Wightlink have remarkably quick crossings from Lymington and Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight. Car drivers only have to report 30 minutes before sailing. Then it’s around a 40 minutes cruise across the scenic Solent. Just enough time to grab a late breakfast, coffee or light lunch before driving on to your destination. It is a relaxing mini-cruise. From panoramic viewing decks you look out to the Isle of Wight’s beaches and harbours.
However many times you take one of those ferry crossings there’s a frisson of excitement as you sail out of the harbour. You are escaping the mainland, you are at sea, getting away without airport queues. No wonder that the Isle of Wight is such a popular destination for either a holiday or a weekend break.
For foot passengers there is an even quicker 22 minutes crossing from Portsmouth. Catching a train from London to Portsmouth enables Londoners to free themselves from the capital’s congestion to savour the Isle of Wight’s fresh sea air. It is a journey that takes less than three hours. Once on the island an extensive bus service enables visitors to tour the island.
For Queen Victoria, the ease of the journey, Royal train from Windsor, then the Royal Yacht from Portsmouth to Cowes, in less than 4 hours, was a great attraction. She and Prince Albert built Osborne House as a place where the children could play and be naturally noisy away from the stuffy royal protocols of London. For today’s visitors, Osborne House is a full day out.
Fishers Hotel, set in the Undercliff of Ventnor was one of the Queen’s favourite haunts, often calling in for afternoon tea or dinner. Today, in honour of Queen Victoria’s patronage, it is called The Royal Hotel. The Queen would approve of the elegant two AA Rosette restaurant with its restful landscape oil paintings and sparkling chandeliers.
Sea food is a speciality for the Royal as it is for many of the island’s restaurants. Follow the coastal path west from Ventnor to Steephill Cove to find small restaurants literally perching on the rocks: look out for the Skipper’s Platter of lobster, crab, prawns and crevettes.
You can still enjoy afternoon tea on the Royal’s emerald striped lawn as Queen Victoria did. Surrounded by vividly coloured hot-poker plants, palm trees and a pink geranium vigorously climbing the hotel’s facade, you may feel that you are on a Mediterranean coastline. In fact, south-facing Ventnor is called “England’s Madeira”, with a sub-tropical climate. Walk down the hill to Ventnor’s Botanical Gardens to view plants that you would see nowhere else in England. If you want to view the coastline from the sea, The Royal Hotel run half-day and full-day excursions, on their own RIB.
It won’t take too long to circumnavigate the island on the RIB. Walking the 57 miles of coastal path takes a little longer, perhaps three or four days. Even if you decide just to sample portions of the walk, recharging the batteries with seafood lunches and afternoon cream teas, there are some spectacular sections: Sometimes rugged rocky coastline, followed by easy-walking download and beautiful views of beaches and harbours.
Sandown Bay, a traditional bucket and spade beach of golden sand, took first place in Countryfile’s awards for British beaches for 2019.
For a small island, The Isle of Wight, packs some punch. It has an astounding A to Z of attractions, from Alum Bay’s views of The Needles, even more spectacular when yachts are racing during Cowes Week, through to the Zoo at Shanklin.
The timeline, on Dinosaur Island, begins with the numerous archaeological finds on the beaches and in the cliffs. The villa at Brading ticks off the Roman occupation of Britain. Carisbrooke Castle too, is steeped in history from Norman times through to Charles l and the English Civil War. There is also the Steam Railway for a nostalgic look back to a lost era. With so much history, so many attractions, the island almost seems like a country in it’s own right.
Find out more
Visit www.wightlink.co.uk for more information on travelling to the Isle of Wight
Take a look at the Royal Hotel website (www.royalhotel.co.uk).
Much more information is available at www.visitisleofwight.co.uk
Photography: © Visit Isle of WightLast modified: June 10, 2021