Planning and booking a holiday is always exhilarating. Packing, unpacking and repacking your suitcases, although sometimes a little stressful when you realise you have NOTHING TO WEAR, can also leave you with a flutter of excitable anticipation about your upcoming trip. The morning you’re travelling is the only time waking up at 4am is acceptable, and something you’re happy to do without the hint of a moan or a snooze of an alarm. Although I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, I absolutely love to travel. Whether it be in the UK or abroad, I love nothing more than booking a holiday and making list after list of what to pack, what we’ll do, where we’ll go and what we’ll see. Although that sounds very organised (and to some, highly annoying!), I can assure you I’m not. I just love a good list.
The majority of my most recent trips away have been in the UK and to me, nothing beats a staycation. Especially when walking is involved! I’ve hiked up mountains in The Lake District with strangers, walked the sights of Amsterdam with friends, had a romantic staycation in Bude and most recently, headed to The Isle of Wight for a walking weekend with my partner, Hannah.
The first time I visited the Isle of Wight, I must have only been 6 years old. My family – and by family, I mean Mum, Dad, Sister, Auntie, Uncle, two Cousins, Auntie who isn’t an Auntie, but we call her Auntie anyway, friends of the family and whoever else we collected along the way – and I spent a glorious Summer in Shanklin.
Heading back to the island 25 years later, I was pleased to find out I’d be staying in Shanklin for one of the nights, as well as revisiting some of the places I had seen as a little girl. Being so young the last time I was there meant I didn’t remember too much of the famous landmarks, such as The Needles, that I looked forward to seeing this time round. To be honest, all I can really recall from the family holiday, which seems a lifetime ago now, was how happy I was pouring colourful sand into glass bottles at the Needles Landmark Attraction, running around the beaches with my sister and cousins and feeling all grown up when I bought the most elaborate mood ring I could find. Fast forward to now, it’s wonderful seeing it through adult eyes, and creating memories I definitely won’t forget this time around. Through talking with my family and reminiscing about what we got up to back then, I can remember loving it as a child. But to see it as a ‘grown-up’ and really appreciate the wonders it beholds, I couldn’t wait to fling on my boots and get out there.
Through liaising with the tourist board, Visit Isle of Wight, I managed to organise a jam packed long weekend away at the end of January 2019. Hannah and I travelled over on the Friday using the Red Jet Passenger Ferry Service, a high-speed catamaran that got us from Southampton to Cowes in, quite literally, moments. It took us approximately 20 minutes to get across which surprised me yet heightened my excitement at the fact our weekend away on the IOW had begun sooner than anticipated.
As we pulled into Cowes, it felt like I was cheating on Cornwall with how badly I wanted to get my boots on and explore every inch of the island. I succumbed to this illicit affair and knew that Cornwall would understand. One of my first observations was how much Cowes actually reminded me of my beloved Cornish county. The narrow streets and small doorways, it was almost like stepping into St. Ives or Padstow. Cowes is renowned for its sailing and is home to Cowes Week, the biggest sailing regatta in the world. We explored a little before making our way to our first destination; Romany Cottage. A beautiful 3-bedroom self-catering cottage situated in Totland Bay, near the delightful Freshwater Bay.
After a long day of travelling, it was lovely to relax in such a charming cottage which was fully stocked with everything we’d need. From a huge sofa to lie on in front the open fire, to an enclosed and peaceful garden with a heart shaped pond! We spent the evening playing Yahtzee, drinking tea in front the fire and looking at the route in preparation for our first walk in the morning.
Travelling around the island is very simple. There are plenty of ways you can get from A to B without relying on a car if, like we did, you decide to leave it at home (or in Southampton). From buses and push bikes to trains and by foot, there are an abundance of ways you can get from one side of the island to the other. We waved goodbye to Romany Cottage and made our way West to the start of our first walk of the weekend; a 6-mile coastal beauty from Freshwater Bay to the Needles. Freshwater Bay is one of the most picturesque beaches in West Wight. With a mixture of grey flint and chalk pebbles covering the beach, it makes not only a unique sound as the waves rise and fall across the shore, but a perfect place to take some pictures before starting the hike.
Knowing it was going to be a little chilly at this time of year, we made sure to pack enough layers to keep us warm. I’m a coat addict so after whittling it down, I decided to take my most recent purchase; a bright orange Craghoppers coat I’d treated myself to from Cotswold Outdoor to, you know, celebrate the fact I was heading back to the island I’d spent time on as a child! Any excuse to buy a coat and I will use it…believe me! Aware we were spending the first day walking a coastal route and through knowing how unpredictable the Cornish weather can be, I’d prepared and packed for all weathers. As we made our way from Freshwater Bay, we were treated to some spectacular coastal views that made the steady incline and biting wind worth it. Our first respite point was Tennyson Down where an impressive 147m marble Celtic cross, made for a worthy place to sit, kept us company. The memorial stands on the highest point of Tennyson Down and is there to commemorate the life of Victorian poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Our next stop was a place I’d been itching to visit for many years, the Needles. At the end of the headland, we reached a series of military sites from the Needles Old Battery, New Battery and the rocket testing sites for Black Knight and Black Arrow – this site was used for rocket testing until 1971! The headland is a superb place to view the Needles. There’s even a 1940’s style tea-room serving homemade food and hot drinks where you can sit and look out at the Needles. According to the National Trust, ‘this quaint vintage tea-room is located in the Port War Signal Station that was specifically built to give the clearest, closest views of shipping in the Solent and around the Needles’*. We certainly had front row seats to this fantastic attraction – munching on our savoury scone teas and grasping hot chocolates between our ice-cold hands, we were able to completely take in the Needles, whilst keeping dry and warm…perfect.
After refuelling and squeezing the feeling back into our fingers and toes, we made our way towards the Needles Pleasure Park. This was where, as I child, I spent ages meticulously filling up a fancy shaped glass bottle with coloured sand taken from Alum Bay. ‘In 1860, gifts made from the sands were presented to Queen Victoria which began the special souvenir tradition that visitors can still enjoy today’**.
This is a long-held tradition that many will remember from their childhood, and for a moment, I was transported way back in time to my own childhood. Unfortunately, I was unable to recreate the magic because the time of year meant it was all closed up for Winter – but watch this space for I will be back.
Our last leg of the journey took us into Alum Bay Chine and out towards Headon Warren, a sandstone hill with coastal lowland heath-land covered in heather and gorse. As we made our way along the pathway, it gave Hannah and I time to talk and reflect on where we’d walked. We both were tired and looking forward to resting our feet, but through the tiredness, we were still so animated and sad to see the end of the walk up ahead. As we made our way towards Farringford and through Gate Lane, we gave a happy sigh. Something about the Isle of Wight made us feel truly connected and as we waited for our transport to take us to our next destination, even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits.
Over the course of two days, we managed to walk a staggering 25 miles. And I can safely say, we felt it. But this is what it’s all about for me. Being the founder and leader of my walking group, Cornish Ramblings I know first-hand how great it is to get out there for a walk. There is no better way to explore a new place, than to do it on foot.
With its bolster like coastlines, quaint pubs and towns, and jaw dropping views, there was a familiar feeling yet freshness to the Isle of Wight. Although we only managed to explore a small part of the island, what we did see will stay with us forever and I hope to go back soon to explore more.
“In very walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks” – John Muir
**Keep your eyes peeled for part two of our IOW adventure – coming soon!**