There’s something special about Isle of Wight.
BritMums is a big fan of the little island that’s only 1 hour away from the mainland but feels like both a delightful throwback to a simpler time (beaches, countryside, boats) as well as a destination that speaks to modern families (active fun, good food, funky accommodations). More than 2.4m visitors come by ferry every year, with 300,000 more arriving by private boat. We personally think everyone should among them at some point in their lives.
BritMums recently visited the island on a press trip organised by Discover Ferries, an industry body that promote ferry travel from the UK. BritMums cofounders Susanna Scott and Jennifer Howze here give their favourite things to do on the island, both their old favourites and items on their wish list for the next visit.
Queen Victoria and Albert loved their Isle of Wight residence Osborne House and spent as much time as possible there. It’s easy to see why, as the extensive grounds lead to a charming Swiss Cottage (where the royal children played) and then down to the private beach where you can see Queen Victoria’s bathing machine. Spend a half day here, reserving time for the museum of oddities next to Swiss Cottage that the children brought back from their travels.
Carisbrook is what we think a castle should be – ramparts to climb, lots of hands-on activities and cute donkeys. It’s the perfect place to be a knight or princess for the day.
Isle of Wight Steam Railway
Naturally train lovers will get powered up by this attraction, but there’s plenty for folks whose interest in this kind of transport is more casual. The restored carriages (are you 3rd or 1st class?), the kids area where they can build a wooden track on a map of the island and the play locomotive complete with whistle to toot make visits delightful, plus the the story of the train’s history and its preservation (saved by 3 teen boys in the 1960s) is pacey and well-presented.
Seaview Wildlife Encounter
If you love wildlife and want a hands-on experience, spend an afternoon at Seaview Wildlife Encounter (ranked a top attraction by TripAdvisor). Make sure you get the duck and bird seed so you can feed the thousands of birds on the open parklands. You can pet a wallaby, help feed penguins, hang out with meerkats and more.
BritMums cofounder Jennifer and her family have mostly given up visiting animal attractions, having seen one too many beautiful creatures in too-small habitats. But Monkey Haven is the exception. The facility is home to rescued monkeys, owls, meerkats and more.
BritMums cofounder Susanna and her family wanted to visit Quarr Abbey, the Benedictine monk monastery, after it was listed in The Sunday Times as one of the best places for afternoon tea. but we’ll have to save that for next time.
Susanna’s favourite beach and secret hideaway is Steephill Cove. Her family took the picturesque coastal Military Road (A3055) from Freshwater to Ventnor, parked in the Botanic Garden car park and walked down to Steephill Cove. What a find! The cove oozes character; there are stripy beach chairs for hire, a crab shack where you can eat shellfish caught that day by the resident fisherman, and a coffee shop and cafe.
Susanna and family picked up a few crabbing kits from the West Bay Shop and headed over to the bridge at Newton Saltmarsh. “We had no idea what we were doing, but a few local kayakers pointed us in the right direction and showed us how to use the kits (though, they informed us, you really only need a long string, bacon, a weight and net).” After baiting up, they perched on the bridge and threw in our lines and quickly had four crabs. “After watching them swim around in our bucket of seawater, we let them race down the slipway. What fun!”
Cycling on the Isle of Wight takes in gorgeous countryside along bridleways, former railway lines and more. No matter whether your family is going for a little pootle or ready to conquer some hills, there’s a cycle route for you. Feeling tired? Book a Red Squirrel Electricbike and get a little help with the pedaling.
The original Liz Earle store
Devotees of this internationally popular skincare can visit the store where it all began, on the little Isle of Wight. The line is all about keeping things simple, creating a fuss-free routine that keeps customers looking healthy and radiant. We heard about Liz Earle for years as a favourite of beauty editors and makeup artists and were delighted to discover it got its start here.
The Isle of Wight festival is reknown for its big acts and is a mainstay of the summer festival circuit. It gets rave reviews from music aficionados and also appeals to families looking for some fun. But that’s just one version. There is also the Festival of Walking, the Newport Jazz Weekend, The Ryde Arts Festival, the colourfully named Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival, the V-Dub Festival (for VW fans), plus food festivals, a cycle festival. We are intrigued by the one-day pirate-themed Shipwreck Isle festival. Whatever your interest, the island probably has a festival devoted to it. (See a full list of IoW festivals here www.visitisleofwight.co.uk/whats-on/festivals.)
How to describe this small family-owned amusement park, the oldest in the UK? It’s got bags of personality, a real community feel plus some great attractions, including the Underwater Kingdom area, new for 2017, with animatronic sea creatures and an underwater cave. blackgangchine.com
This landmark attraction with its iconic chairlift is a stunning part of any visit to the island. The Needles chalk stacks are unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (prepare to Instagram them!). In summer they feature a firework display set to music and an amusement park. There’s no entry fee: You only pay to park your car and for any amusements you want to enjoy.
Jennifer and her family have stayed at Vintage Vacations, restored Airstream trailers, on two holidays, enjoying the chic retro feel of the static trailers arranged a large field, perfect for playing football and cricket, sitting in a deckchair reading in the sun, or stargazing. www.vintagevacations.co.uk You can also choose from:
- a fort
- a former railway station
- a modernist ’70s National Trust property
Check out this fab list on IsleofWightGuru.co.uk.
Yes, it’s an island, but IoW has a particularly appealing sailing culture. The Cowes Week regatta celebrates sailing, with daily sailboat races and up to 1,000 boats. There’s the Round the Island Race, a one-day race that draws competitors as far away as America. Plus there are opportunities to take lessons, learn and view the world from a sailboat or motorboat.
To get the island, you have to take a ferry – either driving on in your car (in which case, it’s easy to stuff in everything you need) or going across on foot in a fast craft. You glide across on the waves, taking in the sun (if you’re lucky) or bracing rain (if it’s a typical English summer day), having a few snacks, coffee or drink and you’re already in relaxation mode before you even arrive. For parents of over-12s, you can install the family in the Signature Lounge on Red Funnel crossings, with complimentary coffee and pastries and a deck with views on 3 sides. We were delighted to discover on our trip back via Wightlight we could also pick up souvenirs and foodie stuff from island producers — so much more meaningful than a standard cuddly toy to bring home.
There’s something charmingly old-fashioned about the beaches on IoW – 57 miles of coastline. You can do open sands or a traditional esplanades with fish & chips, ice cream, mini-golf and more. The variety of beaches keeps kids entertained from the “sit in the sand and dig” age up to “stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking” to “looking cool while sitting on my towel”.
The Isle of Wight is famous for its dinosaur heritage. You can see animatronic dinosaurs overlooking the cliffs where real dinosaurs once stood. We’re told it’s the only place in Europe where you can literally walk in the steps of dinosaurs. Perhaps your family could get lucky like the industrious Daisy Morris, who discovered some bones sticking out of the sand that turned out to be an entirely new species.
An island foodie scene
Don’t get Jennifer talking about The Garlic Farm: a farm, shop and café that showcases Allium sativum, including a self-guided farm walk. There is also the island-produced Wight Mermaids Gin, the Tomato Stall (Jennifer picks up these IoW tomatoes from a stand at her local London farmers market – they’re delicious), locally caught seafood. We’d also love to tour Adgestone Vineyard and try its award-winning wine. www.isleofwightdistillery.com/wight-mermaids-gin/
There’s nothing like a good old-fashion tree-climbing session. Goodleaf Tree Climbing takes it one step further – in these 2-hour sessions, you use harnesses to climb high into a mature oak, if you’re brave enough reaching the little bag with a treat inside. You can hang upside down, climb into a hammock strung between branches. “This tree climbing was active but not too strenuous and just loads of silly fun when we went with our kids and another family,” says Jen. You have to prebook. You’ll be glad you did. Goodleaf.co.uk
BritMums’s travel, food and drink costs were covered for the one-day press trip to Isle of Wight. All opinions are our own.
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.
Are any of these your favourites or do you have others? Let us know in the comments.