First published in Travel by Natalie Driver
From the moment our ferry set sail across the gleaming waters of The Solent from Southampton, we knew our maiden voyage to the Isle of Wight was going to be memorable.
We took the Red Funnel ferry (www.redfunnel.co.uk), complete with restaurant and free wifi, across to East Cowes and then headed a few miles east to the pretty coastal village of Seaview and the Tollgate holiday cottage which was to be our base for the next few days.
The self-catering, two-storey cottage, courtesy of Seaview Holidays (www.seaviewisleofwight.co.uk), was comfortable and stylish with three bedrooms, kitchen, shower room and large upstairs bathroom. But, best of all, it had stunning views across the bay to Portsmouth and the beach was just steps away.
Visit Isle of Wight is inviting visitors to go ‘back to the future’ by following a Time Traveller’s passport to various historic attractions and heritage sites. Those who pick up a passport, from the ferry or tourist information points, have a chance to win prizes by collecting stamps at each location.
With this in mind, we headed off to The Needles Park (www.theneedles.co.uk) at Alum Bay – famous for its coloured sands and stunning chalk stacks known as The Needles. Those brave enough can take a chairlift to the beach below (we took the steps!) for a boat trip with Needles Pleasure Cruises (www.needlespleasurecruises.co.uk) to see the iconic rocks and lighthouse at close range.
From the park, we took an Island Breezer open-topped bus, run by Southern Vectis (www.islandbuses.info) whose routes go throughout the island, up to The Needles Old Battery (www.theneedlesbattery.org.uk). The National Trust-owned site is a Victorian coastal defence which offers unrivalled views of the sea and countryside.
The New Battery, further up the headland, was a secret testing site for British-made rockets.
After a good night’s sleep back at our cottage, we decided to get another stamp on our time travel passports at the English Heritageowned Carisbrooke Castle (www.english-hertiage.org.uk) where King Charles I was once imprisoned. The 800-year-old castle is remarkably well preserved and children will love meeting the resident donkeys and exploring the new Edwardian-style Princess Beatrice Garden.
Just a short drive away is the stunning Osborne House (www.english-heritage.org.uk) which was Queen Victoria’s holiday home. This seaside palace has a Swiss Cottage in its grounds and you can enjoy the stunning, panoramic views of the Solent from the private beach.
Dinosaur Isle (www.dinosaurisle.com) in Sandown is another attraction guaranteed to delight the kids with its interactive dinosaur displays and lifesize models. The Isle of Wight is the most important place in Europe for dinosaur excavations so there’s plenty to discover.
A few minutes drive away is the historic gorge at Shanklin Chine (www.shanklinchine.co.uk) which is the island’s oldest tourist attraction. On what was the hottest day of our trip, we relished cooling off with a stroll through the woodland, past a stunning waterfall to the beach below.
Our final stop was a trip on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway from Havenstreet (www.iwsteamrailway.co.uk). From the beautifully restored carriages to the new Train Story Discovery Centre where you can see these impressive locomotives close up – this award-winning attraction is a must-see.
With so much to see and do, we couldn’t believe we hadn’t set sail for the Isle of Wight before. We won’t leave it so long next time.