As a uniquely British location that is a bit off the beaten track, the Isle of Wight has always had a certain allure. Although it is located just a few miles off the south coast of Britain, it is accessible only by ferry
. There are no flights, which only emphasizes the island’s somewhat remote charms. Rent a car, or take the train or the bus down to Southampton, Portsmouth, Southsea, or Lymington. From there, cross over the Solent and start getting to know the island.
Trekkers and campers will love the Isle of Wight, which is home to the Coastal Path. Trails that go around the perimeter of an island are a special and uncommon treat, and the Isle of Wight Coastal Path is one of the best in the world. Covering 65 miles and taking about 4 days at a good pace to do in its entirety, the trail passes through many of the things that make the island such a special place: thatched roof seaside villages; the island’s beaches and chalk cliffs; towers, castles and forts spanning from the time of Henry Tudor to the mid 1860s; and plenty of breathtaking scenery.
For the outdoor minded, the island has a selection of European-style campsites, which combine sites for trailers and RVs with those for tents, and rent permanently sited trailers. Some, like that at Whitecliff Bay, combine these with more luxurious accommodation offerings and have the facilities to match.
One of the most popular outdoor attractions on the Isle of Wight is the Shanklin Chine. “Chine” is an old Saxon word that means gorge or ravine. Nestled into a gorge that has a lot of history, including tales of Channel pipelines, smuggling and shipwrecks, it’s a beautiful sight with a collection of short nature trails and a pleasant tearoom.
When you roam through the peacefulness of this historic gorge, make time to pause, look, and listen. At Shanklin Chine, you enter the magical world of natural beauty, where rare plants, woodland, wildlife and an enchanting waterfall have found a rich haven.
The animal lover will find the island’s tradition of falconry a rewarding diversion. Located in Ventor, the White Falconry has courses, demonstrations, and even public hunting days. More family-friendly is Fakenham Farm, which is basically a petting zoo. They have cattle, emus, ducks, geese, rheas, Shetland ponies, and water buffalo on the farm, among numerous other animals.
Not too many think of Britain when they think “beaches.” The Cliffs of Dover come to mind more often. However, this makes the Isle of Wight’s seashore a golden secret. It is home to three Blue Flag beaches, with the highest standards for water quality, facilities, and general environmental standards. Foremost among these is Alum Bay, with its multi-colored sand beach and its stunning view of “The Needles,” a string of rocky chalk islands extending out to sea. There are some other beaches that have won awards and are worth some attention: Colwell Bay, East Cowes, Gurnard, Sandown, Seagrove, Shanklin,
Springvale, Totland Bay, and Ventnor. As can be seen, the Isle of Wight has a lot of beachfront property, mixing sand beaches with those of pebble and shale. Beyond the diving, there is the X-Isle Company for water sports like wake boarding and waterskiing. Flying Fish Company combines both the water sports and the diving into one service.
Those who aren’t very interested in the sea, but still want some extreme sports action can check out High Adventure. This company specializes in paragliding, but also has shooting and 4x4 off-roading activities.
Of course, wherever there are good beaches, there are other aquatic activities. A good one is at Cowes Beach in the form of a 5 star PADI dive resort. Many divers try to avoid non-tropical, cold-water diving sites, but this just means they miss out on some excellent sites. The Isle of Wight has a handful of good beginner sites in its bays, including a pier dive. However, the real gems are the wreck dives. The area is home to the stern of a First World War patrol boat and a destroyer, as well as two sunken freighters. All four vessels lie within recreational dive limits, and are over 80 years old.
The climate of the Isle of Wight is very favorable for lavender, so the island has been growing and making lavender products for a long time. The Cultivars shop is engaged in making these traditional products now, all of which are good for gifts or a little self-pampering. Soap, bath salts, scented candles, perfumes, oils for burning or for massaging, creams, and even teas are made by the shop from lavender grown on their own farm.
The Isle of Wight is not what very many tourists think of when they make a plan to visit Britain. That means that most of the visitors are other Britons, and the island itself is an undervalued gem. Anyone looking for a thoroughly British experience that is removed from Buckingham Palace should put the Isle of Wight high on their list of places to visit.