Sandown revisited

Matthew Chatfield

The place you first explore independently has a special meaning for everyone, and I’m no different. My first walk to school was down leafy Carter Street, in Sandown. Afterwards, through the genteel avenues beyond, lined with bed and breakfast places and tiny hotels, I would often make my way to the beach at Avenue Road slipway. What luck for me, then, that I can still take that walk 45 years later, and enjoy those little things that mean so much when you’re young.

Later in my childhood I lived for a while in south Hampshire. Revisiting that area these days I can hardly recognise it – even the roads themselves have been rebuilt and reorganised. The woods and fields I played in there are long built-over; but when I return to my earlier haunts in South Wight, the comforting familiarity of the mundane strikes me time and time again. The textures of the walls and pavements in Sandown have strong echoes for me. As a schoolboy I was often told by my mother not to gaze at my feet whilst walking. Well, I still do and she’s given up telling me now. The advantage of this gait is that you get to see a lot of little things, admittedly these days from a higher vantage point. So have you noticed how many of the older pavements on the Island are made from orange shingle? This distinctive colour, doubtless reflecting a local seam of gravel that was being won at that time, is not to be seen in more recent surfacing, although it often shows through on worn patches. And those even older walls, made from soft green stone, you can still find studded with flints from the beach. I used to run my hands along the smooth, knobbly stones as I walked along the Broadway to the shops with my mother. The greengrocers at Station Avenue is long boarded-up, the cinema closed, and the post office remembered only by a pillarbox in the garden of what is now an unremarkable house. But I can still look at the curious mottled bark of the same plane trees, and try to peel off little sheets of it with my fingers, just as I used to whilst mum was chatting with neighbours and her little boy was standing idly by.

And so to the beach. So many hours spent dallying on the foreshore, winter and summer, by the rough, tumbling English Channel waves and the sandy steps and rough concrete groynes. It was years before I realised that not all beaches turned your hands and knees orange when you dug in them, or frothed with foamy spume in the storms, or rolled up sand-encrusted balls of soft blue clay in the winter, for boys to take home and bake in the oven.

So if you think too many places on our Island are changed and gone, don’t forget to take pleasure in the everyday. Sometimes it’s the small things that last the longest.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

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