An island just off the south coast of Britain, separated from the mainland by The Solent.

In August 1970 it was the scene of the world's largest ever free festival, where over half a million people watched such artists as The Doors, Jethro Tull, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and many others. It was probably the ultimate expression of hippy culture in the UK.

County seat of Isle of Wight County (predictably) located in Southeastern Virginia, USA. Unlike its English counterpart, Virginia's Isle of Wight is not an actual island, but who knows what the first explorers to come to this part of the world were thinking when they came about and just started naming things all willy-nilly.

Located on US route 258 between the two principal settlements in the county, Smithfield and Windsor, the county seat isn't so much an actual town as it is simply the place where the county government happened to congregate. It's the site for the court house, school board, and other administrative buildings, and a small scattering of homes before you've left and you're just out on the road again.

Location and Name

The Isle of Wight was an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom,

situated opposite the borders of the South Saxons and the Gewissae, being separated from it by a sea, three miles wide, which is called Solvente
according to the Venerable Bede who, writing at the beginning of the eighth century also tells us that
From the Jutes originated the Cantwara and Wihtwara (that is, the people who hold the Isle of Wight) and that people who right up to the present day are called the nation of Jutes in the province of the West Saxons and are situated opposite the same Isle of Wight.
The Wihtwara or the people of 'Wiht' or 'Wight' and an obvious anglicisation of the Brythonic name for the island Weith, which was known to the Romans as Inis Vectis.

Rulers and History

The Isle of Wight was very likely a Romano-British kingdom known under its Brythonic name of Ynys Weith during the fifth and sixth centuries although who ruled and how is not known. Neither is it known precisely when and what was the nature of the transfer of power to any 'Anglo-Saxon' successors. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle informs us that the kingdom of the Isle of Wight was founded by two gentlemen named Stuf and Wihtgar in the year 530, and as such their names often appear labelled as kings or rulers for the years 534 to 544. The name Wihtgar is however, obviously a back formation from Wihtwara itself, and like much of what is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the fifth and sixth centuries largely invented.

For the year 661 the Anglo Saxon Chronicle gives us the information that

Into the Isle of Wight also Wulfhere, the son of Penda, penetrated, and transferred the inhabitants to Aethelwalh, king of the South-Saxons, because Wulfere adopted him in baptism.
the Venerable Bede conforms this, but neither source tells us quite who the inhabitants were transferred from, so quite what status the kingdom of the Isle of Wight enjoyed before that date is uncertain, but the implication is that it was subject to the rule of its own line of kings.

The only certain ruler we have for the kingdom is the name of Arwald who was in power in the years 685 to 686, and probably a sub-king subject to Sussex prior to the invasion of the island by Caedwalla, king of the Gewissae. Caedwalla killed Arwald and

by merciless slaughter endeavoured to destroy all the inhabitants thereof, and to place in their stead people from his own province;
Whether Caedwalla did seek to destroy "all the inhabitants" is unlikely, the violence was probably directed at the ruling Jute aristocracy. When two of Arwald's brothers escaped to the mainland, but where later captured, Caedwalla, like a true Christian king, allowed them the luxury of converting before they too were executed.

Caedwalla's invasion marks the point at which Christianity arrived to the island, the last province of Britain to receive the faith. It also marks the time when the island ceased to become subject to Sussex and became part of a new creation, the kingdom of the West Saxons or Wessex. From the eighth century onwards it appears to have became part of the core territories of this new Wessex and lost whatever traces of independent existence it once had.

Sourced from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle and the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum.

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.

Go there!

For more information:

Everything Quests: Places to visit in Ireland and the UK

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