Best things about living on the Isle of Wight
PUBLISHED: 09:37 12 August 2016 | UPDATED: 09:37 12 August 2016
If you're into festivals, sunshine and green industries, the Isle of Wight calls, suggests Emma Caulton
“Islanders tend to move to the mainland for ten years, serve their time in London and then come back,” Duncan Willard of Spence Willard tells me. The Isle of Wight attracts second home owners, too, particularly the fashionable coastal villages of Bembridge, Bonchurch and Seaview, and towns of Cowes and Yarmouth as, typically, second home owners want a sea view and many like access to a yacht club. More recently, Duncan has noticed an influx of refugees from Winchester, who feel the city is becoming too “whizzy”. In contrast the Isle of Wight is reminiscent of life before it became speeded up. This is not to say it is a sleepy backwater. In fact the island has a cool edge.
It has always been popular with the celebs, artists and business chiefs of the day (the likes of Charles Dickens back when and Benedict Cumberbatch now) partly for inspiration, partly as the island’s low profile gives those with a high profile a chance to unwind undisturbed. It also has a reputation as ‘Festival Island’. The Isle of Wight Festival was originally conceived as a counterculture event - it has been joined by multi-award-winning Bestival, an imaginative ‘boutique’ festival experience, and the Garlic Festival, described as the biggest summer show on the island and surely one of the first food festivals in the country (established in 1983 as a fundraising event). Meanwhile the Isle of Wight Walking Festival (with 250 walks in spring and another 70 in autumn) has become the biggest walking festival in the UK and its ‘Speed Dating Walk’ has achieved a success rate of four marriages and one baby. Newer festivals include Festival of the Sea: a celebration of the island’s nautical heritage, now in its fourth year, and encompassing JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race and Shipwreck Isle (aka Isle of Wight Pirate Festival). Other water-focused events include Cowes Week: one of the UK’s longest running sporting events and the largest regatta of its kind in the world.
In terms of industry and employment opportunities, sustainable energy technologies are major players and include Vestas, the wind turbine manufacturers, while a new scheme to install tidal turbines (a joint venture between Isle of Wight Council and Perpetuus Energy) has recently been given the go ahead and is hailed as world-leading. I’m also told that if you fly over the island you’d be surprised at the number of solar farms making the most of the Isle of Wight’s sunshine hours – more on average than any other part of the UK. Sunshine is a factor in the Island’s more traditional employment sectors: agriculture and tourism. Check out Tapnell Farm Park, the island’s latest attraction - which combines the two elements with interactive animal experiences, farm tours and ‘Moo-seum’.
The countryside is an attraction in itself: wonderful downlands with windswept ridges, green sunken leafy lanes, rolling lush farmland with wide views, all criss-crossed by footpaths and bridleways. There are 70 miles of coastline - and a third of that is good beach. There are country parks, such as Fort Victoria and Robin Hill, and a growing reputation for adventure activities, such as coasteering and kayaking, as well as horse riding and cycling.
Around every corner are delights: quaint village greens, village shops in thatched cottages, country inns with signs welcoming muddy boots and dogs. The Isle of Wight has become known for its produce and there are a number of farm shops and great places to eat and drink. Recommendations include Off the Rails, converted from Yarmouth’s old station, The Hut overlooking the beach at Colwell Bay, The Piano Cafe at Freshwater Bay, Dan’s Kitchen at St Helens, and no-frills The Crab Shed within feet of the waves at Steephill Cove.
Tempted to move? House prices are 10-20 per cent less than Hampshire and offer glorious property porn for those of us who fancy a Jacobean manor house, medieval farmhouse, Victorian seaside villa with verandah, thatch cottage, honeyed stonework, or something contemporary - all glass and views. It’s hard to think of anywhere else with such a density of houses to drool and dream over.
Transport links are good with ferries running from Lymington, Portsmouth and Southampton, two airports and an impressive and extensive bus network.
The main downside is schooling which is sound at primary level (plenty are rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted), but lacking otherwise. However, I’m assured vast amounts are being invested in provision at secondary level.
But the Isle of Wight is less about schooling and more about quality of life, sea, sand, sunshine and fresh crab.
Agent talk - Duncan Willard, Spence Willard
“The Isle of Wight is flourishing. With an established reputation for picture postcard holidays it has become a ‘go to’ destination for those seeking quality second homes, retirement boltholes or a more dynamic way of life.
The ‘Island’ as it’s often known, has more manor houses per square mile than any other part of the UK. Generations of the Royal Family and the aristocracy have held substantial houses and estates here for hundreds of years and many ‘old money’ owners have kept this tradition alive.
In recent years the Island has attracted high profile personalities, who appreciate the peace and privacy while remaining in close proximity to London and international transport links.
Increasingly seen as great alternatives to the sought after hotspots of the South-West, the likes of Yarmouth, Cowes, Bembridge, Seaview and Bonchurch are now favourably compared to South Hams towns and popular North Cornwall and Devon destinations.
The Island is able to offer world leading sailing facilities, 70 miles of magnificent coastline and beautiful countryside. It’s a fun place to be with more festivals than any other area of comparable size. For me, it’s fantastic to be able to base our family here. If you’re into boats, beaches and country life, it is unbeatable.”
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