[STOP PRESS: Just found out that Isle of Wight was the place where the America’s Cup yacht race originated. The America’s Cup is one of the oldest and best-known trophies in international sailing yacht competition. It was first offered as the “Hundred Guinea Cup” in 1851 by the Royal Yacht Squadron of Great Britain for a race around the Isle of Wight. The Cup was won by US yacht “America” and then the Americans changed the name of the race to The America’s Cup, so named after the boat not the country. Any Australian of a certain age will remember the hype and excitement around Australia II winning the cup in 1983, taking the cup and the race for the first time out of the US. Just about everyone in the country took the day off work to celebrate.]
Curious, I check out Google and sure enough, several entries refer to the Isle of Wight being a backward, boring full stop at the bottom of England. Seems not a popular destination for some.
Not the case for us, we loved it! Dave & I didn’t really know what to expect on IoW and I’m so pleased we had not met any of those naysayers before our visit which meant all of our experiences were without filters and we jumped on that ferry with characteristic enthusiasm.
I found a lot of differing opinions on Trip Advisor about the best town to stay, and I struggled to get any clear recommendations, so we ended up choosing Ryde, mainly because of its location right near the ferry terminal and in the midst of cafes & shops. Great decision, as was our choice of accommodation. Yelf’s Hotel is mid way up the hill on the main street, with amazing olde worlde charm. Though clean and in reasonable nick, it looks like nothing much has altered for years and the staff have the friendliness and helpfulness that you’d expect when visiting a favourite Aunty & Uncle’s place. Our fabulous room was up 4 flights of stairs which gave us a great view of the comings and goings down at the wharf and out to the Solent. We were very impressed indeed.
A railway line runs from Ryde station all the way out to the end of the pier for the train to collect ferry passengers, then runs along the East coast making a few stops, then ending some 8 miles later at the popular seaside community of Shanklin.
The train carriages are old London Tube rejects, with classic timber interior finishes and a rattle & roll disposition. Lots of fun, and actually at risk of being discontinued due to the high operating costs. Maybe not a high number of paying customers, although I imagine would be very busy during summer.
We visited IoW during Winter (February) so on the day we rode the train we had the carriage almost to ourselves, and when we left the station at Shanklin the village was quiet, with what appeared to be just the locals out and about. Nice little place, charming holiday houses and hotels though eerily ghost town-like as we walked around.
There is so much diversity on this tiny island and we took great advantage of the brilliant bus service to explore as much as we could in the week. We bought 7 day bus passes for around £24 each which gave us unlimited travel throughout the island networks. Sometimes we worked out where we would go that day and other days we just turned up at the bus interchange and jumped on a bus we’d not yet been on. The random adventure style suited us well and we managed to see most of the island and each of the villages.
The bus trips gave us surprises around every corner. We certainly did not expect to see these types of homes and buildings. We heard that there is quite a bit of gentrification going on and it does show in some inland areas.
On yet another day of bus tripping we were immersed in art deco by sea. Each town was different to the others.
A great thrill was the day we took the #12 bus from Newport (there’s no port, we searched) to the very far west point of the island to visit “The Needles”, a formation of chalk pinnacles jutting out from the white cliffs of the island into the The Solent. On the big double-decker bus was just one other couple a bit older than us, wanting to see the Needles. They said they were from Sheffield though to me they sounded Dutch or South African.
As we left the bus we passed a very quaint little holiday style fun park village, quiet and almost empty of course as it was Winter.
The little glass blowing factory was open for business as was the food court. I use the word food loosely as the only thing that looked remotely edible was a “chicken” pie, which we bought to share. We should’ve trusted our inner instincts as there was seriously not enough tomato sauce to make it anywhere near possible to eat. We left the pie cut in half uneaten, together with our styro cups of tepid coffees. Curiously, there were several other diners around the place looking quite satisfied with whatever it was they were eating.
So, off to see The Needles we ventured. This is what we saw as we started our hike. We wondered how many people around the world have photos of this place. Years of collection going on here. Something for everyone and a treat in every corner and hollow.
And just to make sure we were up for the journey, we checked the distances and reckoned we’d be just fine.
It truly was the bracing walk of brilliant scenery and exhilaration. Not a soul around us, we made our way towards our goal with yet more surprises.
And here they are! There once were more but you know, the weather plays havoc on these things.
Did I mention it was frightfully cold?
Certainly something we had no idea about was that there used to be a rocket testing site on the Isle of Wight. Yes that is true! And then after they tested the engines they sent the rockets over to Australia for launching. I don’t understand the logistics of that but I guess it doesn’t matter now.
Relics of the rocket testing station remain. I mused if, in around a thousand years, people will be erecting archaeological site signs and wondering what actually went on here because you’d never guess ….
There’s also an old battery, though of course it was closed due to …. yes, Winter.
The battery was maintained over many years by master gunners, living with their long-suffering wives and children, and they were responsible for ensuring everything was ship-shape and ready to fire in case of invasion. They were never fired.
This was one of the apparently happy families that lived at the battery for many years. I just can’t imagine the wife would have been so pleased about the whole thing.
A remarkable and memorable day out on a brilliant English Winter’s day. Well rewarded, we made our way back to the bus stop for the long commute home. We never did see that Sheffield/South African/Dutch couple again, they certainly weren’t on the walk with us..
I have to say that one of the most fascinating experiences we had on IoW was running into a bunch of Morris Dancers on Sunday morning as we promenaded along the Esplanade. They were just starting up their routine and we were there in time to enjoy the spectacle. Brilliant timing, we loved it.
Later in the afternoon we happened to visit the local pub and there they all were, finishing off their day with a few well-earned. We started chatting and they soon figured out we’re Aussies and they invited us to come along to their folk night at the pub on Tuesday night. We felt compelled to go and we’re so glad we did. As Australia doesn’t really have much in the way of traditional folk music, we were welcomed in with a couple of rounds of Bound for Botany Bay, before the band got right into their stride of well-known folkie classics. We were made to feel like valued guests and it was a great (huge) night out. One of the guys even wore his Aussie Rugby t-shirt which he told me he bought at the local charity shop for £1.
It really was a wonderful week on Isle of Wight and we have terrific memories of a quirky British seaside holiday destination. Being there in February may not be the best time to go, but it did mean quiet streets and a guaranteed table at the delightful Italian across from our hotel. Some things we didn’t get to see because of the season (what is it with closing things down?) were Queen Victoria’s holiday home Osborne House, the Battery and the chairlift at the Needles and some of the cultural museums.
People we spoke with who live on the island reckon its the best place to live in the world. They love it there, and good on them, they were very happy.
Here are some random pics of our great time on IoW (not PoS).