Well folks, after many months of head scratching and wistful chin stroking I have worked out why some people still haven't visited the Isle of Wight. Brace yourselves. On paper, the Isle of Wight should be wiping the floor of destinations like Cornwall and Devon. For most of the UK, the Isle of Wight is easier to get to than Cornwall, which requires a 13 hour drive just to get from one end of the county to the other. Both have got lovely coastlines, but the Isle of Wight has a much better variety of beaches and you can see a dozen different beaches in a week without a great deal of effort.
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 Is it the old fashioned view that the Isle of Wight is a bit tacky and outdated (bits of it are, but there are bucket loads of posh, quirky, interesting, modern places to stay and things to do)?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:
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.
Here’s a conversation that no-one has ever had:
Hairdresser: “Going anywhere nice on your holidays this year?”
Yet despite this, I recently unearthed some tourism figures which seem to say that Nottinghamshire attracts as many holidaymakers as the Isle of Wight. Admittedly the Isle of Wight is a lot smaller, and the numbers don’t quite tally with some others I’ve seen, but these are legitimate figures from Visit England, not some fictional survey created to sell holidays.
The stats say that 660,000 people per year visit the Isle of Wight as holidaymakers compared to 630,000 in Nottinghamshire (page 112 if you want to check my working). And these aren’t just people reluctantly visiting Aunt Maud in Retford, they are actually planning a holiday, sticking a roof box on the car and announcing “Come on kids, we’re off to Nottinghamshire!”.
Now, I have no great objection to Nottinghamshire, it’s a county I know fairly well and it’s a nice enough place, but here are 5 reasons why a holiday on the Isle of Wight is a far better option:
1. The Nottinghamshire coastline...
The Isle of Wight has 67 miles of actual real life beaches, with proper sand and water and everything. There are beaches for surfing (Compton Bay), kayaking (St Helens), coasteering (Freshwater), rockpooling (Bembridge), kitesurfing (Brook), swimming (Sandown amongst others), sunset viewing (Gurnard), eating chips and discussing the good old days (Ventnor), beach football (Appley) and sandcastle building (Shanklin).
The closest Nottinghamshire ever came to a beach was a pile of sand dumped in Nottingham city centre as a summer ‘attraction’. Oh, and there was a stabbing at the fake beach as well.
2. Our historic characters actually existed
OK, so perhaps Robin Hood might have existed, but no-one seems too sure who he actually was as Robert was a very common name, and so was the surname Hood. There are numerous places which claim he lived there , and there’s hardly enough evidence to name an airport after him or build a whole tourism industry around him.
In comparison, on the Isle of Wight you can see Queen Victoria’s death-bed at Osborne House or sit in her pew at St Mildred’s Church in Whippingham. You can see where King Charles I was held captive in a castle, or you can even see the village shop in Chale that was opened by Alan Titchmarsh. Oh, and we've got loads of dinosaurs too.
3. The sun always shines on the Isle of Wight
Perhaps not, but it certainly shines more on the Isle of Wight than it does in Nottinghamshire. Nottingham gets an average of 1440 hours of sunshine per year, whereas Sandown gets 1923 hours per year.
For those who get a headache from looking at big numbers, that's an average of an extra 80 minutes of sunshine every day.
4. Our festivals are headlined by people my mum has heard of
In the last few years, the Isle of Wight Festival has been headlined by The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, Coldplay and Red Hot Chilli Peppers (I could go on). Nottingham’s main music festival was headlined by Tom Odell and the Happy Mondays in 2014 There’s nothing wrong with either of those, by my test of a good festival is whether my mum has heard of the headliners. Tom Odell could knock on her door and sing a full set and she still wouldn’t know who he is.
And of course we’ve got Bestival, which is now about the same size as the Isle of Wight Festival and has recently included a tent for breastfeeding mothers, the world’s biggest glitterball, Snoop Dogg and Elton John. Now that’s what I call a festival.
We also have Cowes Week, which is an excellent opportunity to go sailing and drink Pimms, if that’s your sort of thing. If not, you can still watch the fireworks and mooch around looking for people wearing red trousers.
In a former life in journalism I would frequently have to show an interest in things that listeners were passionate about. It was usually dog poo, which biscuit is best for dunking or Princess Diana. A story combining two or three of those was gold.
I have a vague recollection of a story about geocaching but I never got around to working out what it was and kind of assumed it would require giving up weekends to spend my time in a field.
I decided to give it a go after a visitor to this site got in touch and said that the Isle of Wight had plenty of geocache spots.
The general idea is pretty simple. You download an app which shows you where little boxes of treasure are hidden in your area, and then try to find them when you have five minutes on a day out. You write your name in a log book and you can usually take a toy from the box and leave one behind if you want to.
So, several weeks after downloading the app we finally got round to our first Isle of wight geocache. We had spent the morning at Appley's beach and seaside playground and spotted that there was a cache 400 metres from our current lunch spot.
Obviously that doesn't sound far, but considering that it required an uphill walk across a park with a toddler I'd say we did well not to require survival assistance from Bear Grylls.
After passing the Goodleaf Tree climbing spot we found a path into woodland, and then another path where a tupperware box was hidden inside a camouflage bag.
We dutifully signed the log book and our toddler helped herself to a toy car, which she exchanged for some toy we got free from Lidl. We also marked our success on the app.
And that was it. No great commitment or expense or hours spent in the rain in a field. Just a 10 minute detour and a new toy for our little one.
By the way, Diana's favourite biscuit for dunking was a custard cream.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog