This Island might be little but there’s more than enough to do for days on end. In easy reach of the mainland and only a few hours from London, popping over for a long weekend is a great idea. Jump on the ferry or take the train from Waterloo – but you’ll have to be selective in your itinerary.
We ventured off with lots of ideas for places to explore and photo spots we couldn’t miss, and naturally didn’t end up accomplishing everything. I love the unexpected distractions that come with travelling, and of course that’s what happened! We’d find ourselves somewhere unplanned, be too busy soaking up the view or having our umpteenth coffee, and before we knew it, the day had flown by.
Here’s a little overview of how we did it, with some ideas for your own exploration of this quaint Island. Don’t forget your travel essentials: great company and a rocking playlist (that’s all you need!)
After enjoying the brilliant blue waters, being severely windswept and consuming a coffee on board the ferry, we started our adventure on the Island with a visit to Quarr Abbey. Home to Benedictine Monks, beautiful gardens and both new and ruined abbeys, it’s easy to get lost here for a few hours.
Making our way south to Shanklin, our home for the weekend, we stopped off at some key photography spots along the coast and explored the lesser-known avenues and wild sea-swept pathways of the Island’s easterly side. You’ll find some hidden gems and quiet pubs and cafes to keep you occupied no matter the weather.
Appley Tower in Ryde is a must-visit. This 18th century folly overlooks The Solent, the horizon lined with views of the mainland. The beach is long and sandy, roughly shaded by a line of trees and colourful beach huts in the centre. You’ll find dog walkers, families and locals using the promenade as a thoroughfare. I got totally carried away taking gorgeous pictures of Jack here…
Before the sun started to set we headed to Bembridge Windmill. Now looked after by the National Trust it sits within countryside that just begs you to ramble in it. The only surviving windmill on the Isle of Wight, you have to park up in lay-bys just up the road and walk down a small pathway to reach it. If you arrive after closing time you can wander through the gates into the fields for a closer look at the windmill and for views down toward the River Yar and St Helens. Look out for the small planes going to and from Bembridge Airport; with a high enough vantage point it’s possible to see the runway from here.
We ditched the car for a day and made use of the quaint rail service along the island. It feels as if time has passed Shanklin train station by compared with what we’re used to in London! One platform, no ticket machines, but the option to buy tickets from the lady in the booth or actually on the train itself, you can hop on and off these old and very uncomfortable trains with ease. With the Island being so small, connections are relatively fast. Just make sure you’re not holding a hot coffee. You will end up wearing it…
With an air of nostalgia we connected to the Steam Train via Smallbrook Junction – a station used only as an interchange between lines so you can’t access it by road or on foot – and rode the Steam Train all the way to the end and back again. Hey, it’s about the experience! This small stretch of track takes about an hour’s journey all in all; your day ticket provides you with unlimited travel so you can stop off along the way, such as at the very popular Havenstreet, and jump back on when you’re ready.
Switching lines, we rode to Ryde St John, where, not fancying the long walk in the midday sun, we called a taxi and headed to Rosemary Vineyard. Just missing grape season, we watched an educational video on the wine and cider making process, and then went to see all the on site equipment that keeps them busy in the height of the season. Ending our afternoon with a nice lunch in their cafe (cash only!) and a wine tasting, we sampled their wines from dry to sweet plus gins, vodkas and liqueurs, and naturally left with some to take home.
Starting with a mosey around Shanklin Old Town and a light lunch in the Old Thatch Teashop (where fairies apparently live), we had a brief explore of Shanklin Chine and the local gift shops before hitting the road. Knowing we’d get carried away with pretty sights, we were determined to make the most of our last day. We wound around coastal roads with scenic viewpoints and pull-ins, making our first “official” excursion at St Catherine’s Lighthouse. Parking is exceptionally limited here and the road is access only, so you’ll have a downhill walk ahead of you but will be rewarded with views of crashing coastline (remember your jacket) and a landscape that wouldn’t look out of place in Yorkshire or the Scottish Lowlands.
Venturing onward to our most exciting destination, The Needles, we knew we’d get super distracted here so wanted as much time as possible. This was without doubt my favourite road to drive, and I’ll never forget it (thanks GoPro!) – mustard fields to my right, The Needles on the horizon as we went up and down hill, The Smiths blaring from the car stereo and Jack doing his best Morrissey impression. Bliss.
Arriving at The Needles you have to pay £5 to park at a little booth, and then buy tickets for the attractions and rides separately. After the chair lift has taken you down to the sea front, you can take a 20 minute boat ride that sails up to the lighthouse and back again. This was the highlight of our trip and we knew it would be before we even arrived! Disembark and try your best to walk over the large pebbles, look up at the cliffs and you’ll see the 21 colours of sand that make this area so geologically fascinating.
We headed back up for lunch and to have a play with the coloured sand in the sand shop (you just have to, don’t you?) but time had flown and we didn’t get a chance to explore the battery before making tracks for the evening ferry home. We picked a spot that was near enough for our departure and explored the National Trust Newtown Old Town Hall and Nature Reserve while the rest of the light lasted. Sheep graze in fields with majestic views out to sea and aren’t too bothered about the company of humans. There’s very few people around and amidst the marshlands you really do get a sense of proper peace and quiet.
This trip was about quality not quantity, but there’s no shortage of things to do and places to explore on the Isle of Wight. I’m sure we’ll be back soon, armed with yet another playlist.