Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Isle of Wight: How to holiday in Yarmouth

Less than half an hour's hop across the Solent, The Isle of Wight remains one of England's most accessible island retreats. Earlier this month, I spent a spectacular weekend here, just outside the town of Yarmouth, where we walked, ran, fished, surfed, dined, drank and soaked up the sights.
Yarmouth - Isle of Wight

Here's how to repeat the experience...

Getting there

On foot – A  high-speed catamaran service runs between Portsmouth train station and Ryde harbour (Iow), with a journey time of 20 minutes. Foot passengers can also take the slower, but cheaper, car ferry from Portsmouth harbour (a 10 minute walk from Portsmouth train station). To arrive in Yarmouth itself, from Lymington Pier (New Forest)  take the Wight Link ferry directly to Yarmouth. Details of all services can be found at the Wight Link website. Alternatively, Red Funnel operate the service from Southampton to East Cowes.When on the island, The Isle of Wight also runs a very effective public transport service – see Island Buses.

By car –
Car ferries leave hourly, every day of the week between Portsmouth and Ryde; Southampton and East Cowes; and Lyminton and Yarmouth. See the Wight Link or Red Funnel website.

Staying there

With a family of 6, a baby and a dog - Fulfilling the needs of our ever-growing family, we stayed at Treetops holiday cottage, just outside Yarmouth. We choose this three bedroom bungalow for its spacious lounge and huge landscaped garden - ideal for bbqs, lawn games and Twiglet the dog.

Up to 8 people: There's plenty of options for larger lodgings. For something even bigger, this fresh, light and spacious cottage is well-equipped and offers an additional cot room, if needed: Cottage for 8.

A family of 4: Yarmouth has lots to choose from in the way of 2-beds too: This snug cottage maybe overly cosy but it's superbly central, if getting to the shops, restaurants and drinking holes is more important than personal space.

As a couple: From B&Bs to luxury hotels, couples can take their pick...
Medlars - think quaint country cottage with crisp linen  
The George hotel - expect panelled walls, four poster beds and views across the solent (luxury)
The Boat House - an open-plan studio apartment in a converted boathouse which sites right on the beach.
The Bugle Inn - basic rooms in a central location

Where to...

Have coffee in the sun: Norton Grange has a spectacular waterfront coffee lounge, set on manicured lawns that overlook the Solent. It's a five minute walk from  Treetops holiday cottage, or Yarmouth town.

Norton Grange coffee spot

Have coffee when it’s wet: The Gossips CafĂ© in Yarmouth town is a fantastic little find, with great views across the Solent.  We went for yummy cream-teas and  delicious ice-creams when a storm was brewing and watched the boats struggling in the winds.

Gossips Cafe
Drink wine by the water: By far the best place in Yarmouth for outside drinking is the George Hotel. Don't be put off by the quieter than quiet lobby or the subdued bar area - walk right through to the back and you'll find a beer garden that beats all others, at just the right angle to catch the evening rays.

The 'beer garden' at the George Hotel

Have a few pints:  The Bugle Inn  was our favourite drinking hole in Yarmouth. With a decked beer garden and plenty of cubby-holes and booth areas to sit in, there's a good vibe here and always plenty of seating. The menu looked good too.

Eat somewhere a bit different: Salty’s fish restaurant, in Yarmouth, is reputed to be one of the best, as well as most interesting, places to eat on the island. However, it was closed (without explanation) when we were there. Plan B was to try On the Rocks, where you can cook your own steaks and seafood on black volcanic rocks. Sadly, another dead end for us, so we ended up at the Red Lion in Freshwater, where the food was fine and the landlord fantastically friendly.

Salty's - when open

Buy the best bread: The Deli in the centre of Yarmouth bakes lovely loaves – not to be missed! Also a good place to pick up cheeses and luxury versions of most groceries, from gourmet granola to posh pasta - although Cost Cutter across the road is far cheaper.

How to…

Walk to The Needles: The Isle of Wight Coastal Path run right through Yarmouth Town and starts just a few paces from Treetops holiday cottage. The seven mile stroll to the Isle of Wight's most iconic feature takes you along sandy beaches, walking through woods and clambering along cliff-tops. Follow the footpath as far as the Needles and catch a bus back to Yarmouth, or carry on as far as Brighstone (14 miles).   Be sure to stop off at Barefoot on the Beach cafe and restaurant in Colwell Bay for teas, local ice-creams or lunch. They also do evening meals, which range from moules frites, to beef and oyster pie with wasabi mash. See this map of the walking route for details.

The Needles - a landmark not to be missed
Go surfing: The Isle of Wight’s best surf beach is just a few miles drive away at Freshwater Bay. Compton Bay is also an option. Hire boards and book lessons with the island's mobile surf school.

Surf lessons in the Isle of Wight
Go mackerel fishing: Black Rock Charters offer mackerel spinning trips between May and September on their 31ft boat, complete with a loo and a galley. Other trips on offer include private charters and full day fishing trips.

Ready for the barbeque
Swim safely in the sea: Yarmouth’s bathing area is clearly marked with a ring of yellow buoys, and can be found just to the west of the river. We took a dip and found the water to be spectacularly clear and funny-stuff-free. The beach itself is also pleasant and the sunken wooden groynes make an ideal perch for drying wet feet.

Go for an easy pub walk: There are plenty of pubs in Yarmouth itself, but if you want to amble for your ale, follow the F1 Freshwater footpath to the Red Lion. The footpath takes in stunning views down towards the harbour, as you stroll through fields of clover, bluebells, buttercups and black sheep.  It’s a beautiful 1.5 mile walk to the pub, where the food is good and the landlord is fantastically welcoming – just don’t forget to switch off your phone as the Red Lion is a mobile-free zone and any offenders will be required to pay a £1 fine to the RNLI.

If teas and cakes are more your thing, stop just before the pub at the Kings Manor Farm and enjoy clotted cream and scones in the sun. You can also stock up on meat and cheese at the farm shops.

Have a hearty morning run: You can’t beat a morning run along the beach, through a field, wood or along a river bank – at Yarmouth you get all four. Set off along the F1 walking route towards the Red Lion. At the Red Lion, turn left towards Freshwater Bay and then break off left again to run back to Yarmouth along the marked bridleway. This wide path takes you through the woods and back into Yarmouth harbour along the river. Cross the road at Yarmouth to jog home along the seafront (stopping off for a dip in the bathing area if it takes your fancy) and then back to Treetops along the road. A fantastic four mile start to the day!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A round-up of my trips this year

So far, 2012 has seen me swimming in Antarctica, riding waves in Morocco and walking on Wight. 

Here's a quick round-up of my 2012 trips so far:

Antarctica: I spent three weeks at the end of the world, travelling onboard the M/S Expedition with G-Adventures - see January and February's FalklandsSouth Georgia and Antarctica, blog posts for the highlights. The trip was a prize for winning The Guardian's Adventure Travel Writing competition 2012. An article about my experiences 'down south' will be featured in the Guardian's travel pages later this year.

Dorset and The New Forest: Having thawed out from Antarctica, I took a group of A-level Geography students to two of my favourite UK travel destinations: Studland Bay and The New Forest. White-sanded beaches, unseasonally warm weather, New Forest Ponies and the smell of pine needles... there really is no need to travel to the ends of the earth to feel completely contented. Highlights included afternoon teas at Acres Down Farm and cream buns in Lyndhurst - both cake-related activities, I know.

Northern Ireland: On commission with The Mail on Sunday I visited Belfast to celebrate the official opening of Titanic Belfast - now the biggest Titanic experience in the world. Read my full article at The Mail Online: Putting Northern Ireland's Capital back on the Map.

Morocco: Writing for TNT Magazine, I spent a week at Surf Maroc, in Taghazout, as a member of a 'girls only' surf camp. Alongside surfing down the face of double-overhead waves and soaring through barrels (yeah, right), the complete package included souk shopping, Moroccan hammams and massages, traditional teas and film evenings - pretty much my ideal holiday! To find out more, read my article at TNT online: Babes on Boards; or flick to p70 of the TNT emag.

French Alps: Travelling with the superb YSE Chalets and catching a lift back to the airport with the super-efficient Snowdrop Transfers, I spent a long weekend in Val d'Isere, chasing 'fluro-onesies', straight-skiers and mono-boards around the mountain. To find out more, you'll have to wait to read my article in Ski and Board Magazine in one of next season's magazines.

Isle of Wight: Popping over for the Isle of Wight Walking Festival, I'm in the process of testing-out a stack of shiny new gear from Berghaus. So far, my Exterra Trek walking boots have stomped from Yarmouth to The Needles, and tried to catch up with the end of 'Walk the Wight' - a 26 mile yomp from Bembridge to the Needles.  

Upcoming trips...

May: Next weekend I'll be journeying down to Devon for a weekend of surfing in Bigbury Bay and rowing up the River Yealm, at Newton Ferrers.

June: Fingers crossed for the weather, as I'll be exploring my home city of Brighton, as well as Canadian canoeing down the River Wye, stepping out on the brand new All Wales Coastpath and, if time permits, popping over to Northern Spain to check out the early summer swells.

July: It's off to the Scilly Isles for me this summer. I'll be discovering how to do the 'Scillies on a shoestring', experiencing the more extreme side of the isles, as well as exploring the uninhabited islands of one of England's largest archipelagos. I'll be writing for The Online Travel Journal and am looking to take on more commissions - feel free to contact me for content.

August: On my annual pilgrimage to Menorca, I'll be looking forward to seeing the Cami de Cavalls footpath restoration one year on, as well as exploring as many of the island's hidden beaches and coves as  I can via kayak.