The job of maintaining the Needles Lighthouse has been going on this week and some terrific photos have been appearing on Facebook.
I rather wish that my careers advisor had suggested that I might like to repair lighthouses. Instead, I was offered a week stacking the shelves at M&S in Newport.
I contacted Nick Chappell, who is on the lighthouse at the moment, who kindly said I could share his images. For an Isle of Wightophile (Ed: that's not a word), these are pure gold.
You might also like to see our video of the Needles, which was taken last month. At the time of writing it has had 15 views, which I think can be considered as 'going viral'.
Last month, we returned to Sandy Lanes Resort, which is being constructed on the site of a former holiday park. The old resort apparently opened in 1935 and closed in 2007. We don't know the planned opening date for the new resort but will update when we do.
As previously discussed, a planning application was approved in 2016 and the land sold for £650,000. The advert outside the resorts talks about a bar, restaurant, tennis courts and a wellness centre. There are about 60 lodges.
You can read more here about the site, including how much the properties have been advertised for and how much owners will pay in service charges. There has also been some controversy about changes to the site, which are discussed in last year's blog.
And here's our first video from 2022 so you can see how it has changed in the last year.
This is just a short blog to show off a couple of excellent deals that have appeared for ferry travel to the Isle of Wight Festival 2024.
The car ferry can be very expensive for the festival once standard fares kick in, so get organised and get booked if you can.
Wightlink and Red Funnel are the two main ferry companies - take a look at this guide if you want to know more about which ports they travel to and from.
Wightlink's early bird deals for the Isle of Wight Festival 2024
Wightlink's deals are really good and are valid until 9th October 2023. However, they "reserve the right to modify or cancel the offers at any time" so I wouldn't hang around.
The car ferry deals are:
Standard weekend fares are likely to top £300, so a £100 deal is not to be sneezed at. As I said, don't hang around! The price includes a car full of passengers.
They also have a foot passenger deal which is £12 or £18. It looks like this:
The standard foot passenger fare is about £20 - £35, so it's less of a saving but still good value.
Red Funnel's early bird deals for the Isle of WIght Festival 2024
Red Funnel's Isle of Wight Festival 2024 deals work a bit differently.
The car ferry deal doesn't have an expiry date but it will end once a "limited number of early bird ferry sailings" are sold.
The car ferry deal looks like this:
Again, that's a BIG saving on the standard fares.
The foot passenger deal is an £18 return and doesn't appear to have an expiry date, so you can either book now or wait until nearer the time (I'm not 100% sure on this, but I think that's the case based on previous years). It is 'Valid Southampton or West Cowes/East Cowes'
What if I've missed the early bird ferry deals?
This is an additional for anyone who stumbles across this blog whilst desperately searching for a deal in May 2024.
If you are travelling to the Isle of Wight Festival as a foot passenger then it's not a big problem. Check our guides to foot passenger travel with Wightlink and Red Funnel for some money saving suggestions. Also check Hovertravel's fares (they didn't have an Isle of Wight Festival deal when we checked but they might have something when you read this).
If you need to bring your car then you may be slightly irked at having missed the best offers. Sorry about that.
Take a look at our main guide to discounts on Isle of Wight ferry travel for discount codes, money saving tips and loopholes which might help you.
After the success of our car free bike ride from Freshwater Causeway to Off The Rails in Yarmouth, we decided to attempt another off-road track.
This time it was the route which starts in Seaclose Park and leads up towards Island Harbour. Footpath fans will already know that it's called the Medina Greenway N120.
Pricey Parking at Seaclose Park
The first issue with this bike ride is that you have to pay seafront parking prices from Monday to Friday. This irks me as Seaclose Park is hardly as busy and short on parking spaces as Shanklin seafront in August. I erred between one hour (£2.05) or two hours (£3.60).
Some money saving alternatives can be found on our guide to cheap parking. A couple of drinks at nearby Beefeater is probably your best strategy, as it gives you free parking.
An alternative way to do this bike ride would be to start at Island Harbour and then cycle towards Seaclose Park. I haven't tested this out for myself but the Island Harbour website says that it has 'extensive, free of charge waterside car parking'. You could then stop halfway at Beefeater and avoid the parking charges.
Seaclose Park has a good playground so you might want to include that in your plans. See our guide to the Isle of Wight's best playgrounds.
The second issue we faced is that we only brought bikes for the children. Unlike Yarmouth there isn't a cycle hire place at Seaclose and I hadn't got round to getting a bike rack by this point.
Anyway, we plodded on with the plan that they would cycle and we would walk.
The muddy banks of the Medina
The bike ride goes alongside the River Medina, which is nice but wasn't as scenic as the River Yar on this occasion. There are some nice bits but there are also big industrial units. It was low tide so we also endured something of a riverside stench for which the children tried to blame me.
On the plus side, the track is off road all the way to Island Harbour. As you get near to Medina High School you want to fork left to stay close to the river.
Most of the way, the track is a lot more narrow than the Freshwater to Yarmouth route and it goes up and down a bit. However, it was wide enough for child two who is still a bit wobbly.
After half an hour or so we reached Island Harbour. You would do it in 10 minutes if you were a lycra-wearing enthusiast.
On a grey day it looked a little bleak but I can imagine in the sunshine it is a lovely spot. The rusting paddlesteamer called PS Ryde is simultaneously fascinating and a bit sad at the same time. You can read about its history here. It is a notable vessel, which 'saw action at D-Day' as well as acting as a passenger ferry on the Solent for more than 30 years (according to Wikipedia).
I don't wannabe late for the car park
Unfortunately, The Breeze café/restaurant at Island Harbour closed a while ago and hasn't reopened yet so this cycle route lost another point compared to Freshwater to Yarmouth. If you want to stop for food or drinks then you would need to carry on to The Folly at Whippingham or return to Beefeater at the start.
Island Harbour is currently home to The Spice Bus. It was used on the Spiceworld Movie which won nine Oscars (Ed: I think you're confusing it with The English Patient). We took a distant peak at the Spice Bus and turned round. You can't cycle in the Harbour itself.
At this point, the stakes were raised as I realised we might not make it back in time before my parking ticket ran out. I had refused to pay for two hours as it was rather pricey but this was now about to backfire. To further add to the tension I had dared to use actual cash to pay to park, so topping up remotely wouldn't work.
I contemplated a calculated gamble. Would there really be a traffic warden at mostly empty Seaclose Park at 5pm on a Monday? If they turned up, would they care if I was 15 minutes late? (Answers: probably not and yes, definitely).
My heart couldn't take the stress of this situation so I decided that something needed to be done.
Option one was for me to commandeer a bicycle from child one and pedal it back with my knees around my chin.
Option two was to stop a passer by and shout "I'm sorry sir, I need this bike, it's an emergency". This seemed like the kind of thing that would happen in the Spiceworld Movie, which made it all the more tempting. Alas, there was no one else nearby so I dismissed this romantic idea.
Option three was to top up remotely. For this I needed the same ingenuity that had allowed me to come up with brilliant inventions such as a Free Newspaper Printed On Toilet Roll (patent pending) and the transparent toaster (now widely available, so it seems someone else had the same idea).
With a little searching I found an Isle of Wight Council PDF document listing all the Pay By Phone codes for the Island and managed to top up from the banks of the River Medina.
We sauntered back to the car, only having paid through the nose for parking twice.
We wrote an update a while ago about Totland Pier, which has been undergoing a transformation in recent years. Prior to that it was looking pretty holey and at risk of going the same way as the piers in Shanklin and Ventnor.
Things have been a bit quiet in the last few weeks, but we’ve recently spoken to the company which owns Totland Pier and have cobbled together a bit more of an update. All of this is subject to change but it’s good to know things are progressing.
Totland Pier (including both of the new buildings) is now owned by the Wooldridge Group, which is based in Surrey. Google suggests they are a demolition company but they do various things, including hospitality, property development and er, roadsweepers. Their hospitality experience is as the parent company of Seasons Kitchen and Farm Shop in Surrey.
The company bought Totland Pier in November 2022 from the people who were behind the redevelopment. They are the same people who are revamping the Albion in Freshwater and who own the highly-rated Sentry Mead Hotel in Totland.
At the moment, the big new building at the wet end of the pier is just an empty shell. The new owners told me that they hope to start working on it this winter with a view to opening it at Easter 2024. They told us that it would serve lunch and dinner and that it would be open all year (with some closures in the depths of winter likely to give staff a break). There are 20 moorings at the end of the pier so that people could sail across to use the restaurant.
In January, there were news reports that an application was turned down to convert the Bay Café into ‘five short-stay holiday rental rooms’. This is the building at the dry end of the pier which opened for one season and quickly became a popular place for dining with a sunset.
Sophie from the Wooldridge Group told me that the plan was for ‘hotel rooms’ for guests who would dine at the new restaurant at the wet end of the pier. They plan to put another application in.
Anyway, I hope that update is of some interest. Hopefully we can soon add the new restaurant to our places to eat with a sea view.
I'm currently putting together an updated drone video of Totland Pier, filmed in August 2023. Until then, here are some screenshots of how it currently looks.
Family outings are rarely like the holiday brochures. The sun is usually too hot or not available. The children are normally fighting. The café you planned to visit is usually closed.
We experienced a brief moment of idyll on a recent cycling trip, along one of the Isle of Wight's best routes for families of wobbly cyclists. I'm working on a top five, but I want to try them all out first rather than relying on my fuzzy childhood memories.
The route we took links the Causeway at Freshwater to Off The Rails in Yarmouth. It's about 1.8 miles each way or can you easily extend it by heading to Freshwater Bay or Yarmouth - if you don't mind a bit of cycling on roads.
A couple of options
There are two ways to do this car-free cycle ride.
Option one is to start at the Causeway. This is probably the best choice if you have your own bikes as the café is a good half way point.
Option two is to start in Yarmouth where you can hire bikes from Wight Cycle Hire next door to Off The Rails and then finish the ride at the café. There is some free parking at the Bouldner View Car Park, which is an eight minute walk to the start of the cycle track.
If you can cope with a little bit of time on the road, I would carry on to Freshwater Bay where you can buy an ice cream from the lifeboat shop or from Dimbola's café. The most direct route is to carry on along the path at the end of the Causeway which leads to Tesco and the End Of The Line café. It is then just under a mile on the road to the beach via Afton Road. It's a 40mph road and is fairly wide. You may want to walk on the pavement or wiggle through back roads.
We went for option one as we have our own bikes.
Dadmin before the bike ride began
The younger child is far too wobbly for roads so I dutifully did multiple car journeys to get the bikes locked up against a post at the start line (The Causeway). The children were then able to just turn up and pedal off like they were royalty. Neither of them questioned how their bikes had appeared at this random location.
We later noted that this must have been our least environmentally friendly bike ride of all time, since I had covered many miles to prepare the ride.
There is some free parking on the road at The Causeway and it is a pretty place to start the ride with swans and other birds squawking away. My mother's friend can usually be found feeding the swans.
The cycle track is a former railway and is very good for novice cyclists. It isn't completely smooth but our children coped with only minimal whining.
The first 50 metres pedal alongside water, but it was low tide when we visited. After that, the track widens so that you have a better than average hope of not crashing into another group of wobbly cyclists coming towards you. We had lots of conversations which went "Keep left!" followed by "Which one's left?".
The moment of idyll arrived at the widest point in the track when the sun shone through the leaves and everyone pedalled happily. Couples who were walking along the same path gave us a smile which - almost certainly - was meant as a congratulations to us for being outstanding parents.
After about 25 minutes we reached Off The Rails, who found us a table and served us drinks. If you want food I would book in advance.
The café is the former railway station and is truly lovely. One of our party even ordered ginger beer to complete the Enid Blyton moment. It's a fairly pricey café but I personally think it's worth it.
Of course, the idyll was demolished by summer's greatest peril - Mr Wasp. I suppose we can't blame him for arriving when we sat drinking sugary drinks and eating Jammy Dodgers.
After some wasp dancing we went inside and finished our sugary drinks before pedalling back to the car.
There's nothing I love more than an Isle of Wight ferry loophole or discount.
Well, I love Mrs Guru and the kids more but ferry loopholes aren't too far behind.
My latest discovery is a trick which will give you a foot passenger period return from Portsmouth to Cowes for £10.
I beg your pardon?
"But that's impossible!" I hear you cry, with a confused but polite tone.
The deal involves using Solent Cruises, which describes itself as a 'passenger vessel company'.
The main service they run is a foot passenger service for shoppers, which goes from Cowes to Portsmouth on Saturdays and Sundays at 9.30am. Islanders spend a day buying trousers in Gunwharf Quays before returning on the afternoon ferry at 4pm/5pm (the time varies depending on the time of year).
It's not a new service, but the loophole involves using it backwards.
There is nothing to stop you from using the Portsmouth to Cowes 4pm/5pm leg as the outward journey and then the 9.30am leg from Cowes to Portsmouth as the return.
They only travel on Saturdays and Sundays, but they are perfectly happy for people to leave a week between crossings rather than using it as a day return service.
I emailed Solent Cruises and they confirmed that this would be fine, but will need to mention it when booking so they know who will actually be on which crossing. If you give it a go, please leave a comment below as I'd love to hear if you've had some success with it.
You can even get a free cup of tea or coffee if you hand over this voucher.
It could potentially save you about £20-£25 compared to Wightlink's standard fares (although there are lots of other ways to save money). It could also be more convenient if you live in Portsmouth and are planning a holiday in Cowes.
You could use the same ferry for a period return if - for example - you live in Cowes and wanted to spend a week on the mainland. Solent Cruises would get you to Gunwharf Quays, and then you could catch a train from Portsmouth Harbour to London.
Other ways to save money on the Isle of Wight ferry
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog