Dear Isle of Wight, I’m sorry – it’s not you, it’s very much me.
You see, I lived just 90 minutes from you for over two decades, but never, and I mean not once, did I ever consider a trip on the ferry to visit. I don’t really understand why, perhaps I overlooked you, not realising just how beautiful you actually were – the cliffs around the Needles are incredible in the sun!
I mean, I’ve been all over the world, subjecting myself to 15 hour flights to seek the glamorous and exotic, all the while ignoring the gem on my doorstep!
Perhaps that’s the problem – I was looking too far afield, not noticing your beauty so close to me. But the good news, I can change – heck, I will change! I will be better in the future!
And let me tell you why, because Isle of Wight, you deserve to know the reason for the change.
It starts with loading the car, bikes, walking boots, and running shoes all in the boot, ready for adventures ahead – and knowing that we can be there in just a couple of hours – that’s important, we want to spend as much time as we can enjoying ourselves, and as little time as possible, travelling, queuing, and being patted down by security.
Journeying through the New Forest to Lymington really whets the appetite, the greenery and autumnal splendour help to get us in the mood for the weekend away, and as we get closer to the docks the excitement builds.
We took the ferry over with Wightlink Ferries, with a journey time of just 45 minutes it’s super quick to cross the Solent, we all piled onto the outside deck to watch the harbour and the coastline glide past us. I’ve always found ferry travel to be the most connected way to travel, where else can you be outside and enjoy the view and weather without a window in front of you? The kids wave to the passing yachts, and the passing yachts wave back.
As easily as we board, we disembark at the other side. The ferry lands us almost in the centre of Yarmouth, and we can set about enjoying the hospitality straight away (and yes, by hospitality I do mean locally-made ice-cream).
We pootle around Yarmouth, exploring side-streets and coastal paths, the kids are in awe at how often the ferry sails past us, even on this autumnal day it is delivering a near-constant stream of visitors to and from the island, yet the streets never seem packed, just a congenial hustle and bustle around the deli’s and bakeries.
Our adventure then took us up from Yarmouth, out along the coastal road to the Needles, and one of the Island’s most practical traits unfolds before our eyes – it really is a compact place, with the journey taking us barely 15 minutes of driving to get to the National Trust car-park (Free for National Trust members, £5 otherwise).
The sun is making its slow descent now, and whilst the light is strong, over the next couple of hours we get to see the cliffs take on the most fabulous tones, geologists would be in their zone right here as there is so much variation in the strata to check out (and check me out for knowing that it’s called strata!).
We head up to the Needles Battery, another National Trust facility (Free for members! seriously, join the National Trust) – and marvel at the history of the place. It’s been of strategic importance for hundreds of years, both as a safety net in wars but also for passing vessels. The walls feature some wonderful ‘Commando’ style artwork depicting life at the battery through the years – the kids and I love it, I think for different reasons though!
From the Battery there is more up to walk, to find missile testing facilities and views out to sea, and the Needles themselves. And this is where I feel a little bit daft, the views are gorgeous, yet this is the first time I’ve seen them in real-life.
We walk down to the car again, and head to our accommodation which, like much on the Isle of Wight, is just a few minutes drive away. Home for the weekend will be Tapnell Farm – one of the Island’s major attractions. Tucked away with incredible views of the valley are the cabins of Tom’s Eco Lodge: a handful of cabins and glamping tents big enough to fit any family.
The sun is streaming in as we enter the patio doors to find fresh flowers on the table and local milk in the fridge, the cabin is set and ready to go! The boys spot the wood-fired hot-tub and unanimously decide that it will be called into use the following evening!
The cabins don’t have a TV (but they DO have board-games!), so after a delicious dinner at the The Cow Co (onsite restaurant) we can settle down for some quiet Kindle time, and grab an early night.
This isn’t the place you got to if you are after (as the kids say) a banging weekend; with heaps of natural light, fresh air, and birdsong, Tapnell Farm is an ideal place to come, refresh, and base your daytime adventures from!
With that in mind, the next morning arrived with a cacophony of birds all tweeting their little hearts out, which made for an idyllic way to wake up and get ready for a bike ride, the early morning mist coating the valley floor as far as I could see.
I’ve mentioned already how close everything is on the island, and Tapnell Farm is just 5km from the stunning Freshwater Cove (and it seems the home of the British literary and art scene back in Tennyson’s time!), and the start of a fantastic bike ride! The Cove hints at the scenery around, but after climbing the road (12%) that vista opens up into a sweeping panorama of the southern coast of the island stretching out in front of you – any last vestiges of sleepiness are gone, instead replaced by glee at the views of the winding roads in front!
The next few hours disappear into one long happy memory as the coast road (if you are looking on the map it’s called the Old Military Road) swoops and sweeps along the cliffs, hugging its curves as it does, and despite me just having road tyres on the WyndyMilla I manage to coax the bike onto the rougher paths instead of the smooth tarmac (there was much smiling!).
The Isle of Wight has some glorious riding to enjoy, with quiet roads, fabulous views, and courteous drivers it really was a fantastic morning of riding, and hilly! The Elemnt showed an average of 125metres of up, for every 10km of along – more than enough to keep the body warm!
I got back to the cabin to find the rest of the family out at the Adventure barn, where they were playing with the animals and having a whale of a time with Anda. We discovered the pillow (a mashup of a giant trampoline and bouncy castle) and lost ourselves to 15 minutes of bouncing and careening around like fools!
The rest of the afternoon was taken up with a visit to Ryde and a trip to Goodleaf Tree climbing. How to describe? Climbing ropes, harnesses, and a 300 year old oak tree! SUCH A BLAST! We proceeded to climb the ropes up the tree, walking along boughs 10 metres up in the air.
New learning can be a challenge for Christopher’s Aspergers, especially with fine motors skills involved, but the guys were great with him, and whilst he had a few wobbles with his knots, he had a wonderful time 🙂
Our journey back to the cabin took a few detours to enjoy the coastline some more, with the wind picking up we had some crashing waves to dodge, much to the boy’s delight and mum’s chagrin……
When we finally arrived back to Tapnell the hot tub was nearly ready, a quick meal later and we were all splashing away merrily outside enjoying the evening air – there’s something pretty special about being in a warm hot tub whilst the rain falls gently on your shoulders.
The next morning saw us head back to Yarmouth to the Wightlink Ferry and head back home, but not before a thorough exploration of Freshwater Cove and more ice-cream! Once again the ferry was swift and comfortable, with Lymington sliding smoothly into view in a matter of minutes.
To sum it all up…… the Isle of Wight is a teeny-tiny slice of bliss! The roads are perfect for riding, the trails perfect for family walks, and with everything so close together it is simple to fill your day with neat activities without having to schlep for hours! And Autumn-time brings the island’s colours to life, with trees popping and the low sun really making those cliffs glow in the light.
If you’ve never been, then you really do owe the island an apology! It truly is time well spent 🙂
This is the bit where I tell you that some of the trip was paid for by others. Big thanks to Wightlink Ferries for sorting out the crossing and helping with things to do and see on the Island, they provided a complimentary crossing for us (which would have been just under £70 otherwise for the return – pretty solid value i think), which was much appreciated – but in no way does it affect my feelings about the trip. The simple fact is the crossing was smooth, the procedures straight forward, and the service was exactly how it should have been.
Portsmouth Car Ferry Terminal – Fishbourne Car Ferry Terminal in 40 minutes
Lymington Car Ferry Terminal – Yarmouth Car Ferry Terminal in 45 minutes
Portsmouth Harbour Railway Station – Ryde Pier Head in just 22 minutes