Rookley is a small village in the centre of the Isle of Wight. It is not a tourist hub but it’s a special place for the Isle of Wight Ramblers.
Here for many years lived the late Joan Deacon (1936-2012). Joan was the founder of the Isle of Wight Ramblers in 1968 and was the Area footpath secretary from 1974 to 2000. We owe her a great deal.
When Joan came to the island in the early sixties to care for her widowed mother, the path network was more of an assault course, but she worked tirelessly to get paths opened up and publicised so that people could use them. With quiet determination, she pressed the council to clear and signpost all the routes. Over time, the council came to recognise them as a tourism asset and promote them as such, with individually-produced signposts giving destinations and distances, and a network which was probably the best in England and Wales.
Joan also campaigned for coastal access, leading a protest walk through the Osborne Estate at East Cowes in October 1997 as part of the Ramblers’ national Forbidden Britain Day events.
When Joan’s husband Peter died in 2009 she gave some gates in his memory for the local paths, under the Ramblers’ Donate a Gate scheme. When Joan died in 2012 the Ramblers and her family gave more gates, each with a commemorative plaque.
Last Sunday I had the pleasure of walking one of the Ramblers’ promoted trails (in partnership with the island’s bus service, Southern Vectis) around Rookley, following in Joan’s footsteps and enjoying the paths she loved. It’s a pleasant five-mile amble.
We stopped along the way at the various gates, to remember Joan and her indefatigable work for the Ramblers.
Then we peeled off to the Chequers Inn, a walker-friendly pub, for an excellent lunch, rejoining the route later.
We were fortunate not to get wet. Hurricane Bertha had passed by earlier, and there was still a strong wind and some magnificent cloudscapes.
The walk is set among splendid downland which, with the exquisite coastline, contibutes to the island’s unique beauty.