“There are more attractions per square mile on the Isle of Wight than anywhere else in the UK,” reveals Peter Vail, General Manager of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.
As the island measures just 23 miles from east to west and 13 miles from north to south it makes a fabulous destination for a family holiday because much of it can be covered in a week.
The ferry crossing by Wightlink from Portsmouth to Fishbourne only took 45 minutes and was just enough to make my wife, daughter and I feel that we had travelled abroad! This was my one-year-old Harriett’s first experience of a ferry and she loved watching the waves tossing against the side.
We toured the island in a Lifestyle 624 motorhome. This five-berth vehicle allowed us to stop and set up home wherever we pleased, which was particularly helpful when daughter Harriett needed feeding. The gas stove boiled milk especially quickly.
Indulging in a spot of wild camping meant that we were not tied to any campsites either. The vehicle carried enough water for a day or two while the gas supply was sufficient for cooking and heating for the week. It is easy to see why radio DJ Johnnie Walker and comedian Marcus Brigstocke enjoy holidaying in their motorhomes.
Surprisingly there were plenty of user-friendly walks on the Isle of Wight for those of us with pushchairs. Although quite hilly it was a great way to keep fit and truly rewarding when discovering muscles long since forgotten. There were some stunning five star beaches, too, while decent fish and chips were plentiful. If something a little different was required then El Toro Contento in Ventnor served paella, omelette and tapas. I always like to sample local products and Yates Undercliff Experience, a refreshing ale with a lemon zest, is brewed on the island.
The weather was generally good, if a little changeable. It’s no surprise to discover that Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson and many an 18th-century watercolourist found inspiration on the island. In fact during his stay at Winterbourne Country House in Bonchurch in 1849 Dickens wrote some chapters of David Copperfield. He felt that this quaint little village was “the prettiest place I ever saw in my life, at home or abroad”.
Indeed no visit to the island can be made without acknowledging its plentiful history. There are churches dating back to the 11th century and countless period properties. The National Trust’s Bembridge windmill is the only remaining one on the Isle of Wight while Osborne House and Carisbrooke Castle have interesting Royal connections.
Train buffs are sure to enjoy the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. “Over 100,000 people visit us each year,” said Peter. The clickety clack of the steam train travelling along the track from Havenstreet to Wootton reminds you of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple as some were filmed on such locomotives. Sitting comfortably in First Class – while everyone else made do with Third – there were comfy sofa-like seats, a wood interior and old photographs of Hampshire scenes. Added to which the distinctive chugging sound, the occasional whistle and smell of the steam train all add to the experience as it made its way through the beautiful Isle of Wight countryside.
Another appealing point of the island is its plethora of free attractions. Ventnor Botanic Garden is one such place where there are hundreds of different plants and trees creating a very picturesque scene.
Life on the island is pleasantly much slower than the rush dash of the mainland and if you want to feel like you’ve been abroad without the hassle, then this is the place to visit.
Isle of Wight attractions
Isle of Wight Steam Railway
El Toro Contento – tapas bar
2 Pier Street
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Tim Saunders and his family travelled to the Isle of Wight with Wightlink (0871 376 1000 www.wightlink.co.uk)on its 40 minute Portsmouth–Fishbourne crossing, one of three routes. Car ferries also operate between Lymington and Yarmouth (35 minutes) and there is a passenger catamaran service from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pierhead (22 minutes).
Tim travelled in a Swift Lifestyle 624 motorhome. Take advantage of Wightlink’s ‘Motorhome Special’ and return crossings cost from £112. The special offer is available at specific times on set dates (until 23 July) and is valid for up to four people travelling in a motorhome of up to eight metres in length.