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  • Sophie Ruffles

A ticket to Ryde

On a warm and clear day last September I took the ferry to Ryde on the Isle of Wight.

The sea was flat calm. A perfect day for a swim across the Solent, which is what I should have been doing the next day, followed by a run around the 70 mile coast path.

I had been training for months but just a few weeks before I had discovered that I was pregnant. In all honesty, it had come as a genuine surprise and while joyful, also sent my anxiety levels into overdrive. We had been trying for a second child for 3 years and in that time had suffered 2 miscarriages, one of which was the loss of twins at 11 weeks while on holiday in Greece and required surgical removal. Traumatic doesn't cover it.

I had also undergone 2 rounds of IVF earlier in the year. Both of which had been unsuccessful. As an antidote to the failure of IVF, the massive doses of hormones taken and internal probing as well as the months of enforced ‘taking it easy’, I decided on the IOW swim and run challenge to celebrate turning 40 and to remind myself that my body was my own, capable of amazing things, if not baby making.

Once I knew I was pregnant I was upset at having to give up my challenge. This might sound strange, as though my priorities are wrong but I believed I was likely to miscarry and would be left with no baby and no challenge.

Part of me also wanted to do at least part of the challenge so as not to waste the months of training and because I know that pregnancy doesn't put an end to adventure.

That dream was soon dashed as pregnancy sickness and fatigue had other ideas. So rather than waste a child free weekend, I joined a ferry full of people, most making their way to the IOW festival, while I planned on a solo walk around the coast path and a recce for my future run.

I left the ferry port in Ryde and headed towards Cowes. Much of the coast path route of this section is in fact inland and through quiet residential areas. The main highlight being Quarr Abbey.

After hitting Cowes I decided against more inland walking and took the bus to Shalfleet and my campsite for the night. In a bid to lighten the nausea and fatigue I had decided to pack light and had booked the use of a hammock in the trees for the night in the secluded and peaceful West Wight campsite. After fish and chips in a local pub I laid in the hammock on a warm late summer evening as the light slowly faded and tried to imagine what life might be like with a new baby.

The next morning I headed out early for a long and more scenic day with some actual coast.

The path from Shalfeet started off in the mist through Boulder Forest , along peaceful trails through woods and marshland and eventually to the pretty port town of Yarmouth. This is probably the most remote path of the coast path and the only part where I felt acutely aware of being a lone female, especially being out so early and while the walk was beautiful, I didn’t really enjoy it until I started to get towards Yarmouth.

After a hearty breakfast and coffee in Yarmouth I walked on to the colourful beach-hut lined Totland Bay and my first swim of the day. From there is was on to the more touristy Needles via Headon Warren with brilliant views of the coast. I got a good look at the Needles from a quick visit to the Old Battery and then quickly left the tourists behind to walk the stunning Tennyson Trail. For anyone wanting to run just part of the Coast Path, this section is not to be missed.

The next stop on the trail was Freshwater Bay and time for another swim and ice cream to cool down.

Once I left Freshwater Bay I headed for Grange Farm campsite at Brighstone for the night and the use of a camping pod. I had covered around 22 miles and just about managed to drag my tired legs down the steep path for a last sea dip in sea coloured red by the cliffs and sand. That evening I sat on the cliff top to watch the sunset and enjoy a fairly terrible van burger and chips. It was a gorgeous evening, only disturbed by a kind female camper asking me if I was ok. As in, not suicidal!

That night I slept in a wooden camping pod, which would have been great save for the mosquito that shared it with me and was intent on spending the whole night biting what available skin it could find.

After a poor nights sleep I headed off to Ventnor, skirting around the deep chines that mark this area of the coast path and eating my way through all the blackberry bushes I could find. The pregnancy fatigue and nausea was setting in and once I reached the seaside resort and stopped for a big breakfast, I made the decision to end my journey there and catch the bus back to Ryde.

While I queued for the ferry home, tired from walking a solo 42 miles and having time to get to grips with my mixed emotions of pregnancy - a muted excitement versus a deep seated fear of pregnancy loss, surrounded by tired faces from a weekend of partying at the festival, I couldn’t wait to come back, hopefully later this year via a sea swim, to a real gem of an island.

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