Catherine Mack describes a new car-free initiative on the Isle of Wight.
The Isle of Wight has been turning a deeper shade of green for several years now, with many dynamic tourism providers showing other regions how it's done. On my various trips there in the past, I am always struck by how tightly the leading green businesses work together to benefit providers and tourists alike. As well as an impressive collection of walking routes, cycling routes and farm shops, the latest initiative to hit the news is their Car-Free Scheme, where businesses, attractions and activities are offering discounts and incentives to those arriving by public transport, foot, or bike.
Anyone who has visited the island already knows how easy it is to get around without your car, and how much cheaper it is to travel on the ferry without one too. On one of my visits I was met off the ferry by one of the Isle of Wight's cycle hire company, Wight Cycle Hire, which then took my bags, delivered them to my accommodation, and then did the same for me on my return journey, as I cycled all the way back to Cowes. On another trip, my husband had to head back to London early for work, leaving the rest of us to spend another couple of days at the glorious luxury yurt camp in Freshwater. All he had to do to find out bus times at very short notice, and late at night, was send a text with a number which was printed at the bus stop, and minutes later he got a text back with all the information he needed. As for walking on the island, the 67 miles of the Isle of Wight Coastal Path have to be seen to be believed.
At present 75% of visitors to the Isle of Wight come by car, and the impact on the environment and the island's rural roads and villages is certainly significant. According to the island's Car-Free Scheme, the reasons why people use their cars so much for holidays is simple: cost, convenience and familiarity. However, by offering discounts for entry , accommodation and other incentives, as well as all the details you need for getting around the island using public transport on their website, members of the Car-Free Scheme hope that more visitors will use more sustainable transport, and still manage to have a great holiday while they are at it. One example is the weekly rover ticket on the island's efficient Southern Vectis service which, for a family of up to five people, is £40.
Helen Cunningham, co-founder of the island's coolest accommodation, Vintage Vacations, is part of the scheme and enthuses about its potential, commenting, "At Vintage Vacations we have noticed that the number of people asking for car-free travel information and details on how to hire bikes etc has been increasing. When we saw the car free scheme we thought it was a fantastic idea and may encourage those who were 'on the cusp' of either coming without a car or not using the car when here. So far we have had five car-free bookings and two enquiries / bookings pending, which we are delighted with."
In terms of day trips, you will also get a discount at the island's coolest activity provider, treeclimbing experts Goodleaf, where treeclimber Paul McCathie leads small groups up into the canopy of a giant oak tree, using harnesses and helmets. I first discovered Goodleaf when I treated my son to a morning's treeclimbing for his 9th birthday, and we have been back every year since for a family treat. You certainly start to see the island in a different way from 60 feet in the air and, in its own way, the Car-Free initiative is also striving to look at things from a new and different way, but equally exciting.