ISLE OF WIGHT: Long weekend

red funnel red falcon lrHarriett and Heidi inside The Rio static caravan lr

L-R: The Red Falcon and Harreitt and Heidi inside The Rio static caravan at Appuldurcombe Gardens
 
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By Tim Saunders

A breath of fresh air.

That sums up the Isle of Wight in more ways than one. You see not only is it renowned for its clean air, many of the facilities and attractions are also of a high standard.

“The Victorians visited the island for its superior air quality, which promoted good health,” explains Cherry Sanders, co-owner of Appuldurcombe Gardens Caravan and Camping Site at Ventnor, where we stay in a static caravan. “I originally come from the Midlands but moved here 12 years ago to live my mum’s dream of running a holiday business here.”

The 14.5 acre site has 40 static caravans and 130 pitches for camping. It was a finalist in the Practical Caravan Top 100 Sites 2013 awards, testament to its excellent facilities, which include an award winning toilet block with walk in showers “more like what you would find in a good quality hotel than a campsite,” my wife says. There’s also a delightful heated outdoor swimming pool, which opens from 8am to 9pm and no matter when you swim it is just the right temperature. The children’s play area includes swings, a slide and an assault course, which Harriett (3) completes. I don’t know of any other campsite that boasts a duck pond and holds a David Bellamy Gold Award for Conservation.

Our static caravan is a good base from which to explore the island.

We quickly realise that our limited time here will not allow us to cover everything that we want to and so pick a few attractions to visit.

As we are staying at Appuldurcombe Gardens it is important that we visit Appuldurcombe House and Farm Park because at one time this was all one site and so all the gardens here and the orchard in the campsite have been designed by Capability Brown. Appuldurcombe House and Farm Park is literally just up the road from the campsite and is now run by English Heritage. There are two separate entrance fees for each attraction. Both are well worth a visit and between them make a fabulous day out. The house, when inhabited, was the largest private house on the island with 365 windows and seven staircases. We enjoy a picnic in the grounds where the children roam free. It is possible to rent one of seven holiday cottages here. The farm park is home to a variety of birds including owls, falcons and an eagle. There is so much to learn including how when falconry was introduced in 860AD in the UK it was only kings who were allowed to fly eagles. Apparently falcons live twice as long in captivity because they don’t have to work as hard so will live for 20 years. There are activities scheduled throughout the day to keep us all amused. We enjoy a bird display, a ride in a tractor trailer taking in the spectacular views and a stroll around the farm where we see goats, pigs and sheep. The play area is much appreciated by our two daughters.

When we visit The Isle of Wight Bus Museum we are not sure how our little daughters will react. But to our surprise they thoroughly enjoy it, each wanting to steer and take turns at being passengers. Home to 23 buses, the museum has done a marvellous job in preserving this little bit of island heritage and is moving to a new site in Ryde in 2015. The visit reinforces how design has, in my opinion, gone backwards; old buses with real wood interiors look so much more attractive than new ones. These buses are also driven on the road. Apparently there are 340 members whose donations help fund this enterprise, which also renovates the buses. Renovations are carried out by eight to 10 volunteers. The oldest bus here is a 1919 example.

There are challenges throughout the course of the break due to Heidi’s teething and Harriett’s age; to be expected from little ones but nevertheless tiring for us.

But they both wear themselves out at the National Trust’s Mottistone Gardens, a splendid garden with a plethora of flowers and plants. The steps entertain little Heidi who thoroughly enjoys climbing and the large expanse of land is great for Harriett to let off some steam. It is here that I find Anne Frank’s diary for just £1.

Those requiring a treat will find The Hambrough at Ventor an absolute delight. We sit in the quiet garden so that our girls do not annoy any other diners. Over the course of the next couple of hours we enjoy a variety of luxurious, well presented food brought to our table by Aaron, our waiter. An appetiser of crab croquette prepares us for a real feast. My Pollock salad is followed by succulent lamb and barbecued vegetables. A rhubarb appetiser to cleanse the palette is followed by a chocolate tart with mint jelly. Harriett and Heidi do extremely well during this time and sit at the table for each course but then need to get up to stretch their legs and find plenty to amuse themselves in the garden. “I love the ice cream,” concludes Harriett.

We head to Sandown where we pop into Glory Art Glass and watch a highly talented craftsman produce glassware. Our trip ends with a visit to Dinosaur Isle where we learn that probably the largest dinosaur known to man lived here and that a vast amount of fossils have been found here not least by one family on holiday in 1976. It’s a chance for Mrs Saunders and I to relax for a moment while our two scoundrels walk about and explore; Harriett with her clipboard and Heidi with pencil and paper. It’s a very informative visit and alerts the visitor to the island’s history; it is no wonder that Charles Darwin was drawn here.

The island is so appealing to us for a holiday because it is only an hour away from home and involves a trip on a ferry. We travel from Southampton to East Cowes on Red Funnel’s upgraded Red Falcon with new features including air conditioning and a children’s play area. We don’t expect to bump into a friend onboard but Richard Evans is Red Funnel Customer Experience Manager. It’s a great experience and the journey is long enough to make you feel like you’re going away but short enough not to bore the children.

This is only a snippet of the adventures that can be had on the Isle of Wight.

Red Funnel factbox inclusion
Tim Saunders travelled with Red Funnel Isle of Wight Ferries. Red Funnel offers day return foot passenger crossings from just £8.90, and short break return vehicle crossings from just £49.50, together with ferry inclusive holiday accommodation, attraction tickets, festival and event tickets, and activity packages for visitors to the Isle of Wight. For more information and to book, visit www.redfunnel.co.uk or call 0844 844 2687.

Saturday

Sandown. We visit the beach, which is one of best we have visited for cleanliness and quality of sand. We enjoy a quick paddle and sunbath.

Arrive at Appuldurcombe Gardens, Ventnor

Swim

Sunday

The Isle of Wight Bus Museum, Newport

Walk around Newport

Swim

Monday

Appuldurcombe House and Farm Park including Falconry Centre

Swim

Tuesday

Mottistone Gardens

Yarmouth

Swim

Wednesday

Swim

Leave Appuldurcombe Gardens

The Hamborough, Ventnor for lunch

Sandown Glass (check)

Dinosaur Isle

 

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