Isle Of Wight
The towns of the Island each have their own character – most are on the coast and shaped by their historical links with the sea. The capital of the Isle of Wight, Newport, however, lies at the heart of the island, at the furthest tidal reach of the River Medina and is the main shopping centre and location for the Isle of Wight Festival. A pretty market town, it has a range of shops, great pubs, restaurants and cafés. Newport’s Minster, St Thomas’s has a fine marble memorial Princess Elizabeth, the second daughter of King Charles I. John Nash designed the nearby Guildhall on Newport High Street, and Quay Arts, the Island’s art gallery and centre, sits in converted former warehouses on the town quay.
Known as the “Town on the Beach”, Ryde is the largest of the Isle of Wight towns and boasts boutique and independent shops and cafes set on an expanse of sandy beach. At low tide the sands at Ryde stretch far out into the Solent and are the reason that Ryde has one of the longest piers in the country. The town was developed in the Victorian era with large villas and mansions overlooking the sea. The town’s royal heritage is reflected in the Royal Victoria Arcade which houses the town’s heritage centre.
South of Ryde is one of the Isle of Wight’s oldest towns, Brading, set in an area of outstanding natural beauty and perhaps best known for its roman villa.
The popular Isle of Wight town of Sandown is a traditional seaside resort with long stretches of beach and a Victorian pier. Shanklin lies to the south of Sandown and is famed for its beautiful beaches and sub-tropical gardens alongside years of seaside tradition. There are miles of gently sloping sand and lots of things to see and do at these two traditional holiday towns on the south east coast of the Island. Sandown has a pier with amusements – play crazy golf here or at Sandham Gardens where there’s a dinosaur theme course. A further golf course at Browns café, and Dinosaur Isle and the Isle of Wight Zoo sit looking out over Sandown bay. At Sandown and at Shanklin you can choose from the many cafés and pubs along the seafront. Shanklin’s seafront with amusements and pirate themed crazy golf is below the main town and can be accessed via a lift from the top of the cliff. Shanklin Chine is a stunning tree lined gorge with paths passing waterfalls and rare ferns and grasses, leading up to Old Shanklin village with its pretty thatched pubs, cafes and gift shops.
On the south coast lies the charming town of Ventnor, a Victorian health resort set on a hill with vintage shops and a sheltered beach. Small and perfectly formed, Ventnor is a traditional beach resort little changed since Victorian times. Clinging to the side of the St Boniface Down the town was a popular Victorian health resort, due to its unique micro-climate, and is built on the side of a steep hill leading down to the seafront and beach. Access to the beach is down the winding cascade road, with its waterfall gardens and a bandstand sitting at the corner of the small haven. Down the road Ventnor Botanic Garden is known as Britain’s hottest garden.
The west coast of the island is known as West Wight and includes the ancient port town of Yarmouth. Yarmouth acts as one of the gateways to the Island with one of the main ferry services operating from its harbour. The historic port town sits at the mouth of the River Yar and contains some of the oldest architecture on the Isle of Wight. The harbour at Yarmouth is always very busy with both ferries and smaller boats, and the town itself offers a good variety of things to do for visitors. The history of the town is very evident as you walk round and a trip along the historic pier is highly recommended for views across The Solent and is also known locally for being a great spot for fishing. Yarmouth Castle, a 16th Century Tudor castle, is tucked away to the side of the ferry dock, is also a great place for sea views and family picnics during the warmer months.
Cowes and East Cowes on the north coast, are historic towns split by the River Medina, which is internationally famed for its sailing events. The town stretches across the mouth of the river Medina estuary, and the town’s fascinating history is displayed in the maritime museums or Queen Victoria’s seaside palace on the fringes of East Cowes. Enjoy a stroll along the seafront and see boats of every shape and size, or head for the nearby beaches to soak up the sun. The town’s shopping streets are full of pretty pavement cafes, bars, boutique shops and galleries can be found in East and West Cowes, and there’s one of the best choices of quality restaurants on the island.
Scattered around the Isle of Wight’s rolling landscape there are sleepy villages, often with old thatched houses, some built over 500 years ago. On Sunday mornings the ancient church bells call worshippers across the pastures and arable fields that surround these picture postcard villages.
Popular with groups, the village of Godshill got its name because the foundation stone of the church was said to have mysteriously moved to the top of the hill under cover of darkness. Now it’s a popular tourist location with many interesting chocolate box thatched cottages, gift shops, two pubs, a fabulous Godshill Model Village and many lovely tea gardens.
Beaches and countryside
The Island has a varied coastline and because of this, can boast cliffs, coves, sandy beaches, secret inlets and rock pools to discover. From the sands of the East Wight at Sandown, Shanklin and Yaverland to the cove at Steephill and right around the West Wight to Compton Bay and Freshwater, you’ll be amazed at just how different the landscape becomes. The West Wight beaches are perfect for surfers while the vast acres of sand at Appley in Ryde at low tide are ideal for bucket and spade holidays, families, paddling and picnicking. The soaring coastline at Compton Bay can be a fossil finders delight with dinosaur footprints visible at low tide. The towns of Sandown and Shanklin on the east coast of the island with miles of golden sand, pier and eclectic seafront – and just a short walk to peace, fossil-rich cliffs and stunning coastal wildlife’. There are smaller beaches at Ventnor, Colwell Bay and Steephill Cove which all have an have an endearing air of the traditional British holiday about them with beach huts and shore-side cafes.
From breath-taking cliffs to rolling green fields and sleepy tidal estuaries to endless sandy beaches, the Isle of Wight has an incredible range of natural beauty to enjoy. Yet the Island is only 23 miles by 13 miles and you’re never more than nine miles from one of its beautiful beaches. About half of the Island is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – a treasured place where the landscape is protected, conserved and enhanced for future generations.