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Isle of Wight

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The Needles at Alum Bay
Thatched cottages near the old church at Godshill

The Isle of Wight [1] is a large island and county located about six miles off the southern coast of England, and easily and quickly accessible by multiple sea routes from the mainland cities of Southampton and Portsmouth.

Towns and villages[edit]

Map of the Isle of Wight

Towns[edit]

Villages[edit]

Understand[edit]

The Isle of Wight has long been an excellent place for an upmarket but traditional seaside holiday, and has a number of individual beaches and towns that were very popular with the Victorians. However, it is also becoming a must visit destination for young people seeking watersports and outdoor activities generally. Cowes is a famous yachting centre and attracts the 'London set' together with members of the worldwide sailing fraternity during Cowes Week [2] in August. The island has a similar atmosphere to Guernsey or Jersey yet is much closer and is three times the size. Despite being only 15 miles across the sea from Southampton or 6 miles from Portsmouth it is a world apart in terms of scenery, culture and pace of life. Known as England In Miniature it offers an incredible amount of variety with the landscape changing dramatically in the space of a few miles and each town and village offering something different. Beaches are fantastic and the water quality is good. Historically the local economy has moved from being dependent on smuggling and farming to tourism with the coming of the railways. There is in addition considerable light engineering and yacht building. The local newspaper is the Isle of Wight County Press, which has an incredible 90% readership, which is published from Newport every Friday. Any event will be advertised here. There are car boot sales nearly every day in the Summer advertised here.

Get in[edit]

Access to the island is across the Solent, a stretch of sea between the UK mainland and the island, by regular ferry, hovercraft or fast-cat from the mainland. Many of the ferries carry cars, but this can be expensive, the alternative is to travel by foot passenger and use buses and trains on the island but this will limit access to more rural locations and beaches. Car ferry travel tickets are for car plus four passengers and depending on the size of your party, bringing a car may actually work out cheaper than the passenger ferry. Hovercraft and fast cat fares are comparable, but the Hovercraft does not run very late and does not connect as easily with the trains. Prices increase for the fare with the length of the stay. Crossing time to the island is as follows.

  • From Portsmouth: 45 minutes by ferry, 15 mins by Fast Cat, or 10 minutes by hovercraft
  • From Southampton: 55 minutes by ferry or 30 mins by Red Jet
  • From Lymington: 35 minutes by ferry

The major ferry routes are:

  • Wightlink Fastcat passenger ferry [3] from Portsmouth Harbour rail station on the mainland to Ryde Pier Head on the island
  • Wightlink car ferry [4] from Portsmouth to Fishbourne Creek (near Ryde) on the island.
  • Wightlink car and passenger ferry [5] from Lymington on the mainland to Yarmouth on the island
  • Red Funnel jetcat passenger ferry [6] from Southampton Town Quay on the mainland to west Cowes on the island
  • Red Funnel conventional car and passenger ferry [7] from Southampton Town Quay to east Cowes
  • Hovertravel passenger hovercraft [8] from the Southsea district of Portsmouth to Ryde

Whilst on the ferry remember to pick up a free guide of things to do and if possible another of places to eat. These are updated twice a year and give useful information and phone numbers.

Weather[edit]

Thanks to a southerly latitude and sheltered location, many parts of the Isle of Wight enjoy a very mild and sunny climate. The south-east of the island in particular is known for its high sunshine records and warm air. In winter, frost is rather rare. As at May 2008, the warmest month of the year so far was May with an average high of 20C (68F) and the coolest was January with an average high of 10C (50F) and the warmest day of the year enjoyed a high of 27C (81F). However, June to September are the warmest months. [9]

Get around[edit]

By bus[edit]

The island has is covered by a wide but expensive bus service (by the standards of a rural area) run by Southern Vectis [10], including spectacular open-top services in West Wight and near Ryde. Tickets can be bought from drivers and options include singles (up to £4.50), all-day "rover" passes[11] (adult price of £10 for one day, £15 for two), evening "NightRider" passes (£4 after 7 PM), and various discounts to cater to students and the island's retired population. Transfers aren't printed as singles are available to any destination even if a transfer is required.

Additonal buses are run by Wightbus - run by the IoW County Council but do not have actual timetable information on their website as such. Buses run to Ventnor, Havenstreet and Brading. Their timetables can be found at Traveline[12] (official UK timetabling service) or iw-paths.cjb.net[13]. Day & week rover tickets are valid on WightBus routes, and also include travel on the Island Line train service.

By train[edit]

There is a single public service railway line on the island, with a limited service running from Ryde Pier Head (connections with Portsmouth ferry) to Sandown, for local bus service to Dinosaur Isle[14], and Shanklin, for connecting buses to Ventnor. It is run by Island Line [15], and through tickets can be booked from any manned UK station.

Cycling[edit]

Cycling on the Island is a fantastic way to get around and keep green. The Island has over 200 miles of cycle ways much of which can be enjoyed by families off road. Major Trails to note are 'The Sunshine Trail' which incorporates Sandown, Shanklin, Godshill and Wroxhall in a 12 mile circular route. 'The Troll Trail' Which leads from Cowes to Sandown or visa versa (90% off road) approx 13 miles either way and 'Round the Island Cycle Route' which circumnavigates the Island on a reported 62 mile ride (not for the amateur or faint hearted). Cycles can be brought to the Island by foot passengers on any of the car ferries. Hire cycles are also available[16].

See[edit][add listing]

  • Alum Bay [17] is famous for the many different colours of sand which appear naturally on the beach. A traditional souvenir of the Isle of Wight is a picture or glass paperweight filled with the different colours - there are many stalls where you can get the wherewithal to make your own if you are so inclined. The bay is close to The Needles (see below) and accessible by stairs or by a ski resort-style chairlift.
  • Blackgang Chine [18] was formerly a dramatic gorge through which one could walk to the sea. Following a catastrophic collapse, the Chine ceased to exist some decades ago, but the bizarre entertainment park there, with its animated figures, is still worth a visit.This is the world's first and oldest theme park

Shanklin Chine, a smaller gorge, can still be visited.

  • Osborne House [19]. Although officially a summer home for Queen Victoria, she used it as her main residence for some time after the death of Prince Albert, her husband. Now owned and operated by English Heritage, most of the well-preserved house and grounds are open to visitors year-round. Visitors planning to visit both Osborne House and Carisbrooke Castle should consider becoming members of English Heritage; it can work out cheaper than buying individual tickets for family groups and allows free access to all other English Heritage properities for the rest of the year.
  • Carisbrooke Castle [20] - located in the centre of the island, the castle is well worth a visit. Charles I was held prisoner here. The castle appears in the popular children's story 'Moonfleet', and the well which appears in the story, with a treadmill driven by a donkey (not worked very hard these days) is a popular tourist feature.
  • Isle of Wight Steam Railway [21], tel 01983-882204 from within the UK or +44-1983-882204 from outside. A former branch line resucitated to accurately recreate the atmosphere of the island's railways in the pre-war era, when the island was the home of already superannuated locomotives and coaches from the mainland. Accessible by car at the steam railway's Havenstreet Station, or by changing from the island's one remaining public service railway (between Ryde and Shanklin) at Smallbrook Junction. Open weekends and summer; see website or call telephone number above for precise opening days and times. £8 (adult); £4 (child); ticket entitles holder to unlimited travel on day of issue.
  • The Needles [22], a very famous headland and offshore rocks at the extreme western end of the island. Here you will find early sea defences such as the Needles Old Battery [23], now preserved by the National Trust, and Tennyson Down, the national memorial to Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the sight of spectacular sea and land views. Accessible via Southern Vectis's open-top bus route 42 [24], which runs half-hourly from Yarmouth and connects with the ferries from Lymington on the mainland. You can drive up to the Needles Battery if you are registered disabled, but you need tpo phone ahead to let them know you are coming in order not to face traffic coming the other way.
  • Steephill Cove, a cove only accessible by foot at the southernmost tip of the island near Ventnor. There is an incredible seafood restaurant right on the beach - the owners catch their own lobsters and crabs daily, you would find it hard to get fresher seafood anywhere! And the view from the tables over the cove and out to sea is breathtaking.

Do[edit][add listing]

Visit Ventnor Botanic Garden - the South Coast of the Island has a warm micro-climate allowing palms, banana trees and cactus to flourish, even in private gardens. It is regularly used by TV and film makers when locations like the South of France are required, in productions like Lady Chatterley's Lover. Much of the road network in the South passes through the lush flora and fauna of an area called the landslip which offers spectacular sea views between Ventnor and Niton.

The Isle of Wight is, according to National Geographic Magazine, the 4th best location for dinosaurs fossils in the world. Fossil walks can be booked from Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown or the Fossil Shop at Blackgang Chine. Walk from Freshwater Bay to the Needles Battery over Tennyson Down. Fantastic views over the west Wight and western Solent.

From May to September the weather is often bright and warm, making a visit to some of the Island's beaches a good idea. Favourites:

  • Colwell Bay - NW coast near Yarmouth. good golden sands, shallow shelf nice for family swimming and building sand castles. Can get busy, esp for parking, but there's generally enough space on the beach itself.
  • Compton - SW Coast, off the Military Road. Popular for surfing when the wind is right.
  • Lake - also on the S coast near ventnor. Windsurfing and sailing hire available.
  • Bonchurch - beautiful. Sheltered, shallow coves get nice and warm if the sun's been out for a week or so (August).
  • Sandown - a nicer town than Shanklin, as the beach is more extensive and the sand more attractive.

The Isle of Wight has over 60 miles of beach to explore throughout the year. The coast by Osborne House and King's Quay is private and around Newtown Ranges is MoD land

In 2007, Blue Flag status was given to the beaches at Ryde East, Sandown and Shanklin for achieving the highest quality in water, facilities, safety, environmental education and management. Some 13 other Isle of Wight beaches were given Seaside Awards for above average water quality. ENCAMS environmental charity recommends the best 73 beaches in England, of which 11 are in the Isle of Wight. Some of these are subjective, such as "best for a nice seaside stroll", and if anything this is an underestimate.

Walking is promoted by an annual Walking Festival. There is an extensive network of footpaths and bridle ways. The Ordnance Survey 50,000 scale Landranger map is half IOW and half in Hampshire, but the 25,000 explorer map is the same price and only covers the Island. Their are a number of "long distance trails" of which the coastal path is the longest at approximately 73 miles. www.wight-cam.co.uk/index.htm gives details and photos of hundreds of walks.

Music[edit]

  • Isle of Wight Festival/Bestival. Two major annual music festivals. IOW Festival is at Seaclose Park and Bestival takes place at Robin Hill Adventure Park.  edit

Eat[edit][add listing]

  • Matt and Cat's Isle of Wight eating Out Guide, [25]. Over 350 independent reviews of places to eat on the Island - not written by the proprietors either.  edit
  • The New Inn [26], Shalfleet is an excellent place to go for fresh, locally caught fish. It has a relaxed, traditional pub ambience and friendly service. Local ales and a wide range of wines are available to accompany your meal.
  • Lake Fish Bar sells probably the best fish and chips this side of the Blue Dolphin in Hastings.
  • You will need to book for the Baywatch at St.Helen's and probably the Crab and Lobster in Bembridge [27], . The other restaurants in St.Helens are good but pricey. The Pilot Boat is fine and you will not usually need to book.
  • The Black Cat in Shanklin Old Village does good Thai cuisine.
  • Vernon Cottage in Shanklin Old Village is good for lunches.
  • number 3, 3 Bath Road, Cowes, Isle of Wight, PO31 7RN, 01983291714, [28]. daily from 6pm onward. The restaurant has a limited but excellent a la carte menu, seafoods-focused, with a wide range of wine list and not too expensive. The couple running the place were friendly and pleasant. Very reasonable prices for the quality of cooking!  edit


Drink[edit][add listing]

The Isle of Wight has many country pubs selling food and local real ale. Adgestone Vineyard produces white wine which is used in Government state banquets when English wine is required to show off to foreign diplomats etc.

Historically the local breweries were Mews, Langton at Newport and Burts at Ventnor. Most of the ex-Mews pubs were taken over by Whitbread, but local breweries have re-opened as Goddards and Yates. There are a few Gales pubs such as the Castle in Ryde.

Isle of Wight tap water is generally very good for making tea. Bottled mineral water is produced under the name "Wight Spring" from Whitwell, where it was formerly a holy well.

Country Pubs with Food - The Hare & Hounds near Newport is something of an institution but has become rather oversized by unsightly back extensions. The White Lion at Arreton provides a good alternative. Nearby is The Dairyman's Daughter in the Craft Centre.

The Fighting Cocks on the Newport Road holds a boot sale in the car park in summer

The Crown Inn in Shorwell has fishponds and doves in its garden.

However, if you want a pub with a stunning sea views and freshly cooked seafood try the Crab and Lobster Inn in Bembridge

Sleep[edit][add listing]

There is a Travel Lodge at Newport. There are hotels at all budget levels. The Isle of Wight Tourist Board maintains a vacancy list. There are a number of farms that provide accommodation and holiday cottages. Holiday cottages are often quite difficult to book late and relatively expensive compared with the rest of England.

Many pubs also provide accommodation. Saturday night in Newport Town Centre is apt to be quite rowdy and not a good place to sleep near.

Budget - "Xoron" is a houseboat converted from a wartime gun-boat. It is moored at Bembridge Harbour.

Top range - Bembridge Coast Hotel, Priory Bay Hotel (St.Helens), Farringford [Totland}.

Farms- Newnham Farm, near Ryde.

Pubs - The Crab and Lobster Inn has 5 B&B rooms, some with wonderful sea views and has a 4 star AA rating

The Meadows is a family run B&B, it is virtually a home from home and is conveniently located close to Newport Town centre. The Meadows offers plentiful extras including a complimentary mini bottle of wine on arrival.

Fort Victoria Cottage [29] is a Grade II former officer's cottage next to the sea in the Fort Victoria Country Park, near Yarmouth.

  • St Maur Hotel (Isle of Wight Hotels), Castle Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 1LG, 01983 852306, [30]. St Maur Hotel can cater for a variety of visits. Available for short breaks or week-long stays, and any other occasion or event. Can organise your travel to and from the island.  edit
  • Castlehaven Caravan Site, Castlehaven Lane, Niton, Isle of Wight, 01983 730495, [31]. Isle of Wight caravan park right on the waters edge giving incredible sea views. (50.57668,-1.289274) edit
  • Villa Mentone Hotel, 11, Park Road, Shanklin PO37 6AY, 01983 864 101. A lovely, family-run hotel with a warm atmosphere. The building is a converted Victorian villa on a cliff overlooking the beach (2 minute walk). Budget prices with breakfast included (full English and continental). Amenities include: free wi-fi in the lounge area, tea & coffee in rooms, a small bar and dinners by request. The family who run the hotel is Sri Lankan, so ask for their authentic Sri Lankan curry- you won't regret it! Budget.  edit


Get out[edit]



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