An Isle of Wight Day Trip
Any man from America or Australia might take one glance at the Island as something on a map, and then decide to give it a couple of hours.
But you can spend days and days exploring the Isle of Wight, which, if you are
really interested, begins magically enlarging itself for you.
J. B. Priestley – Rain in Godshill
Sadly, I didn’t have days – just a few hours to spend on the Isle of Wight.
I learnt though, most people come back after their first visit. 30% return within the first three months, 30% more within the first six months and a further 30% within the first year. Why? Well, perhaps it’s because the Isle of Wight is so easy to reach. Around four miles from the mainland and with ferry services from Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington, it’s a relaxed day trip. Catch a train from London first thing in the morning and be on the Island for morning coffee-time. There are car ferry services and faster, foot passenger only ferries.
I took the train to Southampton and boarded the Red Funnel car ferry to meet the rest of our group. As a child, our family were regular users of the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland or to Oostende. I remember the trips vividly; we loved every moment from the time my father drove the car up the ramp and parked, falteringly through to exploring the ferry and standing on wet and windy decks as we crossed the North Sea, to disembarking, usually rather late in the evening, in another country. Visiting the Isle of Wight these days is an altogether easier affair.
For a start, the Red Funnel ferries are being fitted out with private Signature Lounges, very like the premium club lounges at an airport. You can sit in comfort at the front of the ferry, with a panoramic view out to sea. Even if it’s raining, the view is spectacular. And, the journey time is substantially less than the trips we made to mainland Europe. It takes less than an hour by car ferry and just 25 minutes on the passenger-only high-speed ferry. There’s no lack of excitement though. An island trip is different and always special.
We saw a couple of attractions which make the Isle of Wight unique. Osbourne House was built by Queen Victoria to provide a holiday home for her family where they could enjoy some privacy. I loved exploring the rooms, which have been maintained just as they would have been when Victoria was alive.
The private chambers, including the Study where Victoria and Albert worked side-by-side on matching desks and where Victoria had her own spinning wheel.
Her bedchamber, complete with a plaque on the side of the bed where Albert slept until his untimely death, is a poignant memorial. And, stunning public rooms like the intricately Durbar room which was inspired by Indian style. All the carvings were done in Lahore and the finished surfaces were then enhanced with plaster and corton pierre (a sort of papier mâché).
If you ever fancied a royal touch to your wedding and don’t think you stand much of a chance against Megan, you could choose to get married here. This year, for the first time ever, you can hire the Durbar Room and various other locations for weddings and private parties.
The charming Swiss Cottage was designed by Prince Albert to help educate his children in the rudiments of cooking and housekeeping.
There’s a cut-down kitchen range where they would prepare lunch for the Queen and Albert and a garden where the children learnt to grow vegetables, fruit and flowers which they then sold to Albert at commercial rates!
There’s also a fascinating museum, full of the tourist memorabilia the children were given and various geological specimens they found on the beach. Of course, there’s much more and you could easily spend a day or two exploring the Estate at Osbourne House.
Our second stop was to learn more about the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. Arriving at Haven Street Station is something of a Thomas the Tank Engine experience.
The yard is full of restored, part-restored or waiting to be restored engines and carriages. We were lucky enough to be taken through the work yard where volunteers and apprentices were hard at work.
The steam railway was preserved thanks to the efforts of two teenagers, Ron Strutt and Iain Whitlam, who, in 1965, managed to generate enough enthusiasm to preserve one of the tank engines and subsequently to keep the old Island railway line open. The venture is now a major attraction on the island, with a working Steam Train line operating every day of the week during the summer months, a family friendly discovery centre and a heritage museum.
If we’d had more time, I’d have been on the beach. The Isle of Wight is the only place where you can find real dinosaur footprints, fossils which were preserved in the cliffs and are gradually being revealed as the land is eroded by the sea.
And, even if you are not into pre-historic reptile hunting, there are plenty of places to relax and get a tan. Or sailing. The Island is famous for Cowes Week and for the Round the Island Race and whether you are a spectator or want to try for yourself, the Isle of Wight is a great place to start.
As we found out, travelling by ferry to and from the island is really easy. Our return journey was via Wightlink, travelling from Fishbourne to Portsmouth. Wightlink run two ferry routes – from Fishbourne and Ryde on the island to Portsmouth in addition to a foot passenger only Catamaran from Ryde to Portsmouth. And, our host for the outbound journey, Red Funnel, run a car ferry crossing from Southampton to East Cowes on the island and their Red Jet High-Speed service from Southampton to West Cowes for foot passengers only.
It is definitely a day trip to repeat – and I’d be tempted to spend a little longer on the island, exploring all it has to offer.
The trip was organised by Discover Ferries, the industry body for the UK ferry industry, as part of its National Ferry Fortnight (6 – 20 May 2017). Now in its ninth year, National Ferry Fortnight showcases Britain’s 75 ferry routes and the benefits of travel by sea.