Doing it right on the Isle of Wight

Our contributor Sandra Brind was so enthusiastic about her much overdue return to Madeira (described elsewhere on this website) that we sent her to another island: the Isle of Wight. Here is her action-filled report. 

The only problem with spending a holiday on the Isle of Wight is getting there, writes Sandra Brind.

The ferry crossing is fast and comfortable, but when there is a problem the delays can be a nightmare. Our crossing on a Monday at 2.30pm from Portsmouth proved to be quite a challenge. We left plenty of time to reach the port, expecting to have lunch nearby when we arrived. However, it took us three hours to negotiate the solidly jammed roads and roundabouts of Portsmouth, so we actually arrived at the terminal just at the right time for our allotted ferry but without having had any lunch.

Fortunately we had a good choice of food and drink on the ferry. We also learned there had been a mechanical problem with one of the ferries and they were running late, so the vehicles clogging up the roads were from earlier sailings.

However, once we arrived on the Isle of Wight all was calm and peaceful. It was a bit like stepping back in time, with easy traffic, clear road directions and beautiful views around the island. Whether you stay in a hotel, B & B, classic cottages, or one of the two Warner Holiday Resorts, there are prices and options for all pockets. Nowhere is too far away and the local drivers are so courteous that driving around was a real pleasure, though there are plenty of buses, cycleways (bicycle hire is available) and walks available around the island, so a car is not essential. The open top hop on/hop off bus takes you around the coastal resorts with an unlimited Rover ticket.

The traditional coastal seaside resorts and beautiful beaches of Shanklin, Ventnor, Yarmouth, Bembridge or Sandown are great for families. The crazy golf, rock pools, amusement arcades, rock shops and numerous eateries give plenty of choice for keeping the children happy.

The Needles Landmark is a visitor attraction centre, but very commercialised. Plan to spend several hours there with a traditional carousel, tea cup ride, water pedalers, sweet manufacturing shop and Alum Bay glassmakers at work. Or take the chair lift to the beach below, enjoying breathtaking views on the way, and choose from 21 different coloured sands to fill your own glass vessel souvenir.

Osborne House should be on your bucket list. This former favourite home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is a haven of fun for the whole family, with plenty of hands-on experiences that bring alive the story of Osborne. The private rooms are a delight to view and the Indian inspired Durbar Room invokes an insight into the story of the new film ‘Victoria and Abdul’ Some of the costumes used in the film are also on display.

The newly refurbished gardens of Osborne House are beautifully laid out and there is a good walk (or courtesy bus) to the beach where you can paddle or sit in a deckchair and enjoy an ice cream or cooling drink at beside Queen Victoria’s bathing machine.

Around the coast there are pleasure cruises, paddle-boarding, kayaking and plenty of water sports to be enjoyed. The wild parts of the island that form the Chines are a haven for birds, butterflies, insects and wildflowers. A perfect spot for a quiet picnic – although Blackgang Chine does contain the Underwater Kingdom theme world. newly opened this year.

Newport is good for shopping, and nearby Carisbrooke Castle with its tea room is full of the history of the island and the dramatic escapades of King Charles 1 while he was imprisoned there. From Newport it is a short bus ride to Cowes, where you can explore the long-standing tradition of sailing in the town.

The vast variety of eateries is incredible for such a small island. You don’t have to go far to find a traditional pub, a café, tea room or restaurant offering a delicious variety of local food and drink. The Best Dressed Crab Seafood café is a real gem. Tucked away amongst the house boats in Bembridge harbour, it is the island’s only floating seafood café and shop where you can buy fresh fish or enjoy a delicious crab or prawn salad with a chilled glass of wine. The chain of Character Inns around the island have been owned by the same island family for three generations. They serve real ales and great local food.

With the Isle of Wight steam train, the IoW zoo, Monkey Haven and Amazon World. there is never a day when you have nothing to do. In fact a fortnight is not enough time to explore everything the island has to offer. And you will find many dog-friendly establishments so you can take your pet with you (they travel free on the ferries, trains and buses on the island).

Our return ferry was free of any delays and we were swiftly deposited back to Portsmouth, vowing to return to explore all the places we had no time for on this trip.


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