Starting mileage: 15154 km
Day started: 10:30 / 10:00
Day ended: 20:30 / 21:00
One of the unexpected discoveries of this journey so far is that if any Italians want to move to a Northern country, they could do a lot worse than England’s south coast. And nowhere is it more visible than on the Isle of Wight, which sports a
substantial Italian community.
With its tomatoes, garlic, wine and rapeseed oil in place of olives, with its mild, warm climate, and its narrow, winding Alpine serpentines, it’s no surprise that the inhabitants of the boot-shaped peninsula have been enjoying “the Victis”
for almost two thousand years.
There are Roman remains everywhere along this coast, none greater than the mighty walls of Portchester Castle looming over the Portsmouth Bay, even more complete and imposing than those at Pevensey, though its history is not as violent – for
the last period in its active life, Portchester was simply Richard II’s hunting and sailing lodge, the remains of which are now the only bit of the castle requiring a ticket (or EH membership) to visit.
In the car park of Portchester we spent most of day 5, waiting for a spare condenser to replace the one we had blown, it seems, all the way back in Brighton. Because of that delay, we had to skip visiting Portsmouth that day and go straight
A TV ad we saw on the ferry ( large vessel with 3 car levels) made us rethink the next day’s schedule. Crab on chips – that was something we could not miss. The next morning then we went straight to Ventnor – at least we tried to.
The isle is criss-crossed by a network of tiny, narrow roads, often running through avenues of old oak and beech, forming green tunnels along ravines and faults in the ever-moving chalk that forms the bedrock. A mistake in GPS reading led us down one of such avenues, at the end of which there was the famous (as we learned later) Garlic Farm of Wight. It was one of the most bizarre experiences so far – it really is a giant farm of garlic, with several native varieties grown in large patches in the shadow of a pine grove; there is a shop full of garlic, a garlic cafe, and naturally, they have garlic ice cream, which is nowhere near as bad as it sounds! (produced by the Minghella family, who seem to have a monopoly on ice cream making on the island – part of the Italian community mentioned earlier). Their chutneys and garlic mayos are to die for.
We did get to Ventnor eventually, murdering our engine on the steep approaches up and down the landslide-prone cliff the little town is precariously perched upon (the town’s ironic motto is “we live near the sea – nearer every day”). Ventnor is famous for two things: its climate, the sunniest in England (although we wouldn’t have guessed it on the day), resulting in the cliff-side being overgrown with almost African vegetation and a botanical garden which boasts plants flowering in every season of the English year, and crabs.
The crab on chips, sold from the pier-based shed of the Ventnor Haven Fishery is as simple a dish as you can imagine: a large portion of freshly picked crab meat on hand-cut thick chips, with some salt and vinegar. You can hardly think of a way to improve it.
On the way from Ventnor to Ryde we found ourselves for a moment in a hobbit village: Shanklin Old Village is a cluster of old thatched stone houses which are unbearably quaint, cute and English.
There are two fast ways to reach Portsmouth from Ryde; the afore-mentioned hovercraft is admittedly cooler and slightly faster, but it gets you to the “wrong” part of the city – Southsea. Getting the catamaran, on the other hand, not only involves getting to the head of a wooden pier either by car or by train – certainly unique – it also takes you straight into the city centre, next to the Historic Dockyard which was our target for the evening – after Ventnor. We didn’t really get the best of it – but with the previous day’s delay, we had to make do; the Mary Rose Pavillion was already closed, the HMS Victory was under renovation and had most of its masts and ropes removed, most other places were already closing down by the time we got to them. The ironclad HMS Warrior, however, was impressive, as was the dazzle-camouflaged WWI monitor in the dry dock. And for the military buffs, there is clear view of the modern ships in the Royal Navy harbour just beyond the fence; we were only a few weeks late to see off the Ark Royal on its final journey to scrapyard.
The Portsmouth Harbour railway station was another tinge of nostalgia for us: every day when commuting to work, at Clapham Junction we would pass the trains heading for the mysterious “Portsmouth & SS, and ferries south”. This day, at last,
we saw those trains arrive at their final destination – and go back into London. It’s been almost a week since we started the journey, and we could still just get on a train and be at Victoria within little more than an hour.
We opted instead for the catamaran back to the island.
Rosemary Vineyard is a working vineyard and orchard (whites, reds and sparkling
wines, ciders and ales locally brewed) which has a tiny, but level, campsite in
its grounds. It’s only £12.5 per night, which includes toilets and showers, free
visit and tasting to the vineyard, and a metered hookup. Here’s where we’ve
discovered how most campsites rip us off on electricity: it’s usually £3 per night
to get a hookup, regardless of how much we actually use. On a metered one, we’ve
used maybe 40p over two nights. If possible, then, it’s best to use a site with an
Rotor arm, ignition points and condenser replaced by AA.