When a Pandemic ruins your plans
I need to be honest up front and say that a staycation to the Isle of Wight was never on my radar. No rose tinted memories here of childhood jaunts across the Solent and a lingering disappointment that pesky COVID-19 had stolen my European summer holiday.
The trip could not have started worse. Carol Kirkwood telling us of another named storm hitting the South coast just as our good ship St Clare was setting sail from Portsmouth. 60mph gusts, what every motion sick traveller does not wish to hear.
As it happened, the crossing was uneventful. Sure, the wind howled across the fore deck, but the Wightlink vessel shrugged it off with barely a wobble and in no time we arrived at Fishbourne, just outside Ryde.
Google Maps did it's usual job of effortlessly removing any drama from our journey across the island and we arrived at Ventnor some 30 minutes later. We'd booked to stay with The Wight Place in Starboard House.
Lets get this Staycation started.......
Staycation Day 1 on the Isle of Wight
Our first full day of the trip took us to the legendary Blackgang Chine. My expectations for the day were set low - no childhood nostalgia meant that the only preconception I had was formed courtesy of Google results and opinions such as, 'it's no Chessington'. In reality, it was good fun. There are two main rides there - the Cliff Hanger rollercoaster and the Waterforce slides. Our advice would be - get there for opening. It was quiet to begin with and we were able to loop around the slides many times without much queuing. Later on in the day, the rides had 20+ minute queues. The remaining attractions are somewhat dated, but seen through 8 year old eyes they held much more delight. A run down hall of mirrors, for example, provided much laughter.
After Blackgang, we headed down the coast to Compton Bay, somewhere that became one of our favourite spots on the island. The storms had produced good swell and the sea was pumping - both surfers and body boarders making the most of excellent waves. We parked on the grass verge above the beach which was free and easy. There is a National Trust car park there with a toilet and often an ice cream van. The beach is not lifeguarded, so you enter the water at your own risk. At high tide the beach all but disappears too, so check tide times before you go.
Once we'd used up our energy on the surf, we headed back to Ventnor and paid a visit to what would become an unbreakable habit during the week, the appropriately named Crave Ice Cream. A must visit for anyone with a sweet tooth, serving up home-made ice cream in an ever changing array of delicious flavours - including sorbets and vegan options. Friendly service too and always popular.
Staycation Day 2 on the Isle of Wight
Day two saw us stepping in the footsteps of royalty with a trip to Osborne House. Built as a holiday home by Queen Victoria and Albert, it was later gifted to the nation and is now managed my English Heritage.
COVID-19 restrictions meant we had to book a specific, timed arrival and not all of the house was opened - something which disappointed the youngest of our party who loves nothing more than looking around inside historic buildings.
What we did see was well presented and there are experts on hand to guide you through the house. We took a walk to the private beach which, despite drizzle setting in, was a pleasant place to have coffee and a splendid millionaire's shortbread.
Staycation Day 3 on the Isle of Wight
Day three saw the winds drop and the sun shine for our trip west to the Needles Landmark Attraction.
The Needles are the Island's headline act, the poster child, the must see.
Forces of nature have crashed together to form chalk cliffs and towers reaching into the sea.
It costs £6 to park and then £6 return on the chairlift to the beach. If you fear heights, the lift may not be for you but the views are undoubtedly impressive. You can walk instead for free.
Alum Beach is pleasant with lots of coloured sands visible in the cliffs above it. The shop at the top lets you fill your own glass bottle (on varying shapes) with coloured sands to create a keepsake to take home.
We left The Needles and headed to The Cow at Tapnell Farm Park for lunch. Make no doubt about it, if you like burgers you must go here. A lovely location, we grabbed an outside table and ordered from the slick mobile app. Our young burger fan declared it to be the best burger she'd ever had.
After lunch, we headed to Godshill, parking in the main carpark and walking to the Model Village. Oldskool it may be, but it's very well presented and good fun. The model of Godshill itself complete with a model of the model village is a concept that messes with your mind!
After walking around the village, we got coffees in Tansy's Pantry - a very cool little place serving up plant based food and drink. The coffee was great and service friendly.
End of the Day....
We ended our day with a visit to Shanklin Chine. It's quite a magical little walk down, passing waterfalls and tropical plants.
The ticket allows for free re-entry, so after a walk along the promenade, we returned in time for the lights to be turned on (19:00) and walked through the chine again. The coloured lights certainly add a different dimension and are worth seeing.
Staycation Day 4 on the Isle of Wight
Day four started with a visit to the Ventnor Botanic Gardens. We've been lucky to see botanical gardens all around the world, most of which have been free entry so we found the entry fees to be quite high - £25 for two adults and a child.
The gardens are well presented and a lovely place to stroll around. There are multiple 'zones', a hot house, a rocky home to lizards and a basic children's play area. We had coffee (there is a definite theme here!) in the café which was very good and served in compostable cups.
Lunch came courtesy of The Kitchen @ London House in Ventnor. Their pasties are delicious! We then popped into.. you guessed it, Crave!
The afternoon was spent at the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary. This is a beautiful place that we'd highly recommend. Nearly 100 donkeys live here. Wander around the fields and barns to see them all. Entry is free but you are encouraged to make a donation to the sanctuary. We ended up adopting a donkey with the same name as our daughter. It's wonderful to see the life these creatures have, especially given the tough times many have been through.
Staycation Day 5 on the Isle of Wight
Day five saw us dusting down our English Heritage membership cards again and visiting Carrisbrook Castle. Having driven past the outside of it earlier in the week we'd expected to find a ruin, but were pleasantly surprised by how much of it is well preserved. The walk around the battlements gives excellent, far reaching views and the museum gives an insight into the history of the whole island. The museum opens at 11am and queues formed quickly so to avoid these be sure to be near the entrance on time.
After the castle, we drove to Cowes for a look around the marina before having lunch at Jolliffe. This is an old shoe shop we'd seen referenced in the museum and despite now being a restaurant, much of the beautiful interior of the shop has been retained. We ate excellent omelettes before devouring a tasty coffee cake. Friendly, efficient service and a nice atmosphere.
Staycation Day 6 on the Isle of Wight
We started the day heading West to Freshwater Bay for more SUP action. The seas were glassy and calm, tide was incoming and winds light so ideal conditions for exploring the bay. There's hidden gems all around there which are only accessible from the water so it's great to see them up close. Watch out for hidden rocks when the tide is lower though.
Concluding our week on the Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight exceeded our expectations.
Lots of stunning scenery, including beautiful beaches.
So much to see and do.
We had very good weather - much better than the mainland experienced in the same week. Nothing is far away and Ventnor is a great central base.
The Wight Place property was well thought out and beautifully presented. There is loads of information available to help you make the most of your time there. You really do feel like it is a home from home.
We will definitely be back, no doubt about it. COVID-19 may have spoiled our European summer dreams, but it's forced us to open our eyes to what the UK Staycation has to offer.
Do visit the Isle of Wight, there really is something for everyone.
Stu Morris and The Morris Family x