What it’s like to live on the Isle of Wight: An A to Z guide

Moonrise over Ventnor (visitisleofwight.co.uk)

Moonrise over Ventnor (visitisleofwight.co.uk) - Credit: Archant

Want to get away from it all? Then why not load up, hop on the ferry and move to the Isle of Wight? Emma Caulton has compiled an ABC of the very best of Island life

Let’s play A to Z of the Isle of Wight.

A is for arts. The Island has always attracted more than its fair share of artists, poets and writers. Dickens, Keats and Tennyson have lived here, Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella was born here and many artists have been inspired by its landscapes and sea views, among them James Lord and Peter Wright.

B is for the beaches encircling the island from hidden coves to wide stretches of golden sand, perfect for children with buckets and spades and rockpool adventures. C is for crab, freshly caught. Have a taste at favourites such as Best Dressed Crab in Bembridge Harbour, Ventnor Haven Fishery on Ventnor’s waterfront, and The Crab Shed, Steephill Cove.

D is for dinosaurs: the Island has been called the UK’s ‘Dinosaur Capital’ and there’s a spectacular museum and fossil hunts to discover. E is for eco-friendly; local businesses include renewable energy companies, such as Vestas, the wind turbine manufacturers, and award-winning sustainable fashion brand Rapanui.

F is for festivals. The Isle of Wight Festival is the best known - first held in 1968 as a counterculture event. Over the decades it has been joined by a host of others, giving the Island a bit of a reputation as a festival island. This year’s additions include the inaugural Ventnor International Festival, created by the team behind the acclaimed Ventnor Fringe, with an exciting line-up of emerging artists from across the UK and beyond performing in a range of venues from churches to warehouses. It is said to be the festival to find the next big name.

G is for garlic and other delicious island produce. There’s an abundance of growers, from chillies to tomatoes, and makers, from cheeses to gin. H is for homes. The Island is a showcase of property porn with historic manor houses, thatched character cottages, Victorian seaside villas and glamourous contemporary penthouses with sea views.

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I is for ice cream parlours - including Crave ice cream made on the premises at Ventnor. J is for jogging. Choose from weekly park runs alongside the River Medina, suggested jogging routes around Shanklin or a new Festival of Running (the first one was held June just gone) so you can enjoy the Island’s breathtaking scenery while getting fit.

K is for kayaking and other watersports including kitesurfing, paddleboarding and windsurfing available along the Island’s coastline. L is for the Island’s lush landscape. M is for markets – with regular weekly farmers’ markets at Newport and Ryde. N is for The Needles – that distinctive row of chalk stacks rising out of the waves off the island’s extreme western corner.

O is for old buildings to explore, including Bembridge Windmill, Carisbrooke Castle and the ruins of Quarr Abbey. P is for piers – found in Sandown, Ryde, Totland Bay and Yarmouth. Q is for Queen Victoria who made the island fashionable by establishing Osborne House as her summer getaway.

R is for restaurants - the likes of The Ale & Oyster in Ventnor, Dan’s Kitchen in St Helens, The Little Gloster in Gurnard, Thompson’s in Newport, and The Hut in Colwell Bay – among many, many others. S is for more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the UK. T is for the tourism – an industry which provides opportunities for those relocating. U is for Undercliff, a sheltered stretch along the southern coast of the Island, from Niton to Bonchurch, which has its own microclimate. It is not unusual to see exotic and sub-tropical plants growing here. Hence V for Ventnor Botanical Garden, at the heart of Undercliffe. Established by renowned Hampshire plantsman Sir Harold Hillier in 1970, it is considered one of the great gardens of England.

W is for walking. With its numerous footpaths and varied landscape this is perfect walking country. Hardly surprising the Isle of Wight Walking Festival is rated the biggest in the UK. Y is for yachties. The island is a haven for the sailing fraternity with Cowes Week the largest sailing regatta of its kind in the world.

Finally, Z is for Zoo. Isle of Wight Zoo is a wildlife centre with a focus on care and conservation within the ruins of a Victorian Fort on Sandown’s coast. It is overseen by CEO Charlotte Corney (TV presenter Chris Packham’s partner), whose father bought the zoo in 1976, saving it from likely closure.

Overall the Island is a paradise and a playground, enchanting and unassuming in equal measures.

But what about those necessary essentials - accessibility and schooling for commuters and families? School provision is variable. Most primaries are rated ‘good’ by Ofsted with Bembridge Primary considered ‘outstanding’. A few ‘require improvement’ and one is deemed ‘inadequate’. At secondary and sixth form level the story continues. Christ the King College and Ryde Academy are both ‘good’, while Isle of Wight College (16-18) is ‘outstanding’. Others, such as Carisbrooke College and Medina College ‘require improvement’ and, indeed, are improving, however yet another is considered ‘inadequate’. There are also newish set-ups such as Isle of Wight Studio School (not yet rated) and independents such as Ryde School with Upper Chine (considered ‘excellent’ by the Independent Schools Inspectorate) worthy of investigation.

As for access. There are regular car ferry services from East Cowes to Southampton (55-60 minutes), Fishbourne to Portsmouth (45 minutes) and Yarmouth to Lymington (40 minutes). Speedier foot passenger-only services are available from West Cowes to Southampton (25 minutes) and Ryde to Portsmouth (22 minutes), where the terminal is alongside Portsmouth Harbour railway station. But then the Island’s charm is largely dependent on being a water crossing away.


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