Dinos, Donald and Queen Vic's house - holidays on the Isle of Wight
New Order! No, not another plea for the end of the Coalition, but just me getting excited about Bestival on the Isle of Wight in September, where the Blue Monday chaps will be there along with Stevie Wonder, Mr Motivator (yay) and film screenings in the ‘Ambient Forest’. There’s also, for those obsessed with boats and all things nautical (raises hand), the world famous Cowes Week from 11–18 August and, for geeks about Victorians (raises other hand), a Victorian Weekend from 4-5 August. That’s a six-week holiday sorted on the Isle of Wight then.
But the island in general looks so much like a good place to be that I’m thinking of putting my toothbrush and jammies into a knotted handkerchief and then jumping on the ferry. It’s more southerly than where I live – most places are – and even with the downpour at this year’s Isle of Wight Festival in June the weather is generally better (most places are). Over half of the island is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with beaches, cliffs, and award-winning public footpaths. And it has the Donald McGill Postcard Museum.
The Isle of Wight has the best of both my travel worlds – it’s an island, so has the ruggedness and isolation you want for most of the week, but there are also plenty of towns with lots to do and plenty of people to meet for when the cabin fever strikes and you’ve started talking to yourself again. Fifteen towns in all, in fact, which is quite the encouraging amount for an island only 23 miles by 13.
My list of things to do between festivals on the Isle of Wight is rapidly increasing, but here are a few to start off with:
The first stop has to be Dinosaur Isle, Britain’s first purpose built dinosaur museum and visitor attraction. The dinosaur fossils on the Isle of Wight are world famous, and the museum has exhibitions on around 126 million years of island geology, as well as the dinosaur gallery with fossils, skeletal reconstructions, life sized fleshed reconstructions and two animatronic dinosaurs.
Next up is the Museum of Island History, where kids can be tempted by the microscopes to take a closer look at fossils, and you can wander around the temporary and permanent exhibitions describing life on the Isle of Wight from dinosaur time to the present day. Then go for a walk along the beach – 13 Isle of Wight beaches are Quality Coast award winners, more than anywhere else in the south-east, and there are also three Blue Flag winners, Shanklin, Sandown and Ventnor. Try Sandown Beach for its Victorian pier and amusements as well as plenty of pubs, shops and restaurants.
After the beach, go along to the Isle of Wight Zoo, also at Sandown and a conservation space for the big cats. You can see lemurs and monkeys, tiger sisters Zia and Zena, lions Casper, Nahla, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, or go to Zoolittle Farm, take the Stamp Trail, milk feed a tiger or go on one of the zoo’s many tours. Then take a tour of Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s Isle of Wight retreat and with grounds including a Victorian walled garden and hothouses with tropical plants. It’s one of several historic sites on the Isle of Wight, which also include Roman villas at Newport and Brading, Carisbrooke and Yarmouth Castles, and two National Trust properties – Bembridge Windmill and Newtown Old Town Hall.
Where to stay: So, now that you know what you’re going to do, where are you going to stay? On a Pitchup.com campsite, caravan park or holiday park, of course. We have over 50 sites on the Isle of Wight, from Sandown to Cowes to Shanklin, and with loads of accommodation options including tent pitches, touring pitches, and bell tents, caravans and lodges for hire. Here are three for starters:
Thorness Bay Holiday Park, Cowes: One of the biggest sites on the island, Thorness Park is a David Bellamy Conservation Award Gold winner and has pitches for tents, motorhomes and caravans. There are kids’ clubs for children aged up to eleven, an indoor pool, outdoor playground and an all-weather sports court with organised sessions where you can learn archery or crossbow skills. Carisbrooke Castle, Osborne House and Newtown Old Town Hall are all less than five miles away, and there are also three pubs within a few miles.
Wight Bells, Sandown: Another David Bellamy Conservation Award Gold winner, Wight Bells has bell tents sleeping up to five, each with their own raised deck, outdoor seating, double bed and double futon. The campsite is within five miles of Dinosaur Isle, Bembridge Windmill, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway and Ventnor Botanic Gardens, and there are three pubs within a mile and a half’s staggering distance, including the Good Pub Guide’s Fishermans Cottage.
Ninham Country Holidays, Shanklin: Bring your caravan, motorhome or tent to this Isle of Wight farm campsite, or hire one of the caravans or lodges available on site. It’s a quiet site that’s a good choice for nature spotters, with red squirrels, woodpeckers and badgers all living in the woods nearby. Both Shanklin and Sandown beaches are within two miles, or you can also take the Whitecliff walk at Bembridge two and a half miles away. And if you’re going to Bestival, the bus from here takes just 15 minutes. See you there for Mr Motivator.