When the possibility of theme parks, spa breaks and multi-store shopping are around, being asked to spend the day in the Isle of Wight doesn’t exactly match up. Even the name sounds dull. Mainly made up of retired couples and pensioners, it’s not exactly Thorpe Park, nor is it as modern as Westfield’s. However it does host two amazing festivals each year, and it did give us Mark King, arguably the world’s greatest bass player. I ended up agreeing to go with my family, with hope that I could be pleasantly surprised.
When arriving in Shanklin, the south east corner of the island, there was an imminent feeling as if we had stepped back in time. A Morris Miner buzzed past us as I was trying to fix my blackberry from wavering in and out of signal. I had instantly started counting the hours we had left until we caught the evening ferry home.
We decided to start off the day with an interesting game of crazy golf on the Shanklin beach front, costing about £3 for the five of us to play. The Isle of Wight obviously had not heard about VAT rises yet, not that we complained. It was lovely to hear the waves crashing against the sand while we played amongst the locals and some other visiting families, even if the golfing ground wasn’t level and the golf balls kept running back to their starting points.
When we handed back our golf clubs to the owner, he kindly directed us to where we would find the amusements and ice cream shops further along the beach. While enjoying some traditional rum and raisin cones we sat on the yellow sandy beach and watched the yachts and ferries in the distance. We felt like we were on the film set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when we noticed some young children running out of stripy beach huts to be entertained by a Punch and Judy show. With the sound of the small road train hooting on its way past the beach in the background, you can recognise that it really is the year of being proud to be British!
Before heading out to lunch, we walked along the top of the cliffs of Shanklin beach, where the view is breath-taking on a clear day. On one side you can make out the beautiful White Cliffs of Culver and Bembridge Downs, and on the other you can see Portsmouth. I can see why people visit just for the coastal walks!
We then drove to the even quieter town of Godshill where we stopped off at the Willow Tree Tea Gardens, situated next door to a vintage toy memorabilia museum advertising at £1.50 per entry. Sat in the gardens of the tea room, we enjoyed some lovely (very English) cream teas and scones, that don’t skimp on the jam! If you want to visit an idyllic tea room with beautiful award winning gardens, then the Willow Tree is definitely worth paying a visit. Just be sure to book if you are going in the summer months, as I was told by the waitress that it is a favourite place of both the locals and visitors from the mainland.
After a fabulous lunch in Godshill, we then went back to Shanklin to explore the Old Village in the south side of town. The picturesque cobbled streets and restaurants are hidden around grade two listed thatched cottages and tourist shops. If you are to check out the old town, then the Old Rock Shop is a must! They have every traditional British sweet you could think of, which are displayed in large glass bottles on shelves, where the shop keeper will shovel out and weigh your rhubarb and custard’s for you. The shops selling china dolls and Victorian dolls house furniture gave us the sense we were in the wrong era as we walked through the dainty village.
As the evening got nearer and darker we were told by friendly locals that it was the best time to visit the Shanklin Chine – a gorge in the Cliffside, carved out by a fabulous waterfall and gushing stream. I would recommend going in the evening as the beautiful walk is illuminated with fairy lights and lanterns. It would also make a lovely spot for a romantic late night walk, especially with the benches that look over the stunning view we saw in the morning.
We then headed back to the old town to indulge for dinner at The Crab Inn – a local favourite. Although the atmosphere was rustling, loud and busy, everyone was friendly and the staff were more than helpful. Picnic benches could also be seen outside the dim-lit restaurant with clear views of the cobbled street and the famous sweet shop. The food wasn’t as artistic or adventurous as a dish you would be served in London, but the restaurant was satisfying and a perfect end to a busy day.
To be honest the Isle of Wight surprised me, and any previous misconceptions from friends suggesting it was the blame for their ‘awful childhood holidays’, were completely forgotten. I found there was plenty to do and I also enjoyed not being glued to my blackberry for the most part of the day. On the other hand, I don’t know if I could manage a week – there is only so much sugar rock and crazy golf I could take. However if you are looking for a nice quiet day out to relax and enjoy the traditional things in life, I would definitely recommend visiting the island. Seeing as the red squirrels never left, I would believe they equally agree.