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The Isle of Wight - an ongoing friendship
Isle of Wight in General
Member Name: melinda3536
Isle of Wight in General
Advantages: So much to do and see!
Disadvantages: Never enough time !
The Isle of Wight , for those who may not know, is situated south of Southampton and Portsmouth , and can be accessed via various forms of sea-going vessel from those ports and also Lymington , from where we took the car ferry this time, arriving at Yarmouth . Car ferries also serve the Southampton to East Cowes route, and Portsmouth to Fishbourne (just outside Ryde ). Journey time for each of these is between 30 - 50 minutes depending on route and traffic in the Solent.
As a foot passenger, you would also have the options of the high speed catamaran services from Southampton to West Cowes , and Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde pier (roughly 20 minutes), not forgetting the exhilarating option of the hovercraft from Portsmouth Southsea to the Ryde beach terminal, which at under 10 minutes is by far the fastest and most fun way to arrive! Unfortunately they can't accommodate my other half's needs, so car ferry it is for us every time, not that I'm complaining as I love standing up on deck as we chug across, watching the sea birds and enjoying approaching the familiar skyline.
We have had many holidays on the Island over the last few years. For most of them we have stayed at The Old Clubhouse at St Helen's , a wheelchair adapted National Trust property in the west of the Island, but on this occasion we had a change of scenery. For a week during the Easter holiday this year we installed ourselves in The Little Stables at Chessell Pottery , not far from Freshwater at the western point of the Island. It's a barn conversion, well, a stable conversion which sleeps six in three bedrooms, with The Old Stables next door sleeping 7. While it isn't at all advertised as wheelchair accessible, we rang and asked about various measurements around the cottage, and the owners were extremely helpful, to the point where we decided that it was safe to give it a go. While the door widths are fine, the interior is on a split level so we took our portable ramps with us (and our portable commode as well!), and with a spot of improvisation, we had a pretty successful stay. It's a well-equipped cottage, with central heating which was hugely appreciated even when we went - it can get surprisingly cold on the Island at Easter!
It might be worth me saying at the outset that just prior to our visit in April, due to council cutbacks, all of the tourist information offices were closed, as well as the public toilets. One letter in the local paper very sensibly suggested that the home addresses of the councillors should be published so that people could knock on their doors and ask to use the loo when nature called. The tourist industry was bracing itself for an unnecessarily difficult time at the beginning of the season - a ridiculous situation for a place that relies so heavily on tourism for income, but there you go. There were still plenty of leaflets for individual attractions to be had in places such as supermarkets though, so still plenty of ideas to be had for visits!
Our first activity this year was to visit the pottery - having spent most of the previous day on the road, the last thing we wanted to do was get back in the van and traipse off on another trip. Our holiday came with a complimentary voucher to put against a session in the Pottery Cafe, decorating blank pieces which are then fired and can be collected later during your stay, or posted to your home if you prefer. Since this is the Island outpost of the Bridgewater Pottery , many of the blanks are their own pieces, which gives you some great shapes to work with. We all decorated something (the girls did a cereal bowl each, I did an egg cup, and my other half did a small wall-tile), and were able to collect them on the last day of our holiday. The pottery also has a gift shop, with a great range of pottery items, but also some really good craft kits for the kids, some very natty kites and construction kits, and a few Island guide books. It also had a tea room which at the time of our visit held the prize for best cream tea on the Isle of Wight - this is hotly contested each year so it remains to be seen who gets this year's title! Recommended as a half-day visit, and a great rainy day activity, but be ready to part with a fair bit of money if you want to decorate the pottery.
SANDOWN / YAVERLAND
It wasn't long before we gave in to the urge to visit our favourite stretch of beach, at Yaverland , which is just to the east of Sandown . There's a pay and display car park here, which is free for blue badge holders (this is true of most Island car parks in fact), and a kiosk selling ice creams, hot and cold drinks, and lovely rock cakes. The best bit though is the beach - and at Easter it's at its best for us. Freezing cold, and almost deserted apart from some hardy dog-walkers and sea fishermen, it's beautiful on a sunny afternoon, and this time we saw (and heard) Common Terns swinging around the sky and diving into the sea for fish. The car park is quite a bit above sea level and there's quite a flight of steps to get down to the sand, but my other half's always quite happy to be left sitting 'up top' in peace, enjoying looking out to sea and watching the ferries and cargo ships moving around in the distance.
THE ISLE OF WIGHT ZOO
The car park is also convenient for the Isle of Wight Zoo at Sandown, so we did actually all get out of the van this time, and walked across to the zoo. It's a small but well-cared for place, specialising in lions, tigers and lemurs. Another attraction on the Island is Amazon World, also a zoo of sorts but always feels big on novelty effect and not so hot on space (I hope it's improved on that count - we visited twice on consecutive years and decided not to bother again). The Zoo, on the other hand, I feel quite sensibly has a limited range of animals, all of whom seem to have good wandering space. The animals also look happy and in very good condition. There are feeding times and talks posted on a board at the front so that you can plan your visit around these if you wish, and a new cafe building which is very welcome as it can get a bit windy, being right on the coast! The food is very good - we had an Angus burger each which knocked Burger King's version into a cocked hat :)
SEAVIEW WILDLIFE ENCOUNTER
Our favourite animal park-type visit is Seaview Wildlife Encounter (formerly Flamingo Park), which is located near Ryde. As we were at the other end this year, we didn't make it to Seaview, but it is a wonderful day out, with penguins, all sorts of rare and interesting birds both outdoors in aviaries, or indoors in a specially constructed tropical house. There is also a large paddock that you can walk through with wallabies, our kids love stroking them and they've often got little ones when we visit at Easter so there's a very high cute factor! It's located on the side of a hill so parts of the site are on a bit of an incline, but not so much that you can't get a wheelchair up the hill with a bit of effort. We've happily spent a lovely relaxing day there on many occasions, and the cafe's been good, serving a good range of decent basic fare.
We decided on this trip to try a theme park - there are a couple on the Isle of Wight, with the most famous probably being Blackgang Chine, but we went to Robin Hill Adventure Park and Gardens. We thought that it would be a pretty safe bet as it advertises itself as having everything from fun park rides to falconry displays, with woodland walks and Roman history thrown in. There are a lot of rides dotted around, including Pirate Ship etc at the top of the park, and a simulator ride that our youngest fancied trying. Further down there's an adventure playground, and on the way back up the other side there are further play areas, one for younger and one for older kids. There's a toboggan run too! In fact, what we didn't fully take in was the 'Hill' part of the name - it is very steep in places, and I was a bit worried about my husband attempting some of the inclines. There's very little likelihood of someone in a manual wheelchair getting around here comfortably - well, put it this way, even when I was younger and fitter I wouldn't have attempted to try pushing Ian around here! He managed, with us hanging onto the back, to get down the slopes ok with his powered-wheelchair, and getting back up wasn't quite so hard thankfully.
The attractions are spaced well around the park, with a cafe and loo block very near the entrance which we found very helpful as we got lost trying to find the place! The gardens were very decorative and well-maintained. Bearing in mind we were there pretty early in the growing season, I should think it's fairly spectacular in later spring and summer. We mainly toured around on this visit, and didn't take full advantage of all of the attractions on offer, although the girls spent a happy half hour in the huge adventure playground right at the bottom of the hill. There is a tractor train available to haul you back up if you're too tired to walk it, but it is very popular, and many people had to wait for the next rotation. The forest walk is beautiful, the bluebells were out while we were there, and we also very much appreciated the sculpture trail which few people seemed to be bothering to look at (nice to have it to ourselves though!) If you have a go on everything that is laid on here you could easily spend the day here and still not have done everything, I suspect. Oh, and by the way, it's the location for the famous 'Bestival' music festivals in September :)
At the time of our stay, Robin Hill's admission price included a return visit within the week, as did our next destination...
After all of that excitement, Calbourne Mill, very close to where we were staying, was the perfect antidote. It's a preserved water-wheel driven flour mill. Ian didn't come with us as he needed to rest out of his wheelchair, so I took the girls to visit a mill that I was taken to by my Mum many years before. My only memory of that trip was getting soaked waiting for the bus to go back! This time, we had our own transport, which was just as well as like many other routes on the Island, the old bus service is no more. Having paid our entrance at the ticket office, we were immediately greeted by one of Calbourne's many beautiful peacocks in full display mode. The main route into the site is very unsuitable for wheelchairs due to the amount of steps, however there is a vehicle access route round the back of the ticket office which is opened for anyone needing a flat route round, and this takes you right to the middle of the site. The mill is regularly run, unfortunately this time we couldn't stay long enough to watch. If memory serves it was due to be mid to late afternoon.
It's a mechanical geek's dream, this place - you can (if you're feeling adventurous) clamber up and down the wooden ladder steps all over the old mill building examining the machinery, and if that's not enough there are further buildings to explore, for example a fire station with a vintage fire engine in it, and a second world war display with aircraft relics, which was still under construction during our visit but was looking very good already. If you're into sheds full of machinery and old bits & bobs though, the pieces de la resistance are a bit further on - one large store of historical household goods, from trivets to washing machines and refrigerators, and further on a massive long shed full of carts, farm machinery, and an old steam engine.
There's also a short woodland walk up the hill behind the sheds which our youngest dragged us up, and a cafe and small shop, which have the added novelty of a section of transparent plastic roofing that you can, if you wish, sit under and enjoy watching the peacocks' feet marching about above you while you enjoy your cuppa and cakes! It's a lovely way to spend probably half a day, I'd recommend checking which end of the day that the mill's working so that you're there to see it.
One place that we had previously visited and the kids wanted to see again was Carisbrooke Castle, just outside Newport . Owned and maintained by English Heritage, the origins of the present castle date back as far as the 1100's. It's an imposing 'proper' stone castle, with walls and a keep that you can clamber all over and explore, with great views to be seen - be careful on breezy days though as it can get a bit hairy going up to the keep! There are some complete buildings within the walls that are open to view too, in particular the Carisbrooke Museum, which houses items from throughout the castle's long history. Charles the First was imprisoned here after the Civil War, and there is memorabilia relating to this, and also from a much later era when Princess Beatrice, daughter of Queen Victoria, made Carisbrooke her summer home. The newly-designed Edwardian style Princess Beatrice garden is open to visitors, and we enjoyed walking round and taking notes for possible plans for our own garden one day. Since it was still early spring it wasn't at its full glory, I'd love to see what it looks like now! It wasn't until some weeks later that I found out that it was designed by Chris Beardshaw of Flying Gardener fame.
Carisbrooke is also well-known for its Elizabethan well-house where donkeys still draw the water from the well by being walked in the big wooden wheel - often their human 'carers' walk the bucket up with them. They give demonstrations, donkeys permitting, hourly during the day. You can also meet the donkeys in their stalls when they're off duty. Also well worth a look-in is the chapel, which is a peaceful place to spend a few minutes if you wish. Carisbrooke is a lovely place to spend a good part of a day, if you're up for exploring the whole site. There is a lovely cafe which is wheelchair accessible, and a well-stocked shop (which, dangerously for gardeners, also occasionally has a plant section). There is disabled parking on the road almost opposite the main gate, and a large car park a little further round the corner.
Another regular visit for us is Fort Victoria near Yarmouth. It was commissioned by Prince Albert (hence the name), and you can walk around the top of this structure and enjoy the view across the Solent back to the mainland, as well as enjoy the various displays that are housed inside it. There's an aquarium, a small planetarium, a marine archaeology of the Solent exhibition, a cafe (serving lovely cakes, as well as simple but very satisfying meals), and a massive indoor model railway layout. There are also loos, but no separate one for wheelchair users so for anyone caring for their spouse, it's dive into the ladies or gents and hope no-one minds time! Each of the attractions has an entrance charge, but once you've paid for the first, if you show your ticket to any others that you enter, you get a reduced ticket price. We've been coming here for many years, and it's pretty much stayed the same throughout, but we felt that maybe it could do with a bit of updating and improving here and there. That said, it's still worth a family visit as it has good educational potential, and also a pebble beach (and cake!)
OTHER FAVOURITE PLACES
Last but not least - the Isle of Wight Steam Railway and Brading Roman Villa . Both favourite destinations of ours, but ones that we didn't make this time due to time and location. The railway's primary station is located at Havenstreet , and is well signposted from Ryde. It runs from Easter weekend normally each year, and is a beautiful route to travel. The preserved steam railway also links up with the Island's remaining mainline train service at Smallbrook Junction, so it is possible to buy a ticket to travel the length of both, as far as I know. At Havenstreet, you can enjoy the lovely food in the restaurant, the kids can let off steam in the play area, nature lovers can enjoy the woodland walk, and everyone can. have a rummage around the large shop, and have an admire of the engines in the yard.
Brading Roman Villa is further south, past Bembridge and on the way to Sandown , and is a beautifully preserved floor of a large Roman villa, housed in a purpose-built wooden structure. It's a bit chilly in there but it's a great place to get to for anyone who's a history enthusiast - there are displays all around the building, it's possible to see the preserved remains in great detail, and there is also a replica Roman garden outside, along with a small well house. It has a well-stocked shop and a lovely restaurant with views out across the fields.
The Isle of Wight is often advertised as ideal for walking and cycling holidays, which it undoubtedly is - it's a beautiful place, it's like Britain in miniature, and I've really only scratched the surface here. With it being such a small place, it doesn't really take too long to get anywhere, although it does get extremely busy during Cowes week, in the first week of August - a great sailing extravaganza. You're never far from the sea wherever you go! We're limited to places that we can get my husband to, so most of our itinerary is car (or in our case van) based, but there are heaps of walks signposted all over the Island. It is one of our favourite places, and despite our children now being 14 and 10 respectively, they still love visiting as much as they did when they were little, and always look forward to returning. Isle of Wight, we will be back!
Summary: Great for people of all ages :)