Ventnor, the Isle of Wight, Steephill Cove, Bonchurch and the Round the Island Race (Part 2 of 2)

PicMonkey Ventnor ParkOften referred to as ‘A Hidden Gem,’ there are two ways to access Steephill Cove, both by foot.  We chose the ‘upper’ walk taking us by Ventnor Park.  The gardens were in full bloom and stepping stones across a flowing stream enticed, encouraging exploration.  A family was enjoying the open green as I studied a blue plaque on an ancient tree, indicating the park as an important local amenity.PicMonkey Flowers by sea

Past Ventnor Cricket Club and the Botanical Gardens car park – the closest parking place to Steephill Cove – onto the downhill path that, as the name implies, is very steep (!)  We paused to admire the beautiful views out to sea where participants in the Round the Island race were visible in the distance and a helicopter hovered overhead, possibly monitoring progress.

PicMonkey Steephill Cove

Along the Coastal Path, a closed gate indicated the entrance to the privately-owned Steephill Cove.  Its original owner, in the 18th century, was the governor of the Isle of Wight who built a house there called ‘The Cottage’ with landscape gardens.  Changing hands after his death, Steephill Cove eventually was purchased by John Hambrough who, in 1835, replaced The Cottage with Steephill Castle.  Owners changed over time until, after World War 1, the Castle became a hotel and a school during World War 2, remaining empty until, beyond repair, Steephill Castle was demolished in 1963.  IMG_1854

Plates of lobster served to diners seated outside the Boathouse Restaurant looked delicious, definitely on the ‘to do’ list for our next visit when also we might explore the unique accommodation available at The Lighthouse , The Sail Loft and other interesting buildings on the beach front.  Last in line we reached The Shack with plenty of outside seating overlooking the sea.  Their crab and their prawn sandwiches arrived with lots of filling, salad and a pot of crisps.  Traditional tea was served in a bone china pot with matching cups and saucers:  excellent – a welcome change from tea served in pottery thick mugs, my personal dislike.  A cocker spaniel on a nearby table also was well catered for with a clean bowl of fresh water, clearly to his taste!  Many of the tables were protected from the wind by clear screens through which the rocky shoreline, sunny blue sky and racing stragglers were clearly visible, perhaps contributing to its convivial atmosphere.PicMonkey Steephill cove - 2

In the distance, off Ventnor Bay, a helicopter was flying unusually low. The wind had freshened:  ‘Is it checking on competitors or is someone in need of rescue?’ we wondered.  The helicopter disappeared as we returned via the coastal route up a fairly steep winding path taking us over the point before we descend to the family run free house,  the Spyglass Inn, that offered also separate accommodation overlooking Ventnor Bay.  Next day we learned that a yacht had become trapped on the rocks and the helicopter had ‘stood by’ while a boat pulled her free.

Retracing our earlier steps on the path beside Ventnor beach we noticed the Gnomon, an astronomical instrument for measuring the sun’s altitude using the length of the Gnomon’s shadow measured at noon.


Further along, parents paddled and children played in the water surrounding the model of the Isle of Wight:  ‘A great idea,’ I thought.


We rounded off the day with an enjoyable dinner of Moules Mariniere, Chicken and Chickpea Tagine with Couscous and a bottle of Hardy’s Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot – not special but very quaffable with the tagine’s spicy taste.  The Rex Piano Bar is found on the ground floor of a 1920’s style apartment block, perfectly situated along the road from the Royal and Wellington Hotels, overlooking Ventnor and the sea.  Mohammed, the owner, makes guests very welcome.  We had caught up with his news earlier in the day when we made use of the restaurant’s small but comfortable outside sitting area to look across the bay while resting with a frothy coffee.   Over dinner we were entertained by Nick Page who accompanied his velvet vocals with good guitar and high quality dinner jazz, perfect for this romantic setting.  He sang many of my favourites, including Cole Porter’s ‘Night and Day.’  Many years ago my late musician husband had used the chords from this song to compose a tune that he called ‘Diane’s Day Out,’ fast and slightly frantic at times, whistles and bells indicating his view of my dashing in and out and about.  A great compliment.


Next day we took the Coastal path east, turning up past the 11th century church to the small village of Bonchurch.  Interesting cottages and buildings form the High Street. The Pond café is open in summer, the pond on the opposite side of the street being a main area of interest.  A heron flew down to fish as we stopped to watch.  Various blue plaques throughout the Ventnor area inform on local history.

PicMonkey Bonchurch

We couldn’t leave Ventnor without dinner at The Royal.  A favourite, it is always a pleasure to visit and see how the climbing geranium is faring on its front wall.

PicMonkey The Royal Hotel Ventnor

Eventually it was time to queue for the ferry and return to Portsmouth, feeling great after our relaxing visit to the island and its ‘Hidden Gems.’.

Portsmouth Spinnaker Tower
Portsmouth Spinnaker Tower


Ventnor, the Isle of Wight, and the Round the Island Race (Part 1 of 2)

Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Ventnor, Isle of Wight


Mention the ‘Isle of Wight’ and memories of family holidays in the 1950’s, when we stayed in then fashionable holiday camps, spring to mind.

In Brighstone Bay on the south-west coast, we were awakened each morning by the camp loudspeaker’s ‘Wakey-wakey’ call.  Dad put a dressing gown over his pyjamas to queue outside at a strategically stationed tea trolley, returning to our chalet with two cups of tea, for him and Mum.  We children raced to find a seat at the long tables set for our breakfast, loving the fact that the adults ate elsewhere.

Pocket money purchased a plastic green kite, its ability improved by the extra weight added to its elongated tail, before it was released to fly high above the windy green grass cliff top, together with those of like-minded children.  We were well looked after with organised games, running races and swimming competitions in the outdoor pool.  I relished racing around outdoors, returning home with prizes for athletics and swimming, no doubt helped by my special black running plimsolls and the ability to swim a mile by the age of 9!

Probably I have inherited my love of new places from Mum whose special holiday treats were family visits to the nearby picturesque villages of Brighstone, Niton or Godshill, where small keepsakes were purchased.

I love still the beach and the sea – the old-fashioned sea-side – so am thrilled to be spending a few days in Ventnor taking advantage of its cliff top and esplanade walks.  The Isle of Wight, with its slower pace, is reminiscent of life before our modern urge to rush, race and whizz about, allowing little time to stand and absorb.

Isle of Wight ferry

The holiday starts as soon as the car is parked on the ferry in Portsmouth.  Even the cloud could not dampen our anticipation of a relaxing few days.  Passing other ferries and boats, the busy Solent reflected the various events taking place on the island this weekend.  The Royal Hotel in Ventnor was fully booked.  We were staying at the Wellington Hotel with town and sea views and within comfortable walking distance of various cafes and restaurants across from the beach below.  The one we chose that evening produced a good meal of local shellfish. IMG_1679 Next morning it was past eight o’clock in our comfortable room when the sun shining between heavy floor-to-ceiling curtains called us out.  We sipped tea on the wrap-around balcony of the Wellington Hotel’s best room, appreciating its panoramic seascape.  The bird’s eye view showed a few ‘white horses’ on some of the waves, whipped up by the fresh breeze.

‘That’ll make for exhilarating sailing.’

‘Tricky but not too large so as to cause capsize.’

‘Perfect for today’s Round the Island Race.’

The start was in Cowes where competitors left in stages.  Smaller dinghies were followed by larger vessels over the many hours it took to release the total 1584 entries, all hoping to complete the 50 nautical miles to the finish.  They sailed west past Yarmouth:  to Alum Bay with its coloured sands and the historical Needles Battery – a military base built in the 19th century to guard the west end of the Solent – it is located above the familiar chalk stacks that form the Needles. Rounding the Needles, boats enter rougher water off the south coast of the island as they pass the Bays of Freshwater and Brighstone, sailing on to St Catherine’s Lighthouse warning unwary sailors they are approaching the most southern point of the Isle of Wight.  Continuing eastwards, the boats emerge round the western end of Ventnor Bay, behind the Spyglass Inn.  Sails coming into view increased in number so – as we had finished breakfast – we joined other hotel guests outside.

IMG_1730IMG_1726 IMG_1719   IMG_1611 Back on our own balcony, we criss-crossed from side to side – snapping and zooming, zooming and snapping – ‘That one leaning with its red sail will make a good photo, no this is better.’ ‘Look, three racing close together….another catching them up.’ IOW round the island 2015 So many photo opportunities, it was difficult to stop, just a few more, click, click, click, zoom. Eventually, seeking more vantage points, we found a steep lane leading to the foreshore where children played ‘chase the waves,’ or dug their toes in the sand, seeming oblivious to the sailors striving for their personal best in the annual competition. IMG_1761

Coming ashore on Ventnor beach
Coming ashore on Ventnor beach


After coffee at the family-owned Spyglass Inn where we took advantage of its proximity to the competing sailors, we meandered along the beach.  A left turn took us onto the path leading up to the recently renovated Winter Gardens where we paused to admire the waterfall and colourful planting.  The Winter Gardens re-opened in 2014 after undergoing refurbishment, but is not yet finished.  Meanwhile its programme includes tea dances and regular Friday music nights.  The bar and restaurant are open, providing simple refreshments with excellent views across Ventnor bay.  Below the Winter Gardens sits the Haven Harbour, built in 2003 as a safe haven for local fishing and pleasure boats, where mackerel fishing, boat trips, and a sea safari are offered.   A restaurant, shops, fish and chip takeaway, and workshop used mainly for the fitting of Cheetah Catamarans, add interest to the Ocean Blue Quay.


The Winter Gardens Ventnor
The Winter Gardens, Ventnor
The Haven, Ventnor
The Haven, Ventnor

After  walking along the Haven wall snapping the boats sailing on towards Shanklin and Sandown Bay, we returned past the Winter Gardens to walk through town, deciding to head towards Steephill Cove for lunch.IMG_1644

The Haven Fairweather Harbour and Ocean Blue Quay
The Haven Fairweather Harbour and Ocean Blue Quay

Pinnocks Coffee House, Ripley, Surrey


Sunday morning – a lie-in is allowed – Andrew Marr Show catches my interest.  Telephone call prompt urges quick leap to shower – meeting my walking friend, Nicola, in Ripley at 10.30 this morning.

Confusion over meeting place sorted. Nicola amicably agrees to start with coffee as I haven’t had breakfast.  Pinnocks Coffee House in the centre of the high street draws the eye.

IMG_2038 - Copy


I’m treated to a fresh, nutty, and tasty almond croissant that accompanies our delicious coffees from the huge choice available.  Finding a comfortable space among the settees and armchairs in the beamed upstairs area we settle into our catch-up:  the locals are lucky to have this cosy meeting place on their doorsteps.


Re-invigorated, we walk beside the cricket green, past the children’s play area, across fields, over a wooden bridge, through a copse of trees, returning by a more direct path towards Ripley High Street.  We are struck by the friendliness of dog-walking locals, and walkers without dogs.  Ripley Village is full of historical buildings and well worth a visit.   A pleasant place to while away a few hours.

Thames Towpath and Desborough Island

River Thames walk
Swans give The Swan pub its name

I do plan to continue blogging about our holiday earlier this year, to Dubai, Australia and New Zealand but – new to blogging – it is taking me a while to get to grips with the mechanism.  Also I would like to blog about current activities, so here is my first blog about one of the Healthy Walks organised by Elmbridge Borough Council. There are walks on every day of the week:  short walks for people recovering from illness; longer 8 or 9 mile walks for the fit and energetic, and distances in between:  3-5 miles particularly suits my ability and time available.

New café beside Walton Bridge, near Cowey Sale
New café beside Walton Bridge, near Cowey Sale

My favourite walks  finish at a café for coffee or small lunch, almost mandatory!  Leaders plan the route, bring first aid equipment and ensure the necessary health and safety forms are completed.  Louis and Gillian became leaders on the Elmbridge Borough Council Walking for Health programme specifically to offer walks that include dogs.  Louis is the leader and Gillian brings up the rear with their rescue dog Shayner trotting alongside.


In mid March I joined Louis and Gillian’s Towpath and Desborough Island walk. We met at the Riverhouse Barn in Manor Road, Walton-on-Thames, where Louis and Gillian noted everyone present and any health issues.  The weather was crisp but dry as we set off, a group of about twelve walkers.  IMG_0867

We walked by ‘River House,’ at one time the home of Sir Arthur Sullivan, the composer who became famous through his collaboration with William Gilbert.  Their best known compositions include ‘HMS Pinafore,’ the ‘Pirates of Penzance’ and  ‘The Mikado.’ The landscaped gardens of ‘River House,’ with established trees and shrubs, were left in Trust for local people, so we followed Louis along the winding path and down the steps to reach the towpath.  Just past the historic Anglers pub I noticed swans near the jetty, giving credence to the name of the nearby Swan public house.  136013281331

The day was brightening as our group continued along the towpath towards the new Walton Bridge.  JMW Turner painted the river looking towards the Walton bridge in 1805 and a ferry is known to have worked at this crossing in the 17th century.  Five bridges followed, with over thirty years of debate taking place before the latest, sixth, Walton Bridge was opened in 2013. This is a tied arch, single span bridge.  The removal of the piers of the previous bridge allows wider river views and enables easier navigation for boats, rowers and other river pleasure seekers.

The new Walton Bridge Opinion is divided as to the choice of the bright cream colour for the new bridge.  Someone said that it is a colour easily seen by flying swans and birds, to prevent them flying into the structure, in which case it is a good choice:  whatever the reason, I like the colour and the new one is a vast improvement on the old dilapidated bridge.


13331334We continued past the marina, under the bridge, pausing to admire a pair of proud ducks and their ducklings on the river bank at Cowey Sale, an old river crossing site before the first wooden bridge was built.

Desborough Island was created when the Desborough Channel was cut in 1935 by the Thames Conservancy, who named it after Lord Desborough the Chairman of the Board.  This cut made the river journey much shorter by avoiding that part of the Thames that wound around Shepperton and Halliford.

The Desborough Cut
Looking up the Cut towards Weybridge
Looking along the Cut towards Walton
Looking along the Cut towards Walton

Today members of the Shepperton sailing club and other pleasure craft may be seen in fine weather, cruising around these meandering bends. There are two narrow bridges from the towpath to the Island.  We crossed over the bridge farthest away, continuing along the footpath beside a bend, taking us close to the Shepperton side of the Thames.

On Desborough Island
Looking across the meandering bend to the Shepperton side
Shepperton Yacht Club from Desborough Island
Shepperton Yacht Club from Desborough Island

We paused to look across at the sailing club yachts.  Nearby a beautiful white house is set on a sloping lawn.  Whenever I pass this house it appears empty so I daydream about who might own such a property but spends little time there.   We chatted as we walked, making new friends:  in twos or threes, some solo, as we progressed along the footpath, on to an overgrown section where the path gets little sun and is often muddy.  Eventually the path opened onto a narrow tarmac road that led us back to the second bridge where we took the steps down to the Walton side of the river.

Footbridge to Desborough Island
Looking back at Walton Bridge

The sun was stronger on our return:  geese, swans and ducks waddled about on the grass beside the river bank, the occasional ‘quack’ telling their friends to move, as they proudly showed their brightly coloured plumage in the bright sunshine.  13511353

Duck inspects sign
Duck inspects sign

Returning under the bridge, we passed beside the marina where I noticed a haze of green at last appearing on the willows, usually the first in leaf, buds now plumping out. 13561359



We arrived back at the Riverhouse Barn, ready to change out of our walking shoes before ordering coffee and toasted sandwiches for lunch, that we ate whilst sitting at tables outside in the sunshine.  Riverhouse Barn sculptures

Riverhouse Barn Cafe area