London Diary – Isle of Wight Over the May Bank Holiday

May 9, 2016

I don’t seem to be able to stay away from England’s beautiful coast for too long, and this time we were heading to Isle of Wight, an island in the Channel, and England’s largest. The island, bigger than I had expected, is beautiful, rich in its history and diverse in both natural landscape and its villages and towns. With fine weather most of our stay, it made a lovely spring holiday.

First of all, one easy option of getting there is by ferry from Hamshire, Lymington to Yarmouth, Portsmouth to Fishbourne or Southampton to Ryde. I decided to take one route to and a different from, maximizing the “ground” to cover.

On the outbound, we did Lymington, to Yarmouth. The drive from London is longer but it is the shortest ferry ride to Isle of Wight, at no more than 30 minutes, and probably the most scenic. While Lymington was relatively quiet with no more than ferry passengers about, Yarmouth was a bustling hub of coming and going from all directions. The view along the way is picturesque. From the comfortable passenger lounge on the ferry boat or from the deck, you can watch sail boats bobbing about the blue water, Hurst Castle – a mammoth of a structure and its soaring lighthouse – slide by west of the ferry, or yellow fields of Rapeseed zoom in from the island.

Leaving the island, we traveled from Fishbourne to Portsmouth. Fishbourne is a quiet little village and the ferry port is tugged in a residential neighborhood; interestingly the ferry boat was a larger one. The scenery is more interesting as Portsmouth’s cityscape becomes visible.

Keep in mind some hotels can help arrange the ferry ride at a discounted price.

 

Shanklin is a village on the east coast of the island. The Clifton is one in the row of B&B on Shanklin Esplanade, a cliff top area in the village with stunning view of the sea, beach, village and the White Cliff at Culvert Down, and where we stayed. From there, it is a short walk to Shanklin Chine and Heritage Center and the beach which continues onto Sandown with the long row of piers, beach front hotels, restaurants, shops, mini golfs and other amusement.

 

Some favorite part of the holiday was a couple of walks we did. First was from Tennyson Down to The needles in the south west corner of the island. The drive traversing the south coast to get to the starting point from our hotel goes through many spectacular view points and villages, including Cowleaze and Ventnor. From the parking, it is a short walk to Tennyson Monument on the cliff top. The path continues on the cliff top until it reaches The Needles. There are beautiful panoramic views along the way, and lots Gorse, Blue Bells and Plum Blossom to go along. At the tip of the cliff is an old battery currently run as a museum by National Trust. The Tea Room is a cozy little place with stunning view of the three group of rocks called the needles, and famous Old Harry’s Rock, located on the Jurassic Coast off the main land, could be seen from there on clear days.

 

The other circular walk is around St Catherine’s Down, southernmost point of the island. Under the brilliant sun and clear sky, there was spectacular views to behold as far as The Needles. The best is from the top of Gore Cliff above the parking lot, looking down to the village, St Catherine’s Lighthouse, Knowles Farm and the sea. The second half of the route is a hilly climb, but the view at the cliff top is rewarding, with some nice floral to see along the way.

See the following links for details of the walking routes: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lists/walking-on-the-isle-of-wight

 

Isle of Wight has been a vacation destination since the Victorian era, Queen Victoria herself had a summer house, Osborne House, in the village Cowes, north of the island, which is currently an English Heritage property.

The Italian garden is stunning, the house palatial and the estate ground vast. Interestingly the queen wrote in her diary that she was happy to have such a “snug” place to be with her family. The Council Room and Drawing Room are breathtakingly beautiful. Mirrors are cleverly used in the drawing room, creating an “infinite chandelier” effect that some staff on duty might point out to you if you strike up a conversation with him or her. Like nothing else in the house, the Banquet Room is completely decked out in intricate Indian style plaster.

A grassy path through the woods take you in five minutes to an extensive private beach where there is a neat alcove with a bench built for the queen and on display also is the queen’s bathing “machine”.

Don’t miss Swiss Cottage. I was pleasantly surprised by the fascinating story behind it. A brainchild of Prince Albert, the royal children, four princes and five princesses, played and learnt at the cottage ordinary household skills, literally by getting their hands dirty, washing, cutting and cooking in a fully functioning kitchen, where everything was made to 2/3 of the size of regular ware. The princesses also learnt how to set dining table. In addition, they each had a plot in garden where they planted flowers and grew vegetables, which were then used in their cooking. All those plots are still there, one next to another forming a neat line, and currently managed by one gardener. What a remarkable idea by Prince Albert, no experiment like that has been known again.

 

A few other points of interest are: Godshill Village, Carisbrooke Castle, Carisbrooke Priory and a drive up to the top of Culver Down for spectacular views, to the west, Sandown and Shanklin and to the north, across the island all the way to Portsmouth.

 

 

 

 

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