Seaclose Park

36. The Isle of Wight Festival Trail Marathon

50/50 marathons

36. The Isle of Wight Festival Trail Marathon

14th June 2020.

The start selfie

This weekend was originally planned to be one of my allocated weekends off. I’d set aside 2 weekends in the year to not run. The first because of the Isle of Wight Festival. And the second in July for the Rhythm Tree Festival. I find running marathons and going to festivals generally don’t work well together! But of course, both these events have been canceled, no surprises there. 2020 is rapidly turning in to the year that never was.

I could obviously stick to the plan and have a break, lord knows I need it after last week’s marathon. If I did I would still be on track to complete the challenge within the year. I did have a forced break earlier in the year when Storm Ciara put a stop to everything. Apart from that, it’s been a marathon every week since the first one on October 6th last year.

Instead of taking the weekend off, I decided to do a little trail that would take in the sites of each of the Isle of Wight Festivals. Kind of like a pilgrimage to each of these sacred sites. In 1968, the first festival happened at Ford Farm near Godshill. In 1969 it was Woodside Bay near Wootton. And then in 1970 (the year I was born), Afton Down near Freshwater. And then the current site, Seaclose Park in Newport. I’ve plotted a route that should visit each of these sites, or as near as possible.

For the early part of my life on the Isle of Wight, the festival didn’t exist. It was simply one of those mythical happenings from the past that seems unbelievable that it actually happened. I couldn’t imagine how amazing it must have been to see the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and The Doors, right here on my doorstep. But, following the festival in 1970, an act was put in place that would put a stop to mass gatherings of over 5000 people. This act and the reluctance of some of the Island’s older population was a big buzz kill for most of my formative years. There were several attempts to resurrect the festival, but nothing that ever stuck, or came anywhere close. Until 2002.

John Giddings is our savior

2002 was the first year of the newly resurrected festival. Organised by John Giddings, this had the promise to be the real deal. I clearly remember the anticipation that surrounded the build-up beforehand. Rock Island was a one-day festival held at Seaclose Park. For the first time, since 1970, we were to be treated to some world-class acts playing live on our little Island. The lineup didn’t blow me away, but it was certainly not to be missed. the Charlatans, Robert Plant, Starsailor, and The Coral were the main acts. It was a brilliant day. It was nowhere near capacity, so it had a very laid back atmosphere. I clearly remember being sat to the right of the main stage and watching Robert Plant do his thing, thinking how amazing, that’s Robert Plant up there and I haven’t had to pay a fortune in travel to see him.

Fast forward 18 years and we have been lucky enough to have seen most of the world’s biggest bands and musicians, right here on the Island. The Isle of Wight Festival is now a firm fixture amongst a now very busy, festival calendar.

It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have this festival. I often think it’s taken for granted. Missing it this year has given me time to reflect on exactly that. Each year we wait in anticipation towards the end of the year when the lineup begins to be announced. Some years you get lucky and see a favourite or two on the list, some years there’s just nothing that floats your boat. Either way, you are guaranteed to see something that you’ll be blown away by.

I can only imagine how disappointing it must be for the organisers when they finally announce the headliners and they just get a cool reception on social media. It must feel like an impossible task. One year you get a rock legend like Paul McCartney and people complain because he’s over the hill (apparently), then another year you get someone like the Chemical Brothers and people complain because surely they’re not a festival act? You can never please everyone.

I’ve only ever missed one year, 2013. I’ve regretted it ever since. Ok, I may not like Bon Jovi, but it’s still Bon Jovi, in my back yard. I’ve vowed not to miss another, because I know that, even if I don’t like the headliners, I’m guaranteed to find something on the other stages and I always find a band that I’ve never heard of who then turn out to be a new favourite. Apart from the music, it’s just a great excuse to drink far too much in a field with friends, and I’m really missing that this year. So, as some form of conciliation, I thought I’d do a run that would pay homage to the Isle of Wight Festival.

The route

The route

I’d plotted the route out numerous times, but it always came in over 28 miles and I really don’t want to run further than I need to. I had hoped to be able to go over on the floating bridge to East Cowes and start there, but I needed to lose a couple of miles, so I coaxed Caroline out of bed to give me a lift.

Wootton, the second Isle of Wight Festival – 1969

I started in Whippingham and headed down through Brocks Copse. This comes out in Wootton at a road that leads down to Woodside Bay. This was the site of the second Isle of Wight festival in 1969. Bob Dylan was a major coup for the organisers as he chose the Isle of Wight over Woodstock. Thousands of people flocked from all over the world to see him play. Also on the lineup was Free, Joe Cocker, Family, the Moody Blues among many others. Although the Beatles never played here, some of them turned up to see Bob Dylan. I was expecting to see some kind of plaque or sign to say where it was, but I ended up running around paths and taking pictures of random fields in the hope I was in the right area.

Woodside Wooton
Woodside, Wooton
Woodside Wooton

Seaclose Park, Newport – the current festival location

My daughter had put together a brilliant Isle of Wight Festival playlist on Spotify, of some of the past festival acts. I was loving listening to it as I continued on to Newport. It reminded me of the huge variety of bands that have played over the years.

My next location was the current site of the festival, Seaclose Park. The approaching fields are left overgrown, full of sheep. Rather than the usual hordes of revelers. Running up into the main field felt quite strange. Normally you’d be greeted by a wall of sound and a visual feast of bars, food stalls, amusement rides, and of course, the main stage looming over swathes of people. Instead, I saw a couple of people walking dogs and a vast empty space.

I’ve lost count of the amazing bands that have graced the main stage and the surrounding other stages. I’ve been spoilt. So many memories yet I find myself forgetting some. The playlist acted as a great reminder of just how spoilt we have been. I brought a can of lager and cracked it open to toast the festival organisers and all those memories. It was 10 am, is that too early for a beer? It felt good.

Seaclose Park
Seaclose park

Ford Farm, near Godshill – the site of the first Festival in 1968

I couldn’t dwell too much at Seaclose, the clock was ticking and I had 2 more sites to get to. I plowed on towards Godshill to see where it all started. The first festival, organised by Ron and Ray Foulk, took place on 31 August – 1st September 1968. The Headliners were Jefferson Airplane.

Other big names in the line up were Arthur Brown, The Pretty Things, Plastic Penny, Smile, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Fairport Convention. About 10,000 people attended. Once again I came to a field at Ford Farm and blindly took a photo, hoping that it wasn’t too far off of the correct location, there was no sign so it’s difficult to say, unless you were there. I feel like there should be something put in place to commemorate these festival sites as a big part of Isle of Wight heritage.

FordFarm Lane
Ford Farm

Afton Down – the site of the 1970 festival

I didn’t linger at Ford Farm as I was getting strange looks from a lady who I presume lives there. Besides I had the biggest chunk of the run, from Ford Farm all the way to Freshwater. So far my route planning had been fairly solid, apart from getting lost in a field and being shouted at by a farmer to get off his land. I scuttled off back in the direction I’d come from.

The route towards Freshwater was mainly tiny little roads, so was nice and quiet, allowing me to sing along to the playlist, safe in the knowledge that no one could hear me. I feel bad for the poor cows and sheep that might have been subjected to my tuneless warblings.

Once through Shorwell I took a turn that would take me up onto Tennyson Trail. The hill was relentless and drained every drop of energy that might have been there. It was a route into the trail that I’d never done before, hard work, but as always with this trail, worth the climb.

between Ford Farm and Freshwater
tennyson trail

Once up at the top I settled into the last few miles along this familiar route, in fact, I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve run it. The thing to keep in mind with the Tennyson Trail is that it’s not flat. It’s what you might describe as undulating. So where there’s a down, there is an up to hurt that little bit more. It was slow going.

Along my way towards Freshwater, I passed a dead lamb, not the best way to finish up a run, but it did give me an excuse to utter the immortal words ‘are you the farmer?’ The poor unsuspecting man the comment was aimed at clearly had never seen Withnail and I, he wasn’t the farmer, but assured me he would pass on my message about the lamb.

My run finished up at the golf course in Freshwater. I looked out over Afton Down and tried to imagine what it must have looked like. This event was held between 26 and 30 August 1970. Attendance has been estimated by the Guinness Book of Records to have been 600,000 or even 700,000! The lineup was a who’s who of the biggest acts of the time. Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Chicago, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, the Who! The list goes on. My God, it must have been a sight.

But this was the straw that broke the camels back and put an end to proceedings, until 2002.

I still had a walk to get to Freshwater Bay where Caroline was waiting. I tried to find a better view over Afton but was shouted at by a man playing golf. Fair point, I didn’t want to end the day with a golf ball to the head.

Before leaving Freshwater, I had one more stop. There’s a place called Dimbola Lodge where a statue of Jimi Hendrix stands in commemoration of the 1970 festival, I had to get a selfie.

Once home I was handed a medal, this time supplied by my very own Dad, from an event I didn’t even know he’d done. A nice little treat to end this 36th marathon. Thanks Dad ☺️

Afton Down
On the way to Freshwater
Dimbola Lodge, Jimi Hendrix statue
Medal time

Thanks for the memories

So, to John Giddings and your team who work tirelessly each year to curate a weekend of incredible music and memories that last a lifetime. You’ve been missed this year and I, for one, am looking forward to next year and many more years to come.


Seaclose Park







I am running these marathons to raise money for Mind. If you like what I’m doing and would like to donate you can go to my Just Giving page below.