1

East Cowes & Ryde

After crossing the Solent and making landfall at either Cowes, Ryde or Fishbourne, it’s tempting to head straight off into the Isle of Wight’s hinterland. Don’t make that mistake: this underrated part of the Island has some of its most appealing ‘slow’ attractions and is an attractive landscape of rolling hills, fine coast and, in Ryde, an attractive town that is increasingly establishing a reputation for the quirky and unexpected.

Transport

Bus routes 4 & 9

Ferries: Red Funnel to East Cowes, Wightlink to Fishbourne, Wightlink to Ryde, Hovertravel to Ryde

 

 

Cycle Routes

Taste Round the Island Trail

Walks

East Cowes to Ryde via Binstead, Wootton Bridge to Briddlesford Lodge Farm

Points of Interest

Osborne House, Isle of Wight Steam Railway, Quarr Abbey, Goodleaf Tree Climbing, artists in Ryde, Briddlesford Lodge Farm shop & Bluebells café, The Fishbourne

Eat

Quarr Abbey, Briddlesford Lodge Farm shop and Bluebells Cafe, The Fishbourne

Route highlights

Access: Bus routes 4 & 5

The  Isle of Wight Floating Bridge chain ferry across the river Medina links East and West Cowes and is one of just a handful of services that remain in the UK. The journey takes barely five minutes.

East and West Cowes can be easily explored on foot thanks to the chain bridge ferry that connects the two. It saves an inland journey of around 10 miles and for foot passengers it costs under £2 (one way). This is one of just seven remaining chain ferries in the UK.

The ferry runs to and from Medina Road in East Cowes, at the narrowest point of the River Medina until Newport (70m at low tide and 150m at high tide). On the highest tide, the journey takes around five minutes.

In the 1720s, the crossing was made by rowing boat, with the transport rights held by the Robertson family. The same family later introduced a barge that could winch carts and horses across the water (the winch was also operated by a horse).

A lovely option for travelling between East Cowes and Ryde is this walk through the quiet backwaters of woodlands and lanes that run between the coast and the main roads. Along the way you encounter the villages of Whippingham, Wootton, Fishbourne and Binstead with little for company other than churches and copses. The entire route is waymarked with the coastal trail signposts.

Don’t be put off by the distance: this walk is over easy ground, pavements and paths and involves just a couple of gentle ascents. The first mile from East Cowes is alongside the busy A3021 but you can skip this stretch by taking bus no 4 to the Campfield Road bus stop.

Should you decide to walk this stretch, at the junction of the A3021 with New Barn Road, look out for the plaque commemorating the conviction in 1899 of Henry House for ‘furious driving’. House was deemed to have driven at a speed ‘greater than 8mph’ and was fined £3. This was the first motoring offence on the Island. 

Despite the name, the coastal path keeps the Solent at arm’s length, though two footpaths give access to the shoreline, a smattering of sand and fine views of the water: one mile east of Fishbourne along footpath R46; and, just west of Binstead church, footpath R47, (both footpaths are barely 365 meters long).

As you enter Ryde look out for the delightful Treefields Pond where you are sure to see dragonflies in from spring until early autumn. Although the pond looks natural, it is thought to have been created in the mid-19th century and used for watering cattle and horses. Ryde actually boasts 26 ponds, Binstead 56; across the Island there are around 1,000.

Queen Victoria’s retreat from the city, Osborne has opulence and grandeur, glorious wildlife-friendly grounds and a tranquil shingle beach.

Access: Bus 4 & 5; coastal trail

After you have padded around the state rooms at Osborne, explore the wider grounds of the house. Along the way you can admire the Italian terrace which was recently renovated and is a riot of tulips (a Victorian obsession) in spring. The later summer bedding displays thrive in the more Mediterranean climate of the Island.  Seasonal highlights range from daffodils to orchids.

Prince Albert oversaw the planting of many ornamental evergreens and other landmark trees, which are now fully mature. The walled garden, with its espaliered fruit trees, is a delight too.

Once you have admired the flowers in the garden, make your way towards the shoreline. On the foreshore you can have a dip or stroll along the water line. Take time to inspect the bathing machine where Queen Victoria got changed before she too took to the water.

Access: Bus 4 & 5 to The Forge; coastal trail.

Whippingham was part of the Royal estate created by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Osborne house.  Here you can pick up the waymarked Whippingham Heritage Trail (2 miles; 45 minutes) which runs mainly on the west side of the A3021. This is a hidden haven for wildlife, with the chance of seeing oystercatchers, herons and egrets. In winter they are joined by migrating Brent geese.

Walk west down Folly Lane (opposite The Forge) to the Folly Inn and then follow footpath N122 which runs south alongside the river Medina. If you walk 400yds north from the Folly Inn along the footpath, you reach St Mildred’s Church, which was Victoria’s place of worship and entered through a churchyard lined with a guard of honour of yew trees.

This is an architecturally impressive building, Grade I listed and first re-designed by John Nash in the early 19th century and later by Prince Albert.

You can’t miss the tower with its five soaring pinnacles (said to resemble a castle on the Rhine). Inside are striking rose windows and an impressive side chapel dedicated to the Mountbatten/ Battenburg family and which contains a richly ornamental bible.

Access: Bus 4 & 9; coastal trail

Cars zip across Wootton Bridge in under three seconds; you can walk along the sheltered pedestrian-only ‘chicane’ and take in a serene and rather timeless view up and down Wootton Creek.

The name ‘Wootton’ was recorded as ‘odetone’ in the Domesday Book. This in turn originates from the Old English ‘wudig’ and ‘tun’ meaning ‘the wooded farmstead estate’. Just to the east of the bridge is Mill Square, through which the main Ryde to Newport road passed.

The houses around the Sloop Inn are thought to be more than 250 years old. Well before then, the Romans landed cargo along the creek, King Canute is said to have come ashore here and the monks from nearby Quarr Abbey, who owned the mill, operated a fishery.

Access: Bus 4 & 9; coastal trail

The striking dome of Quarr Abbey can be picked out above the woodland west of Ryde for miles around. It holds centre stage in an estate of 200 acres that is home to small community of Benedictine monks. More than a quarter of the estate is open (and free) to the public.

The abbey is set among delightful woodlands which you can explore along trails that lead to hides where you can watch out for red squirrels. If you have children, ask for a free explorers kit at the tea shop. Be sure to walk around the back of the abbey, past the cemetery and inspect the tiny Pilgrim’s chapel at the rear with its four exquisite side altars.

The tea shop really should not be missed, for it draws heavily on the produce grown within the estate. These include 300 orchard trees a variety of beetroot known as Chioggia pink, yellow French beans and nine varieties of tomatoes, such as Mr Stripey (red and yellow) and Yellow Stuffer (pepper-shaped, with an easily hollowed-out centre, perfect for stuffing).

‘We look to grow heritage varieties, which were used before the 1950s,’ says head gardener Matt Noyce. Several beehives produce pots of honey that find their way both to the shop and the monk’s breakfast table.   Some of this produce is grown by local social enterprise groups that seek to address a range of issues from loneliness to additional needs.

As you admire the enclosures that are home to a mixture of Saddleback and Tamworth pigs, you may even find yourself standing next to one of the brothers, though there is every chance they will be in their working farm clothes (or bee-keeping suits).

While the current building dates to 1914 and is constructed from strikingly symmetrical bricks, the Cistercian presence on the site goes back to the 12th century. To see the remnants of these buildings, walk 182 meters east of the abbey along the coastal trail (and cycle route 22), past the impressive Abbey Lodge and a house built in a part-restored church (both now private properties).

The Abbey ruins are in a grazing meadow, where the woodland cover pulls back to reveal views of the Solent. The ruins include the chapter house and the kitchen. A magnificent three-trunked oak tree stands on the far side of the field; its middle trunk still planted in medieval stone that was once part of the infirmary. Beneath your feet, perhaps awaiting excavation, are the remains of the original church.

Access: coastal trail, short walk from bus routes 4 & 9

Standing high and lonely, Holy Cross Church dates to the 11th century and its location, outside the centre of the village, suggests it had close associations with Quarr Abbey and quarries.

Look out for the sheela na gig (a lewdly carved gargoyle intended to ward off evil spirits) on the stone gateway. The bellcote contains a pre-Reformation bell thought to have come from the original, now ruined, Cistercian abbey at Quarr.

The graveyard is oddly fetching, overlooked by huge mature trees and hosting some impressive tombstones. The pick of these is that of Thomas Sivell, who was mistaken for a smuggler and shot by a customs officer in 1785. His epitaph reads:

All you that pass pray look and see/ How soon my life was took from me/ By those officers as you hear/ They spilled my Blood that was so dear.

Access: Bus route 9 via Staplers, On Station road, half a mile south of Wootton Bridge.

A trip on the restored Isle of Wight Steam Railway represents a glorious step back into yesteryear.

The service was opened in 1986 (the original station, dating to 1876 stood on the other side of the road). A trip also connects to the Ryde-Shanklin Island Line railway at Smallbrook Junction (you can buy tickets that are valid for both services).

The railway station is located just half a mile south of Wootton Bridge, services run March-October with additional, seasonal dates during Winter.

3 miles (return); 90 minutes.

A gentle walk along pavements and footpaths links Wootton with the Isle of Wight Steam Railway with the chance to break the stroll with a bite to eat at Briddlesford Lodge Farm.

A 1.5-mile linear walk leads from Wotton Bridge via the Isle of Wight Steam Railway to Briddlesford Lodge Farm and back.

From the High Street, walk up Station Road and soon after bear left up Packsfield Lane (N8). Cross the steam railway line and bear left along N7 uphill to the junction with the footpath N4. By Woodford Cottage turn left along N3 to reach the Briddlesford Road. Cross with care (this is an extremely fast road) to reach Briddlesford Lodge Farm. Return the same way.

You really should not miss this fascinating working dairy farm, which combines 120 milking cows and 200 head of cattle with a small museum, and an excellent farm shop and café.

The family-run Briddlesford Lodge Farm began in 1923 when great-grandfather, Charles, founded ‘The Briddlesford Herd’ with just 15 guernsey cows. All the cows on the farm are descended from the original 15 and they now rank as some of the best performing pedigree guernsey cows in the world.

The farm shop is run by 4th generation Louise Griffin and opened in 2005. It showcases dairy products from the herd but also stocks IOW food and produce from across the island.

‘The dairy industry has been through difficult times,’ says Louise, recalling how the farm has developed. ‘We had to make a decision about what to do – but we couldn’t sell our cows, they’re our history, and a part of our family. Two years ago we invested heavily in our new milk processing dairy, and we now process all of our milk on site into high quality fresh milk, cream, butter and 5 different cheeses. We have won many awards for the quality of our products, including a gold at the world cheese awards for our cheddar, and 5 great taste awards’.

Engagement with the public is a key part of the approach of the owners.

‘It’s about re-connecting the consumer with food and farming and educating them about the wonderful produce from the island.’ Says Chris Griffin – café manager and partner in the business.

‘Welly Wednesdays’, and school visits are part of the experience. Chris organises these guided tours, allowing schoolchildren and adults alike to explore the farm. ‘It’s become hugely popular, particularly in the school holidays.’

Access Bus Routes: 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 37, Downs Breezer, Island Coaster

The town of Ryde has an unusually high concentration of artists and not only hosts the Ryde Carnival – the oldest carnival in the UK, dating back to 1887 and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria — but Ryde Arts, a year-round programme of exhibitions and events.

Ryde hopes to achieve Cittaslow status, an accolade accorded to communities of fewer than 50,000 residents which can demonstrate a critical mass of low-impact activities, ranging from community engagement to local produce that can be visited on foot or public transport. The movement grew out of the slow food phenomenon and more than 260 towns around the world have achieved the status.

‘Ryde is unique, it’s quite quirky,’ says Carol Jaye, chair of Ryde Arts. ‘It’s somewhere you can question your ideas of what art is about. Perhaps it’s to do with the make-up of being part of an island. We don’t have as many distractions as you would on the mainland, so we have to be creative – to be active, rather than passive. Perhaps the less you have, the more imaginative you become. Maybe you need to be a bit solitary away from all the busyness, the metropolitan grit.’

Although she no longer exhibits her work, Carol is a good example of this approach: both a potter and a painter, she digs up her own clay from the Island’s beaches, rolls it very thin so it can function as a canvas and paints with egg tempera once its been fired. 

You’re extremely unlikely to have encountered any porcelain pottery that resembles the works produced by Sue Paraskeva: shallow bowls and cups appear clamped together, like a bunch of mussels on the seashore, while larger vessels have rakish splits or indented, uneven sides to them.

Sue’s creations are made when she literally drops them on the floor or wallops them. They are then fired, which dramatically alters them in both form and colour (check out videos of Sue doing just this on her website). The creative process is laborious and involves 12-hour days. Sue uses a natural gas kiln as it can add a bluey white hue to the pottery that is impossible to achieve in an electric kiln.

While many pieces are suitable for display on dressers or hanging from walls, much of it is extremely practical and can be used on an everyday basis. This includes turret-like cups with a dipping lip that mimics the shape preferred by fishermen (they tend not to spill in high swells).

‘My first altered piece came about because a mate literally knocked a piece off a shelf. It landed on the tiled floor and the dent had a lovely imprint of the tile,’ she says.

‘The wheel has always had a big draw for me,’ she says. ‘Even at college we were told there was never enough time to learn how to use it. But it’s quite magical, there’s this lump of clay and you spin it around, you put your finger on it and it becomes a bowl.’

Visits welcome by appointment.

Textiles are at the forefront of artist Abi Wheeler‘s work which includes the production of tactile objects through hand knitting, quilting and stitch.

‘It’s an instinctive medium for me,’ she says. ‘There’s a lot of artists here who are understandably inspired by the natural environment but I’m interested more in the industrial side of things, things that are functional and specifically designed for where we live. There’s never a shortage of ideas, it’s more about trying to find a coherent way through those ideas.’

Abi grew up on the Isle of Wight and feels that the separation from the mainland, in those distant days before the Internet, helped to nurture distinctive and original talent across the Island. ‘The detachment was helpful for me. At school we didn’t have the same range of experiences and options available in Portsmouth and other cities and towns but when I look back on it, there was a liberating experience of not having the pressure to conform and that applies to being a designer and an artist too. A degree of separation is good.

Abi also helps manage art classes for people with dementia and is passionate about the positive effects of creative engagement.

Everyone loves a stroll along a pier and Ryde’s is certainly part of the town’s architecture. But have you ever walked underneath one or wondered what you might find if you did?

Thanks to the high tidal range along this stretch of the Solent, Ryde’s pier juts out into the waters around the Wight more than most and this means you can follow the tide out and have a look beneath the pier. What you might find there could surprise you.

At the far end of the pier you will find the sponge garden, where the joists, pillars and foundations of the pier are smothered in sea life. ‘It looks tropical, people say they have never seen anything like it,’ says Ian Boyd of Arc Consulting.

You will also find beadlet anemones along with pikefish (resembling seahorses) in the eelgrass. Look around and you may see marine sticklebacks, tiny daisy anemones which close up when you approach along with larger dahlia anemones. ‘Built structures likes piers just pack the wildlife in for your attention,’ says Ian.

The beautifully laid out woodlands of Appley Park pull away to the east of Ryde. The design shows the hand of Sir Humphry Repton and represent the remaining segment of a much wider parkland he devised in 1796.

At the far end of the promenade, where the path turns inland towards the village of Seaview, you will find strands of ancient woodlands where some of the oaks have been in place for at least 400 years. In between stands the folly of Appley Tower, built in the form of a castle tower with a turret and an external staircase.

‘If you want to really appreciate a tree, then climbing one and dangling 50ft above the ground is a good way to do that,’ says Paul McCathie, owner of Goodleaf Tree Climbing.

The tree in question is a magnificent 200-year-old English oak standing just back from the sands in Appley Park. After a safety demonstration on how to ascend using up using  rope and harness, you’re free to go.

‘You ascend under your own steam,’ says Paul. ‘You’re by yourself, unlike rock climbing where you are belayed by someone else. You have the rope to yourself.’

Paul encourages anyone with an anxiety about heights to consider giving tree climbing a go. ‘There’s no pressure, you go at your own pace, you can set the goal where you want it; that can be just the first branch off the ground.”

Paul is a trained arborist and set up the company after becoming disillusioned with a profession in which, he says, he was ‘asked to cut down trees that didn’t need to be cut down or deal with trees that dropped leaves into someone’s drain.’

‘I got into being an arborist because I thought trees weren’t being looked after and they needed someone to fight their corner. I realised had to come up with a Plan B and tree climbing is a good way to connect people with trees, the care of them and nature in general.’

The half-timbered inn The Fishbourne is tucked away on the northern tip of the Island and offers serene views whether you stay here, dine, or just have a quiet drink in its garden-terrace.

The inn has five recently refurbished rooms. It is also within walking distance of the Portsmouth-Fishbourne ferry terminal and Quarr Abbey. Food features local produce and routinely makes it in the Good Pub Guide and picks up AA awards year after year. At least one local ale is usually on tap.