Known for its bucket and spade summer holidays and sunny day visitor attractions, it’s a little known secret that the Island really comes into its own on cold, crisp winter days. There are loads of great things to do for all the family, so get your coat and wellies on and plan a winter adventure!
The Isle of Wight’s beaches are perfect for building sandcastles, paddling and getting sand in your sandwiches, but during the winter months they are scenes of blustery walks, shell collecting and even kite surfing if you’re feeling brave enough. The west Wight’s beaches at Compton Bay are brilliant for fossil hunting and rock pooling. You can walk along the beach itself or the cliff path for stunning views to take your breath away. Many of the Island’s beaches revert back to being dog friendly in the winter months, so that’s another great excuse for taking an out of season beach walk. Appley and Yaverland beaches are every pooch’s idea of heaven with plenty of room to run around.
For more committed walkers and cyclists there are miles and miles of footpaths and cycle routes to tackle, from the strenuous walk to St Catherine’s Oratory (aka The Pepperpot), Britain’s only surviving medieval lighthouse on St Catherine’s Down, to the Red Squirrel Trail. A flat route which is ideal if you are cycling with children. You could try some ‘forest bathing’ as the Japanese call it, said to be good for the soul and your general well-being. Take a walk through Parkhurst Forest or Firestone Copse and feel the winter blues slip away.
There’s also a woodland walk at Quarr Abbey as well as pigs to feed and a cosy tea shop to enjoy coffee and cake after your exertions. Open all year round, it’s a tranquil place to take a walk and enjoy the countryside, sea views plus you’ll please the pigs and the kids with a bag of pig food which you can buy from the tearoom. Visit Osborne, Queen Victoria’s palatial holiday home on the Isle of Wight, which in winter is always a treat. The house and grounds are open on Saturdays and Sundays during the winter months.
For amateur historians and those with an interest in the Great Wars, The Needles Old and New Batteries are a must. The Old Battery is a Victorian fort built in 1862 with fabulous views across the Solent and surrounding countryside, which was used during both World Wars. English Heritage has created a brilliant and hugely atmospheric exhibition of how the fort was used and the part that it played in Britain’s modern history. The New Battery tells the story of the ‘race for space’ when secret tests took place on British-made rockets – all very hush hush. The batteries are open at weekends throughout the winter months, as is the 1940s-style vintage tea room.
The Isle of Wight Zoo with its amazing collection of big cats is a great day out at any time of year and the zoo also runs animal experiences for kids and adults alike. Become a junior keeper or go on a big cat or lemur experience to see behind the scenes at the zoo. Animal experiences are available throughout the year. Amazon World Zoo Park provide the best of both worlds, with an array of indoor and outdoor enclosures, so you can duck inside when the weather takes a turn. Little ones will love Monkey Madness, an inside soft-play area.
Of course, there’s nothing nicer at the end of a winter walk or adventure than to end up somewhere with a roaring fire to rest your weary limbs and have a spot of lunch or dinner. The Garlic Farm is the perfect place to enjoy a log fire and some fantastic cuisine (with garlic naturally). You can stock up on all things allium whilst you’re there. If a pub is more your thing, then The Old Village Inn in Bembridge is a great choice for a warm welcome and a fire as well as an extensive home-cooked, locally sourced menu with real ales on tap.
For a great walk with an even better view, try walking up Culver Down, where you will stumble upon The Culver Haven Inn. Offering tasty, home-cooked food with some of the best views on the Island, its a place to cosy up and watch winter raging outside. The Spyglass Inn also offers refuge from the winter frost. Hunker down with a hot toddy, or brave the outside seating area.
The Buddle Inn at Niton offers a great country and coastal yomp, perfect for working up an appetite or on the east side, try The Boathouse in Seaview for a post beach walk drink or two.
So don your hat and scarf, pull on your boots and get out there and experience the beauty of the Isle of Wight this winter.
* A version of this article first appeared in Wightlife magazine.