Car-free adventures on theIsle of Wight – westHampshire
With spectacular walks and reliable public transport, it’s easy to explore the Isle of Wight on foot and by (sometimes open-topped) bus. This feature focusses on the western half of the island with great museums, literary connections and lots of wildlife.
1. Arrive by train and boat. Continue by bike or bus.
Getting on a boat is always a good way to start a holiday. The Wightlink ferry ride from Lymington Pier to Yarmouth is beautiful with flocks of water birds on the marshes and views of Hurst Castle and the island ahead.
- In fact, the whole train journey through the New Forest to get to Lymington Pier is also enjoyable with deer and grazing ponies among miles of tussocky heather and birch trees. Buy a through ticket to Yarmouth and the ferry is included in the price. Buses leave from right next to the ferry port, heading all over the island.
- Yarmouth itself is also well worth exploring with a Tudor castle, bike hire, great cafes and seafront views.
- Regular buses leaving Yarmouth include bus 7 to Freshwater and Newport and, in summer, the open-topped Needles Breezer, which climbs over the downs for views across the colourful cliffs of Alum Bay and the old forts around the island’s western tip.
The village of Freshwater, with its handsome pebble beach, grassy downs and white cliffs, has attracted poets, artists and musicians over the years. There’s a surprising amount to see and do here and a choice of cafés when you need refreshments. The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson lived here for forty years and regularly tramped over the chalky hills, declaring: “The air is worth sixpence a pint.”
- There’s a 14-mile Tennyson Trail running along the spine of West Wight. It crosses tumuli-studded Compton Down with its blue butterflies and chalk grassland flowers, including wild thyme, nodding musk thistles and numerous orchids.
- Farringford, Tennyson’s creeper-covered house, is just round the corner and you can visit the colourful walled garden and wooded parkland (garden tickets £4; book ahead for house tours). A lovely green footpath, from near Freshwater’s thatched church and almost opposite the Piano café, leads to the entrance. It runs under a footbridge that was first built by Tennyson to escape his fans.
- Dimbola, once home to pioneering Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, is now a gallery displaying pictures by Cameron and other photographers, with one room dedicated to memorabilia from the Isle of Wight festivals (£6, 10% off for car-free visitors).
- The 1970 festival, with an audience of 600,000, is still the biggest concert ever held in UK. Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jimi Hendrix played there on August 31; nineteen days later he was dead. A bronze statue of Hendrix stands in the garden by the Dimbola tea room.