Tuesday, 28 March 2006

to make up for so few entries...

Interesting weekend just gone. The last couple of weeks have been dry, bright and chilly, however last Friday the heavens opened and it hasn't really been dry since.

Unfortunately, this weekend was the weekend I'd booked to go away, just across to the Isle of Wight. Sod's law.

We took the Southampton - East Cowes ferry on Friday evening, and all, as they say,was plain sailing. Coming through Southampton Water one really gets to see just how big the oil refinery complex is at Fawley, there must have been four or five tankers of various sizes tied up along the quay.

From Cowes, we headed straight to our hotel, in Sandown. Took a little while to find it, but we found it eventually. A comfortable little hotel called theMontrene. After a brief nightcap in the bar (which reminded me of a social club I used to go to in eighties Liverpool), we got to try out the beds. Early the next morning (and I mean early - I woke up at my normal time of 6am), having never visited the island before, I was eager to start exploring. But first, a leisurely bath before the family stirred. By the time I was finished Jacqueline and Alice were waking up and immediately started berating me for snoring (it's all lies, I tell you!)

Staging a remarkable recovery from her sleepless night, Alice readily agreed to come down to the beach with me. Jacqueline acted slightly more convincingly, turning over and going back to sleep. So, at a quarter past seven, we ventured out of the hotel into a very grey Sandown. The hotel was well located, just a couple of hundred yards from the beach, so the first task was to have a paddle! Sandown has a long beach of dark sand (a little like tarnished brass), and we walked for probably half a mile along the seafront. Initial impressions of Sandown (and these were reinforced as the weekend went on) were pretty much what we'd been told to expect - it was like turning the clock back fifty years. Sandown appeared neglected, almost, although over the course of the weekend we saw signs (people putting fresh coats of paint onto surfaces) that the town had merely gone into hibernation for the winter. I expect if we go back in the summer the place will appear so much the brighter. On the final leg of our jaunt, we found a play area, so we stopped for twenty minutes or so for Alice to play. She was certainly determined to have a good time.

Back after an hour or so and straight into breakfast, Jacqueline by this time having bathed and dressed.

Amazingly, we got out of the hotel for around 9:30, far earlier than we ever manage at home, to begin exploring the island. Almost from the outset it appeared that Sandown was one of the more "workmanlike" parts of the island, and this was confirmed as he headed south to Shanklin, then toVentnor, both of which were more attractive than Sandown. At Ventnor in particular,we spent a lovely half hour exploring the beach - if and when we go back it may well be worth looking for a hotel there. Driving further southward, on the map I noticed a lighthouse on the southern tip of the island, St Catherine's Point, and we headed toward it. This led to a bracing walk along the top of some spectacular cliffs. Highly enjoyable, although by this time the weather was starting to close in somewhat.

We continued driving clockwise around the island, hugging the coast where possible, and came to Blackgang Chine. We'd been told that this was a lovely place, but all we found was a small theme park, and even this was closed. I suspect if the weather had been better we'd have been more motivated to explore a little, but by this time it was starting to rain quite seriously. In the event, we continued up the coast - west Wight, by the way, has the most beautiful rolling beaches, which look like a real surfers' paradise - until we came to a Pearl centre. Bribing me with the promise of a cup of tea, we duly stopped and had a mooch around. In the event I got my cuppa, and Jacqueline got some ear rings!

Onward, still hugging the coast, skirting Freshwater and Totland, until we arrived at Alum Bay, home of multi-coloured sand and the Needles. Now, we've been down to Christchurch and Bournemouth a lot, so we've seen the Needles from a distance and pretty impressive it looks too. However, even from the car park on the cliff top, there was no chance of seeing them today since by now we were immersed in a blanket of thick mist. At Alum Bay we mooched around for a while - there is a glass factory there and the obligatory gift shops which tend to accompany all these attractions. All tat, but obviously kept us amused for a while because it was 2 o'clock by the time we moved on - all three of us ready for lunch.

We decided to continue driving into Yarmouth to grab a bite to eat, however a wrong turn scuppered that plan, and lo and behold we arrived in Newport, where we spotted a Pizza Hut just in time to try their "Lunchtime Buffet", basically an all-you-can-eat jobbie. Now, this was an interesting experience. Ourselves, we left it so late that "all you can eat" meant twenty minutes and about a third of a pizza each. However, there is obviously a sub-culture (at least on the Isle of Wight) which takes this glutinous pizza experience very seriously indeed, and there were teenagers who had obviously been there for some time... One such group was sitting at the table next to us, and we overheard one of them say how he'd eaten so much he was feeling sick.

Quite funny, but in an age where we're all supposed to be worried about becoming obese...

Anyway, the plan was to stop in Newport for a mooch, but we found it impossible to find a car park, and when we did think we were headed in the right direction, the queue of traffic was horrendous. This, coupled by the rain, made me decide to invoke "Plan B", where I basically just drove out of the town and then set about finding how to get back to the hotel. From where I left Newport, Sandown was basically in the opposite direction, so we had an interesting tour through the heart of the island. Despite the rain this drive was worthwhile, and we passed through some lovely villages (Godshill, I seem to remember, was one) along the way.

Once we arrived back at the hotel, the next stop (for Alice and I at least) was the pool, which we had to ourselves. I relaxing way to spend an hour, before we went out into Sandown to eat. Our choice of eating place was largely determined by a sudden downpour, and we found ourselves in this pseudo-Italian place, whose name it is just as well I can't remember. The single course we ordered took something like an hour to arrive, by which time poor Alice was in no mood to sit and eat. Interminable. The food, when it arrived, was ok, but we got the bill and headed back without ordering dessert.

Sunday, we decided to head around the island once again, but anti-clockwise this time. The weather was not really any better than Saturday, so we thought we may have some time to kill. To this end, we spent a while exploring Sandown Pier (which turned out to be an amusement arcade), and then on to Sandown Zoo. We were lucky with the zoo in that we arrived just as one of the tours was starting, so essentially we had someone to guide us around. Sandown Zoo is basically a zoo for big cats, and it was really magnificent. We were all enthralled, looking at the tigers, lions and the jaguar. You just feel as though you want to walk up to them and stroke them....

One tiger, an enormous male, weighs in at something like 200kg, and is 9 foot tall when he stands on his hind legs. Whilst with the other cats appeared almost tame with the keeper, he described this particular beastie as "a psycho", which puts all the "cuddly" feelings into perspective.

Anyway, with the weather deteriorating we decided we'd had enough of this outdoor mularchy and got back in the car, destination Bembridge. This turned out to be a lovely little village, with its own beach too. Not only that, next to the village is a lagoon, complete with house boats. One was a bed-and-breafast - something wonderfully different and something I will seriously consider next time we visit the island, and yet another had a "For Sale" sign which we duly investigated. It might be nice to consider selling Jacqueline's flat at some point and to buy a lettable holiday home instead, and really this place had views over the Solent which were magnificent.

On to Ryde for lunch. ryde was lovely, very charming. We should have headed here instead of going to Newport on the Saturday. "Lunch" comprised a visit to KFC - old habits die hard and the island obviously isn't *that* backward!

Having looked around Ryde we were all pretty much soaked through, and decided to head back to the ferry to see if we could secure an earlier crossing. On the way back, we passed a lavender farm which was worth a second look. A nice, reviving cup of tea, and if it hadn't been so soon after lunch their cakes looked rather appealing!

Onward to Cowes, unfortunately not only were we unable to get an earlier crossing, but our car ended up blocked in with the queue of all the other ferry traffic - obviously lots of people had had the same idea - so we were unable to continue journeying around. Finally, after sitting in the car listening to the radio for two hours, we boarded the ferry ready for the return trip.

Tired and worn out, I treated everyone to a takeaway on Sunday night!

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