It has been one of the best UK destinations to holiday and offers a hype of activity ranging from festivals to the historical. Got some spare time? Hop on a ferry and let blogger Ben Glover help you explore the Isle of Wight!
I have always loved this place! It offers an almost ‘home from home’ break and being an island actually feels like being on holiday. With it’s old fashioned but fully functional railway system to the beaches and nature parks I am not sure one day is quite enough. With over 60 miles of land to explore the Isle of Wight is steeped in history and not as far away from Southampton as you think! From the Red Funnel ferry port you could be from the mainland to island in less than 20 minutes on the fast Red Jet (alternative car ferry can take up to 45 minutes).
First port of call is Cowes – known for it’s fine restaurants and of course not forgetting Cowes week, it is a must for all those who love a bit of sailing. According to IWight.com Cowes and East Cowes grew from a huddle of fishermen’s shacks around two coastal forts built by Henry VIII on opposite banks of the River Medina and named after the two off-shore sandbanks or cows. The towns are linked by an old-fashioned chain ferry and have a tradition of fine ship building, dating from the reign of Elizabeth I. Then came the yacht building industry, as sailing became a popular sport, endorsed by the royal family. In 1854, the Royal Yacht Squadron was moved into Cowes Castle, the former Tudor fort, and the name of Cowes has been synonymous with yachting ever since.
The town itself is a mecca for those one of trinkets and pedestrianised high street for shopping. With historical pubs and restaurants this town in itself is a day out.
Once a year the town is a hype of activity as eccentric festival Bestival swings into action at nearby Robin Hill Country Park. In itself the park has hosted big names from Madness, The Chemical Brothers and many worldwide DJ’s who have made this their home for three days of September. When the campers have left and the stages de-rigged th park offers a home of natural beauty with some fine walks and great things for the kids to do. (Organisers of Bestival have never let the festival spoil it’s beautiful side and it is always left immaculate).
The Isle Of Wight Festival is an annual event for those who love their live music and held at Seaclose park in the middle if June (this year includes Paul Weller!).
Many a time I have sailed into Yarmouth (sometimes just to get myself a Cornish pasty in one of the local bakeries) and should not be overlooked. Today, the picturesque Port of Yarmouth mainly serves ferries bound for Lymington on the mainland. Yarmouth was the first Island settlement to be granted a royal town charter, in 1135. The town was sacked by the French in 1377 and 1524, and suffered numerous raids until Henry VIII improved the security situation by building a stone castle, in the town, which was completed in 1547. The castle is now managed by English Heritage. If like me you are still a kid at heart a visit to the Fort Victoria Model Railway museum is a must!
Heading over to the north of the island is Ryde. Once home to my monthly residency at The Balcony night club this little town comes alive at the weekends and in the summer with it’s beach. You can also catch sight of the only surviving hovercraft passenger service that runs a twice hourly schedule to and from Southsea. Since its pier opened in 1814 it still is fully functional today as a ferry terminal owned and maintained by Wightlink Ferries. It is also the start of the Island Line – with the romance of it’s ex-London Underground rolling stock from the 1940’s it offers a great way to travel the east side of the island all the way through to Shanklin.
As a child I used to love travelling on the old ‘bone shakers’ and hop off at Sandown to play on the golden beaches and hit the arcades of the pier. The smell of fish n chips along with the fresh air really will bring back some fond memories. Shanklin beach is just as beautiful and offers a great walk along it’s cliff edge (avoid when windy!)
From the steam railway at Haven street to the zoo at Sandown one day really is just not enough. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the beauty of Alum Bay and it’s glass factory! If you are staying with Town or Country and have a spare day or two to use up then the Isle of Wight is the perfect getaway.
Red Funnel Ferries run a car and fast passenger ferry service from Town Quay, Southampton. http://www.redfunnel.co.uk/