Swing Low, Sweet Chariot…

UK

After only two weeks of dusty, arid lands, we were quite comfortable in seeing the green pastures of England as we flew into Gatwick. Not so comfortable was the temperature after the 38-41 degrees of Malta. We’d heard about the summer-less UK, but it was still a shock to feel it for ourselves. Road atlas in hand we got going in our Cee-apostrophe-d: our black Kia station wagon which we remembered being ridiculed on Top Gear – fortunately for the stupid name, as the car itself is great, surprisingly.

The first route was to head south and drive through Brighton. It was teeming with people and we didn’t stop there, but was good to see the familiar scenes for ourselves. There is always something rather comical about beach chairs and umbrellas on a beach where people are in beanies, puffer jackets and trousers, without a chance of sun breaking through. This is a sight we have seen a lot in England already!

We covered the ground fairly quickly and found ourselves at the Portsmouth ferry in time for the 4.30pm crossing to the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately this would see our first mistake of the trip – investigating pre-booking the ferry then not actually doing it, meaning we paid double what we needed to. Fortunately, our enjoyment of Wight would help us forget this. Lots of photos ahead…

Isle of Wight is the largest island in England and in the English Channel. You can see it off the south coast, and it’s a popular holiday spot for mainland Poms. It holds plenty of its own history, having been home to Lord Tennyson and Queen Victoria (who married her first cousin – ew), as well as usage in the Second World War due to its proximity to France. On top of that, it’s ‘an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ meaning our travels around the 92km of coastline were marked with quaint village after quaint village, mixed with stunning cliffs and rolling hills.

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Our accommodation was in Ryde to the north – a perfectly comfy room above a quirky pub, which served a great English breakfast. The first night we found dinner at one of the last true pubs on the island – no redecorated interior and the like, just locals, kids playing darts, and dinner served with an old wooden placemat. The food was great, and as they were all out of Sunday roast we went with fresh fish and chups. Perfect start to our English dining experience.

20120719-090553.jpg No doubt we’ll see a bit of this on the menu…

20120719-091454.jpg Looking back at Ryde from the pier

We were keen to break in our hiking shoes with one of the hundreds of walking routes on the Island. Naturally we chose one of the longest – made more so by the fact that we couldn’t find the start point, so extended it somewhat. Rugged up in double merinos and rain jackets, we covered around 11kms of trail, boggy farmland and grassy cliff top.

Perfect day for a stroll!

20120719-094519.jpg Looking back to the tiniest glimpse of the monument – the half way point

On the route we stopped at the Tennyson Monument – a sizable cross on its lonesome on the coast. Pretty eerie when the low misty cloud was sweeping around it in the furious winds as it was for us. There wasn’t a single barrier or marker for the edge, and a bloody long drop to the seas and rocks below. Despite the gale, we proceeded on across the very middle of the cliff top, keen to see the Needles which lay at the end of the cliffs. We were literally nearly blown over, but the view was well worth it.

The needles are a natural rock formation just off the end of the land in the south west corner of the Isle. The tallest, narrowest piece which gave them their name collapsed in a storm, but it’s still pretty spectacular. Maybe it was just the satisfaction from getting to the right spot on our walk directions! There were also the remnants of a rocket test site and battery from around World War II.

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20120719-095434.jpg Long way down…

We capped off the day with a wicked spot for dinner in Ventnor, on the way back to Ryde. Tucked in the corner of the bay there is the “world famous” Spyglass Inn. It had awesome character with low ceilings and ship-related items all over the walls, with the windows looking out over the waves. We were kept entertained by all the surfers trying to catch a break, and more so by the really skilled kite surfer weaving between them. A hearty chowder of local crab and good English curry warmed us up!

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Other than a bee sting on my finger from a giant bumble bee at Queen Vic’s gift shop, our Isle of Wight experience was awesome. It should be a must-do place on more foreigner’s itineraries, as it really does capture the best of England in an easily covered area. We’d definitely go back (pre-purchased ferry ticket in hand!)

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