There aren’t many activities to beat a summer holiday by the seaside, and since Victorian times there haven’t been many better British locations to enjoy that holiday than the Isle of Wight (in fact, Queen Victoria enjoyed it so much she had a summer residence on the north part of the island). England’s largest island, the Isle of Wight boasts more hours of sunlight than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. And the holiday starts as soon as you leave the mainland, as visitors can get there in style by ferry or by hovercraft (one of the world’s last remaining commercial routes). Twenty minutes later and it’s possible to step off the boat and straight onto the golden sands of Ryde beach, where most people will be happy set up their sun brolly for the rest of the holiday.
Ryde Beach credit: Cristie Bradley
However, holidays involving nothing more strenuous than lying on a beach are not for everyone, and the Isle of Wight offers plenty of attractions for the more energetic. The Isle of Wight music festival takes place annually in June, and was famous in the late 1960’s for attracting the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors (as well as plenty of adoring fans). These days the festival is still going strong and attracting plenty of big names (2017 saw performances from David Guetta, Rod Stewart and Bastille, amongst others). The island is also famous for its sailing, and it has two annual races which every ardent sailor will have penned into the calendar. The Round the Island Race is a 50-nautical mile race which in 2017 attracted over 1,300 boats and 16,000 sailors. The race starts early in the morning, and before long the horizon is filled with a spectacular collage of colour and movement. The last boats only reach the end destination in the early evening, making for a long day out at sea. Even better known is the world-famous Cowes Week Sailing Regatta, an eight-day event which takes place annually in early August.
Cowes week credit: Seaview Hotel
Sailing isn’t the only beneficiary of the seemingly never-ending coastline: the island also has numerous beaches just waiting to be enjoyed. Ryde Beach is the best-known beach on the island, and it has endless space to spread out (at low tide the beach reaches almost to end of the pier, a whopping 681 metres away) and lovely calm waters. From Ryde there is a lovely walk along the esplanade towards Appley, and at the end of the stretch (two and a half miles away) lies Seaview, a charming village with lots of character and plenty of rockpools just waiting to be explored. The Seaview Hotel was our base for the weekend, and we couldn’t have asked for more: a stone’s throw from the beach, delicious food (the restaurant has been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand award for creative, affordable food) and lovely staff.
Beach holidays are always popular with young families, and the Isle of Wight has plenty of fun adventures scheduled for the October Halloween school holidays. Wizard Week at the Steam Railway takes place in Havenstreet and involves steam train rides, dressing up as wizards and witches, a woodland walk, birds-of-prey shows and a Halloween treasure hunt. There is also Halloween Fun at Ventnor Botanic Gardens (highlights include pumpkin carving and ghost walks) and the Isle of Fright at Carisbrooke Castle (children will be entertained with arts and crafts, ghost tours and a Halloween costume competition).
The Needles credit: ianwool
We were blessed with beautiful sunny skies, but even if the weather does show some British tendencies there are plenty of other attractions to enjoy. To the east of the island lies Sandown Bay, the location of both Dinosaur Isle (an interactive museum displaying the island’s impressive geology and fossil collections) and the Isle of Wight Zoo. Shanklin (also in Sandown Bay) is a popular site for water sports, and also has an entertainment area with three miniature golf courses. Ventnor (further to the south) has a main esplanade with buzzing pubs and cafes and a lively nightlife during the summer season. Ventnor is built on the highest part of the island with steep slopes and magnificent views out over the sea, as well as beautiful botanic gardens. Carrying on further round the island, one of the highlights of our trip was the drive from Ventnor to Needles viewpoint to the west of the island (with stunning coastal views along the way). The Needles is a distinctive landmark of chalk stacks rising out of the sea, and the boat ride to see them, combined with the chairlift ride down to the beach and the multi-coloured sand cliffs, all made for a fantastic day’s sightseeing. Whatever the weather and whatever activities you choose, you really can’t go wrong on the Isle of Wright.
Accommodation: The Seaview Hotel is well located close to the beach. The hotel is running an attractive ‘Wight Hot Deal’ during the off season, which is £199 for a 2-night stay for 2 people (includes 2 nights in standard room, a 3-course dinner and a full English breakfast every morning). See the website (www.seaviewhotel.co.uk) for details.
Wizard Week at the Steam Railway: The event takes place from 23 to 27 October, see www.iwsteamrailway.co.uk for more details (online prices are £11.50 per adult, £6 per child or £29 per family).