Judging from the serenity and calm of an early morning at Newtown, it’s hard to imagine the place as one of the few bustling hubs of the island’s economic and political life. The neatly tended borders and stone cottages softly glowing in the morning light give little away of the tumultuous history of this glorious spot.
Yet just a handful of centuries back, Franchille, as it was then then named, was the one of the centres of Wight commerce; salt, oysters and safe. harbour bringing medieval bustle to this now sleepy spot. A few hundred years on, trade had moved to Newport, yet Newtown remained notable as one of the country’s rotten boroughs, two seats in parliament representing barely over a dozen households that remained from its heyday. As we approach another general election, with millions of votes irrelevant under the archaic first past the post system, it’s easy to wonder how much progress has been made.
But such thoughts of the fallibility of humankind should be banished whilst communing with the natural world, and there are fewer better places that you could find. Much of Newtown and its environs retain some level of common access and there is such an amazing range of habitats with just a few square miles that my current prevailing negativity falls away, to be replaced by those good feelings that only propelling yourself at speed through landscapes can bring.
Dodging cows on the common, we had to backtrack a number of times to find the clear route to the road. Disturbed buzzards and crows heaved themselves skyward on our approach as goldfinches and sparrows nipped in and out of the thick hedgerows, busy with things beyond my ken. The creek itself was empty of humanity bar one man and his dog, the sea birds dominating the soundscape from afar. Not a breath of wind disturbed the waters, sail and row boats reflected on the blank canvas surrounding us. Back down the road and into the woods, unnamable flowers bordered the paths as we hopped and ducked over roots and branches back to our finish. The peace of the moment, mindfulness, presentism; this state of mind may be sought in many ways, but for me the multi sensory assault of the off road run cannot be beaten.
With social engagements due to dominate the rest of the day, I can’t help but feel privileged to have such a place so close to home, and can’t really think of an adjective less appropriate to this wonderful chunk of Earth less appropriate than rotten.