Often 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’.