A party of three elderly adventurers who set out to climb up Shanklin Chine, a notoriously dangerous natural gorge on the Isle of Wight, have not been sighted in over three hours. According to experts, the chances that they will make it out in time for supper are now negligible.
John Bagnall, 61, his wife Muriel, 58, and Margaret’s sister Doris Nicholson, 62, set out to walk the 280 foot path to the top at 5.15 p.m., according to Nicholson’s shell-shocked husband Gordon, who urged them to take the bus back to the top with him. The group did not take local guides, oxygen or even a flask of tea to see them through the steep climb. Experts have described their actions as foolhardy in the extreme.
'People don’t realise that Shanklin Chine has a micro-climate all of its own,' said retired Sherpa Roy Hodges. 'When it is sunny on the beach, it can still be a tad chilly and damp in the Chine. Once I set out with a party at 3 o’clock in bright sunshine only to find we really needed woolly jumpers.'
Particularly when light rainfall has swollen the waterfall, the 1 in 35 path to the top of the gorge can become slippy and treacherous, even for experienced mountaineers. In the last year alone, five have lost their footing and one man sprained his ankle, waiting 45 minutes in a steady breeze for a first aider to come. Official warnings to take a walking stick and wear sensible shoes are all too often ignored.
The Chine has both repelled and attracted visitors for centuries, according to a quick copy and paste job from Wikipedia. In 1545, French pirates briefly occupied it and during World War II, the PLUTO pipeline ran through it. Both Jane Austen and Keats were enthralled by its harsh natural beauty. They, however, had the sense to do the walk downhill.
As night gathers and a late autumn day turns positively chilly, Gordon Nicholson continues his lonely vigil alongside a grumbling gatekeeper. A realistic man, he knows that his relatives have already missed the first sitting for dinner at the Keats Green Hotel and may struggle even to find a place open for a sandwich. However, he continues to hope for the best.
'Doris was always a great one for gallivanting around,' he told reporters. 'I thought she’d learned a lesson after that time we got sunburnt on Alum Bay in July 2004, but no – well, there’ll be no more adventure holidays for us from now on, I can tell you that for starters.'