In the grand scheme of things, The Island Brewery is very young — although its brewer’s knowledge could be said to be far older. The passion and dedication that goes into the time-honoured skill of producing Britain’s traditional tipple has resulted in gold medals at international competitions. The Brewery also gives 10p per pint of its flagship brew, Earl’s RDA, to the Island-based Earl Mountbatten Hospice. It is also giving away a free commemorative gift with every new order — just quote RF24.
Meanwhile, the oldest brewery on the Isle of Wight has been brewing its real ales since 1993, in the stunning surroundings of Barnsley Farm in Ryde. Goddards is one of the first independent craft beer producers in the UK and brews its ales using locally sourced Island barley as well as hand-picked hops from Ventnor Botanic Gardens. Its beers can be found in most pubs and bars on the Island, as well as pubs up and down the country. With delightfully quirky names such as Starboard!, Ale of Wight, Wight Squirrel and Fuggle-Dee-Dum, they have become firm favourites with locals and visitors alike.
Yates’ IOW Brewery began life back in 1998 and has grown rapidly in that time, now supplying over 250 outlets across the Island. Its flagship ale, Yates Islander, is a very easy-drinking, amber-coloured brew, which has become the fastest-selling cask ale on the Island and a permanent fixture in most of the Island’s pubs, cafés, restaurants and supermarkets. Islander was also a finalist at the Great British
Beer Festival 2017 so be sure to try it whilst you are here. Yates also has a wholesale drinks division and is a wholesale partner with every drinks company in the UK.
If gin is more your thing, the Isle of Wight Distillery is the first and only distillery on the Island, licensed in 2014 by friends Xavier Baker and Conrad Gauntlett. Combining a wealth of experience in brewing and wine-making with locally sourced ingredients, they have created a range of premium spirits that express the beauty and character of the Island they love. Situated on the outskirts of Ryde in stunning countryside, visitors are invited to watch the distilling process, sample the spirits on offer in the Mermaid Bar or enjoy a gin and tonic on the terrace, looking out over the valley.
A small batch, hand-crafted spirit, the distillery’s signature spirit Mermaid Gin captures the essence of the Island, blending locally sourced botanicals, including rock samphire foraged from chalk cliffs, to produce its smooth yet complex flavour. The Isle of Wight Distillery is committed to environmentally friendly production, the preservation of the Island and the marine environment.
When it comes to wines, long-standing Island wine-producer Rosemary Vineyard was planted in 1986 and covers 30 acres at almost 60 feet above sea level. With its mostly south facing aspect, the vineyard is ideally placed to benefit from the mild island climate. The valley’s situation helps retain summer warmth and offers shelter from the south-westerly winds. The gentle slopes allow excellent frost drainage in the spring to protect the newly budded vines, while the soil — a clay-silt loam overlying greensand — is not only free-draining, but also retains sufficient moisture for healthy growth.
The vineyard’s speciality is dry, sparkling wine, made from its oldest grape variety, Seyval, in the traditional way with re-fermentation in the bottle. As well as sparkling wine, the vineyard also produces red and white country wines with locally foraged ingredients, ciders and liqueurs, using Solaris, Orion, Reichensteiner, Triomphe D’Alsace, Ronda and Phoenix grape varieties.
A delectable drink deserves to be accompanied by a delicious dish — and The Best Dressed Crab has been serving up its fantastic food for 18 years now. Run by Graham Henley, a local fisherman and ex-RNLI, this delightful family-run business based in Bembridge specialises in the freshest, finest crabs and lobsters. Caught locally, only the very best are selected for sale. It also provides beautifully fresh local dressed crabs served ready to eat in their shell, as well as whole crabs and amazing giant crab claws. Fresh, local lobsters are also available, simply cooked, prepared or live. But the crème de la crème has to be the local Bembridge prawns, an absolute delicacy, which are available when in season.
All of the above can be combined in one of The Best Dressed Crab’s famous seafood platters, to be enjoyed while sat in the floating café looking out over the bustling harbour.
Morning Start the day with waffles, bacon and maple syrup at popular new Wootton high street all-day eatery Cibo — or a bottomless Prosecco brunch for the grown-ups. This should set the kids up nicely for a trot around the nearby Island Riding Centre. Tucked away among the rolling hills and winding lanes just five minutes down the road, the centre consists of smart accommodation, stabling, an indoor and outdoor riding arena and, soon, a restaurant.
Lunch Head to nearby Briddlesford Farm Dairy and its Bluebells Café for great burgers, steak sandwiches and cracking Scotch eggs produced from its own meat, then stock up for supper in its farm shop, which is packed with Island-made and grown produce. Don’t miss Briddlesford’s award-winning cheeses (it won a gold for its delicious Cheddar just two years after it first started making it) and there’s also a butcher on site.
Afternoon Get up close and personal with birds of prey at Haven Falconry in Havenstreet. It has 50 different bird species — 21 from around the world, including eagles and vultures, as well as more familiar owls, hawks and falcons. There are also talks and bird handling sessions. Afterwards, nip next door to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway and step back in time with a ride on one of this award-winning attraction’s beautifully renovated vintage steam locomotives. Just up the road is another trophy-winning destination, Monkey Haven, a primate rescue centre where you can meet lemurs and gibbons, marmosets and capuchins, among other mammals.
Evening/overnight Go for a late afternoon stroll through Parkhurst Forest to catch a glimpse of a red squirrel, the only native squirrel to the British Isles. It’s disappearing fast due to the prolific North American greys — but thanks to the Solent, the Island is a grey-squirrel-free zone. Stay overnight in a Tiny Home, a unique development of four bespoke off-grid eco homes in a meadow on the edge of the Forest, with activities available including writers’ talks and yoga.
Morning Make tracks to Two Elements in Cowes, a short walk from the Red Jet terminal, and pick up mountain bikes to hit the Red Squirrel Trail for as far as you dare along the meadow-edged Medina River (the trail finishes in Sandown), before returning to explore Cowes, home to the biggest sailing regatta — Cowes Week (8-15 August). Explore the yachtie hub on foot, grabbing a coffee at Art Nouveau gem Joliffe’s Eatery and browsing the shops, which include everything from stylish homewares at Staples & Green, to covetable clothing, jewellery and gifts at Live Like This.
Lunch Hit the road to stunning Appley Beach and the much celebrated, New England-styled Three Buoys restaurant for superior crab risotto and 32-day dry-aged sirloin, washing it down with a glass of bubbles. For something more casual, try a beef brisket Reuben and dirty fries accompanied by an Island-made Mermaid G&T at the panoramic view-boasting Dell Café on Puckpool Sands at the southern end of the beach. Then enjoy the stretch of glorious golden beach after, one of the best on the Island.
Afternoon Follow the coast path into Ryde and have a browse around the historic town. You’ll find all your mid-century needs (1970s coffee pot, anyone?) at Dig for Vintage and plenty of smart smellies at Liz Earle’s flagship store, stopping for tea and cake at No.64. If shopping is not your thing, try a spot of forest-bathing at Firestone Copse, notable for its wide range of tree species, from oak to soaring Douglas Firs.
Evening/overnight Upmarket Seaview is picture-postcard pretty, with its art galleries — for local art, try the Seaview Art Gallery — cafés (find excellent coffee at Lily’s Cafe) and yacht club. Sailing rules here, along with other watersports. Before settling into your comfortable bed for the night at the classy Seaview Hotel with its Michelin-rated restaurant, make time for an early evening stroll on popular Seagrove Beach.
Morning Start your immersion into Queen Victoria’s life on the Island at St Mildred’s Church in Whippingham, rebuilt by Prince Albert so the royal family could worship here. Then continue on to Osborne House, the Island’s most famous attraction. The royal pair bought Osborne in 1845, transforming it into their Island retreat and it opens a fascinating window on to their private family life.
Lunch You need time to do justice to Osborne House, from the opulent State Rooms to the Swiss Cottage, where the royal children used to hang out — and be sure to explore the well-kept grounds. Keep with the royal theme and enjoy lunch in Osborne’s Terrace Restaurant, housed in Queen Victoria’s magnificent private chapel. Feast on classic British staples with a twist, such as locally made pork and leek sausages with truffled mash, followed by cherry bakewell sponge pudding.
Afternoon Nip down to the Classic Boat Museum, also in East Cowes, and check out The Boat Shed with its impressive collection of more than 70 boats, from classic yachts to motorboats. Jump on the chain ferry to West Cowes, where more learned institutions await, including the Sir Max Aitken Museum on Cowes High Street, which is housed in an 18th-century former sail loft stuffed with Sir Max’s personal collection of historic and nautical artefacts. If you’re a fan of armoured tanks, then take a 10-minute drive to The Wight Military & Heritage Museum, where tours are conducted by ex-service volunteers — you can also test your shooting skills on its air rifle range. Craving solitude? Then head to Quarr Abbey, a working Benedictine monastery housed in an imposing 1912-built brick building. It also boasts an oasis of a tea and farm shop that serves superior cakes.
Evening/overnight Hunker down in Wootton at the Lakeside Park Hotel & Spa, a four-star hotel with a smart brasserie overlooking a 20-acre tidal lake (helicopter landing available), a short walk from the coast and surrounded by woodland. The real draw is the spa, which offers dozens of different treatments and pamper packages, from massages to hydrotherapy.
Rent an inflatable paddleboard from Two Elements in Cowes, either picking it up from the shop, or it will deliver it straight to your accommodation. It will recommend the best spots for beginners, but for experienced hands head to Gurnard for a paddle on the Solent — starting first with a healthy breakfast of barista-made coffee and avocado and poached eggs on toast at Gurnard Press. Two Elements also rents out mountain bikes, in which case you could follow the Round the Island cycle route until your energy runs out.
Lunch Return from a bracing morning and head to The Little Gloster Restaurant with Rooms, voted the 2020 Good Food Guide’s Best Local Restaurant in the UK, and feast on co-owner and head chef Ben Cooke’s well-executed dishes (with local fish a feature) scoffing them on one of the outside tables overlooking the Solent. Snooze it off on the “secret” beach after — they’ll point the way.
Afternoon Energy restored, get the adrenaline going again at Wight Karting, an all-weather, 520-metre outdoor track where you can channel your inner Lewis Hamilton. Then start the party at the Isle of Wight Gin Distillery’s Mermaid Bar, situated on the outskirts of Ryde in stunning countryside. Learn about the distillation process and sip Mermaid G&T while overlooking the verdant valley, before snapping up one of its design award-winning bottles to take home.
Evening/overnight Continue the party back in Cowes with more cocktails at Coast Bar & Dining Room — the Elderflower Gin Fix is a highlight — before retreating to your super stylish bed for the night a few minutes’ walk away at chic boutique hotel North House, which is owned by the same design-minded folk. Dinner is a treat in its buzzy restaurant, where you could start with scallops, cauliflower purée and pancetta, followed by steak cooked in a charcoal oven, finishing with a killer lemon posset.
Wherever you find yourself on this diamond-shaped island, you’re never very far away from the water. With the right equipment and some expert guidance, you can learn to surf, perfect your sailing skills, or explore the beautiful coastline in a kayak.
Based on the east coast, by St Helen’s Duver, Tackt-Isle runs beginners’ courses in sailing and windsurfing, daily sessions of kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding, and a multi-activity week for children throughout the season. There’s also some adrenaline-pumping dry activities to choose from, including sand yachting and zorbing, so landlubbers will be as happily occupied as water babies.
Adventure Activities has bases in both East and West Wight and offers an equally exciting variety of water and land-based activities, including giant paddle-boarding, kayak day tours, mountain boarding, archery and bushcraft; its Freshwater Bay site is also the only coasteering site on the island.
UKSA in Cowes has a well-earned reputation for providing industry-accredited sailing courses, but it also offers Fun Days during the school holidays for 8-15 year olds, keeping youngsters busy with dinghy sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, raft building and playing team games.
Wight Waters provides a variety of fun and professional training courses for all ages, including Royal Yachting Association sailing courses and stand-up paddleboard yoga — or book your child into its popular two-hour Splash Sessions on Dunroamin Beach.
Inland there’s plenty to occupy your crew — and a particularly memorable way to explore the island’s natural landscape is to take to the trees. Goodleaf Tree Climbing is expert
in recreational tree-climbing and will provide all the equipment and training needed to help you safely scale a 70-foot oak tree in Appley Park, Ryde, with climbing ropes and a safety harness. Tree-top hammocks provide a comfortable pit-stop in the tree canopy, giving climbers the chance to stop and savour the panoramic views across the Solent; after your descent, you can look forward to a reviving slice of Treeclimbers’ Flapjack. Junior climbers might like to hone their skills on an indoor climbing wall, such as that at Tapnell Farm Park in West Wight. This popular venue has recently added an outdoor water park to its facilities, so with animals, adventure activities and now aquatics on site, children will be kept busy the whole day long. Tapnell’s Play Barn, farmyard animal barn and Straw Bale Adventure Barn (featuring the Island’s longest indoor zip wires) are all fully covered, so can still be enjoyed on a rainy day — along with the indoor track for mini go-karts.
For more of a Formula One-style experience, head to Wight Karting in Ryde. With 520 metres of all-weather, floodlit go-kart track, it’s the perfect destination for confirmed petrolheads and can be driven even on rainy days. A variety of kart sizes means children as young as eight can get behind a wheel, and there are dedicated Junior Track Days every Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the school holidays. Protective clothing is provided and drivers receive a lap timesheet so they can chart their progress or challenge friends to an Isle of Wight Grand Prix.
There is plenty for animal lovers on the Island. For a slower-paced mode of travel, saddle up with Sally’s Riding School in Bembridge and ride a pony along the beach. Catering for equestrians of all ages and abilities, including beginners, Sally and her experienced team will provide you with a memorable outing that’s high on many people’s wish-list. Call in advance to check availability and tide times.
At West Wight Alpacas, you can’t ride the resident alpacas and llamas, but you can take them on a guided walk around the farm, while their keeper gives you a potted history of these charming creatures. Elsewhere on the farm, you’ll find pygmy goats, lambs, rare breed sheep, exotic chickens and Oxford and Sandy Back pigs. An on-site shop sells Suri alpaca yarn, hand-knitted garments and llama-themed gifts (guarded by Pixie, the talking parrot), while adjacent cafe The Llama Tree serves excellent wood-fired pizzas and Peruvian coffee.
Amazon World near Arreton is an animal lovers’ paradise that cares for more than 200 species, including flamingos, sloths, anteaters, ocelots and Komodo Dragons, and highlights conservation issues. Daily “Meet the Animal” sessions with the keepers give visitors insights into the animals’ habits, and budding zoologists can book a feeding or grooming Animal Experience to get even closer to the animals. The Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary also offers one-to-one animal experiences with its 97 rescued donkeys and 26 ponies. Choose from grooming sessions, walking a miniature Shetland pony, or working alongside staff to help feed, groom, exercise and clean the sanctuary’s animal residents. While Donkey Experiences should be booked in advance, all visitors are welcome to drop in and meet the donkeys at this
55-acre site in the Wroxall Valley.
For a walk with a difference, follow a treasure hunt or murder mystery quest from Treasure Trails, with 10 Isle of Wight locations to choose from. Each adventure offers fascinating historical or geological insights to the Island that are revealed as you crack the clues — there’s even the chance to win real treasure, by submitting the winning answer online and entering a monthly prize draw.
Benedictine monastery Quarr Abbey, near Ryde, may not offer cash rewards to those exploring its 200-acre grounds, but you might be rewarded with a glimpse of a native red squirrel and other wildlife on its circular woodland trail. Junior visitors can borrow Explorer Kits, which come complete with binoculars, a bug pot and activity cards, to help make the most of the surroundings. There’s a walled garden, orchard and wildflower meadow to explore, as well as resident pigs and chickens to meet.
For those more fascinated by the creatures of yesteryear, a guided fossil hunt on one of the Island’s beaches will prove a memorable treat — and possibly deliver its very own ancient treasure trawl. Start at the Dinosaur Isle museum in Sandown, to see the skeletons and life-size models of the dinosaurs that once roamed the Isle of Wight, then head down to the beach opposite to look for fossilized remains among the Cretaceous rocks on the foreshore. For further fossil hunting, join Martin Simpson from Island Gems for a tour of “Dinosaur Island”.
To explore the Island in inclement weather, take a ride on a vintage steam train from Havenstreet Station, home of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. During the holidays, look out for seasonally themed outings, such as Santa Specials and Fright Night. Trainspotters of all ages will also enjoy exploring its historic collection of Victorian and Edwardian locomotives and carriages in the new Discovery Centre.
Whatever the weather, Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeguards and volunteers are always on standby, with three RNLI stations on the Isle of Wight. Situated along a walkway across Bembridge beach, Bembridge Lifeboat Station makes a fascinating visit for young and old alike. Built in 2010 to accommodate a Tamar-class lifeboat, visitors can see the RNLI’s lifeboat (when it’s not in active service) and explore the history of sea rescues from Bembridge Ledge.
If your little ones need to work off some energy, let them run, jump, climb and slide to their heart’s content in the Island’s largest soft play centre, JR Zone, near Newport. A five-level play frame features a four-lane slide, ball pit, rope bridges and a netted football area, with separate zones for toddlers and older children, while an on-site cafe and free parking makes this venue as appealing to adults as children.
No longer a place of combat, but a former fortress, home and prison to royalty over the centuries, Carisbrooke Castle is now owned by English Heritage. On a dry day, you can walk around the castle battlements and enjoy views across the Island, but there are plenty of historical artefacts inside the castle and adjoining museum to enthrall if the weather turns. Children can also dress up in authentic costumes and attempt to fire a mini cannon in the gatehouse. Leave enough time to meet the four resident donkeys, traditionally kept to work the 16th-century tread wheel of the castle’s well, but still offering short daily demonstrations.
A short drive from Carisbrooke, Chessell Pottery makes an inviting destination to while away an afternoon painting ceramics — choose from mugs to money boxes. The adjoining café is a cosy spot to repair to, with a delightful garden for when the sun shines. You’ll need to return to collect your pottery once it has been fired — which is the perfect opportunity to sample another
of their delicious, freshly baked cakes.
It might not be the first place you think of when it comes to cutting-edge fashion, but the Island has become an unlikely hotbed of home-grown style in recent years, from the upcycled bouncy castle bags loved by TV presenter Fearne Cotton, to the recycled organic cotton T-shirts worn by model Cara Delevingne. And best of all, this movement has sustainability and ethics at its heart. Perhaps living in this rural location gives local designers a unique understanding of how fashion affects the environment, or maybe it’s simply the beauty of our landscape that inspires a special kind of creativity.
Take the Isle of Wight gansey jumper, for example — the brainchild of ex-John Galliano knitwear designer Gail Middleton, who now runs Mrs Middleton’s Bookshop in Freshwater, and her retail neighbour Marianne Su Yin, owner of the artisan gift shop and craft space Whistle & Hound. “We started talking about workshops with a focus on reigniting traditional skills and running a teaching-based knitting group,” says Su Yin of the partnership. “Living on an island, this seemed like a natural project to work on together, especially as our modern island lives are still influenced by the sea”.
With a base pattern created by Middleton — a modernised version of the traditional gansey (an old dialect word for jumper) shape — the only way to get your hands on one is to sign up to an eight-week knitting course at Whistle & Hound. “Each piece produced by our knitters is totally unique, with personalised patterns having their own story,” continues Su Yin. “Our wool is sourced from British business Rowan Yarn. We don’t use anything artificial and there is no waste; all extras are used up in other smaller projects.”
Another British fabric-focused company using the Island’s geography as a starting point is Smock Project, which boasts, as the name suggests, practical unisex smocks that are ideal for popular Island activities such as sailing, walking and gardening. “It was a product that people kind of expected, but there wasn’t one,” founder Anna Pickering tells me. She sells her wares mostly at London’s Herne Hill market, but also makes the most of the buoyant summer months on the Island to sell at selected markets such as Yarmouth Vintage Car Boot. She uses traditional fabrics such as moleskin, drill and corduroy in easy-to-wear shades of navy, grey and washed-out red. “I use dead stock, vintage, or UK made,” she says. “I can’t see why I would do it any other way.”
But the Island’s new fashion hub doesn’t stop at the traditional, as the designers utilising otherwise unwanted materials to make desirable bags are proving. The Yarmouth interiors shop Lintons Home introduced woven totes to its range in 2018 and you’ll be hard pushed to walk down any high street on the Island and not see someone sporting one. Made from either recycled plastic bottles or packing straps, they are all handwoven and are practical enough for everyday shopping, while being a handsome addition to any outfit.
Meanwhile, Wyatt & Jack has been upcycling bags from an even more seaside-familiar fabric since 2010. After helping a friend remove some 1970s fabric from a sun lounger, founder Georgia Wyatt-Lovell used it to make a bag for herself. “I then decided to make more and drove around the UK coast meeting up with beach concessionaires to take their old deckchair canvas and windbreaks,” she says. “At the time, people were asking ‘what do you want that for? It’s going in the bin!’ Now there’s more awareness than there ever has been.”
And Wyatt-Lovell’s desire to save old fabrics didn’t stop at deckchairs: “I moved on to bouncy castles about a year later.” The brand launched an inflatables amnesty in 2016, encouraging people around the world to send in their old lilos and dinghies to be reused. To date, they’ve collected around 150 tonnes, saving it from landfill. The rucksacks, clutches and shoppers that it is made into are incredibly popular, with some styles selling out within minutes online. When Fearne Cotton posted a picture of herself using one, combined with some national press coverage, orders sky-rocketed and haven’t subsided since. Wyatt-Lovell even has a stockist lined up as far afield as California.
“We’ve gone from a team of two to a team of 15 people over the course of about a month,” she says. This works especially well because as well as having environmental issues at the heart of her brand, she also advocates supporting local people. “I wanted to bring manufacturing back to the Island,” she says, having moved from London to a workshop near Sandown. “One of the things I like is that we can employ people flexibly and above the living wage.”
Employing a good number of young people is something that brothers Mart and Rob Drake-Knight, the co-founders of casual fashion brand Rapanui, are also passionate about. Their solar-powered factory in Freshwater’s old Co-op building has around 60 full-time and 30 part-time staff, who benefit from the software and robotics the company writes and builds in-house to make the working environment as efficient and stress-free as possible. “There’s more network cable in this building than in the space shuttle,” Mart Drake-Knight tells me as we take a tour of the site.
Rapanui began as an organic cotton T-shirt and surfwear brand in 2009, but the brothers always had circular design — based around zero waste and products being returned to the manufacturer — in mind from the beginning. “We use organic cotton because it’s high quality, plus it’s good enough to be used on its own without a synthetic additive,” Drake-Knight says. “What that means is, we are able to remake it.” Every Rapanui product’s label explains how to return it to the brand when the customer no longer wants it, where it can be remade into recycled cotton fibre and, ultimately, a new Rapanui garment. And it’s working — last summer they received back a tonne of old garments every month.
Keen to upscale their business without having a detrimental effect on the environment, the brothers had the idea for Rapanui’s most recent venture: Teemill. “We see ourselves now as toolmakers. Factories are usually designed to shut out anything other than mass production; 40% of all clothing produced is never sold and goes straight to landfill. We realised that there weren’t solutions.” So, they made them. Using modified Epson paper printers that allow an infinite number of water-based organic ink colours to be used (and with no minimum order), combined with their own software and those circular organic cotton T-shirts, Teemill gives anyone, from big clients such as Google, to individuals in their bedrooms, the tools to design their own T-shirts which are then printed in Freshwater. “There are about 65,000 businesses connected to this factory,” says Drake-Knight. “Because we make products in real time after they’ve been sold, there’s no waste.”
So, whether it’s traditional craftsmanship, cool upcycling, or cutting-edge technology that floats your sustainable boat, you really couldn’t have come to a better place than the Isle of Wight for the best in local, sustainable fashion.
Lauren Griffiths’ distinctive style is minimal and raw. Her contemporary designs are Fairtrade certified, responsibly sourced, and come in recycled packaging. She also runs jewellery and silversmithing workshops at her studio in Bembridge.
With a store on the southern tip of the Island in Ventnor, Sophie Honeybourne, a Royal College of Art graduate, specialises in work inspired by the Island’s beaches and unspoilt woodlands. She also has a popular upcycling service that breathes new life into inherited items.
Founded by Artemis Russell, originally from the Island, and Nao Utsumi, from London via Japan, RU.ST creates ethical jewellery that it sells in its showrooms in Yarmouth and Tokyo. All of its diamond and precious metal suppliers are certified members of the Responsible Jewellery Council.
“Appley Beach, with its miles of gentle golden sands, is a brilliant, family-friendly beach at any time of year. In the summer, the water is so warm when it comes in over the hot sands; it’s also the perfect place for a sunset swim. In the winter, it’s a great place for a stroll along the shore, watching the birds and collecting shells and sea glass along the way. With its quirky tower overlooking the beach, fab eateries (Three Buoys and The Dell are our family favourites) and stunning views across to the mainland, I think Appley is hard to beat.” Paul McCathie, Goodleaf Tree Climbing
“We are spoilt for choice in Gurnard with two wonderful beaches right on our doorstep — Thorness Bay to our left and Gurnard’s ‘secret beach’ to our right, both offering great sunsets. Thorness Beach, accessed down a pot-holey road via the holiday camp, is a hidden gem, where you can pull the car up on the beach front, have a barbecue, go rockpooling, swimming, or enjoy its protected location for a bit of paddleboarding. Gurnard’s secret beach is only accessible by foot when the tide is out and is the short stretch of sand between Gurnard and The Little Gloster. It’s a local favourite for a post-work picnic or quiet swimming spot.” Ben and Holly Cooke, The Little Gloster Restaurant with Rooms
“Seagrove Bay, to the east of Seaview Beach, is a particularly stunning spot and you can see why many a marriage proposal is made here. With its gently sloping golden sands and clear waters, it’s a great place for families, with crabbing off Quay Rocks and watersports available at the Warren Boat Yard next to Seaview Yacht Club. It’s dog-friendly, too, with local parking and is easily accessible from Seaview village. There you will find Lily’s Café for yummy beach picnics, The Deli for great ice cream, Seaview Hotel for tasty lunches and The Fort pub for fab fish and chips.” Linda Groves, Seaview Art Gallery
“As you approach tree-lined Totland Bay, the first thing you’ll see is the shimmering turquoise water. The contrast between this and the green of the wooded hillside in summer is breathtaking and it’s a wonderful, safe place to swim. One of my favourite features is the old lifeboat station with its hand-painted ‘Totland Tides’ sign. The Waterfront is perfect for a drink and to watch the incredible sunsets.” Lilly Louise Allen, Artist and illustrator
“From Ventnor seafront, Steephill Cove is a lovely, undulating 15-minute walk along the clifftops. Once there, grab one of Dave’s Deckchairs out of the shed and claim your spot. Enjoy a mid-morning cuppa from the Cove Coffee Shop followed by rockpooling when the tide is out — or rent a paddleboard or kayak from Steephill Cove Kayaks if you’re feeling more energetic. For lunch, grab a glass of something cold and one of our hot crab pasties, followed by an ice cream from the nearby café. It’s also fun to wander up and catch a game at the historic Ventnor Cricket Club, directly above the cove, or head to Ventnor Botanic Gardens next door to check out one of its regular art exhibitions, plus the famous flora and fauna.” Amanda Wheeler, The Crab Shed
“After a hot chocolate at Baywatch on the Beach, amble along the breathtakingly beautiful St Helen’s Causeway towards the sand dunes of The Duver — it’s a sandy outcrop to
the side of Bembridge Harbour that leads to the open sea. I always have my camera with me to capture the sea birds, wildlife and flowers that I then turn into prints back in my studio in the village. At low tide, rockpooling at Nodes Point reveals the secrets of the sea. At high tide, the waves splash over the beach huts on the promenade. In the summer months, at sunset, take a picnic and a cosy blanket and you’ve got the beach virtually all to yourselves.” Jo Jeffery, Seashells and Lavender
“Ventnor is the southernmost beach on the Island. It’s great for swimming at high tide — the water is often clear enough for snorkelling. Deck chairs and Victorian beach huts are available to hire at Blakes in the middle of the bay. I often enjoy a coffee at The Met Bar or Lady Scarlett’s and people-watch the promenaders in the morning sun. For top fish and chips, head to the Ventnor Haven Fishery and for pub grub, go to The Spyglass Inn, while the Smoking Lobster serves great seafood. The best spot to watch the sunset is the Art Deco-designed Winter Gardens — which also serves the best Guinness in town.” Julian Winslow, Photographer
“Sandown Bay is one of the most recognised beaches, with its miles of golden sand beaches — it’s hardly surprising that it won Best British Beach in the Countryfile awards. The fantastic walk from Culver Down to Shanklin gives really idyllic views back across the bay. At Yaverland, you can swim, enjoy a picnic or barbecue, and look for fossils in the stones on the beach, which you can then take along to Dinosaur Isle to be identified. I also love a round of golf at Browns across the road. There are a multitude of cafés and restaurants here — I particularly love the breakfasts at Yaverland Kiosk, and Browns Café for tea and cake. If you fancy burgers with a fantastic view head to The Beach Café, and for evening drinks and dinner try The Reef.” Alex Peaker, Dinosaur Isle
“Situated on the westernmost point of the Isle of Wight, tucked down under 21 colours of sand is Alum Bay. This picturesque beach is framed by the iconic chalk stacks known as The Needles and offers that feeling of exclusion from modern-day life that so many of us are after on holiday. Being west facing, it enjoys the afternoon and evening sun, with the mid-summer sun high enough to shine over the cliff top by mid-morning for early beach-goers. In fair weather, it’s also popular with boaters anchoring in the bay, enjoying a spot of lunch or swimming in the waters close to the beach.” Peter Lemonius, Needles Pleasure Cruises
“Freshwater Bay has inspired many an artist and writer — Poet Lord Alfred Tennyson famously lived here, in Farringford House, now spectacularly renovated and open to visitors — and you can see why, with its soaring chalk cliffs, smugglers’ caves, sparkling waters and clean pebble beach. It’s perfect for swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding, which you can arrange through Adventure Activities — even surfing, when the weather conspires. For your coffee fix, head to The Piano Café, just a five-minute walk up the hill, and for great tea and cake go to the Dimbola Museum and Tearoom, after checking out the Victorian photography and exhibitions upstairs. For beach picnics, pick up great local produce from the Freshwater Co-Op just up the road.” Alison Whitewood, Blue by the Sea
“There are actually three beaches in Bembridge, but the main beach runs down the coast from the spit at the edge of Bembridge Harbour. At Bembridge Lane End Beach, the most notable feature is the 1922-built lifeboat station, perched at the end of a raised 200-metre-long pier. For a perfect beach barbecue, buy your ingredients in the village and then drive down to park in the sand dunes behind the beach, grab your paddleboards and swimsuits and hit the water while the charcoal warms up. Failing that, enjoy a sausage sandwich at the Tollgate Café — try not to let the ravens steal it! There are many rockpools here, so get your bucket and net and see what you can find. The whole beach is perfect for dog walking, too.” Jane Holman, The Farm Shop & No.8 Café
“Compton Bay is a two-mile stretch of beautiful coastline flanked by National Trust carparks. It’s wild and unspoilt, making it one of my favourite beaches on the Island. It’s a wonderful place to walk, climb, swim, or watch the birds of prey. At low tide, you can spot casts of dinosaur footprints, take a fossil hunting tour (dinosaurexpeditions.co.uk) or explore the many rockpools that are revealed as the tide goes out. Compton is also a great place to learn to surf or body-board and local surf-school iSurf (iowsurf.com) runs regular lessons from here. Amenities include an ice-cream van and public toilets in the southernmost carpark. A short drive away there are some great cafés, such as Chessell Pottery in Brook, or the Piano Café in Freshwater, which serve fantastic food.” Abbie James, The Wave Project
Whether you want to trek with llamas, feed a meerkat or chat with chimpanzees, you’ll find enough species on the Isle of Wight to fill Noah’s Ark — and your tour starts here. As part of The Wildlife Trust, the Isle of Wight Zoo specialises in caring for rescued animals and raising awareness of endangered species. Its newest arrivals are five adult tigers, who spent their formative years in a Spanish circus before being liberated by animal rescue charity AAP and brought to the Island’s zoo. These beautiful big cats join the zoo’s two white lions, Casper and Frosty, along with a collection of animals including monkeys, meerkats, raccoons and lemurs. There are free Walking Safaris throughout the day, where visitors can watch the animals being fed and learn all about their individual habits and habitats. Book an Animal Encounter (from £10) to get even closer to your favourite creature. Facilities include a café, outside seating areas where you can enjoy your own picnic, and also a children’s playground
DON’T MISS! Buy a Zookeeper For The Day experience and follow in the footsteps of the keepers. You can also adopt an animal, with the money used to build more enclosures so that the zoo can care for more animals in need.
A shell’s throw along Sandown seafront is a pterodactyl-shaped museum dedicated to the creatures who populated the Island 120 million years ago. Dinosaur Isle showcases skeletal reconstructions, full-size, fleshed models and two animatronic dinosaurs, plus more than 1,000 fossils — the Natural History Museum says the Island is the UK’s best place to find them. There’s also a shop and picnic area outside.
DON’T MISS! Book a field trip with one of the museum’s experts on a guided walk at a site of paleontological interest.
Occupying 55 acres of lush green pasture near Wroxall, the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary is home to more than 100 donkeys and ponies, which have been abandoned, donated or rescued. Visitors can wander around the site, stroke any obliging donkeys and chat to their caring keepers. Admission is free, but the charity relies entirely on donations, adoptions and fundraising. Well-behaved dogs on leads are allowed — apparently the donkeys enjoy the canine company. As well as a gift shop and café, visitors will also find a bric-a-brac shop, which all raise funds.
DON’T MISS! Donkey Experiences are available, which include grooming sessions, walking a donkey around the stables, or taking a mini Shetland pony for a walk.
Located on the outskirts of Newport, Monkey Haven cares for meerkats, lemurs, snakes, kookaburras, tortoises, owls and a bearded dragon, along with 10 species of primate. The monkeys’ vast enclosures are equipped with climbing frames, greenery and toys to stimulate their occupants, and many of these sociable animals will call out, hoot and sing to attract the attention of visitors. The friendly staff clearly enjoy interacting with their charges and it’s easy to see why this superb sanctuary won a gold award from Visit England for best Small Visitor Attraction. Facilities include two playgrounds, an on-site cafe, shaded picnic areas and an ice-cream hut in the summer.
DON’T MISS! Download Monkey Haven’s free App for the latest schedule of talks and feeding times to set up alerts for your visit. There’s also the App’s Banana Trail treasure hunt.
Nearby Butterfly World is the perfect solution to a wet weather day, as you are instantly immersed into a sub-tropical biosphere, where hundreds of colourful butterflies and moths fly freely among lush vegetation. Children will be fascinated to learn about the life cycle of a butterfly, with caterpillars, cocoons and pupae visible at different times of the year. Afterwards, you can walk through to adjacent Fountain World to see pools of Koi Carp or head to The Hungry Caterpillar café for a bite to eat.
DON’T MISS! As well as attending Koi Carp keepers’ talks, there is also the opportunity to hand-feed the fish.
Be transported to the heart of the rainforest at Amazon World Zoo Park. An incredible 200 species are cared for at this zoo near Arreton, from South American natives such as flamingos, sloths and ocelots to animals from further afield, including African penguins and red pandas. Visitors can walk freely through some of the enclosures — as well as a recreated rainforest — to see animals and birds such as wallabies,lemurs and parrots at close quarters. The zoo also features displays highlighting the impact of deforestation in South America. There’s also a playground, café and gift shop.
DON’T MISS! Animal Experiences give the chanceto feed and sometimes groom a selected animal in their enclosure.
In the verdant countryside near Yarmouth, West Wight Alpacas is home to around 60 alpacas and 13 llamas. This notable stud farm also counts mini Mediterranean donkeys, black-nosed Kerry Hill sheep, pygmy goats, Oxford Sandy and Black pigs and rare-breed chickens among its residents. The farm’s shop, Yarn Barn, sells soft alpaca yarn, as well as hand-knitted alpaca hats and socks. Visit the The Llama Tree bistro to sample its tasty pizza and top Peruvian coffee.
DON’T MISS! Book an alpaca walk or llama trek with an experienced guide and learn all about these fascinating creatures.
Tapnell Farm Park near Freshwater is a family-friendly wonderland. The West Wight farmland is populated with alpacas, wallabies, meerkats, donkeys, goats and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, as well as rabbits, guinea pigs and an eclectic selection of insects in the fascinating Bugs & Beasties zone. Two vast play barns are a godsend on rainy days, or wander through its specially commissioned “Art Herd” — ornamental life-size cows, each uniquely decorated by Island businesses. On-site restaurant The Cow has some of the best burgers, steaks and hand-cut chips on the island.
DON’T MISS! There are animal feeding, donkey grooming and rabbit petting sessions — and pick up a Young Explorers activity trail booklet for your child to fill in.
Based at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway in Havenstreet, Haven Falconry gives visitors the chance to meet over 50 magnificent birds of prey. The centre also cares for kestrels, hawks, eagles and several different species of owls. There are daily flying displays (weather dependent) and talks, where you can learn all about the birds’ characteristics and hunting habits. There’s also a pets corner, gift shop and picnic area.
DON’T MISS! A one-hour Bird of Prey Experience or Owl Encounter gives you the chance to handle some of these creatures. Or take a Hawk Walk through the countryside to see the birds in their natural habitat.
Morning Make tracks to The Needles (theneedles.co.uk) where many different activities await, from a ride on a chairlift down the multi-coloured sand cliffs of Alum Bay to watching how jelly babies are made in its sweet-making demonstrations and observing the glassblowers in action.
Lunch Head to West Wight Alpacas (westwightalpacas.co.uk) in Wellow where 60 alpacas, 13 llamas and other animals including donkeys cutely await your adoring gaze, or your lead — farm walks with your own alpaca start at £14 for 20 minutes, or pre-book a trek with a llama on Tennyson Trail. Stay for lunch in its on-site restaurant, The Llama Tree, for cracking wood-fired sourdough pizzas — they even do chocolate pizza, too.
Afternoon Continue the animal theme at Tapnell Farm Park (tapnellfarmpark.com; entrance from £7.95 for children), where this former diary farm has energetically transformed itself into an impressive all-weather attraction. There’s all sorts of fun to be had here, from jumping pillows and a pedal go-kart track to wallaby walkabouts and a meerkat enclosure. Or head to Brook Beach a little further along the coast for a pre-booked fossil walk to discover dinosaur footprints with a geology expert from Dinosaur Isle (dinosaurisle.com; from £4 per child).
Evening/overnight Scoff a decent burger and chips (only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights) at The Cow (thecowco. com) at Tapnell Farm before laying your head in one its safari tents, cabins or pods for a spot of glamping. (tapnellfarm. com; from £120). Want the real thing? Then take your own tent to Compton Farm campsite, with its spacious plots marked out in a single row along a hedge in a wildflower meadow near the Island’s most stunning beach, Compton Bay (comptonfarm.co.uk; from £9 per adult, £6.50 per child).
Morning Get the trouser clips on and head to Wight Cycle Hire in Yarmouth (wightcyclehire.co.uk) and grab yourselves a Dawes Tandem for £24 per half day, before making your picturesque way along the old railway path that edges the tranquil River Yar to Freshwater Bay. Head up the hill to Farringford ( farringford.co.uk), home of Victorian England’s most famous poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He lived here with his wife Emily and their two sons and wrote some of his most famous poems here, including The Lady of Shalott. Ideally, pre-book the wonderfully evocative tour of the house, £11 per person. After, lock up the bike and follow Tennyson’s footsteps with a walk up on to the Down towards his eponymous monument, where you’ll find far-reaching views over the Island and beyond.
Lunch Head back the way you came to drop the bike back, just in time for lunch at Off the Rails (offtherailsyarmouth.co.uk) next door to Wight Cycle Hire. Located in the beautifully converted former Yarmouth railway station, this vibrant café restaurant serves up slick sarnies and smart plates. Finish up with a scoop or three from the Isle of Wight Ice Cream Company at The Gossip’s Café on historic Yarmouth Pier. This local landmark is the longest wooden pier in England and has recently been given a £1m makeover.
Afternoon Spend the afternoon browsing the galleries and boutiques of Yarmouth — Bank House Antiques Emporium for something old (bankhouseantiques.co.uk), or resident painter Anne Toms’ Yarmouth Gallery for something new, much of it made by Island-based artists such as painter Julie Sajous and potter Molly Attrill (yarmouthgallery.com). For seaside chic, head to Blue by the Sea (bluebythesea.co.uk), then finish the day with a massage at the Island Wellness Spa at The West Bay Country Club (westbayclub.co.uk; from £32 for a half hour).
Evening/overnight Watch the sun go down over The Needles at The Hut in Colwell Bay (thehutcolwell.co.uk) with a lobster supper. Stay at The West Bay Country Club, which offers New England-style one-bedroom cabins (from £321 for a minimum three-night stay) or splash out on a waterfront room at The George Hotel in Yarmouth (thegeorge.co.uk; from £425 per night for a room with seaview and terrace, plus breakfast).
Morning It’s a gentle stroll from the car park in the hamlet of Newtown, to the picturesque creek that is a national nature reserve famous for its birdlife. Over 200 species of birds are recorded on the Island each year, with a fair number of rarities. The National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk) runs free bird-watching walks (see website for details), which include a visit to what must be the country’s most comfortable bird hide, with sheepskin-clad seats and regularly staffed by knowledgeable National Trust volunteers. Don’t miss Newtown Old Town Hall, which dates back to 1699 (£4.30 per adult).
Lunch Motor across the Island’s bucolic country lanestowards Shorwell, stopping by Winkle Street in the village of Calbourne to check out its picture-perfect row of 18th-century stone cottages set opposite a winding stream. Go for a pint and a ploughman’s at nearby The Crown Inn in Shorwell (characterinns.co.uk) and sit in the verdant garden, which features a freshwater trout stream and duck sanctuary.
Afternoon Head west, travelling through the village of Brighstone stopping at The Village Shop (brighstonevillageshop.co.uk) to load up with local produce, such as famous Isle of Wight tomatoes, garlic, locally-produced cheeses and artisan sourdough bread from Island Bakers, before arriving at the next village of Mottistone. Here, take a wander around Mottistone Gardens and Estate (nationaltrust.org.uk; entrance from £7.95 per person), a magical garden and an Elizabethan manor house set in a sheltered valley. Then continue west to the Dimbola Museum and Galleries (dimbola.co.uk; from £5.45 per person) in Freshwater, home of pioneering Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Here, you find displays celebrating her life and work, as well as contemporary exhibitions by photographers from around the world. Make time for a cream tea in Julia’s Tearoom.
Evening/overnight Eat beer-battered fish and chips at The Blue Crab in Yarmouth (thebluecrab.co.uk), then bed down at Norton Grange Coastal Village in Yarmouth (warnerleisurehotels.co.uk; from £96 for two nights),
an adults-only chalet village with stunning views over the Solent. Or if you fancy something more intimate try The Sunday School (airbnb.co.uk; from £160 per night), a beautiful two-bed property in a stunningly converted Methodist chapel in the centre of Yarmouth.
Morning Start the day with a bowl of homemade compote, yoghurt and granola, washed down with an artisanal coffee at The Freshwater Coffee House. Then sign up for a paddleboarding lesson in Freshwater Bay with Adventure Activities Isle of Wight (adventureactivitiesisleofwight.co.uk). From £15 per person. If you’re really bitten by the paddleboarding bug, head to Freshwater Bay Paddleboard Co (freshwaterbaypaddleboards.co.uk) to check out its Island-made boards. You would rather just look the part? Then take a look at the eco-friendly, surfer dude clothing at Freshwater-based business Rapanui (rapanuiclothing.com).
Lunch The Piano Café in Freshwater (thepianocafe.co.uk) was once home to Queen Victoria’s piano tuner, but now it has a whole new vibe going on. Specialising in mezze boards topped with fresh local produce, you can also get homemade soups, wraps or burgers, plus some serious cakeage, posh hot choc and coffee made with the café’s own blend of beans.
Afternoon Take a thrilling 15-minute high-speed RIB ride around The Needles with Needles Pleasure Cruises (needlespleasurecruises.co.uk; £11 per person), which starts underneath the soaring 400ft chalk cliffs at Alum Bay, and where you’ll get up close and personal to the smugglers’ caves and the iconic rocks themselves. For those with even more daring, try a tandem paraglider flight with Wellow-based High Adventure Paragliding (highadventureparagliding.co.uk; £80 for up to three hours). It was the first UK school to teach paragliding back in the late 1980s so you’re in good hands
Evening/overnight Friday night is pizza night in Freshwater Bay during the summer months. Grab a few beers made by Island breweries at The Co-operative Food Freshwater on Afton Road (stores.thesouthernco-operative.co.uk) and then find the perfect spot on the shingle beach to watch the sunset while you wait for your Wightwood Pizza (wightwoodpizza.co.uk). Made in a wood-fired oven in a travelling converted vintage French van, it’s advisable to book online. If the weather doesn’t play ball, head to the nearby The Red Lion (redlion-freshwater.co.uk) for its brilliant gastro pub nosh. Stay in a canvas lodge with views over the River Yar in Freshwater that sleeps up to eight, complete with a fire-pit, at Glamping the Wight Way (glampingthewightway.co.uk; from £545 for a four-night midweek break). Or try Tom’s Eco Pods in Yarmouth (tomsecolodge.com; from £120 per night).
“I am a sailor,” I assured my colleagues over a Friday night beer. “I’ve been doing it since I was eight.” They exchanged looks, a curious mix of anxiety and amusement. I’d just informed them that I’d be getting the 6pm train from London Waterloo down to Southampton and then a ferry across the Solent to the Isle of Wight — the sailing capital of the UK — where that weekend I’d signed myself up for a two-hour-long private dinghy sailing lesson. As a city-dweller with a history of athletic ineptitude, my colleagues had ample grounds for concern.
I’d be meeting my fate at Tackt-Isle Adventures in St Helens, a small town on the eastern side of the Isle of Wight and home to the best crab sarnies in the northern hemisphere (at the Best Dressed Crab Seafood Café). But it’s also a hotbed for watersports, from the increasingly popular paddleboarding to that age-old, wholesome, fun-for-all-the-family pastime, sailing. As I wriggled into my full-body wetsuit, I cast my mind back over my lifetime’s experience of sailing, the one that I’d assured my colleagues so heartily of.
Like many people with an iota of sailing experience, my first had been involuntary, years ago, and distressing. I’d been lured into a boat — a little wooden optimist – on the promise that I’d receive a jam doughnut for my endeavours. Cue three hours of shivering in what I can only describe as a splinter-emitting bath tub, sighing disinterestedly as my main sail flapped in the wind.
But hours turned into weeks and before I knew it I was zipping around on a little pico, cheeks ruddy, hair blasting in the 30-knot wind. It was empowering, being propelled forward in a boat that was totally at your control, nothing but the wind and your wits keeping you going. This, I quickly learn, isn’t something that’s confined to childhood.
After a brief recap with Milo — an Isle of Wight native and geography undergraduate who spends his summer holidays here as a sailing instructor — I am towed out of the harbour and into the Solent. “Do you remember the five key principles of sailing?” asks Milo, smiling wryly. “Err,” I waver, “can we have a recap?”
I am walked through the five guidelines of sailing. Boat balance — this one’s pretty self-explanatory; just shift your weight to ensure the boat stays level. Not only does this safeguard against some pretty comical boat tipping, but, Milo advises, “the flattest boats are the fastest”. I’ll keep this in mind for when I tackle The Fastnet Race.
Next comes trimming; this is boat balance but lengthwise — to make sure that the bow (aka front) of the boat isn’t aloft, while the stern (aka back) is submerged, or the inverse — that the boat is nosediving. Then comes the eminently sensible “course made good”, where savvy sailors ensure that they’re taking the most efficient course to reach their destination of choice. The fourth key facet of sailing has to do with the dagger board, which sounds pleasingly like pirate-speak to me, although in reality refers to the one-metre length of wood/fibreglass that slots neatly into the middle of your dinghy (in larger boats this will be in-built). Whether this little device remains firmly slotted in or elevated depends on whether the wind is hitting your sail side-on (in which case it’s the former), or from behind (then you lift the dagger board up). This might sound pernickety, but it translates as pure intuition when you’re on the water.
Finally, comes setting sail. Again, with the misleading pirate-speak; this does not mean draining a tumbler of rum as you embark on a quest for treasure. Setting your sail entails toying with the mainsail and main sheet (the length of rope that controls it), until the wind fills your sail and your speed picks up.
Milo — far less loquacious and far more to-the-point than I — is able to relay this to me from the safe confines of his rib (which stands for rigid inflatable boat, for anyone not in the know). I gulp, nod and tug the main sheet towards me. A gust of wind whips into the sail and I dart forward. Tiller clasped in my hand, I let the wind swoosh me towards a distant pier, which Milo is gesturing at enthusiastically.
This is what I really love about sailing, this is when the joy of childhood adventures comes rushing back to me. When the sail is taut and you’re powering yourself along, inches from the water, salty spray dousing you with every tack or jibe, the pastime of sailing becomes an unpretentious joy, an uncomplicated pleasure — just you, the elements and a healthy dose of adrenaline.
I’m not alone in my new-found (or rediscovered) fervour for sailing. There has been a huge increase in younger people becoming boating enthusiasts. The Royal Yachting Association (RYA), a national hub for all things sailing, welcomed no less than 17,357 members in 2017 alone. As of the end of last year, its total membership had exceeded 110,000. And while the top areas of interest were the slightly more luxe pursuits of yacht cruising and motor boating, dinghy sailing came in a commendable third place.
Along with its stellar dingy racing record, the RYA also sponsors programmes such as OnBoard (OB), a scheme designed to get more young people into sailing. Because really, who has time to dabble in drugs or premature parenthood if the high seas are beckoning. By the end of 2017, there were 229 OB centres in the UK, contributing substantially to the statistic that now over 100,000 youngsters sail (or windsurf) on a regular basis.
And now you can add this particular young person to that statistic.
Rock back to the 80s at the Medina Leisure Centre, Newport, with performances from headline acts Bruce Foxton’s From The Jam and Scottish cult guitar-and-bagpipes…
Island folk and blues musicians get together for this one-day event in aid of Leukaemia Research and Brighstone Primary School. Includes a real ale tent, craft stalls and Morris…
Soak up the sounds of great jazz featuring the very best of the current UK jazz scene, with top touring musicians as well as the cream of local talent. A two-day jazz tuition…
Catch the biggest names in rock and pop on the banks of the river Medina. This year’s headliners include David Guetta and Run DMC on the Friday night, with Arcade Fire…
A new family-based festival located at Oakfield School in Ryde that showcases local artists, bands and DJs, while raising money for various charities. It includes a comedy tent…
Head to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway in Havenstreet to be inspired by the music and dance of the 1940s. Expect lindy hoppers, songs from the swing era and…
Go on a voyage of musical discovery with this huge range of genres performing on several stages at this family-friendly festival set in an idyllic…
Formerly known as Jack up the 80s, this family-friendly throwback festival features artists from the 80s and 90s, including Nick Heywood and East 17…
This is the second year for the annual festival of open-air picnic concerts at Northwood House in Cowes, catering to both lovers of classical music…
This is the sixth year for this prestigious gathering of leading harpists in Ryde. In addition to a series of concerts, which offer a myriad of styles, there are also…
There are now 40 venues licensed for wedding ceremonies on the Isle of Wight and many more that can host amazing receptions.
For a special wedding breakfast, it doesn’t get much grander than Osborne House, once the home of Queen Victoria and her family. You can marry at nearby Whippingham Church, or on the Barton Manor estate, then drive by horse and carriage to your grand palace for the day. Dine at Osborne’s Terrace restaurant and savour the amazingly ornate plasterwork of the Durbar Room. Larger parties might like a marquee in the beautiful gardens overlooking the house and sea and there is also a private beach. More info at english-heritage.org.uk, contact: 01983 203055
You could have your very own island for the day if you hire Spitbank Fort in the middle of the Solent. Arrive by speedboat, have an amazing party for 60 friends and enjoy sensational views. For a larger party, you might prefer nearby No Man’s Fort, the ultimate party venue with a helipad, cabaret bar and laser battle arena. Three times the size of Spitbank Fort and boasting its own lighthouse, No Man’s Fort has rooftop hot tubs, sauna and a presidential honeymoon suite with 360º views. Contact: 02392 809767
Quay Arts, the Island’s artistic hub, is in Grade II-listed Victorian warehouses on Newport Quay. Marry here and you would be able to wander the galleries, surrounded by art. Spread your reception throughout the atmospheric arched windowed café and spill on to the terrace overlooking the river. Contact: 01983 822490
Why fly to the Caribbean to get married when the Priory Bay Hotel in Seaview has a boathouse with views over the soft sandy beach to the Solent beyond for your wedding vows? Your guests could even arrive by hovercraft and be greeted with champagne and canapés scoffed barefoot on the shore. And for the most romantic wedding night there are five luxurious designer yurts with en-suite bathrooms, overlooking the sea. Contact: 01983 613146
Marry at secluded The Lodge at Bowcombe Estate and you could make the gently sloping slate walkway up to the main entrance into your aisle. The high wooden beamed ceilings and large picture windows of this beautiful set of barn conversions, with comfortable and contemporary furnishings, give you a truly stylish, private and exclusive experience. Add creamy white yurts or a marquee in the grounds for a larger reception and to make the most of the expansive views across the rolling countryside. Contact: 01983 74141.
Once the home of the scandalous Lady Seymour Worsley, Appuldurcombe House has two rooms licensed for wedding ceremonies, which may also be used for your reception. This partially restored shell of an 18th-century baroque masterpiece has far-reaching views across the Capability Brown-designed grounds, where you could pitch a marquee for larger celebrations. Contact: 01983 852484
Northwood House in Cowes was built for entertaining by John Nash for the Ward family, with stunning plasterwork and murals decorating the interior of this imposing, classically styled house. Its legacy continues and up to 240 guests can attend a wedding here, with a choice of rooms, and attractive garden, with views across the Solent. Contact: 01983 293642
A drive bordered with English oaks takes you to Nunwell House in Brading, one of the oldest houses on the Island where Charles I once stayed. Five acres of gardens have views to Bembridge Harbour and beyond. Ceremonies are to be licensed here shortly. Contact: 01983 407240
East Dene in Bonchurch, once the home of the Victorian poet Swinburne, is a Grade II-listed mansion house set in 10 acres of beautiful woodland and has wonderful views of the sea. Contact: 01983 852374
Lisle Combe in St Lawrence, once the home of the writer Alfred Noyes, also has fabulous sea views from its sheltered location as part of the Undercliff. Contact: 01983 852582
If your heart is also with the sea you might like to marry in the Sir Max Aitken Museum in Cowes, where you have your ceremony and reception surrounded by some of the most unique relics of the town’s sailing history. With views across Cowes Harbour and the Solent from the large verandah around the building, this is ideal for anyone who loves the sailing life. Contact: 01983 293800
Or you might like to have your wedding reception afloat – the Princess Caroline can pick you up from Yarmouth Pier, Trinity Pier in Cowes or Ryde Pier and you can cruise the Solent during your reception for up to 110 people. You can even get the captain to bless your wedding (although actual ceremonies are not licensed). Contact: 01962 808995
Fancy being married in the middle of an apple orchard with beautiful gardens for your guests to roam? Afton Apple Farm in Freshwater is now open only for weddings and private functions throughout the year and it’s a real treat for garden lovers, with a vine-covered verandah, rose arbors and even apples later in the year. Contact: 07967 180176
Ventnor Botanic Garden is a must if you want to marry in the middle of lush subtropical gardens, with palm trees and huge echiums taking a starring role. Sheltered beneath the Undercliff, the gardens radiate from the contemporary pavilion and guests can spill out from the Edulis restaurant into the garden. Contact: 01983 855397
For a themed wedding of romantic extravagance, you can marry beneath the cherubs, fairies and hearts at The Enchanted Manor in Niton. Choose from their woodland-themed wedding room or a heart-adorned gazebo in the garden. Contact: 01983 730215
And for a really wacky wedding, renew your vows at Bestival’s inflatable church – many couples first meet at the music festival and return for a funky “wedding blessing’”after their formal wedding.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter had their reception in the grounds of Mottistone Manor because of Sophie’s family connection to the manor. While it is not possible to hire the garden for weddings, Mottistone Gardens is open to the public during the summer through the National Trust. But there are other manors to choose from…
Situated next to Osborne House, Barton Manor in Whippingham was Queen Victoria’s guest wing. A limited number of weddings are held here each year in Prince Albert’s two-storey barn. You could arrive by helicopter or hovercraft, as the estate has its own beach, and have your photographs taken by the picturesque ponds or on the King Edward VII’s terraces. Contact: 01983 280537;
There are only four dates open per year for weddings at this historic manor house in Arreton. They are booked until the end of 2017, but you may be lucky if you are planning a future wedding. Contact: 01983 865420;
Built in the mid-18th century and set in sunny Shanklin, Languard Manor lays out the red carpet for a grand entrance through its impressive Regency front door. This is an ideal venue for larger weddings with pretty grounds and a woodland walk for photographs. Contact: 01983 868886
The manor in Brading, set in beautiful gardens with more than 100 different varieties of Japanese maple, was refurbished in the early 20th century in an Arts and Crafts style. You can marry in a gazebo in the garden, which overlooks a large pond and enjoys the shade of a 300-year-old plane tree. The wedding suite, with a four-poster bed, is in its own wing of the manor house – the perfect start to your honeymoon. More info at mortonmanor.co.uk, contact: 01983 407990
Commanding extensive views over West Wight and to the Solent and Hurst Castle beyond, Weston Manor in Totland has its own (unconsecrated) chapel decorated in the style of A .W. Pugin, where you can have a blessing after your civil ceremony in the manor house. Bed and breakfast is available in the eastern side of the house. Contact: 01983 755754