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South East A Week on the Isle of Wight

Pauline

Forums Admin
I wanted an easy week away so decided on the Isle of Wight. It is close to where we live in West Dorset and we’ve never been there.

Car ferries take you from the mainland, across The Solent (the water), to the island in 40-60 minutes (Wightlink). We went across from Lymington, east of Christchurch because it is closest to us. Other ferries go from Portsmouth. I was shocked at the price of the ferry - £200 round trip for a car and 2 people on the Lymington to Yarmouth route. Use booked our holiday rental from Classic Cottages and they give you a 25% discount link to book the ferry so that helped. It was a quick 40 minute crossing.

We traveled on Friday just as a cold blast hit the UK. We had snow flurries in Hampshire driving to the ferry, and again when driving across the island.

The apartment we rented is in Ventnor on the south east corner of the island, a 30 minute drive from the ferry.

This is probably too early in the year for a trip like this but I really wanted to get away. I have been unwell and very low energy since we got home from Switzerland at the end of September. I am doing better now, after a health crisis in October - January (giant cell arteritis, an auto-immune disease, nothing to do with Covid), and am doing better but not back to normal. I was worried that I wouldn’t have the energy to do this trip but we have arrived and are just taking it much slower than usual.

The UK is having a Covid surge. The infection rate is the highest it has been during all this. The drugs I am taking (steroids) screw with my immune system and it would not be good if I get Covid so we brought all our food with us and don’t plan on restaurant, pub or tea room visits. We can do that later at home when Covid is not as bad. We wore FFP2 masks (N95 equivalent) on the short ferry ride. Most people didn’t wear masks.

The apartment is comfortable and in a great location. We have a beautiful sea view and can be on the promenade in 10 minutes downhill. Turn right and walk the promenade to Ventnor, a cute town built into the hillside, or left to Bonchurch, a beautiful village built on the hillside.

Saturday was very cold (low 40s F) but sunny. We were prepared for cold weather and bundled up - heavy wool sweater, coat, wool hat, gloves, scarves. We walked along the promenade into Ventnor. There were a lot of people out and about. We continued on the coast path for another mile to Steephill Cove, a hamlet with a few houses and a restaurant. Then we walked back (4 miles, 2 hours, with lots of up and down).

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Looking back to Ventnor. We are staying on the other side of Ventnor.

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Steephill Cove.

Today, Sunday, was just as cold and sunny. We walked down to the promenade but this time turned left to Bonchurch. We took the coast path out of Bonchurch but quickly reached a barrier across the path. Usually there is a diversion map but not this time. We followed another path into the village and a man called out to us from his garden. He told us to go back to the barrier and go through it. Then he answered all my questions and gave us very clear directions for the walk I had planned. Thank you!

We pushed around the edge of the barrier and realised it was only blocking off a 10ft part where a steam crosses. Apparently it had flooded recently. We stepped across the stream, pushed through the barrier on the other side and continued.

We visited the old church in Bonchurch, St Boniface, rebuilt in 1050! Saxon origins. Norman and medieval parts in the church. It is not in use. There is a larger church in the village centre. We continued on the coastal path, pushing through another barrier that was saving us from the smallest bit of path that had broken off, going through beautiful woods. This is the Undercliff, sloping woods that grow when cliffs break off, probably hundreds or thousands of years ago. We have this near us in Lyme Regis.

Eventually we came to the Devil’s Chimney, 250 stairs that go straight up to the top of the cliff. Some are carved into the stone, some are new wood staircases. At the top is Smugglers Haven Tea Garden which looked great but was closed. It is a bit early in the season for all these places to be open. Down from our apartment is The Seapot, a casual fish restaurant which gets great reviews, but it too is closed. Several places in Ventnor were closed, but many were open.

From Smugglers Haven we walked back along the main road (not busy and it has a sidewalk) to Bonchurch and walked through the upper village. Bonchurch is beautiful. This is the expensive part of Ventnor. Lovely old cottages on lanes winding down the hillside. The church and a pretty duck pound are in the center. There is a pub and a tea room, the latter is closed. Our apartment is on the edge of Bonchurch. An excellent walk. 3.5 miles, 2 hours, lots of up and down.

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Walking up in Bonchurch from the promenade. These houses are right on the water, built into the hill.

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St Boniface in Bonchurch, rebuilt in 1050.

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Devil’s Chimney, 250 stairs up through the Undercliff to Smugglers Haven.

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Looking down over the Undercliff to the sea.

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Stairs from central Bonchurch to upper Bonchurch. We didn’t do these.

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One of the beautiful houses in Bonchurch. We will do another walk around this village.

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The apartment we rented is on the right where you see the table on the terrace.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
And here is the Jane Austen connection. In Mansfield Park she wrote: “She thinks of nothing but the Isle of Wight, and she calls it the Island, as if there were no other island in the world.”

Charles Dickens stayed in Bonchurch and wrote part of David Copperfield there.

The Isle of Wight was a popular seaside destination in Victorian times. Queen Victoria had a house here, in the northern part, near Cowes.

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Irish author who I’ve never heard of lived here in Bonchurch. Henry de Vere Stacpoole who wrote Blue Lagoon in 1908.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
On Monday the weather wasn’t great - overcast, windy and a bit of rain - so we did a drive up the east coast exploring the towns. Shanklin is the first town north of Ventnor. The southern part of the town is the Old Shanklin with several beautiful old thatch buildings. The newer part of town is boring and looks like many British small towns. The old and new parts are on the cliff top. You can drive down to the seaside where it is more set up for tourists with a play area for kids, a long beach and hotels. You can reach this area from the Old Town by going down the Shanklin Chine, a steep path down the cliff through botanical gardens (you have to pay). There is also a huge lift. We didn’t do either but I would like to do the Chine another time. There are botanical gardens in Ventnor too.

We continued north through Bembridge and Seaview. There are lots of holiday rentals in these towns. They both feel more upscale than Ventnor and Shanklin, and there are harbours full of yachts. It is a bit built up but really only along the coast and you can see fields, woods and hills inland.

I read there is a promenade from Seaview to Ryde, a larger town to the north, and we found the start of it in Seaview but it was narrow and didn’t look that nice. Our promenade from Ventnor to Bonchurch is much nicer.

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Promenade looking north from Seaview.

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Looking to the mainland from Seaview. Portsmouth is in the distance.

We continued on through Ryde which is a bigger town and ended up at the Waitrose in East Cowes. Driving back inland through Newport, the largest town (but not that large) took only 30 minutes.

The population of the island is approx. 140,000 and the area is 148 square miles.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Tuesday was our big hiking day. It was warmer, sunny and dry. We did a fabulous hike from the Cicerone Guide (Walk 21), a circular hike from Shanklin to Bonchurch over the downs, then back on the coast path. We did the hike without the car, joining at Bonchurch and walking 3 miles on the coast path to Old Shanklin. We had our sandwiches on a bench in the sun in the church yard.

Then we walked up about 700 ft to the top of the downs. It took 40 minutes and was all uphill but not that steep. It was very windy at the top. We could see the length of the island. It was beautiful. We continued along the downs with a perfect valley on the right and the coast way below us on the left.

When it came time to descend to Bonchurch it was very steep. Very steep! Down through fields with goats with big horns like Ibex. Down to the main road which runs above the towns. Then down steep steps carved out of the rock hillside into Bonchurch (railings the whole way but very steep, small steps). Along a street and down more steps and back to the start of the hike.

It took us 3.5 hours (the book said 2.5 hours) so our pace was slow but I was pleased that I did so well. 6.8 miles. A wonderful day.

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Main Street in Bonchurch. I see a lot of houses with that white iron porch.

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From the coast path looking at Shanklin. The white cliffs are near Bembridge.

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On our way up to the top.

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On the very windy top at the trig point. Looking towards Shanklin.

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Walking along the downs.

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Heading down to Bonchurch.

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Looking towards Ventnor.

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Goats! They don’t think the path is steep.

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From the Highway looking down to Bonchurch.

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Starting down the stairs.

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Looking back up. One last set of stairs and we were back to the start.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Wednesday weather was bad. 40+ mph winds, rain and overcast. This was fine with us. We have a big view of the sea and we spent the morning reading. The rain stopped in the afternoon and we did a walk around the center of Ventnor. I like this town. It is built into a steep hillside and has many stairs to move between levels - like Positano! Without the Mediterranean climate.

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I like this house built into the corner.

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Pretty street of cottages. The ones on the right have sea views.

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Is this supposed to be a parking spot with a scary drop off?

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Steep stairs up to these houses.
 

italian excursion

100+ Posts
Wow, what a wonderful, beautiful adventure you've led us on, Pauline! It's quite a special place. I'll have to add it to my long, long list of places to see/visit. Glad you finally got to get out of the village and get away. I know you were getting stir crazy after all of your challenges. Be well, hugs,
Cheryl
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
We left a day early, on Thursday afternoon instead of Friday morning because the forecast was high wind (40 mph) for both days and to avoid Friday traffic. I was able to change our ferry crossing on the app with no charge because I had bought the changeable ticket. The ferry is well organised and goes quickly because there are not that many cars to load. Going back across the Solent, the body of water between the Island and the mainland, we could see The Needles, a white cliff rock formation on the Island, a castle on the island and a castle on the mainland.

Driving home we went via Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole because we haven't been to the first two cities and wanted to get a bit of a view of them. The highway takes you across the northern suburbs and the traffic was thick. They really merge into one large city. Poole we've been to a bit taking the ferry from there to France a couple of times. We didn't get to see much of them and really should plan a day trip to see more of them. On the way out the SatNav took us north to Ringwood, our usual drive to the airport, then direct south to Lymington. I think that is the better route.

Steve and I both liked the Isle of Wight and would return. I loved the one long hike that we did and there are lots more that look good. I liked the promenade between Bonchurch and Ventnor. If we return I think we would stay on the east coast between Ryde and Ventnor. I liked Seaview and there are a lot of holiday rentals there. There are also some good looking places in southern Shanklin where we walked on our hike. I would go a bit more in season - this first week of April was too early.

I wouldn't stay in the same apartment again just because there is so much choice and I would like to find something a bit nicer. The apartment was clean, spacious, has great views, is very well located, but felt a bit worn, like it has been a holiday rental apartment for a decade, which it probably has (horrible pots and pans). It did well for us on this trip. I travel with a mini Instant Pot now so bad pots and pans don't matter as much.

The Island is a good destination for people from London or the South East because it is close and because there is no bridge, it is relatively uncrowded. The mainland in the same area is very populated because it is close to big cities where there is work. The Island is not that different from where we live - West Dorset and East Devon. It is not over populated here, we have great beaches, good hiking, pretty seaside villages.

For us I compare the Island to Cornwall. It is a similar distance in time, but you need a ferry for the Island. The hiking is gentler on the Island. There is more to see in Cornwall - excellent archaeological sites, manor houses, gardens. But Cornwall is VERY popular these days. And there is currently a lot of tension between second home owners driving up housing prices and residents who can't afford to live there. I love Cornwall and it really isn't fair to compare them. Cornwall is more wild, more beautiful, bigger. The Island probably feels different in the summer. More research needed!

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View from the terrace.

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On the ferry from Yarmouth to Lymington with another ferry and The Needles in the distance.
 

Wendy Ashworth

10+ Posts
Pauline,
I love that you compare Ventnor to Positano ! I haven’t been to Ventnor, well only skirted the outskirts so to speak. I’m hoping Ventnor comes in as a little more affordable than Positano but maybe costs will go up now it’s receiving such a favourable comparison.

Bournemouth is not the place it was I’m afraid to say. The beaches are beautiful and it’s fair to say that money has been spent over recent years on restoring Bournemouth to its once attractive status.
You know Poole town centre is not very beautiful but worth a visit to go over to Brownsea Island and like Bournemouth it has beautiful beaches.
Plans are afoot to improve Poole town centre but there are some nice corners if you seek them out,
My younger son & DinL got married in St James’ church in the old centre of Poole which is still attractive.

I’m very glad you got to the IOW, do you think it is in more or less of a time warp than Dorset ?
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
I’m very glad you got to the IOW, do you think it is in more or less of a time warp than Dorset ?
Hard to say. It felt a lot like West Dorset/East Devon but more focussed on sailing in some parts (Cowes, Ryde, Seaview). IOW is closer to London and the busy southeast but felt quiet and remote like West Dorset because of the separation of being an island. There were a lot of lovely old thatch cottages. And a lot of Victorian buildings. I still haven’t figured out exactly what I think of the area.
 

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