Sunday, 29 November 2015

When I'm sixty-four - what about the Isle of Wight?

One of the tracks on The Beatles' rather druggy and psychedelic 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper's Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, is called When I'm Sixty-four, and two of the lines in that go:

Every summer we can rent a cottage on the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save...

Well, I'm sixty-four next year, and I'm thinking of a holiday on the Isle of Wight. If you are not too sure where it is, it's that diamond-shaped island in the middle of the south coast of England, roughly halfway between Devon and Kent. Although it's not very far off the shore of Hampshire, it's a proper island, uncompromised by tunnel or bridge access. You can't even fly there very easily. Visitors have to take a ferry. The good news there is that there is a choice of routes, and more than one type of ferry, all of them regular and pretty frequent. Boat, fast cat, hovercraft - take your pick; although if you want to take a vehicle, it'll have to be one of the boat services. The bad news is that (a) any ferry is an inconvenience; and (b) more especially, all these ferries are expensive!

Somebody once said that, considering the short distance involved, the Isle of Wight boat ferries were the most expensive in the world. Presumably they meant a convenient morning ferry at high season, booked on the spur of the moment. But even an afternoon off-season ticket, booked well in advance, will seem pricey. For instance, a return price of £47.50 was quoted at me online just now, to take Fiona (but not the caravan) on the Portsmouth-Fishbourne boat ferry, with anchors aweigh at 3.00pm on 9 March. Twice that in June, or in the morning, I suspect.

There will be, of course, a 'sweet spot' where the date, the route, the time, and the price, will all seem in reasonable balance. But one has to face it, there is no cheap way to get on and off the Island!

Despite this, I am quite keen to see the place once again. I've rather overlooked the Isle of Wight. Although it's not impossibly far from where I live, I haven't gone there much. I spent a full day there with former spouse and stepchild in 1984. I returned again in 1997 - twice - with M--- for company, staying in a chalet at Colwell Bay in the far west. And we went back for another week in 2000, this time staying in an apartment in Ventnor. Since then, no holidays - and only two day visits, in 2008 and 2009.

If it's to be a holiday, then I'd like to take the car and the caravan, although the cost might be alarming! I'm aware that the Caravan Club have a special summer site-and-ferry deal, but all the time I'd be thinking, 'I could have had a grand tour of Northern England for this money'. It might be better to confine myself to a day trip in the spring or early summer - avoiding Easter - with Fiona as my transport. Going out on an early ferry, and returning late in the evening. Then I can get around swiftly, and see the best of the Island inside eight hours or so, and even fit in a pub meal. It'll still cost me a lot, but it'll be a much nicer experience than a long day out in London would be - certainly much less tiring.

So what's there to see? Here are some images, mostly from that 2000 holiday. I have three favourite towns: Ryde, Ventnor and Yarmouth. All three have handsome buildings and quirky features (although to be fair, all of the Island has things you will not see on the mainland). Ryde first:

If you have sharp eyes, you'll notice the special 'HW' letters on cars registered in the Isle of Wight. Ryde is a very Victorian place. And it has no less than three railway stations, which is remarkable for a small town on a short railway line (this line runs from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin). The electrified Island Railway is noteworthy because it uses former London Underground trains. These look odd in a holiday-island setting! Here's one at Brading station:

And here's one looking even odder, waiting to go at Ryde Pier Head station. There were no piers - no sea even - on the Piccadilly Line in London, where it originally came from!

And yet these trains do go 'underground' on the Island. There is a significant tunnel between Ryde St John's Road station and Ryde Esplanade station. For half a minute, you can recapture that proper Tube feeling. Here a train arrives at Ryde Esplanade station, bursting forth from the tunnel:

If I were on foot, a train journey to Shanklin would be a must. But driving in Fiona, I'd take a more scenic road route via Bembridge and Culver Cliff. They are in the next shots.

Ventnor is built on a series of terraces above the seafront.

From Ventnor, I'd drive along the long lonely road between Niton and Freshwater Bay. The views would be wonderful. I could inspect the chines along this coast. A chine is a deep coastal ravine made by river erosion. Whale Chine is well worth a lunchtime stop. It's especially deep, and the cliffs at its mouth are especially impressive:

The entire south-western coastline of the Island is slipping into the sea, which mercilessly attacks the weak beds of clay and sand that the cliffs are composed of. Looking north-west from Whale Chine, you see this:

Further up the same stretch of coast, at Compton Bay, it's all too clear how soft and yielding the sedimentary 'rocks' are:

Freshwater Bay, where the Victorian poet Tennyson lived, is made of chalk - which still isn't terribly hard, but it stands up to the sea much better:

Just out of sight, at the very westernmost end of the Island, are the famous Needles - a series of chalk stacks with a lighthouse at their tip. Here's a shot I took from a Jersey-bound plane in 1974 - The Needles are far left in the shot. Those chalk cliffs in the foreground are really high. It would be nice to go there and stretch my legs a bit, if there's time.

Driving north, and then a bit east, I will arrive at Yarmouth, a very nautical and yachty place, where the boat ferry from Lymington comes in to dock, as here:

I've always liked Yarmouth. It's small but very atmospheric. An obvious place for afternoon tea, I'm thinking!

Next, Newtown. This is a remote-feeling little place with cottages, an old and picturesque town hall, and a long raised causeway that takes you out to its lonely quay. Here's M--- on that causeway in 2000, going out and returning:

Very likely there will be just me and the estuary birds. I don't expect to meet a single human being.

It'll be getting late in the afternoon by now. I'd avoid the north part of the Island - which hasn't much scenic appeal for me anyway - and in particular the island 'capital' Newport, which if I remember rightly gets gridlocked with rush-hour traffic. I will instead head south, making my way over the high ridge that runs across the centre of the Island. Then I'll drive east through Mottistone and Brighstone. It's very rural hereabouts, with wide views. For example, on Limerstone Down:

By now I'll be looking out for a pub or restaurant. Back in 2000, The Crown at Shorwell did good food, so maybe I'll eat there, if they are serving early enough.

Then I'd zig-zag north-eastwards towards Fishbourne and the ferry back to the mainland.

I won't have seen everything on a day trip like this, not by any means, but it'll be a taster for a proper holiday. Or for another day trip, more focussed, not so concerned with covering as much ground as possible.

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