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.

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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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