(Isle of Wight)
A Daytrip from London
Just off the southern coast of England lies the Isle of Wight, a delightful island whose bracing air and spectacular scenery combine to form an unusual and very enjoyable daytrip destination. A favorite holiday retreat ever since the days of Queen Victoria, it remains relatively unknown to foreign travelers. Although the Isle of Wight shares a common heritage with the rest of England, its friendly people regard themselves as somehow different from the mainlanders. Here, British sophistication yields to simpler charms and London seems far away.
Trains leave London's Waterloo Station hourly for Portsmouth Harbour Station, the ride taking about 1½ hours. On arrival there, follow the crowds to the pier, a part of the station complex, and board the Wightlink ferry to Ryde. BritRail Passes are not accepted on the boat, so you may have to buy a ticket. Fifteen minutes later you will disembark at Ryde Pier Head. Get on the waiting train marked for Shanklin and take it as far as Sandown, a ride of 17 minutes. You will probably be returning from Shanklin, so be sure to get a round-trip ticket from London to there if you do not have a BritRail Pass. Combined tickets including the ferry, and also for the I.O.W. Steam Railway are available. Check the return schedule on arrival to avoid missing the last evening connection back to London. Rail schedules at W: nationalrail.co.uk. Photo of ferry courtesy of IW Council, www.islandbreaks.co.uk.
By Car, follow the A3 from London to Portsmouth Harbour, a distance of 71 miles. Continue on by passenger ferry and rail or bus, as above. It is impractical to take a car to the Isle of Wight for only one day.
The Isle of Wight is most attractive between mid-spring and early fall. Good weather is absolutely essential to enjoyment of this trip.
The local tourist office for Shanklin is at 67 High Street, near the Old Village, T: (01983) 862-942. For the island in general contact Isle of Wight Tourism, County Hall, Newport, I.O.W. PO30 1UD, T: (01983) 813-813, W: islandbreaks.co.uk. Ferry schedules are available at T: (0871) 376-1000, W: wightlink.co.uk.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Being a popular tourist area, the Isle of Wight is well endowed with restaurants and pubs. Some choice establishments in Shanklin are:
[list is being revised for new edition]
Click on map to enlarge.
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Arriving by ferry at Ryde Pierhead (1), board one of the vintage London Underground cars that serve on the I.O.W. Electric Railway, W: island-line.co.uk, and ride it as far as Sandown Station (2). From there walk straight ahead down Station Avenue and make a right on Albert Road. This leads to The Esplanade, a road built atop a sea wall, which is crowded with vacationers during the season. The beach here is perhaps the best in England, with fine sand and a long, gradual slope. Ahead lies the Pier (3), an attractive modern structure; a stroll to its far end will reward you with a lovely panorama of sea, cliffs, and rolling hills.
Just beyond the pier turn right off The Esplanade and climb Ferncliff Crescent, which begins as steps. At the top make a left into Battery Gardens (4). Amble through this to Cliff Walk and follow the trail that leads to Shanklin. For the next 1½ miles the pathway, sometimes becoming a road, clings to the upper edge of a steep precipice. Far below, tiny bathing huts make a tenuous hold on the narrow strip of sand between sea and cliff. Midway, you will pass the settlement of Lake. Shanklin now opens into view and beyond it lie the hills that define the southern end of Sandown Bay.
Photo of Old Village courtesy of IW Council, www.islandbreaks.co.uk
At Shanklin, continue along the Cliff Walk to the Cliff Lift and turn right on Palmerston Road, following it to the center of town. At High Street make a left, passing the tourist office, and step right out of the present century. The Old Village (5), oozing with quaintness, is just about everyone's vision of that imagined England of long ago. Thatched-roof cottages line the streets, many of them now restaurants, pubs, and gift shops. A more romantic place to stop for lunch could hardly be desired.
Continue straight ahead on Church Road to the Old Parish Church of St. Blasius (6), one of the most beautifully situated country churches you'll ever encounter. Architecturally undistinguished and of uncer-tain age — parts of it may date from the 14th century — it nevertheless works a strange charm on the visitor. Be sure to see its interior and graveyard.
Return on Church Road and turn right on Priory Road, then left on Popham Road to Rylstone Public Park (7). This lovely spot of sylvan splendor overlooking the sea is a delight to explore and the perfect place to sit down for a rest.
From here, Chine Hollow leads to the upper entrance of:
*SHANKLIN CHINE (8), T: (01983) 866-145, W: shanklinchine.co.uk. Open April-June, daily 10-5; July to mid-Sept., daily 10-10; mid-Sept. through Oct., daily 10-5. ££. Tea garden. Gift shop.
Once notorious as the haunt of smugglers, Shanklin Chine descends into a deep and narrow ravine with plunging waterfalls. The word chine is peculiar to this area and derives from the Anglo-Saxon cine, meaning fissure. A path leads through the heavily wooded glen, passing a stone bridge, an aviary, a Heritage Centre, and a Victorian tea garden along the way. Following the right-hand trail after a fork near the lower end will reveal traces of Pluto, a secret pipeline built during World War II, which carried fuel from England across the channel to the Normandy beachhead.
At the end, where the stream runs into the sea, turn left and climb up onto The Esplanade, a road along the beach. From here you can follow the map to Shanklin Station (9) and begin the return journey. The nearby lift will save an uphill climb. Runs daily Easter to Oct. If you would rather walk some more, a particularly nice route to follow is along the beach to Sandown. There is a surfaced path going all the way.
Photo of Steam Railway courtesy of IW Council, www.islandbreaks.co.uk.
I.O.W. STEAM RAILWAY (10), T: (01983) 882-204, W: island-line.co.uk, and click on "Steam Railway" in left column. Operates many days in April and Oct.-Dec.; most days in May-June and Sept.; daily in July-Aug. Check website for exact times and fares, or ask locally.
Railfans, and many normal people as well, can enjoy a ride on the restored I.O.W. Steam Railway, departing from the Smallbrook Junction station of the I.O.W. Electric Railway, three stops south of the Ryde Pierhead station. This could be done either at the beginning or the end of your Isle of Wight daytrip.
Locomotives on the vintage trains date back as far as 1876; passengers cars from as far back as 1864! A wide variety of antique equipment is used, and rides can be made in either Third or First class — at different prices, of course.
Text and map copyright © 2003 by Earl Steinbicker, updated to 2009.