A Unique Ambience
Sail across the Solent to another world, the Isle of Wight. This island has taken the best of modern technology to protect and enhance its many attractions while retaining its old-fashioned charm. The ambience alone makes a visit here special. Every one of its towns has its own character from the bustling port of East Cowes to the cliff-based Ventnor.
Osborne in East Cowes
When Queen Victoria was looking for a family home away from London she was already aware of the beauty and seclusion of the Isle of Wight. She and Prince Albert found the ideal estate and converted Osborne House into an idyllic family home. After Victoria died in 1901 the house was closed and then opened to the public 3 years later. It is a wonderful day out as you can take a tour of the house; stroll through the park to the private beach; relax over coffee and cake in the grounds of the Swiss Cottage before visiting its museum.
Carisbrooke Castle in Carisbrooke
Carisbrooke Castle occupies a commanding position above the village of Carisbrooke. Evidence suggests that the first castle on this site was built in the eleventh century and since then it has served a variety of purposes, its final role being the home of the Governor of the Isle of Wight.
Famous residents include Charles I (imprisoned there during the Civil War) and Princess Beatrice. The Princess was the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria and succeeded her husband as Governor after he died. Today, the most popular residents are the donkeys who were once vital to turn the large wooden wheel to draw water from the well in the castle.
Other attractions include the lovely Princess Beatrice gardens which were re-created in their original form when the castle was taken over by English Heritage. You can climb to the top of the castle tower for panoramic views of the castle itself and the surrounding countryside.
Ventnor Botanic Garden
A lovely walk along the coastal path passing through the pretty Steephill Cove just beyond Ventnor leads to the Ventnor Botanic Gardens. These gardens developed from the grounds of the National Cottage Hospital during the period when open-air treatment for tuberculosis was popular. The microclimate of the Undercliff area where the hospital was based was ideal for the growing of a wide variety of exotic plants and trees. The gardens are still evolving and revealing its secrets which include underground caverns, secret passageways and a tunnel through the cliff.
Tapnell Farm near Newport
Tapnell Farm is a fun place to spend a few hours and also offers a variety of self-catering accommodation for those who enjoy a stay in the countryside. The farm is famous for its Wight Herd a colourful collection of life-size model cows that have been decorated to advertise local businesses. Real animals also populate this farm including wallabies, meerkats and cuddly pigs. The restaurant, Cow Co, offers a selection of fine beef burgers made from local produce.
Alum Bay near Totland
Alum Bay is one of the island’s amazing natural landscapes. The cliffs are streaked with sands of different colours and you can fill hollow glass ornaments with a selection of these sands in the shop there. There is a footpath from the cliff top down to the bay but a more exciting journey is on the Alum Bay chair lift accessible from the Needles Park.
In the past the pure white silica here was used to make glass and pottery, a tradition continued by Alum Bay Glass where visitors can watch the fascinating art of glass blowing.
The Needles near Totland
The Needles are a row of three distinctive chalk stacks. Originally, there were four rocks and the name came from this fourth rock which was shaped like a needle. This rock, the tallest of the four, is presumed to have collapsed during a great storm in 1764 but its name still lives on. The National Trust owns the Needles Headland which is open to visitors. There are two old military battery’s on this headland which visitors can explore and enjoy the best views of the Needles.
Farringford a Grade 1 listed building in Freshwater Bay was once the home of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. He found inspiration in the gently rolling countryside that surrounded the house. After being used as a hotel for over sixty years the property is once again in private ownership and following extensive restoration is now open to the public as an historic home. Visitors to Farringford can take a guided tour of the house and explore the extensive grounds including the kitchen gardens.
Dimbola, Freshwater Bay
Julia Margaret Cameron, a famous Victorian photographer, became acquainted with the Isle of Wight through her friendship with Tennyson and bought Dimbola where she lived for fifteen years. Today the property is a museum and an art gallery. It also features exhibitions of modern photographers and a gallery devoted to the history of the Isle of Wight Festival until it became too big for its original site in this area. Dimbola is a fascinating place to visit and enjoy a tea break. It is intended to offer photography courses here in the near future.
So, what are you waiting for – jump on a ferry and head for the island.
Read more from Valery at the Experienced Traveller