Kim Henson continues our series which looks at the enjoyment that touring by cars, new or old, can still bring, this time covering a happy trip to the Isle of Wight in a classic ‘family’ Austin…
BY CAMBRIDGE TO THE ISLE OF WIGHT
The vehicle used for this trip means a great deal to me. It was purchased by my grandfather in June 1973 and has been in\my family ever since. During that time I’ve helped to look after it, and the car has been used for many happy family holidays and day trips.
More than 40 years down the line since that sunny June day when Grandad, Dad and I first set eyes on ‘KP’, it seemed to be the perfect vehicle for my wife Elaine and I to take on a long weekend visit to the Isle of Wight.
‘Anchored’ across the Solent, and within the English Channel just to the south of Hampshire, the Isle of Wight is easily accessible by ferry from a number of departure points on the mainland (or, as some locals call it, ‘the big island to the north’!).
In recent years we have crossed the Solent many times, notably to visit long-standing friends who live on the Island, but on every occasion the magic of the place shines through, and we are always pleased to return there, if only for a day trip.
Whichever car ferry route you take (from Lymington or Portsmouth, by Wightlink, or from Southampton, by Red Funnel), during your short sea crossing there’s enough time to have a relaxing hot drink and a snack, or simply enjoy the maritime views as the Hampshire coastline recedes and that of the island beckons. (If you are travelling as a foot passenger, without a car, you have the additional options of crossing with Hovertravel from Southsea to Ryde Pier – this takes just 10 minutes each way, or using Red Funnel’s ‘Red Jet’ service from Southampton to West Cowes – in this case the journey occupies about 25 minutes in each direction).
To decide which ferry service is best for you, you need to check the respective timetables for available services and costs. In addition, of course, it can depend from where on the mainland you are travelling.
Ever since I first visited the Island when I was a lad, I’ve loved the unique atmosphere of the place. I have always been impressed by the fact that the local people are friendly and welcoming, the pace of life is slower than on the mainland, and there’s no desire nor need to travel anywhere at great speed. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, meandering along the Island’s many picturesque by-ways (there are no ‘through-routes’, as such) is a welcome change from the everyday rushing on mainland motorways that so many of us have to endure in our daily lives.
Approximately 25 miles from end to end, and 15 miles north to south, the largest of the English islands is compact but incorporates wide diversity in its various different localities, all waiting to be explored. It’s beautiful too; about half of the area of the Island is designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’.
STAY A WHILE?
While, of course, it is ideal if you can spend a few days, a week, or even longer on the Island, don’t be put off if you haven’t got more than a single day to spare. In fact a day trip will give you a very good flavour of what this idyllic place has to offer, and it is quite possible to do a tour – albeit abbreviated – around the Island in one day. You can then return on another occasion, to spend longer exploring. Incidentally, whichever ferry you use to reach the Island, you will find useful free information booklets on board (almost always incorporating a map), providing some useful suggestions for places of interest to visit.
All the ferries from the mainland disembark at ports along the north coast of the Island. Often, on arrival, people rush to drive southwards, but if you have the time it is first worth spending a while looking around Yarmouth, West or East Cowes or Ryde (from west to east respectively); all these small towns have much to offer the inquisitive traveller.
Just a few miles (about 10 minutes) south of Cowes is the Island’s County Town (and administrative centre) of Newport. The town is the main destination for many, for shopping (and, incidentally, it is also home to the only section of dual carriageway on the Isle of Wight!).
If you find yourself in the west of the Island, Alum Bay and The Needles beckon. It’s well worth exploring the coast here, with (for example) its layered multi-coloured sands in distinctive bands (it is said that these days the Island is positioned ‘on its side’, accounting for these layers of different colours).
The compact town of Freshwater is just a few minutes away, and nearby (a little to the south and east) can be found the Chessell Pottery Barns. In addition to the working pottery itself, plus a café offering tasty snacks and meals using local produce, is a decorating studio and a shop in which you can buy all sorts of goodies – including local paintings and books, also reproduction versions of children’s games from decades ago. I spent a long time here…
A short drive southwards from Chessell Pottery Barns (we saw wild red squirrels in this area too) will bring you to the old military road running along the southern edge of the Island, and on a day when the weather is kind, this provides beautiful sea views for miles in each direction. To the far west can be seen the hills and cliffs of Dorset.
Continuing eastwards along the coast, you will encounter the temptations of various establishments offering food and drink, but whether or not you succumb, you will soon arrive at Ventnor, on the south coast of the Island. It should also be mentioned that if you prefer following inland roads through wonderful rolling scenery and sleepy villages, alternative routes eastwards are available, and you are never far from a pleasant country pub (for example) providing good meals at sensible prices. (We have seen wild red squirrels in this area too).
Whichever route you take to get to Ventnor, it’s worth visiting the Botanic Garden, if you have time. Perched on the south-facing coast, and with a wonderful array of plants (including sub-tropical and ‘exotic’ varieties, which flourish in the helpful microclimate there), the Garden also has a visitor centre with a shop and café.
A very steep, zig-zag road descent into the town brings you and your car to the sea front and the popular beach (with an array of seaside shops and places to eat). Ventnor is just one of many Isle of Wight south coast resorts with lovely beaches ideal for families (although of course the sea and tides need to be treated with great respect at all times.
Climbing eastwards out of Ventnor, the winding main road brings you soon to Shanklin (with plenty of hotels and guest houses). The town is reached by driving through the very picturesque and famous ‘Old Village’ (with nearby wooded ravine) just to the west of the main built-up area.
Shanklin and nearby Sandown are both ‘traditional’ seaside resorts offering attractive, lovely promenades, and a selection of good hotels, plus pleasant places to eat and drink. At Shanklin ‘The Lift’ takes those who are not keen on walking, the 50 yards or so upwards from the esplanade to the cliff top, or vice versa.
THE SOUTH-EAST OF THE ISLAND
From Sandown it is just a few miles and a few minutes to Bembridge (well worth exploring) and to Brading. In addition to its Roman villa and restored railway station buildings, Brading is home to the popular ‘Oasis’ retail outlet, selling fascinating objects, art items and furniture from around the world (there’s a café here too…).
Not far to the east of Sandown, and past the Isle of Wight Zoo, if you are travelling along the Yaverland Road coastal route, you will come to a mini-roundabout on the B3395 (which links Brading and Bembridge). If you head for Bembridge at this point, after a few hundred yards is a narrow, steep lane running uphill to the right (immediately after a sharp left-hand bend). Taking this enticing cul-de-sac (Culver Down Road) is worth doing, and will bring you to one of my favourite parts of the Island…
As the road climbs to the headland at the southern end of Culver Down (a chalk down, rich in wildlife), the views to the right (towards Sandown, Shanklin and the hilly centre part of the Island) become ever more beautiful. As the headland is reached, to the left are magnificent views across the Solent to Portsmouth and the coastline eastwards from there. Along the way, the track passes the Bembridge/Culver Down Fort (a Palmerston Fort, built during the 1860s). This is now owned by the National Trust, and is open to the public for guided tours, by arrangement.
The headland is also home to the remains of the World War II Culver Battery (gun emplacements) and the Yarborough Monument. This is a memorial to the Second Baron Yarborough, Charles Anderson-Pelham, who founded the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes.
For those in need of refreshment, there’s the Culver Haven pub (with fabulous views) and a separate small café .
Parking on the headland is free of charge, and there are plenty of wide open grassy areas where people can stop awhile and enjoy the breathtaking views and the fresh air. There’s room for everyone, with no crowding…
I must admit that on two out of the three days my wife and I spent on the Island on our long weekend with the A60, we enjoyed relaxing picnics on the unspoilt Culver Down, followed by long walks around the headland, admiring the wild flowers and the birds (which entertained us with their happy aerobatic exploits and cheerful singing). It’s true that we were helped by the weather, which by chance was beautiful at the time of our visit.
It was with heavy hearts that we eventually headed back to the mainland. However, we had very much enjoyed our short excursion, and our old Cambridge seemed to be happy to be out in the sunshine in such a wonderful place too.
We covered about 100 miles in total on Island roads. The driving was worry-free, other motorists were courteous, and the old Austin’s fuel consumption was a commendable 34 mpg. Its prodigious low speed torque (pulling power) helped to make driving very easy, and little gear changing was required, even in the hilly parts of the Island (with the exception of the very steep descent into, and climb out of Ventnor –second gear definitely required here!!).
Our Island ‘Adventure’ seemed to me to be a brilliant and fitting way to celebrate more than four decades of happy family ownership of the A60.
If you haven’t ever explored the Isle of Wight, or haven’t been back for a while, I can definitely recommend it – ideally in a classic car but any vehicle will do! I should ad that the Island is a great place for walking – especially around the coastal fringes, and in the hilly, inland areas.
…And finally: This brief feature cannot hope to include all the places worth visiting on the Island (and indeed we didn’t visit them all on this one trip; but we’ll definitely be back again for further exploration!!!). For example, there’s Osborne House (home of Queen Victoria), near to both East Cowes and Newport, and of course Carisbrooke Castle (also just outside Newport), plus Blackgang Chine (on the south coast), to name but three.
Engine: 1622cc overhead valve (pushrod)
Power: 61 bhp @ 4,500 rpm
Torque: 90 lb.ft. at 2,100 rpm
0-60 mph: 21 sec.
Max. speed: 85 mph
(To find out more about Austin Cambridge A55 Mark II/A60 models and the other ‘Family Farina’ derivatives, please click HERE).