The Isle of Wight is a small, diamond-shaped island, some 23 miles wide by 13
miles north to south, just off the south coast of England
, easily reachable
by ferry and hovercraft
from Portsmouth or Southampton. It is relatively unspoilt by tourism, although there are a few campsites dotted around, and many original cottages are let as holiday homes. The island has acres of
rolling downs (hilly chalk grasslands), miles of spectacular coastline with cliffs and beautiful safe sandy beaches,
patchworks of fields and delightful rural villages dotted around its interior.
It is truly charming, and although busy in high season, it has much to offer at
all times of the year, the winters being mild, and the summers being amongst the
driest in the UK.
The narrow stretch of water between the Isle of Wight and the mainland is
known as The Solent - this is one of the worlds busiest shipping lanes, with
commercial and naval docks at Southampton and Portsmouth causing most of
its heavy traffic. There are numerous pleasure marinas on both sides of The
Solent, resulting in hundreds of small yachts competing for space in its waters,
particularly during Cowes Week, the highlight of the yachting year.
As well as for the sailing fraternity, the area is also good for divers, due
to its many shipwrecks, the most famous being Henry VIII's Mary Rose (now
preserved in Portsmouth Dockyard).
The Isle of Wight may be small, but its natural beauty is due to its diverse
geology. All within a short distance are fossil rich sedimentary rocks dating
back 110 million years (the Island is famous for its dinosaur fossils), chalk
beds from 65 million years ago, and various soft clays and sands from when the
area was under a warm shallow sea and river delta. You can see evidence of much
of this at Alum Bay. Standing on this beach on the south side of the island
you are faced with a spectacular cliff containing vertical seams of different
coloured sands, brown, red, grey, green, white, black and yellow. Looking along
the coast there are the white jagged points of The Needles, standing proudly
out of the water, now with a lighthouse to ward off ships that might otherwise
come in too close. The scenery, soft sands and warmish seas make it a wonderful
place to spend the day for adults and children alike.
The Isle of Wight has been inhabited since the earliest of times. The Saxons
and Romans were there, it is named in the Domesday Book, its strategic importance
was known to Henry VIII and more latterly, in World War II, the PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean) pipeline
carried 56,000 gallons of fuel a day under the channel to Normandy. Many writers
have been attracted to the Isle of Wight, including Charles Dickens, Alfred
Lord Tennyson and Lewis Carroll. A favourite retreat of Queen Victoria
(she died there in 1901), anyone interested in Royalty, or stately homes in
general, should seek out Osbourne House as a definite place to visit, even
if they leave the rest of the Island unseen. It is built in Italian Renaissance style, and the interior is sumptuous indeed. It contains original photographs,
paintings, and most interesting of all, many of the incredible gifts of craftsmanship bestowed
on her for her Golden and Diamond Jubilees.
For more information:
Everything Quests: Places to visit in Ireland and the UK