Walking down the steps from our apartment on a cool October morning, I breathed in the fresh sea air. It had been years since I’d stepped foot on the Isle of Wight, but that weekend, I had Dan to thank for the visit – we were there to visit his uncle, Paul, who had kindly offered to take us on a whistle stop tour of the island.
We were staying in Ventnor, a small town, and Victorian seaside resort on the southern corner of the island, and based in a beautiful one-bed apartment gifted to us by Paul and his wife, Julie’s friends. Rumour had it that Ventnor was not only a popular seaside resort, it popular place for famous Victorians, and the town was full of blue plaque buildings. So, instead of taking a day trip to Osborne House, I completely manipulated our hosts into taking me to see where some famous people lived and some of the most beautiful sights of the island.
Turns out, they were sick of Osborne House anyway, and were more than happy to take me to see some blue plaques and green pastures!
Blue Plaques in Ventnor
Not far from our apartment, we found our first famous house: the holiday home of Karl Marx (for a short time). You might recognise him for his philosophy, contribution to political economics, or as one of the authors of The Communist Manifesto. Although the view of the sea at the rear of the house is now obscured, in 1881, it would have been much more impressive, and it’s no wonder Marx returned the following year.
Just round the corner in Alexandra Gardens, we found two more plaques along the same street, and I felt as though I’d won the lottery. One building was the honeymoon location of the composer Sir Edward Elgar, and the second, the site of the old Ventnor Mill which was demolished in 1875. Historically. a stream ran through the area which powered the wheel.
Then, we stumbled across St Augustine Villa. Evidently, Ventnor was popular with socialists! Alexander Herzen (father of Russian socialism) spent time there with none other than the artist Malwida von Meysenbug. Yes, I also had no idea who these two were, but I did suspect some saucy goings-on.
According to Memorials and Monuments on the Isle of Wight, there are thirteen more plaques that we missed, including commemoration of Winston Churchill’s visit as a four year old. They’re on my list to find next time we return.
Exploring the Isle of Wight
Following our short exploration of Ventnor, our tour guides took us for a wonderful drive through the countryside. I hadn’t imagined the area to be so green, so hilly, and so winding; after half an hour of gazing across meadows and pastures, I felt a little motion sick but was desperate for food. I can’t remember whether it was Paul or Julie who suggested the Garlic Farm, but having no idea what to expect, and an incredibly empty stomach, I jumped on the recommendation.
As soon as I saw the stone buildings with their black tile roofs, I knew the Garlic Farm was the place for me.
Julie and I snatched the opportunity to look around the shop, stocking what could be hundreds of garlic themed products. I almost bought my weight in it, but ultimately decided to spare the car from its stink, so we joined Dan and Paul in the restaurant.
It was a busy conservatory, with sounds of chatter, and scents of garlic and coffee drifting on the air. The boys had already decided on their meal, and had wagered (incorrectly, I might add) on our choices. Although I liked the look of the chicken burger, the vegan flatbread, topped with pesto, onion, pepper and garlic sauce swayed me. It was delicious.
Feeling satisfied, we continued our whistle-stop tour of the Isle of Wight by travelling to Ventnor Downs. From our spot, 240m above sea level, we were blessed with fantastic views of the azure English Channel, as far as the eye could see. Only a few feet away from us were a small herd of bull calves wandering and grazing. Tentatively, I approached for a closer look at them, but they were not for receiving visitors and marched away. I was certainly reminded that autumn was on its way, as the wind was cold and powerful on the downs – although it was nothing for the kestrel we spotted soaring above us.
Returning to the Town
As the afternoon was drawing to a close, we finished our whistle-stop tour in The Beach Shack, a small cafe on the sea of Steephill Cove. While I sipped a hazelnut latte, we watched the sea smash and foam against the rocks. Luckily, we’d sat in the centre of the seating area so escaped the battering from a particularly powerful wave, which literally soaked a couple sitting by the barrier.
That evening we tasted what some of Ventnor’s nightlife had to offer. We started at Perks of Ventnor, a small pub with a garish collection of decorations: Union Flags, photos of famous Brits, and potentially too much memorabilia. With a clientele of older patrons, the atmosphere was fantastic, friendly and fun, so fun in fact, that we returned after we (or I at least) had a delicious meal of Tandoori chicken, popadoms, and Bombay Aloo in Masala Bay.
Without doubt, Ventnor and the Isle of Wight is a scenic location for a day trip, or as part of a longer holiday. The food (including a rather childish unicorn ice cream) was flavoursome and filling, and reasonably priced; drinks were incredibly cheap for UK standards. I’m sure it won’t be long before we return to the Isle, and next time, we’ll be bringing Ted for some four-legged fun.
Thanks Paul and Julie!