When I die, I’d like a good sturdy bench to be constructed with my name on it, rather than a gravestone. Not only is a bench much more comfortable for sitting on than a gravestone, they also tend to be placed in gorgeous places so my numerous offspring could sit and admire the view whilst discussing how great I was. I think they’re more inclined to return regularly if its an attractive viewpoint than if it’s a county council graveyard.
There are many contenders for the Isle of Wight’s best bench (Freshwater Bay has so many benches it looks like a football stadium) but I think I’ve found my favourite. The bench itself is nothing special – in fact, it doesn’t even have a back – but the location, location, location is perfect.
The bench in question is at the highpoint of the Military Road, between Freshwater Bay and Compton Farm. There’s a tiny layby nearby with enough space for two cars, ensuring that you won’t be sharing the bench with too many people.
To your right you can see Freshwater Bay with its white cliffs and creepy caves. To your left, you can see for several miles towards Hanover Point and Blackgang Chine. I can even see the spot where I proposed to my wife – what a romantic eh?
And out to sea you can see nothing. Nothing for miles and miles and miles. Apart from perhaps a couple of container ships and the curvature of the earth. Normally I prefer to see ships coming and going, which is what you get on the north of the Isle of Wight, but on this occasion I prefer the quiet and empty vastness of it all.
So we sat with a box of flapjack and half a can of Morrison’s Saver Lager (I felt half a can of 2% lager would be best as we needed to drive home).
The sun even shone for a bit, briefly.
See our guide for more Isle of Wight car park viewpoints
The Isle of Wight holds several records for the smallest, largest and fattest things. Well, perhaps not the fattest but it does have the UK’s oldest pier (Ryde) and the largest constituency (for now at least) amongst other things.
One of my favourites is the UK’s oldest phonebox in Bembridge, which I had peered at on Google Streetview but hadn’t actually seen in person.
On the way to the seaside at Bembridge we stopped to try out the K1 phonebox, which is next to the fishmongers in the High Street (PO35 5SD if you are looking for it).
Despite the odd looks from Bembridge’s tweed wearing shoppers we began snapping away at the Grade 2 listed ‘attraction’. Presumably they thought we were just phonebox enthusiasts who were touring the country photographing phoneboxes. Little did they know that we were carrying out an important piece of research for Isle of Wight Guru.
The first observation to report is that Bembridge’s phonebox doesn’t smell of wee – quite an achievement really based on my previous experiences of such things. Admittedly, there is a smell of fish, but you can’t really complain when you are outside a fishmongers.
It’s now owned and looked after by the Parish Council and they look to be doing a terrific job. There’s even a small notice explaining why the box is significant, which will hopefully put off the little turds who vandalised the box in 2011.
I gave the handset a quick rub against my jumper (my mother taught me to do this for hygiene reasons) and I was delighted to hear a dial tone, so it was still connected at least.
For those of you that haven’t used a phonebox since 2004, you might be surprised to learn that the minimum charge is now 60p (remember the fuss when it went from 10p to 20p?) so we spent a fair amount of time rummaging around looking for small change.
Not only do you have to find 60p, but it also has to be a certain combination of coins – you can’t just fill it with 10p coins. If I was cynical I would say that trebling the price and making them harder to use led to less people using them, which helped BT’s justification for closing them. I’m sure that definitely absolutely completely wasn’t the case.
Next I needed to decide who to call. Was this the time for a prank call? Perhaps I could call Moe’s Tavern and ask for Hugh Jars or Amanda Huggenkiss? Or relive my youth and play Arnie clips down the phone to a schoolfriend for 5 hilarious seconds before they hung up?
No, I decided to call my mum. I imagined it would be like the guy who used his phone a friend on Who Wants to be a Millionaire to phone his mum and say that he knew the answer to the last question. Perhaps not quite as momentous, but up there.
I put the first coin in.
My 20p went straight through and came back out into the coin return section, which BT designed to be unnecessarily fiddly to get your own money back.
Coin number 2.
The second coin got stuck. I pressed the ‘coin return’ button.
Coin number 3.
Nope, no luck. My fellow explorers handing me three more 20p coins. One suggested I use a shilling.
“Clunk…ching. Clunk…ching. Clunk…cling”
Oh dear, none of the my six 20p coins were accepted.
At this point we gave up as we had run out of coins and didn’t much fancy registering a credit card for a 60p call.
So, we failed but I am pleased to report that the phone box is most definitely there, and you can always use it to shelter inside and use your mobile if it won’t take your coins.
Before the days of pushchairs and pampers I was very choosy about when I would swim in the sea around the Isle of Wight. The conditions needed to be ideal - a baking hot day and not a lot of wind. I would frequently sit on the sand whilst everyone else pretended they weren't painfully cold at Hanover Point.
That all changed when two things happened.
Firstly, I discovered wet suits. Or more specifically I discovered that I could wear a wet suit in the water without looking silly as long as I was holding a bodyboard. You don't really need to use it, it's just a prop so that it looks like you are wearing the suit for reasons of sport and chafing rather than because you are a bit girly and don't like the cold.
Secondly, my opportunities for swimming in the sea became much rarer as we became frequent tourists rather than residents and had to start fitting swims around naps and early bedtimes.
And so I found myself with ice cold water rapidly racing towards The Danger Zone (just below my waist) on the Easter weekend with rain drizzling down and not a whiff of sunshine.
Needless to say, it was cold because, to be honest, it is always pretty cold, even in summer. But thanks to my wet suit it wasn't actually unbearable... For about two minutes anyway.
My fellow swimmers stayed in a little longer, even the one who went in wearing nothing but a flimsy pair of shorts and swore like a sailor for five solid minutes. He also emerged with self inflicted scratch marks on his chest - presumably he was trying to distract the rest of his body from feeling cold.
Now, I know there are 78 year old men who swim every single day in the sea and don't make even the tiniest bit of fuss, but I'm afraid that's just not normal and there are some parts of my body which would vehemently agree.
My previous rule was that sea swimming around the Isle of Wight is legitimate from May 1st until mid September with a wetsuit, or from around mid June until late August without a wetsuit.
I'm very proud to say that I have now stretched the season considerably and declare that sea swimming is just about bearable from Easter, until late September.
Come on in, the water's lovely-ish.
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