigan. Even the seagulls taking wing were magical. I’ve lived along The Lake for 34 of my 64 years, where gulls were common, and where some days there were more seagulls than cars in the town mall parking lot. But it’s been 5 years since I moved. Their cries took me back to some special memories (not the mall). We even heard a very strange goat-like sound on the wind. My sister is convinced it’s a bird.
We actually arrived a couple days before the races began, and were able to see the town transform, including the erection of a Ferris Wheel. The Parade, is the hot spot this week, abuzz with activity. A row of tents sits along the walkway, full of beer taps and other temporary festival shops. We found a tavern, The Globe, with a roof-top garden where we could sip hard cider and watch the bustling below. A nice diversion. But we had other sites to see, like East Cowes, just across the River Medina.
There is no permanent structure across the river, only a floating bridge: a chain ferry. For £1 (includes the return), foot passengers get on the floating bridge on one side, the chain pulls the contraption across the river, and they disembark on the other side. It also takes cars.
Once in East Cowes, we followed the streets closest to the harbor, emerging at the Solent, the channel between the island and the mainland, busy with sailboats. The tide was up, revealing only a very small pebbly beach. I found a few shells and pieces of green sea glass, nicely tumbled and pitted. Most of them were in the water, just at the edge. Sometimes a wave would deposit them within reach. Other times, they were buried or carried out of sight. But I was not about to shuck my shoes and walk into the water on the pebbles with my butter arches.
The promenade was full of people enjoying themselves: fishermen, moms with strollers, people with their dogs, many of them Whippets. The hardy boys swimming in the 60+ degree water reminded us of swimming in Lake Michigan as kids. Yes, it was cold, but we didn’t know any better.
One dad was crabbing with his son. We struck up a conversation and looked in his bucket. “Do you catch crabs to eat them?”
“No, it’s just good cheap fun – something to do outside with the boy. You throw the line out with a bit of bacon on it. The crabs love bacon and hang onto the line to eat it. Then as you raise the line, you use a net to capture them. Mind, you can catch some big ones out here.” He indicated something the size of a volleyball with his hands. “Those we’d eat.”
“I caught that one in the bucket,” the young boy offered. We congratulated him.
Somehow East Cowes seemed a bit more down-home than Cowes with its yachts and races. We felt very comfortable here.
*See “This so better be worth it”.
See other essays about this trip to England:
The “Gum Incident” – Osborne House, Isle of Wight
Fighting with the washer in Canterbury, UK
Back when street names meant something. Canterbury, UK
Beachcombing “tools” to the rescue at Margate, UK
Living like a local in Canterbury, UK (and finding Greyfriars Gardens)
Punting on the River Stour in Canterbury, UK
I have a confession. Learning history in Canterbury, UK
Can a beachcomber ever be satiated ? Collecting at Lyme Regis, UK
Gifts and lessons from the sea at Lyme Regis, UK
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