We arrived on the Isle of Wight on Monday afternoon after driving south from Maidenhead to Portsmouth, where we caught the car ferry over to Fishbourne. Our friends, Chris and Gillian Bamber moved to the town of Ryde, on the island, about 6 weeks ago, “for a change of lifestyle.” We have known the Bambers since our time on the Anastasis, and we had lots to catch up on, not least of which was the growing up of their two lovely kids, Anna and Matthew, who were really little last time we saw them.
Ryde is a seaside town, on the side of a hillside, across the Solent from Portsmouth, which is clearly visible from the Esplanade. There is a pier, which we did not venture out on, but which looked vaguely typical of English seaside resorts. Ryde reminded Maria somehow of Brighton, a town unfamiliar to me. It was oddly old fashioned. We walked down the main drag, Union Street, yesterday afternoon, but by half past five almost everything was closed and the streets were almost deserted. There was more action down on the waterfront, but even there not much was happening. Of course, school has not yet finished in England, so the holiday season is hardly underway. But it still seemed rather quiet.
Perhaps that is the charm of the IOW, the relative quietness of it compared with southern England, which seems to buzz constantly with activity. On both Tuesday and Wednesday we found ourselves wandering along beaches. On Tuesday it was the eastern end of Ryde Beach, but there was a chilly wind and the tide was out and when it started raining we ended up retreating to a shelter up on the foreshore. Then we found our way over Puckpool Park to a sheltered spot beyond the seafront embankment. The pizzas at the café there were the best I have tasted in years and the coffee was remarkably good for England. We also putted our way around a minigolf course, with not much conflict, and lots of laughs.
On Wednesday Chris guided us to a secluded beach down a wooded track from The Priory Bay Hotel. The beach is in Priory Bay, and is apparently owned by the hotel, but we justified our visit by buying coffee and cool drinks there on the way home. The day was gloriously sunny and hot, and the kids frolicked happily in the shallow waters of the bay, and we built sandcastles on the lovely beach. There were shells in abundance. We had clear views across the Solent, with the spectacular Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth clearly visible, complementing beautifully the spinnakers of scattered yachts on the waters between the island and the mainland. There were big ships too – ferries from France, merchant ships, the occasional naval vessel.
The Priory Bay Hotel itself was charming. The terrace out the front where we drank coffee has spectacular views across the well groomed golf course and out to sea. We chuckled quietly when we recognised a man at a table near us to be “Onslow” from the British TV comedy, “Keeping Up Appearances” but there was no sign of his sister-in-law Mrs Bucket – or should that be Mrs Bouquet!! We enjoyed our morning coffee, even if it was after 2pm by the time we actually went home for lunch. Back at the Bambers’ home I read some of the history of the Priory Bay Hotel, which is actually an old house dating back to Tudor times, and inhabited, it seems, by at least one ghost, that of a young girl who lived there some three hundred years ago.
Last night we watched The Queen, a new movie starring Helen Mirren as Britain’s monarch. We drove off the island this morning in rather dreary weather, catching the ferry back to Portsmouth, before retracing our route back to Maidenhead.