After lockdown eased and on the first British long weekend, I couldn’t help getting out of London. I’d put this trip off after booking it a year ago, and I’m now looking forward to exploring the island a little.
The Isle of Wight is in the English Channel off England’s south coast, near Portsmouth, Southhampton and Bournemouth. The island is known for being Queen Victoria’s favourite summer holiday location and a hotbed of dinosaur fossils and a pivotal defence for the region against the Spanish Armada and in the Battle of Britain.
My trip to the island was long, with an hour-long train ride across London, a 2-hour train to Portsmouth and a 25-minute catamaran ferry crossing to the township of Ryde.
If I’d done a little more research, I’d have noted one of the world’s last commercial hovercraft services still operates from Portsmouth to Ryde and would have booked that instead of the ferry.
With several hours to kill before my accommodation opened in Shanklin, on the south side of the island, I hung out in Ryde for lunch and had a wander around. After many weeks of rain in the UK, the sun decided to make up for it all in one go, marking the arrival of summer. I ordered takeaway fish and chips and sat in a small park overlooking the channel while I ate. Of course, fish and chips are a staple in London, but fresh cooked on the seaside is just better.
Due to track upgrades, the cross-island train was closed, so after lunch and a climb through Ryde’s commercial streets, I made my way to the bus station for the trip to Shanklin. I arrived almost an hour later, but still too early for my accommodation. I stopped off at the local information centre/cafe, grabbed a map and a cider, then I began looking at things to do for the weekend. After checking into my accommodation, I explored the township, finding a path down to the beachfront.
While Ryde is a typical British seaside township, Shanklin is a typical beachside township with many hotels and restaurants on the shoreline. The Pirate Cove and Jurassic Bay Adventure Park spanned several blocks, with plentiful ice cream stalls dotted about. At the end of the bay is the Shanklin Chine, a small tourist gorge with woodland paths leading up the cliff to come out near my accommodation.
The Chine is nicely set up with well-manicured paths, a waterfall and a heritage centre with historical displays. Later that evening, coloured lights came on in the gorge, giving it an almost magical feel that photos don’t quite do justice. Then, after a beachfront dinner, I headed back to my accommodation.
The following morning over my Full English Breakfast, I had to decide what to do for the day. While one of the main attractions on the island is The Needles, a series of chalk stacks in the bay, they’re 2 hours away by bus on the far end of the island. So, I decided on the less travel option, to the township of New Port near the island’s centre, to check out Carisbrook Castle, the Newport Minister, a museum of island history and a Roman villa.
Newport is an hour by bus, and the castle on the hill outside of town, a further 20-minute walk. When I arrived, I discovered they weren’t accepting walk-in visitors, so I booked a ticket online. With 90 minutes until I was allowed in, I walked to a local supermarket to get some lunch, then back up the hill to wait for my entrance time.
Carisbrook Castle was built in the 12th century atop a hillside where several roman forts had once stood. It is most notable for being the prison of King Charles I before his execution for treason and then 250 years later, the home of Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s daughter.
On a more personal note, the major sporting venue in Dunedin, New Zealand, was named after this very castle. The castle was in better repair than many I’d seen in the UK over the past few years. After I toured the castle and the high keep on the hill above it, I made my way back into town.
I contemplated taking the bus to the Needles, but it drove by before I could get to the bus stop, so decision made, I headed back into Newport. When I got to the Minister, I found it was closed, at 2 in the afternoon on the Sunday of a long weekend. Disappointing.
I headed to the Roman Villa and found that closed too, and was equally bemused to see the museum also closed. I’m not sure if this was due to the COVID lockdown or if the smaller town didn’t merit having these items open on a long weekend? So, I caught the bus back to the beach. But instead of stopping at Shanklin, I continued on to Sandown at the other end of the bay. With tourists enjoying the sun and beach, I walked around towards the white cliffs.
When the path ran out, I walked back towards Shanklin, past the Sandown pier. The beachfront goes all the way to Shanklin, so I decided to walk the 3 miles back. A peaceful and enjoyable walk. In Shanklin, I stopped for dinner and a couple of ciders before heading back to my accommodation for the night.
The next morning after breakfast, I caught the bus back to Ryde with the intention of walk to a nearby winery. But during the bus ride, I discovered the short tour I wanted to take was also on hold due to COVID. So, with nothing else to do, I went to the waterfront for lunch and awaited my ferry back to the mainland. Thankfully, I was able to take an earlier crossing to Portsmouth and its Emirates Spinnaker tower before my 2 and a half hour train ride home.
The Isle of Wight was a lovely weekend away from London, but many things were closed due to the timing. This made travel times on the island long and meant I couldn’t see everything I’d have liked to. Disappointing, but perhaps I’ll return again in the future with a vehicle to make getting around a little easier.
The World Wanderer