If you’re from the UK then the thought of spending a weekend away in a country that is famous for being one of the most cold, grey and damp in Europe, probably won’t be very appealing. But before you decide to banish the idea of ‘holidaying at home’ forever, let us tell you why the weekend we just spent on the Isle of Wight, in the midst of the worst weather they have seen for months, was one of the best weekends we’ve had this year!
Richard and I have never really been interested in travelling the UK and have generally always gone abroad to satisfy our wanderlust but since returning from a year-long stint overseas we have developed a new-found passion for discovering new places and experiences, even if that means sticking closer to home. Armed with this renewed enthusiasm and after being offered the opportunity to visit a part of the UK we had never been to before, we strapped on our backpacks yet again and headed to the Isle of Wight with Red Funnel Ferries.
The plan was simple, spend two days exploring the island by bicycle with a few fellow bloggers, enjoy the views, breathe in the fresh country air and sample some of the best food that the Isle of Wight has to offer. We arrived bathed in sunlight after catching the Red Jet from Southampton and checked into our cottage at the West Bay Club, near Yarmouth. This was to be our home for the weekend and came complete with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a spa, gym and tennis courts!
Our first ‘taste of the island’ was at Salty’s Bar and Restaurant, located right by the water in Yarmouth – we took an instant liking to this quirky and inviting seafood eatery with its cosy atmosphere and unique décor and tucked into a delicious meal of Sea bass and Potato Ragout (for me) and a massive ‘man sized’ plate of Beer Battered Cod for Rich! (at Salty’s you can’t order ‘small’, ‘medium’ or ‘large’ portions, it’s either Men, Women or Child sizes!)
We had a great time swapping travel stories with our companions and the wine was flowing smoothly – it was quickly obvious that this was the kind of place visitors could spend hours in, chatting about their adventures on the high seas and other tall tales.
In fact, we were all up for ordering another round of drinks until we were accosted by the ‘Salty Dog’ himself – the restaurant owner! Slightly worse for wear, he proceeded to tell us of his many adventures which ranged from his life at his second home in France to his recent conversations with Cheryl Cole! Suffice to say, his advances towards the ladies in the group were a little too much to bear so we cut our night short and headed back to West Bay for a well-earned rest!
I wouldn’t let the prospect of a chance encounter with Mr Salty put you off this place however – the food was delicious and the setting idyllic – just arrive armed with a few stories of your own to beat him down with!
The next morning marked the beginning of our first full day on the Isle of Wight and despite waking to the sound of water tapping on the window and the sight of some rather mean looking grey clouds, we were extremely excited about the day ahead! We met up with our illustrious leader, Stan, who held the enviable position of being our cycling guide for the day and who stood waiting for us with some robust-looking (and at this point, clean) mountain bikes. After a quick lesson on how to use the gears for us girls (none of whom had ridden a mountain bike before) we were off!
The four-hour cycling trip took us along an old railway line and onto a stormy Freshwater Bay, where Stan pointed out the smugglers caves which were used in days gone by. From there we had our first taste of the IOW hills as we struggled up Military Road towards the golf course. I’m proud to say that both Richard and I managed to stay on our bikes all the way up the hill, although for me, the temptation to get off and push was pretty strong! At this point the rain had ensured that we were already covered in mud and soaked to our skin, but to be honest, this only added to the fun. Mountain bikes and mud just seem to go together somehow and anyway, I’m sure my pores benefitted from the unexpected mud mask I gave myself as I splashed through the puddles!
By far the most challenging part of the bike ride was the Tennyson Trail over the golf course. It was relentless and the only person who managed to keep pedalling all the way to the top was Rich! (Stan kept the girls at the back company so that we didn’t all feel like wimps!). It was extremely tricky trying to stick to the bike tracks without the wheels of our bikes slipping off into the grass and I think that all of us were pretty proud of ourselves for reaching the top in one piece. Despite the clouds, the views from the top of the golf course were pretty amazing. We could see all the way back to the white chalky cliffs of Freshwater Bay and were told that if the skies were clearer we would have been able to see right over to the other side of the island too.
The rewards for beating the hills, the clouds and the rain came thick and fast once we were over the Downs as we were soon able to soar downhill at speed once we got to Brook Shute. This piece of road was a joy to cycle down – we didn’t need to turn the pedals once and must have reached at least 35 mph! I’m sure that more than one of us let out a “Wheeeeee!” as we glided around the bends. After that, we were treated again with a gorgeous meal at the Sun Inn in Hulverstone.
This quant, thatched-roof pub was absolutely delightful and the big open fire was extremely welcome! Rich and I both tucked into a gammon ham sandwich and a pint which warmed us up a treat. The only problem with stopping in such a cosy place as the Sun Inn was that none of us wanted to get back out into the rain for the ride back!
The pool and steam room back at West Bay was put into good use later that afternoon as we gave our muscles a break and relaxed before our meal at Barefoot on the Beach.
Barefoot, as its name would suggest, is located right on the beach at Colwell Bay. The dramatic skies and rough waves that evening made for a very atmospheric meal and we imagined that the Barefoot decking would be a fantastic place to watch the sunset from during the Summer. We tucked into a truly amazing feast of Mezze Board, Rump Steak and desert, washed down by a bottle of Aussie wine ‘Dry River’, which perfectly complimented the delicious food. We were so impressed by the food here – the owner Frazer is clearly passionate about quality and made sure that we were well looked after throughout the evening. We can certainly recommend visiting Barefoot – winter or summer, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with either the food or the chilled out yet upmarket atmosphere.
A big thank you to Red Funnel Isle of Wight Ferries for arranging this weekend. Visit their website for cheap ferries to the island.