Isle of Wight

We have been talking about taking the ferry over to the Isle of Wight pretty much since I got out to Southampton, so we used our anniversary as an excuse to do just that.

We made a loose plan that gave us a couple of destinations to aim for without trying to pack too much in and decided to go on Saturday to have more time. I spent quite a while reading up on the Isle, which turns out has quite a lot of points of interest, definitely more than we could hope to see in one day without even counting outdoor activities better saved for the warm weather.

The Red Jet passenger ferry service to West Cowes takes about 25 minutes and was much more comfy than I had expected, my only previous ferry experience being the one to Corsica. The ferry runs every half hour for most of the day and then hourly for the last few, so we have a lot of flexibility. And as a happy bonus we crossed paths with one of the feeder vessels I often book cargo on from Spain, the UECC vessel Autostar, it was very cool to see it up close. We also passed what looked like a Polish military vessel festooned with bunting, which was a bit confusing.

On our end ferry terminal is around the corner from where I work, very easy to get to, and on the Cowes end it is right in town as well-so it is almost surreally easy to pop over to the IoW. In any case, we spilled out of the terminal and once past the first row of tacky souvenir shops we emerged into a very pretty little town. The first thing we noticed was the red and white flags everywhere, which John pegged pretty quickly as Polish flags since we had just seen that polish boat, which makes sense except that it doesn’t without some reason so I figured must be the IoW flag or something. We argued about it until google confirmed that it was indeed the Polish flag and that this was the 70th anniversary of the Defence of Cowes by the Polish warship Blyskawica.

East Cowes is clearly a tourist oriented place but in an relatively upscale way, lots of sailing and fishing gear shops, several nice looking restaurants, and boutiques. We had a little wander and visited some charity shops before popping into a place called Sails for some breakfast to get us started. Afterwards we caught a bus into Newport, which is the main town on the IoW in order to check out the local comics and games store, Cheap Thrills. As luck would have it May 6th was Free Comic Book Day so it was the perfect time to visit and we came out with some free comics as well as some Star Wars: Destiny cards for John naturally.

Next stop was Carisbrooke Castle, about a half hour walk away. There is also a bus but it would have taken us about the same amount of time so we just pointed ourselves towards the castle and followed the signs. We still managed to get a bit lost since the driving and pedestrian routes are not quite the same, but eventually we did make it to the castle more or less intact and only a little irritable.

Carisbrooke Castle is stunning, high up on a hill and surrounded by deep ditches and earthworks. It must have been a very disheartening sight to attacking armies. It’s a motte and bailey castle apparently, primarily 13-16th century but with a Norman Keep and lots of later modifications and additions in accordance with its nature as a working fortification. Charles I was imprisoned there before his execution and Princess Beatrice lived there as governor of the Isle.

I had expected about an hour or so of good stuff maybe but in the end we spent a good three hours exploring. There is a rather eclectic museum  with an interesting World War I exhibits among other things, we didn’t walk the walls of the castle but climbing up to the Keep was rewarded with really stunning views of the surrounding countryside. And then there were the donkeys, which I guess the castle is famous for. Once upon a time they were used to bring water up from the well using a 16th century treadwheel. Now they still have short demonstrations but are no longer required to raise the full heavy barrel. Our donkey was Jill, clever and a clearly loving the attention.

Eventually we had seen everything and after a quick stop in the gift shop where John bought some bookmarks and we got to taste some ginger wine, which I had never had before but is very nice indeed. On the walk back we went down through a footpath called The Shrubbery apparently, which sounds modest but is actually a deep path lined with tall trees that filter out the sun but let in the light, it’s a cool green space and fittingly romantic.

We got back into town not quite hungry enough for dinner but ready for a pint and a bit of a sit down, but as we researched likely pubs John saw that there was a comment on one of  the photos I had posted of us in the Castle. Turns out an old friend of mine from the SF Net days lives a couple of miles away! We arranged to meet him at the Bargeman’s Rest and spent an hour or so catching up before we had to leave to make our dinner reservation back in Cowes. Not only is it pretty wild that someone from back in the day now has a place so nearby, he had actually only gotten back the night before and was still jet-lagged, so it was the purest of chance that we happened to both be around at the same time in the same place.

At Joliffes we had nice steak which we cooked at the table on a hot volcanic rock. It was very neat, and the steak and accompanying stilton sauce were both lovely. The best thing about the place though is the old Art Nouveau building that houses it, with the original stained glass and signage. We had a leisurely meal and caught the ferry back in time to be home by midnight.

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