A Week in the Isle of Wight

We spent a week here in August, based in the beautiful and unspoilt Totland Bay. The island may be small, but there is so much to see and do - we needed the whole 7 days to explore fully.


Overview and Highlights

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on September 12, 2011

The Isle of Wight is right at the south of England - 91 miles south west of London and 4 miles south of Southampton. It is perhaps best known for its sandy beaches and ports and it has long been a favourite with the yachting set. The island is also popular with cyclists, walkers and families coming on holiday - the "bucket and spade brigade." It has been a holiday destination since Victorian times.

A visit to the Isle of Wight will bring back a nostalgic childhood holiday feeling. Many guide books describe it as "England in miniature." It is compact - just 23 miles east to west and 13 miles north to south. Despite its size, there is everything here, from golden sandy beaches to rolling hills to really pretty towns and villages.

The climate on the Isle of Wight is normally mild and gentle (although we had some very windy and cold weather during our week here). There are lots of outdoor activities on offer as well as 25 miles of clean, unspoilt beaches.

The Victorians discovered the island and built resorts here. If you enjoy 19th century architecture, you will see lots of it here. The island has a lot of variety - the scenery is ever changing, and each town or village offers something different. Queen Victoria loved it here and used to come with her family. It was at Osbourne House near Cowes on the Isle of Wight that she died. It was also a favourite place of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens and other literary figures.

Cowes is the premier port for yachting in Britain. Henry VIII ordered the castle here to be built and now it is the headquarters of the Royal Yacht Squadron. The sea front and high cliff road have scenic views. Cowes is divided into North and East Cowes, separated by the Medina River and linked by a chain ferry called the floating bridge.

Shanklin has a lovely old village and Shanklin Chine - a fissure in the cliff where you can walk up to see a waterfall, is pretty. Ventnor is often referred to as "the Madeira of England" as it rises from the sea in a series of steep hills. It has a unique micro-climate which means that tropical plants can grow here. You can see all sorts of amazing things in the botanical gardens.

The West coast of the island was our real highlight. This was where we stayed - it is very unspoiled and has the most lovely scenery. A must see here is the many coloured sand cliffs of Alum Bay and the Needles - 3 giant chalk rocks.


Tips and Hints

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on September 12, 2011

* The Isle of Wight is the smallest county in England when it is high tide. This is not the case when the tide goes out - then it actually becomes larger than Rutland.

* To see the island at its scenic best, you should walk at least part of the 65 mile trail called The Coastal Path. It links cross country trails with panoramic views of cliffs, the ocean and the downs. The most scenic part of the path is between Shanklin and Ventnor.

* We came here during Cowes Week - I would definitely recommend coming at this time as it is a great time to visit the island. This is one of the longest running events in UK sporting history. It first took place in 1826 and has become one of the best known sailing regattas in the world. It lasts for 8 days and more than 1,000 boats take part - there are yachts everywhere. The atmosphere throughout the island is carnival like. There are also lots of open-air activities and great entertainment going on.

* Do not be put off by what you see as you get off the ferry on the island at Cowes. We initially were a bit disappointed. Near the ferry ports you can be overwhelmed by coach parties of day trippers. Also some of the resorts are quaint Victorian places, but they have more than their fair share of tatty tourist shops. Head for the western part of the island where it is most unspoilt.

* Visiting any island is a fun adventure for children. Our 8 year old loved it, as the holiday started off with a boat journey. The Isle of Wight is probably one of the most accessible islands in the UK.

* The best time of year to visit the Isle of Wight is between April and September. The island has a quaint and gentle atmosphere - this is one of its main draws, but also means most attractions are closed mid autumn until Easter.

* The ferries dock at Yarmouth (from Lymington), Cowes (Southampton) or Fishbourne Creek (Portsmouth). We travelled from Southampton to Cowes - the trip took 55 minutes and was efficient and comfortable. You get some lovely views of the yachts as you come into Cowes.

* Most roads on the island are minor roads, so you cannot go anywhere fast. All attractions are spread throughout the island, but it does not take long (maybe 40 minutes) to drive from one end to the other. The island is compact and the roads are well signposted. If you prefer to use public transport you can buy Rover tickets for the buses. These allow unlimited travel during your stay. I would advise using a car though - it gives you more flexibility.

* The island is only about 27 miles long at its widest point. It is easy to explore on foot or by bicycle. You can walk for miles without seeing a car, and over half the island is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - the scenery just never runs out.

* This is a great place to bring children. There is lots for them to see and do, plus the hotels and other places provide and cater very well for families. Most restaurants had children's menus and lots of pubs had play areas.

* There are miles of beaches - each one has its own character. On some of them you can search for dinosaur fossils, others have rock pools were you can fish for sea creatures and some are sandy and traditional with ice cream shops. Between May and September, dogs are not permitted on a lot of the island's beaches.

Beach House Apartment

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on September 14, 2011

We found this place on the internet - it has its own website and we booked directly with the owner. Everything worked out very well. It is an apartment which takes up the whole of the ground floor of the Beach House. This is one of only three properties on the esplanade.

The house was originally built in the 1890's. The ground floor started out as a restaurant and tea room. It was converted to a bedroom annexe for the old Chalet Hotel. In the early 1980's it was again converted to living accommodation and has been a family home. The owners raised their family here, and now that their children have grown up, rent the place out to holidaymakers.

The apartment is beautiful, contemporary and very comfortable. It has recently been refurbished and this year was only the second year it had been let as holiday accommodation. Everything is new, pristine and luxurious. It can cater for up to 8 people. It is very spacious and roomy - the only slight downside is there is one large bathroom and a small shower room, so I think 8 adults would struggle a bit with this.

The location is wonderful - the West Wight area, which is the most unspoiled and picturesque part of the whole island. Totland Bay is in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is just 3 miles from the Needles. There is a lovely, empty and unspoilt beach just in front of the house. It takes about 10 minutes to drive to the bustling harbour at Yarmouth, and you can walk to Alum Bay to see the Needles.

The apartment has a large living room with huge flatscreen television and blueray player. There is a trendy blue kitchen equiped with everything you could need. The 4 double bedrooms are all very large and the bathroom is modern with power shower and jacuzzi bath. WiFi is available throughout the house. There is a separate laundry area with a washing machine, tumble dryer and iron.

There is a small garden outside with a BBQ, large dining table and 10 chairs. You also get the use of the beach hut beside the house. This is fun, there is a green outside the hut, tables and chairs inside and we loved going there in the evening, sipping a glass of wine and watching the spectacular sunsets over the water.

The apartment had a parking space just outside.

There are a few little shops in the village of Freshwater where you can get basic provisions. It is better though to drive to Newport (about 15 minutes away) where they have a large Sainsburys which is stocked with everything you could need.

There is a little pier near the house, with a cafe and fish and chip shop. We loved the fish and chips from here and indulged in this treat a couple of times.

The apartment is luxurious, equipped with everything you could need and has the most wonderful views over the sea - at times I felt we were on a ship! The beach outside is gentle, clean and sheltered and perfect for children. In the evenings, it is lovely to walk alongside the beach - you can walk for miles. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and would definitely recommend the apartment and this area - it is perfect.
Beach House Apartment
Totland Bay
Isle of Wight

Cowes

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on September 14, 2011

We took the ferry from Southampton which arrives in Cowes, so decided to explore a little. We liked the atmosphere so much here, that we decided to come back again the day we left and spend another couple of hours in this area.

Cowes is renowned for its pleasant port. Every year in August, tourists flock here whilst it is filled with yachts from all over the world. Cowes Week Regatta is one of the largest boating events and apparently attracts more extremely rich people per square foot in Cowes, than anywhere else in the world.

We are not yachting enthusiasts and inadvertently planned our holiday here at this time - we did not plan for it to coincide with Cowes Week. We did however love watching the yachts, thought the atmosphere was wonderful - carnival like with music, stalls and entertainment and would definitely recommend coming here at this time. A tip though - be sure to book your accommodation a long time in advance during Cowes Week - everywhere gets booked up really quickly.

Cowes itself has interesting and elegant narrow winding streets and the architecture is lovely. There is a nautical feel to the whole place. There are not many shops, but those they have are delightful. They sell a lot of craft things, pictures and gorgeous souvenirs. I just loved browsing in them.

The waterfront at Cowes though is the place to spend time. During Cowes Week, it was a kaleidoscope of colourful sails. The focal point is the Royal Yacht Squadron. There are yachts everywhere - as far as the eye can see. We enjoyed watching the yacht races from the starting area and every time the cannons fired, we jumped!

East Cowes is the terminus of the car and passenger ferry from Southampton. It has its own small shopping centre, marina and seafront promenade. It is however the less interesting half of the town.

Cowes is bisected by the River Medina. You can take the chain ferry - or the floating bridge as it is called here, across the river to West Cowes. This is the older and more interesting part of the town. The highstreet meanders up from the waterfront. The chain ferry takes just a couple of minutes and costs £2.00. You may have to queue though. Cars and foot passengers can travel on it.

Freshwater Bay

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on September 15, 2011

Freshwater Bay was once the home of Alfred Lord Tennyson. The hills above Freshwater are named after him and on Tennyson Down, there is a Cornish granite cross, erected in 1897 in tribute to him. This is a good starting point for the Tennyson Trail - a dramatic walk along the cliff tops. This is a coastal walk unlike any other. Children enjoy it too, you can find fossils on the way but you need to keep your eyes peeled.

Lord Tennyson had a house near Freshwater. Apparently crowds of his fans would come here to try and see him. In order to escape them however, he used to walk on the nearby down that is now named after him.

We found a 5.5 mile walk around Freshwater Bay. Once you climb to the top of the down, it is fairly flat, takes about 3 hours and the terrain is downland, fiels and woodland paths. There is a little bit of road walking and a stretch of disused railway.

We started off at the Pay and Display car park at Freshwater Bay. You cross the road, go through the gates and start the steep climb up Tennyson Down. It is fairly hard going, but worth it once you reach the granite cross at the top - the views are amazing. We were here on a calm day, but even at the top it was very windy and blustery. I would not advise going up here if the weather was windy "down below". Also you need to be careful with children - there is plenty of space for them to run around, but no fences on the edges and lots of sheer drops.

Tennyson's memorial cross is a tall, stone Celtic cross. From the base of this, you can look north across the island to the Solent and the mainland beyond. To the south, there is nothing but the Atlantic Ocean.

We carried on past the cross, descended and reached Old Nodes Beacon. Here you turn very sharp right down a chalk track. The walk then takes you through very pretty woodland and then open countryside. We crossed a farm track and a field with a bull in the next field - this felt a bit hairy, but everyone else seemed fine with it!

When we reached the road, we carried on towards Freshwater Bay again.

Beside the car park, there is a lovely little cafe selling the most delicious home-made cakes and treats. Be sure to go in here - it does not look like much from the outside, but the food was delicious.

Also be sure to look out for the beautiful old thatched church just outside Freshwater Bay - you pass by it on the walk. It is wonderful, very unusual - I have never seen a thatched church before, and definitely worth a look.

Our son also enjoyed spending some time on the beach at Freshwater. It has stones, no sand, but is perfect for a game of stone skimming on the waves.


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