Back in time to the Isle of Wight

Colin Perry By Colin Perry, 25th Nov 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Europe>England>Hampshire, Dorset & Wiltshire

A trip to the Isle of Wight's south coast was well timed.

England's Madeira

“Time often seems to stand still on the island”, said the lady who greeted me at the reception desk of the Ventnor Towers Hotel. I would soon get a sense that life on the Isle of Wight does tend to run at a slower pace than on the UK mainland.

It was during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) that the town of Ventnor, located on the island’s south coast, became known as “England’s Madeira”, due to its particularly mild climate.

The view looking back from the seafront shows how the town is built into the side of a steep hill on which hotels, houses and bungalows are perched precariously.

Chalk downs immediately to the north protect this coastline from the elements, creating a microclimate which allows the sub-tropical plants of the Ventnor Botanic Garden, many native to the southern hemisphere, to thrive naturally rather than in glasshouses – something which would not be possible in the rest of the UK.

In time for lunch

I had arrived on the Isle of Wight via a morning ferry from Southampton, landing at East Cowes, and after a morning on the expansive golden beach at nearby Ryde, had driven some 20 miles around the eastern side of the island to Ventnor. I took a late lunch at Queenie's Tea Room on the seafront, where I treated myself to a tasty local speciality - homemade crab pâté with wholemeal bread.

A one-way street loops through the heart of the town. There are antique dealers and book shops here, an ironmonger‘s, a haberdasher’s, a draper’s and an independent family butcher. Unlike in an increasing number of mainland towns, this is not a commercial centre which is dominated by charity shops and fast food outlets.

Most local residential roads are narrow and offer little room for vehicles to pass each other, especially where cars are parked down one side.

On to Bonchurch

Later I took a two-mile walk eastwards along the coastal path to the village of Bonchurch, noting its part sandy, part shingle beach for a possible return on a sunnier day.

Venturing up the hill away from the coast, I discovered the heart of the village, including the pond stocked with huge carp.

Bonchurch has a distinguished literary history. Charles Dickens came here in the mid-19th century, writing part of his famous novel „David Copperfield“ while staying at the country house Winterbourne, which later became a hotel with private access down to the beach. Since 2011 it has been a private residence again.

Many 19th century English watercolour artists were enticed to paint here too, as noted by a commemorative plaque near the seafront.

Walking through the narrow streets that afternoon, admiring the lines of stone-built cottages and grand Victorian mansions, the village appeared almost deserted. But as I approached the front door of the The Pond Café, in search of afternoon tea, a member of staff immediately appeared from the side and politely informed me that they were closed that afternoon and also fully-booked for dinner for the rest of the week. So despite seeing few signs of life around the village, I was clearly not the only one who had discovered this quiet, secluded spot.

The right time

After that initial visit on an overcast midweek afternoon, I decided to return to Bonchurch the following Saturday morning, by which time summer had arrived and warm sunshine brightened up the scene.

It was fortunate that my stay on the Isle of Wight, at the beginning of June, coincided with the annual Round the Island Race, where over 1500 yachts sail in a 50-mile circuit around the coastline.

The clear and sunny, yet breezy conditions were perfect for sailing, and for viewing the magnificent parade of yachts too. Sometimes you can find the right place at just the right time.


Bonchurch, Isle Of Wight, Ventnor

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author avatar Colin Perry
I'm a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about sports and travel.

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