5-Nighter – Late March 2011
You get to guess where (clues coming up)
I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to titles for this, my first ‘proper’ blog entry for Campervan Capers. So here are a few to choose from – see if you can guess the destination:
Wight on Time / Wight Goods / The Wight Stuff / Travelling Wight / Into Wight / I Love Wight
(“And there’s more,” as Frank Carson would say.)
Have you worked out yet where our destination was? For those who guessed Blackpool, guess again! It was, of course, the Isle of Wight.
A CURIOUS START
Glorious sunshine and newly-emerging cherry blossoms lined the way to our destination, as did a pub curiously named the Tippling Philosopher and an unfortunate amount of fellow creatures bumped off by passing cars.
Stopping off in a lay‑by for lunch, a sign reading “Highways Agency – Please take your litter home” was surrounded by rubbish, with more scattered for the full length of the hedge.
This was our first visit to the Isle and the ferry crossing from Southampton coincided with the full moon rising. There was talk on the boat of it being 14% larger than usual and the closest it has been to the earth in 20 or so years. The moon began to rise just before we docked, and it certainly had a wonderful, orange glow about it.
WHAT A SITE!
The sunny weather was to continue for the duration of our stay at The Orchards, near Yarmouth on the S.W. coast. And, waking up on the first morning, we were greeted by a quiet stillness that was broken only by a host of birds singing the dawn chorus.
With only ‘two handfuls’ of motorhomes on the site, it was delightfully peaceful. And to think – within a few weeks, the Easter holidays would see the place packed to the brim.
Having stayed on one or two Caravan Club sites such as these (we are Club members), we’ve always found them impeccable; and they are a real home from home when you’re away, providing washroom and laundry facilities, etc. This site even had two swimming pools, although only a brave or mad soul would dive into the outdoor pool at this time of year (Steve did consider it!)
Steve’s a real cycling fanatic, so not only did he have a training schedule for our time away, but he was hoping to share a few gentler cycle rides with me.
However, on the first morning, as Steve went to take his bike off the rack, he noticed the tyre on my mountain bike had gone down. Convinced the valve was completely stuffed, it looked like any chance of seeing the sights by bike, as well as getting in a nice bit of exercise, was doomed from the start.
While I was away, I had a photography project to work on, which meant not only getting out and taking lots of photos, but going through them all on the computer when on site to do the necessary editing. So while Steve was out on his bike, there I was, cocooned inside on a lovely sunny day with the curtains drawn (so I could actually see what was on the screen).
Since I was snap-happy for the whole holiday, you can just imagine that, by the time I emerged from the campervan to partake of a much-needed cup of tea in the sun, I looked like a mole emerging from its hole, with my legs rapidly turning to jelly, looking anaemic from lack of sun and exercise.
To be honest, the weather was so wonderful, especially given the time of year, we could just as easily have sat on site in our deckchairs every day, soaking in the sunshine and watching the goldfinches, blackbirds and wood pigeons pecking between the gravel on the neighbouring pitches. But, as I had a blog to write and photographs to take, we thought we’d better get out and do some sight-seeing!
Alum Bay on the south west coast is the parking point for the Needles and site of the Old & NewBatteries (owned by the National Trust), and we were happy to discover that the usual parking fees are waived from November till late March. The views along the road from the car park to the Needles were breathtaking – and made all the more serene by a warm sun and the calmest of breezes.
With plenty to see and read, we learnt that the Battery was once a military installation used in the Cold War for rocket testing; and there is a long, thin underground tunnel you can go through which leads to a searchlight emplacement.
The Needles are a set of rocks jutting from the sea as if tapering away from the stunning white cliffs. Strange how such a beautiful area could ever be considered for military activities.
Alum Bay itself is also worth a visit. We took the monstrous amount of steps down to the beach and met a woman whose husband worked on the Lifeboats. He’d called her to say he needed his camera, so they were meeting at the shoreline. The woman told us that, because the tides were the lowest they’d been in years (all related to the moon being closer to the earth), a ship had got stuck on one of the sandbanks out at sea, and the Lifeboats had been called in as backup.
With Steve’s level of fitness, he had no trouble climbing back up the steps – but I’d certainly had my quota of exercise for the day.
The shops and eateries at Alum Bay reminded me a little of the ‘complex’ I’d seen years before at Land’s End, decked with the usual purveyors of trinkets and must-have souvenirs.
The ‘Lifeboat wife’ told us about some caves off Freshwater Bay which were now accessible due to the extra-low tides, so we popped on down. Several others had obviously heard about the caves; and children and adults alike picked their way across the seaweed-strewn rocks in search of them. I only went so far before leaving Steve (with his grippier footwear) to make his way round the final corner – to, no doubt, the best cave of the lot. (Steve actually fell over on the rocks at one point, as you’ll hear in a forthcoming blog.)
Going off the main roads, we took a turn one morning off to the village of Gurnard on the N.W. coast. What a curious delight it was, with various cabin-type dwellings all crowded up near the waterfront, as well as lots of new properties being built. The view out to sea was hazy but, on a clear day, you can see England!
From there, we popped round to Cowes. The town is split in twain by the estuary and you can travel between Cowes and East Cowes via ferry on foot (apparently free) or car. Chatting with a local, I got the impression that the place gets saturated with visitors at regatta time.
…But what he didn’t know was that I’d already managed to chuck tea on them, spray a sachet of vinegar over them and blob yoghurt onto them… So sandy paws were the least of my worries. And, miraculously, the trousers looked completely oblivious to it all by the end of the holiday.
Bembridge Windmill, another National Trust property, was also on our visit list and was a working mill until about a century ago. Thin, steep ladders allow for access to the various levels within the windmill; and with the audio spiel, information boards and miniature model, you couldn’t help but be intrigued. A stop-off for a brew at Yaverland on the east coast nicely rounded off the day’s touring.
Before leaving, I had two pleasurable aims in mind for the holiday: (1) to actually get round to reading my book; and (2) to go out for a few bike rides. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped, but what is it they say about the best-laid plans? And, despite it being a bit of a working holiday, what with my photography project due in the day after our return, we still had a very enjoyable time.
Looking on our credit card statement when we got back, we were shocked at our fuel expenditure – although, as Steve said, we did over 600 miles all told. But we were still paying over a third more than we would have a year or two ago. Although we really enjoyed our holiday, the way forward is probably to do more frequent trips, closer to home.
An advert in the Caravan Club’s monthly magazine put us onto this holiday deal which included the Red Funnel return ferry from Southampton to the Isle of Wight as well as your five nights on site. It turned out that you don’t have to be a Club member; but in any case, the cost was very reasonable and everything could be booked all in one hit, so we took it. You can book it all over the internet to avoid phoning the 0844 number – I tried researching the charges to this number and it’s all a bit shrouded in mystery, so that might be something to watch for if you prefer booking over the phone. Overall, though, highly recommended in our view.
Allow more time than you think you’ll need to get to your destination, especially if you have a ferry to catch. Although we thought we’d left in plenty of time, we made it to the ferry with little time to spare – and the road directions to the port weren’t the most helpful. One of our site neighbours had had a similar situation, arriving late for his ferry, but was fortunately let on to the next one. Had this happened in the peak season, I’m not so sure the ferry company could have been so obliging, however.
If you think you’ll be doing a reasonable amount of travelling and certain attractions appeal to you, such as the National Trust or English Heritage, it’s worth considering a subscription, even if you just try them out for a year. A few visits to some of their sites will often justify the annual fee and it’s often cheaper paying by direct debit.
Just to let you know… All the work I did for my photography project wasn’t in vain, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve since received my award certificate for all the hard work I’ve put in during the holiday and the academic year (YIPPEE!) A selection of the photos I took are scattered about the blog.
STEVE’S CYCLE SHORTS
Most of our trips away are combined with Steve’s ‘gruelling’ training schedule, so we’ve decided to add in a regular ‘sub‑blog’ (if there is such a thing) called Steve’s Cycle Shorts, which will no doubt appeal to fellow cyclists generally or to those thinking of going cycling in the areas we’ve holidayed.
Steve’s Cycle Shorts will be posted soon… So if you haven’t already done so, why not sign up to be notified of new posts (see sidebar on right).
You can also read about our adventures in my book Campervan Capers. Available at all major outlets online. Click here for more info.