The Isle of Wight – recommended places to visit

We are just back from another few days on the Isle of Wight, staying in the same little waterfront house in East Cowes. It was lovely to be out on our balcony in the sun once again! We visited all the places we missed first time round, and I now think I am able to recommend places to visit…

See last year’s post for further details. In fact there are two posts...  Last year, we sailed from Lymington to Yarmouth – a pleasant crossing to a pretty little town. There is not an awful lot to Yarmouth but it is worth a visit…. This time we sailed from Portsmouth to Fishbourne.

Our little house was as excellent as ever. This year, the infamous Floating Bridge was not working, and passengers were conveyed across the Medina via a little boat, which moored right by our house.  We enjoyed sitting and ship-watching – some really big liners came past, including the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary 2.

 

We went across on the first afternoon to Cowes – I had hoped it would be one of those places which improved on second visit – think Hythe and Deal, but no. The whole town is geared up to boating people – few places to walk or sit by the waterfront, all boat yards, moorings and private yacht clubs, and many of the shops also boating related.  Battleaxe can’t really recommend Cowes for the non-boaty visitor.

Next day we drove down to Ventnor, which we had totally missed last year. Now, that’s a lovely little place. It is primarily a Victorian resort, but feels right out of the 1950s. It shelves steeply down to the sea – lots of zig-zag roads, quite Italian in feel. Plenty of quirky and interesting shops, and a pretty walk down to the beach. It has a warm micro-climate, particularly evident in the Ventnor Botanical Gardens. Battleaxe would recommend.

 

 

 

 

On the way home we stopped at the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary, somewhat to Philosopher’s disapproval. ‘I can’t understand why people are so keen on donkeys,’ he huffed, but being a tolerant man, he put up with me oohing and aahing around the paddocks, petting any donkeys withn reach. If you like donkeys, then go, otherwise – not.

When I was a little girl I had a pony for a bit – not as posh as it sounds – it was an obese, bad-tempered creature with laminitis which came to us on long-term loan, on condition that we slimmed it down and sorted out its feet. It spent hours in a loose-box at the local farm with nothing to eat, which made it permanently furious. When I tried to ride it it would try to scrape me off and run to the nearest patch of grass. I was secretly scared to death of it, despite spending most of my childhood longing for a pony. However, the pony came with a companion elderly, saggy  donkey, called Minnie, who moved into our garden – and would have moved into the house, given half a chance. Every time anyone looked out of a ground-floor window there was this donkey face pressed up against the glass…. she was a real sweetie and everyone loved her.

The next day, the weather was a bit dodgy – it had rained hard, but was dry when we set out.  I had planned for us to go over to Shanklin and walk down Shanklin Chine – we tried last year but it had just closed for the season. After that, we’d have lunch at a famous thatched pub on the beach – the Fisherman’s Cottage. The Chine is one of those romantic Victorian gorge walks, which I always like…  Well, Sunday was not our day. Firstly, there was a big road accident by Sandown so we struggled to get there. Then, the bloody Chine was closed because it had rained…. aargh. Never mind, sez I, we’ll walk round and down and still go to the pub. So we set off and eventually arrived at the pub. Nooo.. closed because of bad weather…  What kind of wusses are these IOW folk! So, Battleaxe still doesn’t know about the Chine – have to wait until next year!

 

The Chine is accessed from Shanklin Old Village, which is quite pretty but very twee, but Shanklin itself is a dump. We walked along the Esplanade and found a pub which did us a reasonable lunch, then travelled up the cliffs in a slightly grim 1970s lift.  Along the coast, Sandown is not good either. Very shabby and run-down, with a really tacky pier. Even our Mr Gulzar would turn up his nose at it….

We stopped briefly to take a look at the Isle of Wight Zoo, but it would have cost us £12.50 each to go in. I am sure it operates to the highest standards, but it didn’t look great, so we didn’t go, and drove on to Bembridge. Nooo – another place which would only be any good if you were into boating.

Next day, we went back to Ryde, whch was just as good as the previous year. Great shops, good walk along the Esplanade with great views across to Portsmouth, visit to the Chocolate Apothecary. Chilli Hot Chocolate and a new dress. What’s not to like. Battleaxe really recommends Ryde.

 

On the way back we stopped off at Havenstreet Station, the headquarters of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. Originally, I had wanted to travel on the steam train and then link up with the Island Line to take us to Ryde. However, the Island Line uses decommissioned Underground trains, all of which except for one had broken down, so there was only an intermittent service.  However, the railway centre at Havenstreet was really good – if, like Battleaxe, you like steam trains, this is recommended!

 

Next day started badly. It was wet first thing, so we delayed setting off until about 10.15, planning to drive to Carisbrooke Castle via Newport. Newport is difficult to navigate at best – a tangle of ring-roads, roundabouts, traffic lights, road works  and narrow one-way streets, but then just as we hit the town the news on the Supreme Court verdict broke. I was using the iphone to navigate, and suddenly the screen was obscured by countless newsflashes, notifications, Whats Apps from friends…. I tell you we went round and round that wretched town I dunno how many times. Philosopher combusted, and I was in such a frantic panic that I hit a button on Google maps that I have never seen before or since – about navigating by boat! It persistently directed us to the River Medina and I couldn’t understand why….

By the time we reached the Castle we were totally traumatised, but recovered after scones and coffee in the tearoom.  The castle is actually quite interesting, and it felt fitting to be visiting the place where Charles I was imprisoned for his behaviour around the dissolving of Parliament when Johnson had just been found guilty of the same thing. We expected a tumbril to roll into the courtyard at any moment with a new prisoner, chained and hooded, but no such luck. Visiting the chapel with its memorials to Charles reminded me of an earlier visit to the church of Charles the Martyr in Tunbridge Wells.

There was a very interesting museum… and a good walk round the battlements with excellent views.

More donkey stuff – they should have had donkeys turning a wheel to raise water from the well, but quelle surprise, they weren’t working because of the weather. Anyway, Battleaxe would recommend Carisbrooke Castle.

After, we went to a crazy place – the Godshill Model Village. I was curious because it is an RHS partner garden, and Philosopher always likes a model village, so why not. It was actually lovely. Very large, with masses of beautifully pruned and bonsai trees and shrubs. All the little gardens had trees to scale. There was even a model of Shanklin Chine, with the pub on the beach… – the nearest I’ll get for a bit! If you like a bit of twee and pretty trees, Battleaxe would recommend.

 

 

Then we drove back home and as the sun was out, walked along the East Cowes Esplanade and visited the Classic Boat Museum Gallery, which was really excellent. Quite off the beaten track – it is actually housed in the old Columbine Hanger – and a bit zany, but so interesting… Battleaxe would recommend. They also have real boats across the river in Cowes, but we didn’t see those.

I wrote last year about how the location of our little house is absolutely steeped in history – Queen Victoria’s landing stage, the development of flying boats, hovercraft and even rockets, and the massive White’s Shipyard. Interestingly, the last destroyer made by Whites, the HMS Cavalier, is preserved at Chatham Dockyard. A few years ago Philosopher and Battleaxe spent a happy afternoon playing at wartime movies on the ship – see this post.

This year we learned that the old building next to where we park the car is called the Gridiron Shed. The first seaplanes were built in there, in 1912.

 

On our last day we revisited Osborne House. I wrote a lot about it last year, so will not repeat, but it is definitely worth it – you need a whole day to do the site justice.

 

Would you believe, apart from that wretched Chine, there are still places we have not visited – Tennyson’s house, for example. In fact, we didn’t go up that end of the island at all – last year we very much enjoyed walking to the  Needles and looking round the Battery, although the amusement park round Alum Bay was pretty tacky.  Good cable car, though

So, we’ll be back again in 2020! Here’s a final view of our little house from the river, our balcony in the front – and our car beside the house. How handy is that.

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