ISLE OF WIGHT

Isle of Wight sailing Flickr s0ulsurfingThe Isle of Wight, England’s largest island, is roughly diamond-shaped, and more than half of the island is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Alfred Lord Tennyson and Queen Victoria would definitely agree.  Both, during their lifetimes, were attracted to the island’s varied landscape—with its lush green rolling hills, chalk cliffs, low-lying pasture and woods, and ending in a stretch of unspoiled coastline.  

The coastline has been a favorite haunt for families since the Victorian age, and it certainly is family-friendly, with its tame atmosphere.  But the county has seen a sort of rebirth, with a younger set of people flocking to the island.  With them come the slick boutique hotels, modern pubs, and a livelier atmosphere.  They also ushered in the revival of what used to be the largest music festival in England during the 1970s. There’s the inherent fear that the island might become more developed and commercialized, but let’s not hope it does not happen soon. 

Overall, what attract people of all ages to this island are the great mild climate, the greenery, and the beach—no one can argue with the universal appeal of this weekend getaway.

 


Cowes Regatta Flickr Tuftronic10000Situated at the northern tip of the island, Cowes (pop. 19,100) is divided into East and West Cowes by the River Medina, and joined by the Cowes Floating Bridge.  The history of this town is inextricably linked to sailing and all things related to boats.  Henry VIII built a fortress here in order to protect the naval dockyards in Solent, the strait separating the Isle of Wight to mainland England.  The first hovercraft, built in the 1950s, had its test run here.

People come here for the sailing events, the biggest of which is the Cowes Regatta, or Cowes Week.  This sailing event, which happens on the first week of August if weather is favorable (and it usually is), grew from George IV’s interest in yachting, when he was still Prince Regent.  The first race happened in 1826, under the flag of the Royal Yacht Club.  The Royal Yacht Club still exists nowadays, in the name of Royal Yacht Squadron, and it has since become one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. 

Osborne HouseJump over to the east side of the town, where you will find the Osborne House (East Cowes, +44 1983 200022,£10.90).  The Osborne House, an Italianate seaside villa built by Prince Albert and Thomas Cubitt, was the family holiday residence of the Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, and reflected a more cozy side to the royalty.  Upon Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria stayed here, until her own death in 1901, and upon her request it has remained the way it was, unaltered.  The several balconies and terraces overlook the Osborne garden, which is considered one of the prettiest in England.


Hotel
Caledon Guest House
(59 Mill Road, +44 1983 293599, £65-80).  This family-run guest house is located a few minutes away from the town’s centre, but not too near that you have to bear the noise at night.  The house itself is Victorian, but the amenities are very modern.  They also serve great breakfast, using local produce.  The family who owns and runs it is very friendly and attentive, giving personalized service and recommendations


Needles LighthouseFour miles west of Yarmouth is Alum Bay, which is famous for two things: its multicolored sands and its proximity to The Needles.  The sands used to be free for all, during the Victorian era when it was famous to use them for the art of marmotinto.  However, nowadays, the sands are a hot commodity, and are sold by the vial at souvenir shops in the bay. 

A twenty-minute walk takes you to the lookout on top of the three chalk stacks of The Needles.  The Needles referred to the needle-shaped formation in between two of the stacks that collapsed in the great storm of 1764.  The chalk stacks that remained may not look much like needles, but they don’t diminish in interest.  The stacks are best viewed on a boat trip that leaves the Alum Bay. 

Tennyson Down is between the Needles and the Freshwater Bay and worth a stroll.  By the coast of Freshwater Bay, you will find the Dimbola Lodge (Terrace Lane, +44 1983 756814, £4) which was the house of photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, and now houses exhibits and a gallery of her own work, with a nice bookstore and a vegetarian restaurant.

Hotels
A
good base for visiting Alum Bay and The Needles is the town of Yarmouth, in the north-east of the Isle of Wight.  Here are a a few hotels:

Windrush Guesthouse (Wellow, +44 (0) 1983 761506, £28-54) is a little off-the-beaten path, tucked away in a farm, and it takes ten minutes to reach the centre.  But its location is also a plus if you would like a relaxing place to retire to, without the noise of the High Street to worry about.  The couple who runs the place are perfectly friendly yet professional, and they do not hover over their guests, making them feel right at home.  The rooms are great for families, large and comfortable.

The George Hotel (Quay St., +44 1983 760331, £137.50) is a handsome early eighteenth-century hotel that is very near to the sea.  The interiors are tastefully decorated, though some beds are uncomfortable, and some baths may appear neglected.  Ask for a room facing the sea instead of the High Street, for a peaceful stay. 


VentnorVentnor, located at the southern coast, is a Victorian seaside town lying at the foot of the highest point in the island, St. Boniface Down.  It is framed by the villages St. Lawrence to the west, and Bonchurch to the east.

Sights
Ventor Botanic Gardens (Undercliff Drive, +44 1983 855397, free, except for Green House: £1).   During the Victorian era, physicians saw the mild subtropical climate of Ventnor as very beneficial to health, so the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest was born.  It has since been demolished, and in its place now stands the Ventnor Botanic Gardens.  The botanic garden uniquely houses species of plants that are deemed too sensitive for the typical English climate.  The town’s favourable weather has allowed the growth and cultivation of subtropical plants in the area.
  
Ventor Bay pathThe Ventnor Cascade is a waterfall crossed with a garden created during the Victorian times.  Its tumbling water ends at a paddling pool on the esplanade that children will surely enjoy.

Steephill Cove is a working port that has changed very little through the years.  It is a great w
 ay to get a glimpse into the daily lives of the locals hard at work here.

St. Boniface Down is accessible through a footpath that starts from the old railway station loc
 ated in Mitchell Avenue.  As it is the highest point in town and  the rest of the island, it affords great views of the town and its bay.


Appuldurcombe House falcon Flickr Peter G TrimmingThe ruins of the Appuldurcombe House (Wroxall,+44 1983852484, £3.25) is now a shell of what it once was during its heyday—a grandiose Baroque mansion, the most majestic of its kind in the island.  Its surrounding gardens were even landscaped by Capability Brown.  Nowadays, a part of the house has been refurbished, and the whole exterior has been restored.  The site also houses an owl and falconry centre at which you are encouraged to try your photography skills.  Finally, it is reportedly one of the most haunted houses on the island as well, so enter at your own risk.

Undercliff and St. Catherine's Point.   Traverse the Undercliff which begins at the village of St. Lawrence to its most southern part, St. Catherine’s Point, which has a working modern lighthouse(near Niton, +44 1983 855069, £3).  At nearby St. Catherine Hill, you will find the “Pepper Pot” or St. Catherine’s Oratory, the oldest medieval stone lighthouse in Britain. 

What used to be a landscaped garden in the 1800s has turned into the Blackgang Chine Amusement Park (near Ventnor, +44 1983 730330, £9.95). The theme park is divided into sections, and you will get value for your money if the kids you are with are willing to try out many of the rides.