As reported previously on these pages, we are currently enjoying a local food binge in an attempt to highlight some of the more authentic souvenirs which are on offer to Isle of Wight visitors.
It came about after discovering that most Isle of Wight souvenir fudge doesn’t actually come from the Isle of Wight, in the same way that your French Windows weren’t made in Paris.
We went for a quick trip to a farm shop, which soon turned into a spending spree.
It’s not an especially healthy activity or one which is suitable for pregnant women, teetotalers or vegans, since last time we were drinking gin and this time we are slicing off great chunks of blue cheese.
You’ll find cheese is one local product with a decent range of options on the Isle of Wight.
There are at least two companies producing cheese on the Island, and probably more which I’ve missed (apologies in advance, I await a telling off).
Firstly, there is the Isle of Wight Cheese Company, which presumably held a very short brainstorm meeting before deciding on a name and launching in 2006. At the time of eating, their range includes:
The second is Briddlesford Lodge Farm, which is based nearish to Newport and which has a cafe and farm shop you can visit (they also do tours on certain days during the school holidays). They currently offer Caerphilly, Cheddar, Gouda, Halloumi-Style and Feta-Style.
On this occasion we tried Isle of Wight Blue, which the Isle of Wight Cheese Company say will taste 'spikier' towards its best before date. We tried it about 20 minutes after purchase, so I would say we didn't exactly let it mature a great deal. Nonetheless, it was very tasty and went down nicely with big chunks of bread and my mother-in-law's soup which was as thick as a tin of gloss paint.
To try it for yourself, visit one of the local stockists on the Island. You won't regret it!
We were recently contacted by a blogger from the Isle of Wight, who had read our coastal path guide and decided to give it a go. For some reason, they attempted it during October, with three children and with tents.
Once we had checked Robert and Hazel Jones weren't too traumatised, we asked if they'd like to write us a guest blog.
During what turned out to be a fine week in October, we hiked all the way around this little Island we call home. We had been threatening to do so for a few years but the long trails on the mainland were always more enticing. So early on the Saturday morning we left our home in Gurnard and we arrived at the beach we put the sea on our left and started hiking.
Hiking to Ryde was tough, really tough. The trail pretty much follows the road all the way to Fishbourne before joining the cycle path to Ryde, through Quarr Abbey. The kids enjoyed this stretch as it allowed them to run ahead, play their games and pull faces at the pigs without the fear of traffic. We got to Ryde in time for a bag of chips for tea before we hiked on in the dark for a few more miles on the road, on the beach and through the woods to St Helens and our camp for the night.
From the campsite at St Helens we had a breakfast of coffee and yesterday's doughnuts before heading through the Duver to Bembridge where the kids tried to decide which of the houseboats they would like to live in and said goodbye to tarmac for a little while. The climb up Culver Down rewarded us with splendid views and a tasty ice cream before we came down to Yaverland and the kids practically ran along the esplanade for their promised visit to Sandown Pier. We followed the beach around to Shanklin, where we left the trail in search of the campsite at Lower Hyde.
The following day promised to be the best on the trail, and so it proved as we hiked through the landslips at Luccombe and Bonchurch, the kids racing ahead through the woods and down onto the prom at Ventnor, ultimately jumping into the paddling pool when we stopped for lunch.
We carried on and up and down headlands, through Steephill Cove and onto St Lawrence, where we headed inland and climbed up onto the downs. From up here the views only got better, and as we found our stride we covered miles without stopping, past St Catherine's Lighthouse, along the edges of fields and down hedgerow lined lanes.
We were just heading towards Chale when the sunset began and it was truly magnificent. We hiked on into the night for another mile or so before making camp on the cliff tops.
We woke up for the sunrise and for the first time on this hike there were clouds in the sky. It was quite chilly so Hazel took the kids on while Evan and I packed up. In our haste to get the children fed the night before we had inadvertently eaten all the porridge so we hiked on empty stomachs and a hope that the snack van at Compton Bay would be there.
Our route took us along the tops of the cliffs, meeting the first other thru-hikers of the trip, although they did think we were brave to be camping at the end of October. Soon we reached Compton where we all had a healthy breakfast of Mr Whippy ice creams (with a flake!) and some fizzy pop. We headed up the second and last decent climb of the hike - Tennyson Down - which took us up from Freshwater Bay to the monument from where we could see both sides of this little island.
Now it felt like the homeward stretch.
We pressed on towards the setting sun, along the headland that leads to the Needles. The views back across the Island were fantastic, those to the nearby New Forest and further away Isle of Purbeck magnificent. We dropped down to Alum Bay with a spectacular sunset behind us and hiked a little further to our safe haven for the night, Nana's basement.
We left Totland before dawn, and followed the seawall around to Colwell. No one was around and the sun was just coming up as we took another alternate route along the beach, through the holiday village and into the woods around Fort Victoria coming out on the top of the Island with fantastic blue sky and Yarmouth Pier just ahead.
We wandered along the sea wall before nipping into Bouldnor Forest and probably only the second stretch of this trail that we hadn't hiked before. It was wonderful, with proper beaten earth trail being kind on our feet, tree cover for the kids to play their games while charging ahead. Shalfleet to home was a stretch that was worrying us as it was mainly on the road so with nerves shredded, and feet on fire we stopped into Porchfield for a treat in the pub before the last 3 or 4 miles home.
The Trail to Thorness Bay started on the road but soon diverted through some fields and into the holiday park. The beach opened out in front of us as the sun started to dip and we hastened to get done before sunset. The kids knew the way home from here and with that mission in mind they practically sprinted the last mile and a half, Hazel and I struggling to keep up.
Of course, they paused at the rope swing, where we did catch them and we hiked the remaining yards back home together. Looking at the GPS, we had hiked 18 1/2 miles on that last day, our furthest on any trail so far, AND we had hiked a grand total of 77.7 miles on this 68 mile trail.
The writers of Just Up The Trail are Robert and Hazel Jones but the real stars of the show are the kids, Evan (aged 11) Lillian (9) and Isaac (7). You can find out more about them, and their magnificent adventures at www.justupthetrail.com and @justupthetrail on social media
Our days out are very much determined by the weather. If it rains we've got a list of favourites, including the yellow-ticket-spewing-machines at the arcade in Shanklin and the indoor play area at Tapnell Farm Park.
I'm yet to write a guide for one of those odd days where it is shorts and sandals weather one minute and then raining the next.
Our day in the West Wight was one of those.
We started off at the Compton Bay car park, before quickly abandoning any beach plans when we saw there wasn't any sand and there was a rapidly rising tide. Compton is probably my favourite beach but it is at its best at a low tide with the evening sun reflecting off the pools of water. I'm getting emotional just thinking about it.
We carried on to plan B which was Freshwater Bay. Fun fact: The clifftop up and down road between the two has featured on Top Gear and in a dreary horror movie starring Calista Flockhart.
We spent about an hour choosing stones, watching kayakers and stopping the younger one from falling over before getting back in the car and heading into Freshwater.
Mrs Guru, who understands Instagram, suggested we try the Freshwater Coffee House. It's one of those trendy places with deliberately eclectic furniture and friendly things written on chalkboards.
Thankfully, this was an establishment which had dealt with the strains of drinking coffee with children in tow. I helped myself to their decent selection of toys and books in the hope that they would provide an effective enough distraction for me to down my latte.
The staff were friendly and clearly owned the place, unlike the grunting teenager you might get in some chain. Mrs Guru was impressed with the eco-friendly individual hand towels and I was impressed with the coffee.
After a high-speed coffee we were on our way to our next stop - Fort Victoria.
There aren't many Isle of Wight attractions we haven't visited in the last five years, but Fort Victoria was an omission.
It's an odd selection of small museums and the like, housed in an impressive Victorian battery. The cannons are still there, pointing aggressively towards Hampshire.
We found time for the Model Railway exhibition which is in a metal building alongside the Fort, and the Archaeology Discovery Centre.
Both filled about 45 minutes, which wasn't bad for their £4ish entry fee. We do tend to speed round attractions, so you could happily drag it out if you want. You can also borrow an archaeology kit from the Centre if you want, which you can use to dig up the nearby beach.
The model railway provided a little spotter sheet which kept my 5 year old companion entertained.
The Underwater Archaeology Museum was a little bit bigger and was a bit more hands-on with things like a morse code thing to prod and some sand to dig into. At times I thought she might realise it was educational, but thankfully she didn't twig.
Fort Victoria also has its own little stoney beach, which is a nice spot for a picnic. It's not going to win a place in our beach awards as it's really just a stoney little patch, but we enjoyed digging through the stones.
My conclusion is that we're making significant strides in our ability to cram a lot in, despite having two children. At one stage it felt like an achievement if we got everyone dressed and in the car. Once the younger one drops her nap, there'll be no stopping us...
Most of our Isle of Wight souvenirs either contain multicoloured sand or include a photograph of the church in Godshill. For once, Mr Guru allowed me to explore some other options and set me free in a local Farm Shop.
On this occasion, I went for Brownrigg’s Farm Shop in Godshill, which was well stocked with dozens of local products. Sure, it isn’t as cheap as a trip round Lidl, but we’re increasingly keen on local souvenirs which can be consumed rather than those which gather dust.
Whilst Mr Guru waited in the car with the children, I did a mini supermarket sweep, checking off some of the products which I’d been trying to track down. I emerged with a modestly sized bag of goodies, hid the receipt and offered consolation that another family in there seemed to be carrying out a weekly shop.
I decided to purchase the Mermaid Gin and Fever-Tree tonic gift tube because a) I loved the packaging and b) I felt a G&T might be appreciated at the end of the day.
Here’s the blurb from the website:
Mermaid Gin “is a hand-made, small-batch gin using 10 botanicals that are meticulously sourced for quality and carefully blended to create a smooth, fresh and complex flavour profile. Locally foraged rock samphire and elderflower, fresh citrus zest from Sicilian lemons and Grains of Paradise are complemented by Boadicea hops grown in the local botanical gardens at Ventnor, English coriander from Sussex, orris root, angelica root, liquorish root, and juniper”
I don’t particularly like liquorice (can’t get away from the thought of Allsorts) or coriander but I do like Gin.
Included in the gift pack is a 50cl bottle of Mermaid Gin, a 200ml bottle of Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water and two Fever-Tree wooden stirrers. You can order the gift pack online directly from the Isle of Wight distillery, but it is also available at various Island shops.
The gift tube itself is beautifully designed and the bottles inside are well packaged to prevent any accidents during the journey home (that’s if you haven’t given in to temptation before then).
It cost about £8 and made enough for a couple of drinks. I rather got into the tasting, despite not being a gin expert. The juniper and coriander were certainly noticeable, as was the liquorice. There was also a slight peppery flavour and the elderflower flavour grew as I finished off the glass.
Mr Guru meanwhile just about managed to offer “very nice, tastes like gin”.
We rather enjoyed our first sample of gin from The Isle of Wight Distillery and are looking forward to sampling more of their range in the future. If you’re interested, the Mermaid Gin people also run The Mermaid Bar at the Wishing Well, which is nearish to Ryde. We’ve not been yet, but we’re hoping to pop in sometime now that we’ve got a taste for it!
In the days when the news is mostly Brexit, Donald Trump and Miscellaneous Misery, it's perhaps not surprising that the Great Isle of Wight Fudge Scandal has gone unnoticed.
Well folks, it's time to change all that. I'm going to peel away the cellophane wrapper covering up this minor scandal and reveal it to the world.
If it helps, we can call it Fudgegate.
Let's imagine that you are approaching the end of an Isle of Wight holiday and have just realised that you need to buy something for grandma. She bought you a lovely ashtray from Lanzarote so it's only fair that you get her some tat in return (a tat for tat arrangement, if you will).
You end up in a gift shop, most likely in Shanklin, Sandown, Ryde or Alum Bay and decide grandma would like some fudge. She lost her final tooth when you bought her toffee once, so fudge is the best option.
The box has a postcard of Godshill on the front, which she will love, so you happily pay through the nose.
But here's the minor scandal.
Take a careful look at the box and you'll almost certainly find it wasn't made on the Isle of Wight. It will more likely say something vague about coming from the UK and have an address in Devon or Dundee or anywhere apart from the Isle of Wight. You could probably buy the same fudge from any shop in any town.
I guess in a way this minor scandal doesn't matter two hoots. Most stuff is made in China now so we should be grateful that this is even made in the UK.
But in my mind there's a difference between plastic souvenir rubbish (which you assume comes from China via a vast warehouse in Northampton) and souvenir food, which you sort of hope might be vaguely reflective of the local area.
So I'd like to invite you to look for some more authentic Isle of Wight souvenirs for grandma.
Next time, try a farm shop and you'll find dozens of locally produced foodie things, many of which also won't raise grandma's risk of developing type 2 diabetes (though admittedly they might not be entirely healthy).
We had a successful shopping trip at Brownriggs Farm Shop in Godshill. My mother recommends Briddlesford Lodge Farm Shop nearish to Wootton/Newport. Some of the Coop stores stock a small range of local food.
I'm sure there are many others, and it isn't really fair of me to just highlight the ones we happened to pass.
In a decent farm shop you'll find Isle of Wight beer, gin, vodka, biscuits, cheeses by the bucketload, posh tomato ketchup and so on. There's even a locally made fudge shop in Cowes, which is ideal for Grandma.
There's also Isle of Wight coffee and chocolate, which admittedly weren't grown on the Island but still have a local link, somehow.
Over the next few weeks we'll be trying out a few of them - for research purposes of course.
Join the campaign, save grandma's teeth and leave the foreign fudge on the shelf.
It takes many years for a human being to realise that walking is actually quite pleasant. I made so much fuss on scenic family walks as a child that I'm surprised my mother still talks to me.
Once you're a parent, you soon forget this and get irked when your children plead for a lift after a few metres.
We decided to try out a Treasure Trail on the Isle of Wight as a means of tricking the children into walking. We'd had some success with a similar thing on the mainland so this seemed like it was worth a go on a grey day.
At the time of writing there are eight to choose from, covering quite a few of the prettier parts of the Island. Unsurprisingly, no one has bothered to create one exploring the industrial estates.
Our first treasure trail was covering Cowes. It was one which claimed to be OK for pushchairs, although it did say it wasn't suitable for wheelchairs. There turned out to about 30 steps but you could find a detour with a bit of initiative or a map.
This one was a Murder Mystery, with a long list of suspects. Each clue led you to a local landmark which would include enough information to eliminate one of the suspects.
We glossed over the murderous side of things for the benefit of our young children and turned it into a mobile version of Guess Who?
Over a couple of hours we wandered through Northwood Park, and along the High Street and Esplanade. I've always liked Cowes and enjoyed the whole thing a lot more than I was expecting. I noticed things about the town I'd ignored before and the level of challenge was varied enough for us all to have something to do.
Around lunchtime the one year old in our party made it quite clear that she had had enough and we postponed our investigations. Frantic searching for lunch began, despite it still being a bit early for elevenses.
However, we were hooked in by that point and a couple of hours later we were back on the beat for the last few clues.
Two days later we embarked on another treasure hunt, this time around Godshill. This one was a lot shorter and more compact but we still enjoyed it thoroughly. I've concluded the village could do with a little less traffic and a little more pavement (anyone fancy a one way system?) but once again we managed to do a significant amount of plodding considering we were a party of all ages.
From that point on there was no stopping us. Ventnor came next, despite the instructions saying that it wasn't suitable for pushchairs. Again, we found a couple of detours to avoid the steps and my buttocks got a thoroughly good workout as I heaved the pushchair up Ventnor's hilly streets. I can only assume that the residents of Ventnor all have backsides of steel.
Finally we attempted Yarmouth, which was shown off in glorious sunshine on a route which followed the estuary, seafront, castle and pier. The town centre is small and can be driven through in about seven seconds, but with clues to find and our travelling circus the whole thing filled two or three hours.
My personal favourite of them all was probably Ventnor, since it had non-stop sea views and a playground at the halfway point which provided another few minutes of entertainment. Yarmouth was in second place, but they were all good time-fillers. Our five year old managed to contribute throughout, whilst the nearly two year old demanded food and drinks from onboard her chariot.
My next plan is to contact the Treasure Trail people and suggest Carisbrooke village as a good location for a hunt. After all, it's got a significant castle, a priory, a cemetery with beautiful views (Mountjoy), an ancient church, three fords and my mother's house.
You have to pay for Treasure Trails - £6.99 at the time of writing so it's not one for our free days out guide. However, I don't think that's bad value for a couple of hours entertainment for a group of people. If you're look for a free alternative, try out our Isle Spy game, which is a similar bit of timewasting around the Isle of Wight's roads.
The Cowes Week fireworks have evaded me in recent years but I was determined that 2018 was finally going to be our year. For once, I was hopeful that house moves, newborn children or thunderstorms wouldn’t stop us.
And so, when my mother realised she couldn’t fulfil her unpaid role as chief babysitter I resorted to leaving Mrs Guru at home and taking daughter number one to her first ever fireworks display.
We found somewhere to park in Gurnard and started the pleasant walk along the esplanade towards Cowes. The sun was dropping and within a few minutes the Red Arrows were overhead, swirling and drawing love hearts in the sky.
My five-year-old companion was overwhelmed and announced that this was the ‘greatest day of her life, apart from Legoland’ (upon further questioning it turns out that the birth of her sister isn’t even in the top three).
Obviously this all sounds idyllic but I should point out that in the 200 metres we had walked so far, I had developed a blister, my thermos of warm milk had emptied itself in my rucksack and my daughter had required an emergency toilet stop in the woods.
Nonetheless, we limped on towards our fireworks viewing point on the green in Cowes.
A large crowd was gathered but it’s a big open space so it certainly didn’t feel crowded. Motorhome owners lined the streets on the esplanade, parents drank wine whilst their children threw stones in the Solent and a coffee shop did its best night of trade all year.
My daughter enquired if the fireworks would be starting any minute now, to which I replied that we had an hour and a half to fill. It turns out watching yachts gracefully sailing against a sunlit sky isn’t enough for a child so we filled the time with i-spy, choosing attractive pebbles and holding our breath in the public toilets.
There was the usual selection of carnival tat on sale, including Disney themed helium balloons and giant glow sticks.
At one point a girl who looked to be about 3 or 4 ran towards us pulling a pink helium dolphin. She did a couple of Red Arrows inspired loops of us before attempting to continue her route. Unfortunately, the dolphin lodged in my groin, her string snapped and the dolphin floated off in slow motion towards the helium graveyard in the sky. The crowd around me gasped as this mini tragedy was revealed.
I looked towards her mother who had presumably purchased the balloon in an attempt to postpone a past-your-bedtime tantrum (I mean, why else would you?). I felt the blame could go either way so I offered my most aghast expression, the sort face which you would normally expect from an emotional X-Factor contestant.
Thankfully she didn’t appear to be blaming me and we snuck off before she changed her mind.
The light faded and the fireworks began. My companion was even more excited than I that we had actually made it. She even offered a detailed commentary for others in the crowd who weren’t sure which colours were on display.
And we nearly, very nearly, got to the end of the display before she once again announced: “Daddy, I need the toilet…”
It's always heartening to see new stuff appearing on the Isle of Wight. Sure, we've had some painful losses in recent years (RIP Seaview Wildlife Encounter, Waltzing Waters, Bestival and Coleman's Farm).
But we've also been treated to new stuff, such as Tapnell Farm Park, Eklectica and Fairweather Festival.
This summer there's a good choice of new stuff to try out. Here's a selection that we've heard about - feel free to comment at the bottom if you know of others.
1. Jungle shenanigans at Robin Hill
Robin Hill is going for a jungley theme this summer, with a load of colourful treetop nets which were being built last time we visited.
This will undoubtedly lead to copywriters punning about 'going wild' and having a 'roarsome time'.
I shall avoid the obvious and come up with something a bit cleverer.
Er, "let's Flamin-go to Robin Hill"?
There will also be 'Jungle Fever' events on Tuesday and Thursday with 'the biggest fire balls you've ever seen' and 'life sized animal puppets'. I'd like to see the risk assessment form for that one.
They've also got this massive water slide which looks like it's been constructed by a weekend Dad who was desperate to impress his kids.
"Hey kids, I bet Mum's new boyfriend doesn't have one of these in his garden does he?"
Visitors to European cities will have seen these multi-seater bicycles being powered by beered-up British stag dos. The aim is to drink as much as you can without falling off your seat and then hoping someone will find the EHIC card in your wallet and take you to the nearest A&E.
Thankfully, the Isle of Wight takes a more civilised approach to such things.
According to the official blurb you can 'Choose from a range of themed rides: from Afternoon Tea to Fitness, Networking to Litter Picking, or our Original Tour which takes in the sights and sea views of Ryde and the Solent.'
3. Osborne Horse Trials
I take great comfort in the fact that Nick Skelton won a showjumping Olympic gold at the age of 58.
That gives me at least another couple of decades before I need to start training for my Olympic medal. Until then I'll just watch the new horsey eventing at Osborne.
4. Tapnell Farm
Tapnell Farm Park seems to add something new every time I turn my back.
For 2018 they've extended the go kart track and added some outdoor sledges. The indoor bits have also had a move around to make space for new bits and bobs.
And for anyone who knows what an FN-59 is, there's a new Comic book shop/cafe which has turned up in Newport.
Well why not?
One of my first jobs was stacking shelves at Sainsburys on the Isle of Wight for £3.06 an hour. We were called the 'Milk and Cookie Crew' because we weren't old enough or responsible enough to work on the checkouts. I planned a 10 minute toilet break into my two hour shift just to avoid the customers.
Still, it was worth giving up all my spare time for the weekly pay of £24.
One of my most familiar discussions with customers was where they could find the gravy which managers moved around the store like a mischievous elf on a shelf (end plinth, aisle 12 usually).
I was reminded of this at Tapnell Farm Park which we visited for the first time in a year recently. Like most Wightophiles, we were bursting with excitement a couple of years ago when we heard a new attraction was coming and have been returning sporadically ever since.
On our return, the hay bale slides had shifted across the play barn, the Tiny Tapnell bit for toddlers had moved to another building and a gift shop had appeared next to a new toddler area.
At Tapnell, I'm confident that this hasn't been done to confuse us but is to make space for new stuff. The go kart track has got bigger and better, there are dry sledges and a few other little additions.
On this trip my mother went off to get coffee, which often results in her spending 20 minutes getting to know the person serving her. This is a useful gift in life, unless there is a queue of people behind you.
Usually she returns to say that the person who brewed her coffee used to work with the grandson of someone she worked with in the 1990s.
On this occasion she returned with the news that the park had recently had its busiest ever day. The details became a little sketchy at this point with either 600 people or 6000 cars visiting in one day.
I fear the detail of the conversation wouldn't stand up to cross examination in court, but it's certainly heartening to see a high quality attraction growing each year and seemingly being rewarded with a full car park.
It isn't as vast as some similar attractions on the mainland but it's clean, well organised and priced about right in my opinion (around £10). It also has a realistic view of the UK climate, so there's a good mix of indoor and outdoor stuff.
It's also recently been added to a bus route, which will hopefully bring a bigger crowd through the doors over the summer.
We'll certainly be back, and hopefully there'll be even more new stuff for the owners to find space for.
We've teamed up with Hampshire's Top Attractions to give away a bundle of family tickets to three of the Isle of Wight's best-known attractions.
The prize needs to be used during the 2018 season and includes:
To enter, you just need to like the relevant post on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram page and tag someone else who loves summer on the Isle of Wight.
The competition ends at 11.59pm on Sunday 8th July 2018. The winner will be selected at random and announced on Monday 9th July 2018. The prize needs to be used during 2018. There is no cash alternative.
The competition is running across our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts but there is only one bundle available.
*Yes, we know that the Isle of Wight isn't in Hampshire. Stop complaining and enter the competition.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog
Tales of Isle of Wight days out, attractions and ferry discounts from a Wightophile
Where to stay
Some of the links on this site are 'affiliate links' meaning we may receive commission from accommodation providers at no cost to the buyer. However, we maintain full editorial control and only recommend based on merit rather than whether they offer commission.
© COPYRIGHT 2018. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.