Discovering the Isle of Wight

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Discovering the Isle of Wight By Dr. Joan Naidorf

After visiting the Isle of Wight, just south of the British mainland, one can hardly wonder why the Brits have largely kept this little jewel to themselves. The 150 square mile island features hills, forests, and grassy downs. It also hosts a royal palace and a partially restored castle.  Over half of the island is designated by the British government as an area of “outstanding national beauty” that curtails any development there. With over 500 miles of footpaths and walking trails, the island has become a favorite among walkers and hikers.

After Queen Vitoria and Prince Albert vacationed on the Isle of Wight during the second half of the 19th Century, many British families followed their lead to get some fresh sea air. Our family booked a week-long stay through the Canadian company DH Group Tours at the Freshwater Bay House run by the company HF Holidays.  The company originally called the “Holiday Fellowship” was established to provide walking holidays as an alternative to British factory workers who would spend their usual holiday week at the seashore. Today, thousands of members and guests choose from a variety of country houses that serve as a base for daily walking tours.  

We flew into London and got a van ride to Lymington to board the ferry to Yarmouth.  Travelers can easily make that connection by rail. The train line ends right at the ferry terminal. The taxi services on the Isle of Wight are a bit tricky to arrange. We booked with one of the two taxi companies to drive us to the Freshwater Bay House. The booking featured full room and board with spectacular views of the chalky cliffs touring over Freshwater Bay. We met the about twenty other folks along for the week of both organized and self-guided walks.  Some of the Brits had brought their cars on the ferry from the mainland but most guests were using the very accessible island bus system. 

I started out the week with an easy seven mile walk from the hotel to the western tip of the island featuring the iconic “Needles” rock formation. High above the Needles lay The Old Battery, built in 1862 as a defensive fort that was called into action during both World Wars. The battery was built to defend the Solent, the straight between the Isle of Wight and mainland Great Britain, from sea attacks from the French and later the Germans. The battery was meant to protect ship-building and commerce in nearby Southampton.

The coast along Alum Bay and the Needles are topped with an area that has become known as the Tennyson Down.  The area is a grassy, whale-backed ridge of chalk which rises to 482 ft/147m above sea level. Tennyson Down is named after the poet Lord Tennyson who lived at nearby Farringford House for nearly 40 years. The poet used to walk on the down almost every day which is now home for the grazing cows and who-knows-how-many rabbits. One must spend most of the walk looking down to miss cow pies and rabbit waste.  Its another way to get back to nature.

At the apex of Tennyson Down is a Celtic cross that was erected as a monument to the poet.  From there, it was all downhill, as they say, back to the Freshwater Bay House. My aching muscles welcomed the news but strangely controlling the pull of gravity going down caused a different sort of strain from the lengthy ascent. I enjoyed a sublime sense of accomplishment as I laid down for a well-deserved nap.

We met some amiable companions in the parlor and well-stocked bar on the first floor.  There were some nice local brews on tap and ample opportunities to try the locally produced product called Mermaid Gin.  We gathered for the evening meal and was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of the chef and the kitchen. The quiet week of country walks and amiable conversation was off to an outstanding start.  For an active, scenic, and historic vacation spot, look at the Isle of Wight.

Dr. Joan Naidorf is an emergency physician, author and speaker located in Alexandria, VA.

Her book, “Changing How we Think About Difficult Patients: a Guide for Physicians and Healthcare Professionals,” is published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.

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