Activities in the Isle of Wight

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Isle of Wight, Rhiannon Batten picks out a selection of walking, cycling & adventure activities on this glorious island off the south coast of England.


From rolling chalk downs, creeks and woodlands to towering cliffs and sandy beaches, there’s one thing most grockles (visitors), overners (incomers) and caulkheads (locals) – as the local dialect describes them – agree on; the Isle of Wight has a range of landscapes much greater than the sum of its 147 square miles would suggest.

Local management, preservation and nature organisations have done an excellent job in linking these distinctive settings via a range of walking paths, cycle trails and (bike friendly) bus routes, and in opening up the island’s glorious green spaces to visitors in imaginative new ways. For the holidaymaker, that means you don’t have to dig very deep to find out where the best places are to go birdspotting, tree-climbing or even just picnicking by a waterfall – or how to get there.

And the icing on the proverbial cake is the coastline. With 57 miles of it there’s an understandably wide variety of beaches to choose from on the Isle of Wight, whether you want to spend your time on the shore soaking up the sun from the comfort of a beachside bar or get straight into the water and try your hand at surfing, paddle boarding or just swimming. More reason to take to the water? Between them the Isle of Wight’s beaches won 17 Blue Flag and Seaside Awards in 2013 – more than any other English destination.


Isle of Wight Walking Festival

With over 500 miles of footpaths wending around fields, woodlands, cliffs, beaches and villages, walking is a great way to discover the Isle of Wight. If you’re not sure where to start, try the Isle of Wight Walking Festival. The largest such event in the UK, it runs twice a year and offers a programme of over 250 led walks. From food trails on foot to speed-dating strolls, nature trails and a ramble between the island’s carnival towns and villages you should find plenty to tempt you into lacing up your boots. isleofwightwalkingfestival.co.uk

Bicycle Island

The Isle of Wight has over 500 miles of cycle and bridleways weaving their way through dramatic and contrasting landscapes. The “Bicycle Island” initiative aims to offer something for every cyclist, from multi-day tours to relaxing afternoon rides. This year there are new cycle ways, bike-carrying buses, additional bike hire, baggage transfer, and new cycle parking across the Island. visitisleofwight.co.uk/bicycle-island

The Carnival Trail

A new long distance trail on the island, linking all the Carnival Towns and Villages together in a single 100-mile route. Each leg of the five day walk links well known places and scenic landscapes in a celebration of the island's carnival heritage. You can join the whole 5 day walk, a single day, or just for part of any day. thenewcarnivalcompany.com

Red Squirrel Trail

A mostly off-road cycle route through areas where specialist wildlife abound. The first section from Cowes to Newport is through prime Red Squirrel woodland habitat - there is a red squirrel and bird hide next to the route at Alverstone Nature Reserve and you can see Red Squirrels at the feed boxes at the Garlic farm at Newchurch (just off the route and a great place for a coffee break!). The 'Troll' section is a short stretch that has a series of bridges where children can look out for river wildlife such as Grey wagtails. The 'Sunshine loop' section of the trial is so-called because this area apparently receives record sunshine hours in the UK. It is the best place to see skyward birds such as Buzzards, kestrels and skylarks. visitisleofwight.co.uk/bicycle-island/red-squirrel-trail

Isle of Wight Coastal Path

Few destinations in the UK can offer the wide variety of terrain that the Isle of Wight does. If you’re in search of a walking route to remember, however, the island’s Coastal Path is a really unique way to see the island. Covering 67 miles in total, with surprisingly few really steep sections on route, you can do it in one go or tackle its six 8 - 16 mile sections separately. Along the way you’ll get an insight into much of the island’s history as well as its striking chalk landscapes. Highlights along the way include the famous Needles. visitisleofwight.co.uk/things-to-do/walking

Inland Trails

From the 14-mile Tennyson Trail, which links Carisbrooke and Alum Bay via much of the territory Tennyson would have walked when he lived at Farringford House, to the seven-mile Shepherds Trail which runs between Carisbrooke Priory and Shepherd’s Chine, there are eight well-trodden inland trails that cover the island – more than enough to keep you and your boots happy for a week. visitisleofwight.co.uk/things-to-do/walking/walking-routes

Walking breaks

If you prefer to have all the details taken care of before you go, Wight Walks offers a range of self-guided walking trips across the island. From short, three-night breaks to week-long walking holidays or even 10-day hikes, all the island’s best-loved trails are covered (as well as some lesser known rambling possibilities), and accommodation, breakfasts, luggage transfers and trail packs are included. wightwalks.co.uk

Bike hire

Based in Yarmouth but able to deliver hire bikes across the island, Wight Cycle Hire is the place to start if you’re looking to get around the island on two wheels and haven’t brought your own bike with you. The company’s wide range of bikes are all under two years old and come with helmets, locks, repair kits and island-wide mechanical support. Not sure where to start? They can also set you up with group rides, guided rides, cycle training or just a list of (and trail guides for) recommended routes. wightcyclehire.co.uk

Electric bikes

Want to join the whole family for a day’s bike ride but not sure you’ll be able to keep up? Then hire an electric bike from Axcess in Sandown or Ventnor and let your wheels take the strain. Available by the hour, half day, day or week, each bike comes with panniers, lock, battery charger and helmet and you can re-charge its battery for free when you need to at various points throughout the island. axcess-electric-bikes.co.uk

Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Designated in 1963 and covering around half the island, the AONB extends across much of the island’s south-west and north-west coast as well as its central and southern downlands. Dominated by chalk, including the bright white stacks of the Needles, it also covers salt marshes and mudflats along the Hamstead Heritage Coast, the sandy bays, cliffs and wooded ‘chines’ of the Tennyson Heritage Coast and areas of heathland, hay meadows and creeks. While the AONB isn’t a destination in itself, per se, as a major player in the island’s countryside tourism it’s likely you’ll spend plenty of time within it during your visit. wightaonb.org.uk

Ventnor Botanic Garden

Fittingly for a café in a garden, Ventnor’s Plantation Room Café makes the most of the surrounding herbs, salads, vegetables and fruit for its daily menu of baguettes, soups, stews and cakes and its hot Sunday lunches. This light, bright space is a great place for a cuppa overlooking the foliage – choose from its lengthy list of loose-leaf teas (served in glass teapots) and fresh coffees or go for a Tropic Ale, brewed with hops grown in the grounds. In the summer months, the space below the café opens as a restaurant, Edulis. Its name means ‘edible plant’ in Latin and that’s it’s mission, with a strong focus on locally grown ingredients. Although the restaurant isn’t normally open in the evenings, keep an eye out for occasional dinners and events. botanic.co.uk

Fossil hunting

With its abundant fossil discoveries it’s little wonder that the Isle of Wight is known as one of the best spots in the UK to find out more about dinosaurs. If you’d rather do that outdoors than in,there are more options than you can shake a Sauropod skeleton at. Download the Dinosaur Island Trail app at one of six coastal locations and you can snap yourself with images of virtual dinosaurs at sites where remains have been discovered. Or find out more by joining a guided fossil-hunting walk around the island’s beaches with one of several local dinosaur experts. visitisleofwight.co.uk/dinosaur-island/fossil-hunts

Newtown National Nature Reserve

The only National Nature Reserve on the Isle of Wight, National Trust-managed Newtown is the place to go if you fancy a walk through flower-scattered hay meadows, ancient woods, salt marshes and alongside a sailing harbour. As suitable for wildlife-watching as it is for walkers, red squirrels, bluebells, dragonflies, rare-breed Hebridean sheep and black-tailed Godwits are just some of the attractions. If you’re not sure where to start, make your way, softly, towards Mercia Seabroke bird hide and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a volunteer waiting to impart their knowledge. The hide is also wheelchair-accessible. bit.ly/QxYrJr

Shanklin Chine

In operation since 1817, Shanklin Chine is justly proud of its long heritage on the island’s tourist trail. A leafy enclave of waterfalls, woodland and shady walks, it has been famously written about, drawn or painted by an impressive roster of artists and writers, among them Keats and Turner. Come on a sunny afternoon and while away the hours strolling through the trees, picnicking by a waterfall, following a nature trail or heading down to Fisherman’s Cottage, a pub on the beach at the foot of the chine for a pint on the shore. shanklinchine.co.uk

Mottistone Gardens

They may be managed by the National Trust and set in the grounds of a 16th century manor house that takes its name from the island’s only Neolithic monument, the Longstone, but Mottistone Gardens is much more contemporary than first appearances suggest. This 20th century garden has been specifically designed to test how plants will adapt to climate change, with olive trees and other Mediterranean plants in attendance alongside colourful flowerbeds and an organic kitchen garden. nationaltrust.org.uk/mottistone-gardens

Goodleaf Tree Climbing

Whether you’re eight or 80, contact Goodleaf and you’ll have a brilliant morning or afternoon out in Ryde learning how to shin up a tree safely with an experienced instructor on hand. Explore the local scenery and wildlife from a birds-eye perspective or, if you feel like a rest at the top, take a snooze with a view from one if the company’s tree hammocks. goodleaf.co.uk

iSurf

If you or your children want to try surfing or paddle boarding while you’re on the Isle of Wight but you’re not sure your local beach will have waves worth strapping on a wetsuit for, help is at hand from iSurf. This mobile surf school provides tuition and equipment at various locations around the island, wherever the weather promises the best conditions. iowsurf.com

Watersports on the Isle of Wight

From windsurfing and body boarding to kayaking, dinghy sailing and surfing, Wight Waters activity centre is based in Ventnor but operates largely in Sandown Bay. Though it caters for families and individuals it’s also great for groups; ask and they’ll happily set you up with a post-surf barbecue on the beach, with beach cricket, Frisbee or volleyball thrown in. wightwaters.com

Paragliding

For those with a head for heights, High Adventure paragliding is a great place to give the sport a try, whether you want to go it alone or try a tandem flight. Established in the late 1980s, the company has its own teaching sites, meaning quieter – and safer – skies to practise in. And with its location in the far south of the UK, there tend to be more flying days here than in many other parts of the UK. highadventureparagliding.co.uk

Horse riding

From a half hour group lesson to 90-minute hacks around the West Wight countryside for more experienced riders, this stables between Freshwater and Yarmouth makes for a great morning or afternoon out. If you’re less than confident in the saddle, they also offer short pony rides around the farm for £10 so you can see whether you feel up to a longer ride before committing. hillfarmstables.com

Sandown

Along with adjacent Shanklin, this long arc of sand is one of the best places on the island for traditional seaside resort atmosphere. Think deckchairs, sandcastles, beach cafes, amusement arcades and children’s play areas. Everything, in short, for a family day out by the sea. Recipient of Blue Flag award. visitisleofwight.co.uk/things-to-do/sandown-beach-p970901

Ventnor

The closest the Isle of Wight gets to the Amalfi Coast, this pretty sand and shingle beach, with rocks at each end, and the town clambering up the hillside behind it, boasts easy access to cafes, restaurants and pubs. Recipient of the Blue Flag Award. visitisleofwight.co.uk/explore/towns/ventnor

Ryde

A wide stretch of open sand that’s ideal for a game of beach rounders, part of the appeal of this beach is its proximity to Ryde’s cafes, pubs and toilets. If you prefer fresh water to salt, there’s a community-run swimming pool just back from the beach that has a retractable roof for sunny days. Recipient of the Blue Flag Award. rydetowncouncil.gov.uk

Compton Bay

One of the most accessible beaches on the island, especially for walkers detouring off the coastal path, the wide arc of windswept sand at surfer- and windsurfer-friendly Compton Bay is nicely undeveloped. There may be no toilets or cafes here (ice cream vans normally set up shop in the summer months) but it’s the untamed feel that makes this beach so attractive. visitisleofwight.co.uk/things-to-do/compton-bay-p968911

Colwell Bay

A small, pretty beach on the island’s quieter west coast, with lovely views of the Solent, Colwell Bay is great for families. There are toilets nearby, cafes at hand and a gently sloping stretch of sand that leads into beautifully clear water. Recipient of the Blue Flag Award. colwellbay.co.uk/beach/

Bembridge

If you’re in search of an old-fashioned, unspoilt day out by the sea, try Bembridge, on the east coast. A mix of sand and pebble with numerous rockpools it’s popular with families yet still quieter than the big resort beaches. visitisleofwight.co.uk/things-to-do/bembridge-lane-end-beach-p970461

Freshwater Bay

This small pebble cove with tall cliffs at either end is a summer hit with visiting families, with toilets and cafés close by and a dramatic setting. If you’ve spent the day walking on the springy downs up above it’s a good spot for a cooling post-hike dip. visitisleofwight.co.uk/things-to-do/freshwater-bay-p969921

Seagrove Bay

Most visitors walk in to this pebble beach from the adjacent village. A café, toilets and rockpools provide the holy trinity of facilities for families in search of a stress-free day out by the sea and the pebbles mean it’s often quieter than some of the island’s bigger, sandier beaches. visitisleofwight.co.uk/things-to-do/seagrove-beach-p991711

Steephill Cove

It’s an easy, if steep, walk to this beach from the Botanic Garden at Ventnor. And well worth it, with a sandy beach, rockpools galore and two of the loveliest places to tuck into seafood on the island (see ‘places to eat’). steephillcove-isleofwight.co.uk/


For information on local food and drink, nearby visitor attractions and activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Isle of Wight


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