Isle of Wight
Off the shore of Portsmouth and Southampton, the Isle of Wight has a very different flavor. The beautiful island is located right off the southern part of England, across the Strait of Solent. It’s an important tourism destination with lots of fun attractions and exciting activities for visitors. The biggest rock festival of all times was held here in 1970. Boating, sailing and maritime activities are popular here, as well as a long standing maritime industry.
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Because of its strategic importance, it was occupied by Romans, Saxons, and Vikings, and was, until the 16th century, frequently raided by the French. Not until the 19th century did the well-to-do discover the island’s potential as a holiday resort; and it’s been known by such epithets as “Isle of Flowers” or “Diamond in the Sea” ever since. Its climate is mild in comparison with other regions, and it attracts walkers and nature-lovers, particularly in the spring, when everything bursts into blossom, or in the somewhat cooler autumn.
The east coast is the more developed, with a line of resorts, while at the western tip of the island there are high chalk cliffs at Freshwater Bay and the three famous Needles rocks. Also fascinating are the colorful sand cliffs at Alum Bay.
Ventnor is a peaceful, gray stone Victorian spa clinging to the steep coast, with a picturesque pub, The Spyglass, on its tiny beach. Inland is the sleepy capital, Newport, the island’s second-largest town after Ryde. Just south of the town, on a commanding hilltop, stands Carisbrooke Castle, a Norman fortress built on Saxon foundations. The medieval Great Hall was the residence of the Governors of the island until 1944; it now houses a museum of the island’s history.
Newport stands on a tidal river, the Medina, which flows north to the busy and attractive port of Cowes. In August, sailing enthusiasts from all over the world meet here for Cowes Week, a famous regatta. The races start and finish close inshore – spectacular in a stiff breeze. A ferry crosses the Medina to East Cowes, where Prince Albert had the Italianate summer residence Osborne House built in 1845-51 for himself and Queen Victoria. ‘After Albert’s death in 1861, Victoria spent a lot of time at Osborne and died here in 1901. During the Great War it was an officer’s convalescent home for a while, and both Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon stayed here. The rooms have been preserved almost unchanged from Victoria’s times. Neighboring Barton Manor has been producing wine since 1976 (including Muller-Thurgau); most of the vintage is sold locally.
The north coast of the island, west of Cowes, is tranquil and unspoiled. On the marshy estuary of the Newtown river, the silence is only broken by the cries of the seabirds in the nature reserve, and the tiny hamlet of Newtown is all that is left of a once prosperous borough that was burned by the French in 1377. A few miles further west, the port of Yarmouth is dominated by the ruins of a castle, one of many built by Henry VIII. High Street is lined with 17th- and 18th-century houses, shops and pubs. From the old wooden pier, steamers depart on short cruises in the summer, and on the west side of the town is the terminal for the car ferry across to Lymington, an attractive New Forest fishing village on the mainland.