Review: Island luxury in the UK
Ruth Brindle takes a school holiday break with family to the beautiful Isle of Wight
The palatial and beautiful Osborne House on the Isle of Wight was Queen Victoria’s holiday home of choice for her large family.
With its sumptuous rooms and acres of grounds and gardens, not to mention a private beach, no wonder she loved it and couldn’t wait to visit as often as she could.
But while my own visit to the island, fast becoming a favourite, didn’t include a mansion stay, our luxury cottage was easily a home that could accommodate our own multi-generational family group - and we discovered to our delight that we did indeed have an almost deserted beach just a short walk from the front door.
The Swallows has four bedrooms, en suite bathrooms to all, two lounges in which teenagers and adults could relax, a huge dining/kitchen area to eat together linked to the garden through bi-fold doors.
With a bright, seaside decor, sumptuous furnishings and high-glass fittings, including Smart TVs in the sitting rooms and bedrooms, it was perfect for all ages.
Victoria and Albert’s story lures many visitors here - it was the 200th anniversary of their births when we visited. The Victorian-style celebration was attended by thousands at the English Heritage-owned Osborne House. But there are so many things to do to keep adults and children of varying ages happy.
Beaches - both traditional and busy or quiet and secluded can be found around the island’s coast.
Seagrove beach near our holiday home felt like our own private beach, probably because there is little public parking. Between Seaview beach and Priory Bay beach, it was idyllic and safe for the youngsters to swim from. We were staying on the eastern side of the island - just a 30-minute drive from our arrival point by ferry at East Cowes.
Other beaches within easy reach included Appley beach which is a big, sandy beach in Ryde and a popular spot with locals. There’s a lovely walk along the Esplanade to the town. We enjoyed a family meal in a cute restaurant with a fabulous view overlooking the beach one evening. The Three Buoys was a good choice for seafood.
On another occasion we dined at The Boathouse in Seaview, which is a pretty village well worth a visit. The seafront is great for rock pooling and crabbing.
Other beaches within easy reach of our cottage were St Helens Duver (NatIonal Trust) between the villages of Bembridge and Seaview, with sand dunes to explore. Seaview Whitecliff Bay is a half-mile-long sandy beach, two miles from the village of Bembridge.
It’s fair to say that this is a more upmarket area of the island. Although we didn’t have time to try it out on this visit, a recommendation to eat at the Wonky Café in Whitecliff Bay, Bembridge will certainly be taken up in the future. It looks great and fun!
With eating out sorted there were decisions to make about activities to keep us all happy.
One great choice was channelling our inner Bear Grylls’ talents.
The Goodleaf Woodland Adventure - www.goodleaf.co.uk - had us all setting up camp in a small wood with our leader and testing our survival skills in lighting a fire without matches. It involved shredding wood with axes - immediate trepidation from grandparents of youngsters which turned out to be unfounded - then making sparks to light our ‘tinder’. We were all, with ages ranging from eight to 68, enthralled and had differing amounts of success as firemakers. The youngsters were also able to test their den-making skills and have fun on tree swings and other fun games among the trees.
Towards the end of our adventure we were then rewarded with hot drinks and treats made on an open fire that tasted all the more delicious having worked so hard for them!
The experience is based near Shanklin, one of the Isle of Wight’s most popular beaches. Our eight, 11 and 14-year-old youngsters enjoyed all the fun of a traditional English seaside here along the esplanade with its amusement arcades and shops selling buckets and spades. Ice creams, candyfloss, slot machines. Great. No wonder it was the winner of the Beach Of The Year in the Countryfile Magazine Awards 2019.
For other activities, of course, you can’t ignore a visit to the most iconic area of the island, The Needles.
Our youngsters really enjoyed travelling on The Needles Breezer bus along the coast at this tourist hot spot.
The Needles is itself a natural wonder, but it’s not all just looking at the view here. There’s lots more to do at The Needles Landmark Attraction - not least a spectacular chairlift to the beach and back, a 4D cinema, plus other rides.
Other activities and attractions to enjoy on the Isle of Wight
Dinosaur Golf Adventure, Sandown
At the cost of £½m “Dino Islands: A Golf Adventure” takes players on a prehistoric adventure into a land of dinosaurs. The multi-level course includes a number of water features, alongside life-sized Dinosaurs. The family-friendly, 18-hole experience, suitable for all ages, also includes obstacles ranging from volcanoes, to waterfalls. Future plans for Sandham Gardens include a Sky Trail, electric karts, enhanced catering and beach huts.
The Isle of Wight Steam Railway
Taking a short trip in beautiful Victorian and Edwardian carriages to enjoy the open farmland and Downland of the Isle of Wight on the railway. In Havenstreet, just outside Ryde, the award-winning attraction was just a short drive from our base.
A guide to 8 sustainable travel routes around the Island that can be explored by bike, bus or on foot is a great way to discover some of the hidden delights of the island. All routes contain suggested cycle routes and walks as well as to visit island attractions, including some of the lesser known ones.
Walking, cycling or taking the bus (or train) around the Island will enable you to slow down, visit
all of the Island’s ‘headline acts’ and explore many of its lesser-known but delightful spots. Along the way you will come across hidden beaches, nature reserves and tight-knit communities, where artists and other creative types thrive and which will enable you to get under the skin of the island. Perhaps above all, you will encounter an incredible number of local food producers who grow a wide variety of mouth-watering breads, cheeses, fruits and much more.
A seven-night stay in The Swallows near Seagrove beach is from £804 with Classic Cottages www.classic.co.uk/browse-holiday-cottages/IsleofWight--1.html
To find out all you need to know about visiting the Isle of Wight, including ferries, accommodation, activities, beaches and planning, visit www.visitisleofwight.co.uk