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