This is an account of our short holiday in the Isle of Wight, March 22nd to March 25th, 2008. Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the photos.
Saturday, March 22nd 2008
The sea was very choppy and the little ferry bounced up and down, repeatedly bumping the landing stage. As we got up to disembark, we passengers swayed and took little sideways steps in unison as if we were dancing. We hurried down the ramp onto the boring stillness of terra firma. Welcome to Ryde, Isle of Wight.
As we walked along the pier to the train, we could see the waves hitting the esplanade and showing the first benches with foam.
The train, composed of old London tube train carriages, took us the few stops to Sandown, where we are staying. Our hotel is about 10 minutes’ walk from the station.
We found the hotel – a converted terrace house – and rang the doorbell. No response. We rang again but there was still no answer. “What now?” asked Tigger. I would have suggested forgetting the £20 deposit and finding a room somewhere else but on the way down, all the hotels and B&Bs had had “No Vacancies” signs up.
I suggested we phone the hotel. It seemed a bit daft as there was apparently no one at home but I did get an answer. “I’ll be down in 5 minutes,” said the voice. “By car.” No hint of an apology.
The room is tiny, with a blanked off fireplace and an L-shaped partition hiding the “ensuite” – toilet, washbasin and shower, all smelling of damp. The bed seems comfortable enough but is very low.
“You’ll have trouble getting out of that,” remarked Tigger.
“I’ll just roll out on my hands and knees,” said I.
The sky is grey and we felt drops of rain – or were they snowflakes? – in our faces on the way down and it is so cold that I am glad I thought to wear my longjohns and an extra pullover but there is the occasional and improbable flash of sunlight. Tigger opted for a little rest and a read of the newspaper she had bought at Waterloo, while I wrote these first few words about our Island Adventure.
When we went out, the sky cleared and we found ourselves walking in sunshine. I took a few photos while I had the chance. Along the seafront we found the bar restaurant of a hotel called The Reef where we had eaten before. Here we had lunch, looking out onto a sunlit sea.
While eating we watched a small family feeding the black-headed gulls that abound there. I think this is always a spectacular sight because the gulls are such skillful fliers and it is breathtaking watching them manœuvre with precision in a dense cloud like this. After lunch we continued along the seafront. It was very cold despite the sunshine.
We took a stroll along the pier (cunningly arranged so that you have to walk through a cluttered amusement arcade. The view on the left shows how mixed the weather was. The sky now clouded over and a hailstorm started. It was strange seeing white hail stones rolling across the brown sand.
The hail storm passed and we wandered along the streets, exploring the shops and noting cafes and restaurants for future reference.
We returned to the hotel for a rest, and shared the newspaper, lying on the bed. Here I fell asleep. When I awoke it was already dark. Neither of us felt hungry, so we made tea. There are just a few tea bags so I must try to buy more when we go out tomorrow. It looks like a relaxed evening “at home”, an early night and a more active day tomorrow.
Sunday, March 23rd 2008
Breakfast was rather disappointing but when you go cheaply, you take the rough with the smooth. The day was cold and grey but we decided to visit the tigers all the same. As we approached the zoo, the rain began. The rain became heavier as we walked around the muddy paths and the animals, quite reasonably, were for the most part in their shelters.
There had also been damage in the gales and some enclosures were empty. At the enclosure of Aysha and Diamond, two magnificent Indian tigers, there is a sort of gazebo projecting inwards (where the accompanying photo was taken through the glass) and we could shelter there while waiting for the guided tour to begin. We followed the guide for part of his tour. He had interesting things to say but these were diluted by “humorous” banter that soon irritated me, especially in the cold and rain.
We left the tour and sat under shelter for a while and then went in search of a hot drink. After this we decided to leave. I picked up an adoption form on the way out. I am going to sponsor Zena, a beautiful white tiger who has had to have a diseased eye removed and whose sight is gradually declining in the other eye. The photo shows Zena greeting a keeper. When they greet friends, tigers emit a breathy grunting sound, called “chuffing”, which is the big cat equivalent of the purring of a domestic cat.
We went to lunch and the weather suddenly improved: sunlight, blue sky and white clouds. Good weather is always welcome but I could have wished we had had it at the zoo instead.
As it is Easter, many shops and cafes are closed. The town is very quiet. This is no doubt pleasantly peaceful but to a Londoner it feels eerily empty.
We took the train to Ryde Esplanade. This is the stop for Ryde, the town. A long jetty then carries the train to the ferry port at the aptly named Ryde Pier Head.
Ryde is a pleasant town with old-fashioned decor and shop fronts and sloping streets offering views if the sea. You can clearly see the Spinnaker Tower across the water in Portsmouth Harbour (see below).
We caught the 16:51 train back to Sandown and walked the now familiar route along Station Avenue back to our hotel. On arrival, my first thought was to get into bed to warm up. We had bought a box of tea bags in the morning to supplement the meagre supply (2) provided in the room.
Thus passed the evening, sleeping, reading and drinking tea.
Monday, March 24th 2008
Another grey day though it is not raining – yet. After breakfast we caught a bus to Newport, buying one-day Rover tickets for £10 each. At Newport we changed buses, taking the number 7 for Alum Bay.
Once upon a time, there was a steam railway network covering much of the island and tantalising glimpses of this can still be seen in old films or in the abandoned track beds here and there in the countryside or even in the odd “Station Road” in a town that now has no station. A remnant still exists in the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, running from Smallbrook Junction to Wootton Common but these days it is a tourist “ride” rather than a true railway service. The main service, using old London tube trains and covering the 8 and a half miles and 7 stations from the ferry terminal at Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin, is run by the Island Line, part of South West Trains.
For your travelling pleasure, therefore, you will have to take to the buses. The bus network reaches all the main destinations but you have to plan carefully as there isn’t necessarily a bus running between any pair of towns that you might want to visit. You often need to make a detour via a main centre, typically Newport.
We didn’t go all the way to Alum Bay but stopped at Totland and had coffee in the The Waterfront bar-restaurant. We decided to stay there for lunch in the long dining room overlooking the sea whose restless waves splashed over the sea wall 8 feet below us. Intermittently, gaps in the clouds let sunlight through, spotlighting different parts of the view.
Lying along the horizon like a fuzzy pencil line was mainland coast, parts of Hampshire and Dorset. Nearer, black-headed gulls wheeled or bobbed on the waves.
The next leg of the journey after lunch, was to Ventnor. In a car, you would probably go along the coast but no bus goes that way. We therefore took a bus back to Newport and another bus from there. Ventnor has been described as the most Swiss of towns on the island because it is set on a steep hillside.
The road winds down among hotels to the town centre. But even here we are well above the sea and the beach. You see broad vistas a open sea and, today, ever-changing skyscapes, now heavy banks of grey cloud, pierced here and there to allow searchlight beams of sun to illumine patches of water far out to sea, now blue sky with white clouds, a blue almost as intense as in summer.
We had tea and cake in the Winter Gardens, then walked through the town until it was time for a bus. The bus had the inevitable Newport as destination but Tigger, who has already absorbed the bus map, suggested we change buses at Godshill to avoid the loop.
Godshill is reputedly the prettiest town on the Island. There is certainly a goodly collection of thatched cottages and houses but all seem to be decorated with large signs advertising the trade conducted within, which rather reduces the town’s aesthetic appeal.
We caught the bus to Sandown and got off yards from our hotel.We made tea and Tigger is watching a DVD while I write this and watch evening sunlight gently fade from the buildings opposite our window.
Tigger watched her DVD, and I watched it too after writing the above. Then it occurred to us that we felt peckish despite the good lunch and tea and cake later. So we ventured into the Sandownian night to look for sustenance.
We found an Indian and a Greek restaurant within a short distance of the hotel. Despite our love of Indian food, we plumped for Greek on this occasion and enjoyed a perfect end to the day.
Thinking about the day, I was reminded by some of the “white-knuckle” bus rides we had had in Cornwall, as we jolted and bounced along narrow and bumpy roads. Only reminded: Cornish bus drivers retain the prize for reckless driving along narrow, twisting and hilly lanes while talking on their mobiles.
Tuesday, March 25 2008
Ironically, this being our last day here, it started sunny, though very cold. We decided to go to Ryde, leave the bags if possible, and go for a bus ride to Seaview. It seems, however, that there is no longer a left luggage facility, for the usual reasons of “security”.
When we reached the station, we saw that the train was already there, waiting on a red light. I hurried ahead and got there just as the light went to green. I planted myself in the doorway until Tigger arrived. The guard shouted something but with my hearing I didn’t understand. Probably just as well.
Tigger had seen some tee shirts with rhinestone outlines of the Island on them so we went to the shop as it was now open, and bought a couple. We then for a look around the Royal Victoria Arcade. I imagine this must have been rather grand in its heyday but has a rather neglected air at present, resembling an indoor market rather than a shopping arcade.
By now the cold was making itself felt and I think it was the coldest day so far. We decided therefore to go straight for the ferry rather than take one more bus tour. Unfortunately, after we had queued to embark, we were told that the ferry had developed mechanical trouble and would not be taking passengers back to Portsmouth. We would have to wait for the next one in half an hour. Looking on the bright side, that’s better then the service being cancelled because of bad weather, as often happens.
Leaving at 11:45, we reached the mainland 15 minues later and found a train for Waterloo awaiting us. Our Island Adventure was at an end for this time but there is till plenty to see for future trips.
Going to the Isle of Wight is a little like taking a step back in time, at least for those of us used to the frenetic pace of life in the capital. Even on a normal weekday, the streets of Sandown or Ryde seem empty. The pace of life is slower and people have time to smile and chat. Service is slower and you get used to waiting.
To be honest, this is also true of many places on the mainland outside the bigger towns. Attuned to London bustle, and impatience with the least delay, we notice it and it amuses, intrigues or annoys us depending on mood and circumstances. Perhaps we would adapt to the slower pace too if we lived there and then find London overcrowded and obsessively hasty.