Of all the wonders presented to Southampton students, the Isle of Wight is perhaps the most underappreciated. In spite of its natural beauty, rich historical heritage and mystique, we largely seem to ignore it: maybe out of the belief that, as an island, it is a distant, unobtainable destination, too costly in time and money to ever reach. Well these beliefs could not be further from the truth. What follows is but one thrifty example of a perfect day out on the Isle.
9.45am There are many different ways to reach the Isle of Wight – from helicopter to hovercraft – but the cheapest and most straightforward is to take a Red Funnel high-speed ferry straight from Southampton docks (at the bottom of the QE2 Mile). This can get you to West Cowes in under 25 minutes, with a return ticket costing a meagre £15.60! On Saturdays, these “Red Jets” leave every half-hour.
10.30am Stroll down West Cowes high-street, trying not to be seduced by the allure of every café and bakery. Instead, carry on to take the “Floating Bridge” over the River Medina to East Cowes – the nominal charge for pedestrians is 40p – and then stop off for elevenses at Seabreeze Café. I recommend one of their mochas with a blueberry-and-white-chocolate muffin: just the thing to pump yourself up before the ascent up Yorkshire Avenue to Osbourne House!
11.30am Osbourne House, both the summer-retreat and death-bed of Queen Victoria, is definitely worth a visit while on the island. The building and gardens have been immaculately restored and it is still home to an invaluable art collection, comprising of paintings and sculptures hand-picked by the Queen herself. Entry would typically cost £12.90 for students, but with £41 English Heritage membership you could get up to 6 friends – posing as under-19s – in for free, instantly making your money back. You could then go straight on to try some of the ubiquitous liqueur samples English Heritage have on offer!
1.30pm After basking in the regal splendour of Osbourne’s corridors and chambers, you could either splash out on lunch in the café, or tuck into a packed lunch in the gardens or on Osborne Beach, a short walk from the house.
2.30pm The next destination is Carisbrooke Castle, which is strategically situated in the centre of the island. This means you will need to get the Number 5 bus to Newport – the ‘administrative HQ’ of the island – with a single ticket costing £3.50. Carisbrooke is at the top of an arduously steep hill, but when you finally summit the motte and castle walls, the astonishing views of Newport town and its surrounding pastures will have made the trek well worth it. The museum within the castle walls will recount its dramatic past as a Norman castle, anit-Armada artillery fort and prison to Charles I. Like Osbourne House, Carisbrooke is run by the English Heritage, but with membership you and your savvy posy could save up to £52.50!
5pm On the walk back to the Newport Bus Station, maybe stop off in Frozen Gelato – a family-run ice-cream parlour – for 2 for 1 on crepes and waffles (until 28th November). If you’re feeling particularly brave, challenge yourself instead to a “Knickerbocker Glory”: the traditional English sundae, composed of ice-cream, fruit, nuts, syrup and meringue!
6.15 After returning to West Cowes on the Number 1 – the route now costing only £2.60 for some reason – you can take a Red Jet ferry back to the mainland, admiring the technicolour grid of blinking lights across the Solent.
Seeing two towns on the island in one day – for under £25 travel fare no-less – is a great achievement, but there will always be something more to do!
Beaches, PADI diving, Roman villas, a zoo… the Isle of Wight has it all! What’s more, keep a weather eye out for the many festivals the island hosts. The Literary Festival has now sadly come to a close, but the Sandown Carnival (7th November), Stargazing Weekends (March), Isle of Wight Festival 2016 (9th – 12th June) and the world famous Round the Island Race (2nd July), are all still on the horizon!