OK, so I am a little biased, but I do think something is putting off visitors. Is it the ferry (see our guide for how to get the best price)? Is it the old fashioned view that the Isle of Wight is a bit tacky and outdated (bits of it are, but there are bucket loads of posh, quirky, interesting, modern places to stay and things to do)?
Nope, the answer is in fact...doughnuts.
The Isle of Wight is missing out because it doesn't have one food item which is strongly associated with it. Yes, there are loads of places selling seafood and there is a place in Ventnor which does Crab on Chips, but it doesn't compare to the Cornish Pasty or the Devon Cream Tea in terms of recognition.
As an example, take the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie. The town of Melton Mowbray is pretty bland - just a selection of charity shops and a Wetherspoons (and an ex girlfriend which might explain my dislike for it) but people still cough up for the overpriced genuine pork pies from a shop in the town centre.
Food culture can't just be created, but it can be developed from a series of old stories, rumours and traditions which may or may not be true. The Isle of Wight’s Grace's Bakery had a good go at looking into the question of whether the Isle of Wight actually invented the doughnut and concluded that (SPOILER ALERT) no-one knows for sure.
The key with this sort of thing isn’t to worry about the robustness of the story but to use phrases like ‘according to local legend’ which allow you to turn a vague story into a rich history. Devon and Cornwall are still arguing over who invented the pasty, but it hasn’t stopped it becoming a big industry.
If you visit Cornwall and don’t eat a pasty, you haven’t really done Cornwall. The Isle of Wight needs the same deal.
So here’s my plan:
- Come up with a cutesy name. I currently favour “Granny Gertrude’s Original Isle of Wight Doughnuts” written in italic writing with a picture of a friendly looking grandma and a mixing bowl.
- Create a vague back story based on the bits of information that are available. Something along the lines of: “According to local legend, the doughnut was invented on the Isle of Wight in 1845 - a few years before Queen Victoria moved to Osborne House. We don’t know whether her majesty loved to indulge in doughnuts, but we do know that we’ve spent years perfecting our secret combination of local ingredients to create the original and best Isle of Wight doughnut.”
- Open up a ‘flagship’ Granny Gertrude’s Donuthut in Shanklin so I can send doughnut smells wafting down the Esplanade and hand out free samples to visitors.
- Persuade every tea room, ice cream hut and touristy farm shops to stock my wonderful doughnuts
OK, I can smell a whiff of scepticism. Give it five years though and there’ll be a strong stench of doughnut coming from every corner of the Isle of Wight…maybe.