Take a day trip to the Isle of Wight for dinosaurs, delicacies and desirable views
PUBLISHED: 16:37 23 April 2014 | UPDATED: 16:50 23 April 2014
Leave the car at home and visit the Isle of Wight - by Jo MaCaulay
Taking a day trip to the Isle of Wight is a must if you’re staying in Hampshire or Dorset as it’s right on your doorstep and easy to reach. There’s a Wightlink ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth for vehicles and passengers or day trip cruises with smaller operators from Poole. If you’re day tripping it might be best to leave the car behind and take an Island Coaster bus.
Your first port of call is likely to be Yarmouth, a picturesque ancient town full of character and an eclectic selection of good pubs, restaurants and cafes. Time your visit between May 30th and June 1st and the Old Gaffers Festival will be filling the town and small harbour.
Close to the ferry terminal sits the George Hotel (01983 760331) who recently acquired celebrity chef Robert Thompson. After achieving a Michelin star for The Hambrough in Ventnor, Robert is now working his magic in this historical hostelry. Right next door is Henry VII’s Yarmouth Castle (english-heritage.org.uk), built to defend this small but strategic port and well worth a visit. Look out from here and you will spy Yarmouth Pier – one of the very few surviving wooden piers in the country.
Yarmouth Square has a quirky mix of traditional and designer shops that extend up the narrow High Street towards the green where you can sit and watch the boats go by. Or you might head southwards and skirt the river Yar along the old railway line, and then across The Causeway to have a bite to eat in the Red Lion Inn.
One of the best ways to see the Island is to get an Island Coaster bus from Yarmouth, which will take you to the westernmost point at The Needles Park and then on down along the dramatic south western coast to Ventnor. From here you will travel up the south eastern coast through Shanklin and Sandown to Yaverland before going through Bembridge and on to Ryde. Buy a day ticket for £10 (£5 for under 19s) and you can hop on and off at your leisure.
You could first take in the attractions at the Needles Park such as Alum Bay Glass, the sweet factory and the fairground rides – and don’t forget to take the chairlift to the beach to see those famous cliffs in their multi-coloured splendour, or get up close and personal to the Needles on a boat trip.
Take the open top bus along the top of the cliff to the very tip of the Island and you can visit the Needles Old and New Batteries with a fabulous view of the Needles lighthouse and those impressive chalk cliffs and stacks.
Next you might opt to drop down into Freshwater, a bay cut from the chalk cliffs with smugglers caves and rockpools to explore. Up the road is Dimbola (dimbola.co.uk), once home to pioneer Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and now an atmospheric museum and gallery with Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop.
If you’re taking the Island Coaster then the next stretch of your journey is the most spectacular, as the Island’s south west coastline is the most wild, rugged and unspoilt - stop off at any point and you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful beach to explore.
Blackgang, home to the country’s oldest theme park Blackgang Chine (blackgangchine.com), which opened in 1843, is at the southernmost tip of the Island on this trip. This year there is a brand new ‘Restricted Area 5’ dinosaur-filled park to enter if you dare. With water slides, roller coasters, cowboy town, fairy castle, amazing maze and rumpus mansion, there’s something for everyone.
Back on the bus and the next town you encounter is the Victorian seaside town of Ventnor, tumbling down to the pretty seashore where the old bathing machines have been made into beach huts and the famous Spyglass Inn (thespyglass.com) sits overlooking the bay. Ventnor Botanic Garden (botanic.co.uk) is a riot of colour and texture and the secret Steephill Cove down below here is only accessible on foot and is a real find.
The town has a quirky selection of individual shops, pubs and cafes and may be hosting live entertainment when you visit as it hosts two international arts festivals: the Isle of Arts (artsisle.org) from May 2nd to 5th and Ventnor Fringe (vfringe.co.uk) from August 12th to 17th.
The traditional seaside towns of Shanklin and Sandown are next on the Island Coaster route. Shanklin’s Old Village with its thatched cottages is really quaint - take a walk down to the seashore from here through the verdant Shanklin Chine. Both have miles of golden sand and the seaside attractions you’d expect to find – crazy golf, amusement arcades, fish and chips and ice cream. There are great pubs and cafés serving top notch local seafood too and at Sandown, there is the Island’s only surviving pleasure pier.
Yaverland beach, next to Sandown, is home to the Isle of Wight Zoo (isleofwightzoo.com) with its lovely tigers, lemurs and all manner of animals. Nextdoor is Dinosaur Isle (dinosaurisle.com), the Island’s dinosaur museum, telling the tale of the cretaceous giants who once roamed these lands - book a fossil finding walk from here to find the evidence for yourself.
Bembridge on the eastern-most end of the Island is the largest village in England and boasts a windmill that Turner once painted, plus a state of the art lifeboat station, quirky beach hut edged beaches and great seafood eateries.
Hop back on to The Island Coaster to Ryde, another traditional seaside resort with miles of golden sand which lines a fine Victorian town that sweeps down to the seafront. Promenade along the seafront, take a swan pedalo on the boating lake or saunter to the end of one of the longest piers in the country.
From here you could return to Yarmouth on the Coaster Bus or take a detour to perhaps East Cowes to see Queen Victoria’s former home Osborne House (english-heritage.org.uk), the beach where the family bathed and the newly restored Swiss Cottage where the children played. Large concerts are held in the grounds – this August see Little Mix on July 26th and Tom Jones on July 27th.
Take the floating bridge to West Cowes and you’re in yacht heaven, especially during Cowes Week (aamcowesweek.co.uk) (August 2nd to 9th). Lots of lovely shops, après sail entertainment on the marinas and pubs and restaurants are waiting to be discovered.
Newport is the only major town that you’ve missed and it’s only 20 minutes from Cowes. The Island’s capital town sits at the first bridging point on the Medina and has loads of great shops, pubs and eateries to discover including Quay Arts (quayarts.org) gallery and venue. Nearby Carisbrooke Castle (english-heritage.org.uk) is a fabulous motte and bailey castle with ramparts to walk and wonderful views over nearby Newport and the Medina River from the top of the tall keep.
The Isle of Wight Festival (isleofwightfestival.com) is on the banks of the Medina from June 12th to 15th with the Kings of Leon, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Biffy Clyro featuring Calvin Harris headlining this year. From September 4th to 7th Robin Hill Adventure Park and Gardens (robin-hill.com), a great family attraction just outside Newport, is taken over by Bestival (bestival.net) which will transport you to a Desert Island Disco with Outkast, Chic featuring Nile Rogers, Foals, Becks and many others.
The Festival of the Sea follows the Isle of Wight Festival from June 16th to 23rd and encompasses the annual Round the Island (roundtheisland.org.uk) yacht race on Saturday June 21st, which you could follow on the Island Coaster bus – an amazing sight.
Book your ferry back from Yarmouth at sun down and you’ll get a great show across the sea, sipping a long cold drink on the top deck as the sun slips beneath the horizon: The perfect end to a perfect day.