Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Isle of Wight

24 – 28 June 2011

I love islands, which can be seen if you look at my wish list of places to visit.
So in need of a short break after the Egyptian adventure in January we decided on a long weekend on the Isle of Wight.  I hope that this will be the start of a collection of island based trips.

We started our trip from Portsmouth taking the 40 minutes car ferry to Fishbourne.  As it was still early afternoon and our ferry departed ahead of schedule, we decided to check out Ryde before finding our accommodation on the other side of the island.  Ryde is a large town which leads down to the Solent, but although we walked along the sea front we could not get to the sea.  Instead we turned inland and did some window shopping.  After a while it started to spot with rain, so we decided to try and find our B+B.
Chilton Farm near Brighstone
We were staying at Chilton Farm in Brighstone, and although we were staying as B+B guests, the farm also takes self catering bookings, so our tiny cottage had a tiny kitchen.  It was just what we were looking for, somewhere out of the way and quiet but close enough to everything for day tripping (although everywhere on the Isle of Wight is).  The full English breakfasts we received everyday were the perfect way to start the day.

We dumped our stuff, were introduced to the guinea fowl and took the short walk to the beach.  It might be a pebblely beach but here at last was the sea.
In normal life we live opposite a fish and chip shop.  We don’t use it very often, but it is nice to know that it is there if we need it.  Stupidly we assumed that being on an island surrounded by the sea, and after the evidence of Ryde, a chip shop wouldn’t be too hard to come by.  But chip shops are not marked on the map and so we then spent some time getting to know Freshwater, the closest large settlement to Brighstone, in the search for chips.
We did eventually find some, and very good they were with a sea view, something we never get at home.  Ironically having taken so long to find the chip shop we then seemed to pass it at least once every day for the rest of the trip.

St Catherine's lighthouse
The next day dawned gray, overcast and windy.  We had decided to visit St Catherine’s point on the very south point of the island and work our way along the coast, little knowing that it was also the day of the ‘round the island race’.  This meant that when we finally got out of the car and found the sea it was full of sailing boats.  The wind was perfect for them on this leg of the race pushing them on, but would slow them down once they entered the Solent to race towards the finish.  We walked to the lighthouse and back to the car before moving on to Ventnor where we walked round the shops, found lunch and watched more of the race from the beach.
We couldn’t find a sea view to enjoy our lunch and by the time we could see the sea again all the boats had gone.  It was strange to see the sea so empty having seen it so full. 
It was still cloudy and not particularly tropical but our next stop was the botanic gardens.  As garden lovers it was great to see some of our favourite tropical plants happily living outside in British weather.  I loved the grove of tree ferns.  I also rather enjoyed a cream tea (with home made jam) before making our way back to the B+B.  It was nearing ‘dinner time’ when we got back, but we were stuffed with cream tea, so we decided to walk out from the B+B down a road we had not tried yet.  This close to the longest day and with the overcast clouds it was very hard to tell just what time it was, it was close to 9pm when we got back to the B+B although it felt more like 7pm.  We saw lots of birds; yellow hammers, rooks and a little owl and also a hare.
Back at the B+B a small dinner and bed.

Sunday looked like it was just as overcast until we looked again and found it was fog.  We had planned to visit The Needles but knew we would not see much in the fog.  So after another grand English breakfast we decided to go to YarmouthYarmouth was thick with fog and walking along the wooden pier we found we could hear the car alarms on the ferry long before we saw it.
The harbour at Yarmouth was quite busy so we were quite happy to just sit and watch the boats come and go, until suddenly we realise we could see further and then a crack of blue sky appeared and there was the sun!

Maybe we would see The Needles after all, although we could still hear The Needles fog horn sounding.
We drove up to The Needles Fun Park which is the only place to park and costs £7.  A quick walk though the park confirmed there was nothing of interest there so we ate our lunch in the car park, watching the fog slowly receding, then walked to The Needles
The fog seemed to recede in front of us, so that when we arrived it was in full sun, but we hadn’t been able to see them until we got there.  The best views are either from The Old Battery, which is looked after by The National Trust, or from the site of the old rocket launching test site.  We started at The Old Battery, (with free entry as members of The National Trust) where we found out all about why it was built by the Victorians and then used in both World Wars.  There was even a tunnel to go down which takes you even closer to the cliffs.  The views were perfect, with white chalk needles surrounded by brilliant blue sea and sky and plenty of sea birds to watch.  Back on top we watched a peregrine circle.  Amazing. 
Scratchell's Bay
The sun was rather hot now and we wished for shorts as we walked up to The New Battery and the Old Rocket Launching Test site.  The walk was all up hill but well worth it as the view of The Needles was brilliant, as was the view of Scratchell’s Bay, which looked like something from a Greek holiday brochure.
The idea that secret test launches of rockets had taken place here during the Cold War was intreging and I wish we’d had more time to explore, but they were closing in 10 minutes.  
Walking back to the car we promised ourselves ice cream, but had to drive to Colwell Bay to find some.  It was worth it – island made Minghella Ice Cream with chunks of ginger in (mine was oriental ginger and honey) it was the refreshing treat we needed.  And the view of Hurst Castle on the main land was the opposite of one I’ve seen many many times.
To finish the day we walked to the beach near the B+B and watched the sun set.  A beautiful day.

Mottistone Manor Garden
Monday saw a more relaxed day, we started by visiting the tiny museum in Brighstone, which told us how people had lived in the village, most interesting of all was the display about the life boat, where men in a largish rowing boat would row out into the huge seas and try and help boats in distress.  I can’t imagine the bravery these men possessed to do that.  Most impressive of all is the numbers of people they managed to help.
From here we drove to Mottistone and the gardens at Mottistone Manor.  This is another National Trust property so another free entry.  We took it really gently after yesterdays hard walking and just enjoyed the boarders filled with flowers.  We took lunch in their cafĂ© and had just got to the car to change our shoes when we had a heavy rain shower.  Once the rain had stopped and we had changed our shoes we walked up the hill to The Long Stone.  This was quite a short walk but up quite a steep hill through woods.  At the top you suddenly break out of the trees onto some grass land with a view of the sea and The Long Stone.  It is the only megalithic monument on the island and thought to be Neolithic.
As it was our last full day on the island we then drove to Yarmouth for a last cream tea or in my case ice cream milk shake with a fine view of the sea.
Dinner today was taken at Pizza Express in Newport.

Our last morning on the island was a warm one.  We’d decided to visit Cowes and so parked and had a good wonder among the shops, hiding when it rained, and walking along the beach in the sun.  To get to the ferry back at Fishbourne we had to cross the river but Cowes has no bridge.  You can either drive down to Newport and cross there, or take the chain ferry.  We took the chain ferry which cost us £2 and was not as exciting as it should have been.  If you were a foot passenger you might have been able to see things, but as the crossing is so short and we were in the car we saw nothing.  On the other side we sat in a car park with a sea view and ate our lunch before taking the ferry back to the main land.

Things to note:
The island does have a very good bus and train system and you could happily explore without a car, especially if you were staying in one of the small towns. 
The main cost of our trip after food was parking.