Isle of Wight 29th June – 2nd July 2012
A long weekend away with my girlfriend, which thankfully offered “decent” weather, the only rain we saw was a brief shower the day we arrived and the constant downpour the morning we left, it wasn’t glorious but when the sun was out it was nice and it took the slight chill off the sea breeze.
We stayed at the Westbury Lodge, a very nice Hotel, close to the front in Shanklin. The owners are lovely and give a warm reception to all their guests over a welcome cup of tea & biscuits. By the time your welcome chat is over you’ll be in possession of a map of Shanklin, know where all the best eateries are and have a clue of how to get to where you’d like to visit on the island via the various modes of public transport. If that’s not enough then the hotel offers free WiFi and has a computer for guests to use if you don’t have your own, to allow you to do that last minute searching that you forgot to do before you set off.
Breakfast is included in the room rate and is cooked to order. The room we stayed in was a “superior” room, it was spacious, spotless and maintained to a very high standard, with tea/coffee, biscuits and bottled water being replenished every morning.
What can I say, one of the most pleasant B&B experiences I’ve had on my travels ever.
Getting to the Island
We travelled toLondon, then onwards to Portsmouth Harbour by train all the way to connect into the Wightlink Catamaran, which departs from Portsmouth Harbour for foot passengers only, a period return costing £22.10 per person. Should people want to take the Ferry to Fishbourne (2 miles west of Ryde on the north of the island) then this departs from close by also and conveys foot passengers as well as cars. Tickets can be booked online or on the day as you walk into the terminals. Another alternative is the Hovercraft, which only takes 10 minutes to do the journey from Portsmouth to Ryde Esplanade. To travel on the hovercraft alight at Portsmouth & Southsea station for a connecting bus to the hovercraft departure point.
Travel on the Island
The Island Line Railway, run by South West Trains, connects Ryde Pier Head with Shanklin, travelling through Smallbrook Junction (connecting to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway), Brading, Sandown and Lake before terminating in Shanklin 24 minutes later. Unfortunately we didn’t get to ride on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, and all our travel on the island was either by foot or the Island Line so I can’t comment on the buses, although I can tell you a day rover on the buses costs around £10 per person, compared to the cost of the Island Line Day Ranger at £5.50 per person, and for those wanting to travel on the Steam Railway as well there’s a joint ticket called the Island Liner costing £14 which allows unlimited travel on both the Steam Railway & Island line all day.
Nestled in the southeast corner of the island Shanklin seemed the obvious choice to stay in. It has plenty of accommodation on the cliff-top and there are plenty of shops in the town centre too. The old village is lovely to walk through, with its thatched roofs and narrow roads but beware of the steep hills throughout Shanklin.
The views from Shanklin towards Sandown, over Sandown Bay are excellent, whether from the cliff-top coastal pathway or the Esplanade down below. The walk between the two is well worth doing and takes about 45 minutes each way (if you don’t stop every two second to admire the views…..). For those not wanting to walk up/down the steps from the coastal pathway to the Esplanade there’s a lift that will take you between the two at £1 per person.
Shanklin Chine connects the southern end of the Esplanade with the edge of the old village up above; it costs £3.60 per person to walk through this tropical like paradise which has a waterfall at the top end that carved out the gorge that houses this mini world, which seems so out of place in its setting.
Shanklin isn’t short of places to eat. We didn’t manage to try the place recommended by the Hotel owners as it was full both times. I do however recommend the food at the Plough & Barleycorn pub and the Sunday Lunch at the Village Inn (in the old village) was excellent. Both places served real ales too. The Waterfront Café, on the waterfront, is also worth a visit, where you can sit and watch the world go by on the Esplanade in front of it, while also enjoying a real ale from one of the local island breweries.
What stands out about Sandown? The answer is its picturesque bay & the pier that stretches out from the Esplanade into it. We didn’t spend much time in Sandown, mainly because the walk to/from the train station is a good 10 minutes, by which time we could probably have been a fair way towards Shanklin had we chosen to walk. It was worth getting off the train for a walk around the Esplanade though, even if only to get some photographs of the pier in the late afternoon sunshine. We never did manage to walk the whole way from Shanklin to Sandown of vice versa. For those wanting to cut down on the walking there is an option to get off the train atLakestation (between Sandown & Shanklin), which is only 100m from the coastal footpath, and walk between there and Sandown or Shanklin, about 25 minutes to either.
Ryde is like a place that time forgot in some respects, the pier extends seawards from Ryde Esplanade and looks as ancient as they come. The little pink Island Line trains that run over it don’t look any less ancient either as they bobble along the now single track to connect with the catamarans to Portsmouth. Standing and watching the hovercrafts arrive and depart, from less than 50m away on the footbridge over the railway at Ryde Esplanade station, is a great experience, especially when the sea is out and there’s no water for them to hover over.
We were lucky enough to be on the Island during the annual JP Morgan Round the Island Boat Race, during which 1600 boats, and 16000 sailors race round the island, starting and finishing at Cowes, on the north of the island. We witnessed this event from the end of Ryde Pier during the early afternoon, having ambled along its newly decked walkway cum roadway. During the time we watched the spectacle there was a constant stream of yachts stretching from as far as we could see to Cowes, where we could see them gathering after they’d finished. What was rather interesting was watching the hovercrafts, catamarans & ferries navigate their way through the path of the constant traffic of yachts, without ever clipping one at all. Luckily for the captains of said vessels the weather was nice and visibility was excellent.
We didn’t spend too much time in Ryde eating but there is an excellent Chinese place just over the road from Ryde Esplanade station called Hong Kong Express. Not only was the food good, the portions were massive too, excellent value for money. The only other food we partook in was a tub of Minghella’s Ice Cream from a place a few doors down from the Hong Kong Express. Believe it or not we’d taken the train from Shanklin to Ryde just to get ice cream, and it was well worth it!