SUE SMITH sails across the Solent to enjoy a more relaxed pace of life on the Isle of Wight

“DO I need a passport for the Isle of Wight?” I asked my friend, who promptly collapsed laughing.

Well, we were crossing water I reasoned, but driving off the ferry in Ryde, known as the gateway to the island, I was struck by how familiar it all seemed — a bit like we had never left Blighty in fact.

“It’s like England back in the fifties,” someone had said when I announced I was off for a few days.

If that means fewer cars on the roads and peaceful, tree-lined streets then I would have to agree.

We were greeted warmly at the Dorset Hotel, just a short drive from the ferry port, by Flossie the cat, aka Furball, a permanent fixture in reception.

The Dorset is currently undergoing a major refurbishment of its 23 rooms to attract the 500,000 visitors who visit the island in the summer months.

With only seven hotels in the Ryde area with its great location offering six miles of sandy beaches, demand is high for cyclists and walkers who flock to use it as a base for exploring the rest of the island.

We checked in to The Victorious Suite, with its large black and white bathroom and plush velvet blue chairs. There was just time for a cuppa before heading off to find a venue for dinner.

A few minutes’ walk down the hill and we stumbled across the majestic Ryde Castle where the Prosecco was on special offer all evening. Result.

For those on a budget or with time restraints, take-away meals can be consumed in the bar area of The Dorset where the drinks are very reasonably priced, and there were a few people enjoying the home from home feeling on the night we arrived, as they ate in front of the giant TV.

There’s no standing to attention here. Guests are treated like old friends — and many of them are, judging by the thank you cards dotted around the lounge area.

The next morning, although we managed a fairly early start, we were pipped to the post for breakfast by a family of keen cyclists, kitted out in Lycra and polishing off their last crumbs before setting off to tackle the undulating landscape of the island.

First stop for us was the Garlic Farm at Newchurch. A tractor trailer ride gave us a tour of the farm and whetted our appetite before a slow exit through the gift shop.

“You spent how much in the garlic shop?” said my friend, jaw dropping to the floor. Yes I did get a bit carried away with all things garlic, including garlic-infused vodka which, hand on heart, hasn’t had much of an outing in my house since we tried it in a Bloody Mary and found the whole experience a bit odd.

From there we had a whistle-stop drive to the Bembridge Windmill, the sole surviving windmill on the Isle of Wight, built in 1700 and containing much of the original wooden machinery. It was presented to the National Trust in 1958. Next stop was the beautiful Botanical Gardens at Ventnor, followed by a quick lunch in Yarnmouth with a walk on the pier, where each plank of wood shows the name of the person who contributed to it financially.

Then it was time for the obligatory visit to The Needles - three white chalk rocks guarded by a 19th century lighthouse. There was indeed something compelling about them and had the mist lifted a bit, we might have been tempted to take the cable car ride down there.

Two nights here to do it justice was pushing it. One more and we could have done a more thorough sweep of the island but that said, we did get to see a lot of the stunning, rugged coastline and it is easy to get around as the whole island only spans 23 miles from east to west.

I told someone where I had been when I came home and their eyes started to glaze in that nostalgic, nice memory sort of way.

“We used to go as kids,” she said. “The best holidays ever.”

I can definitely see the attraction. Swindon to Portsmouth is just 1.5 hours by car. Hop on to a Wightlink Ferry and you can be on the island in 22 minutes.

And in those 22 minutes, there’s plenty to enjoy, as the mainland ferries have recently undergone some major refurbishment, with toddler play areas, DVDs and on board Greggs and Costa coffee to keep passengers occupied as they take in the stunning views of the Solent.

Fact file

The Dorset Hotel offers a three night package to include bed and breakfast and ferry crossing for just £125 pp at certain times of the year.

Standard prices are: £61.50 return for a short stay, travelling outbound between 8am and 9.59am returning at 4pm and 5,59pm.

For ferry information go to

For information on The Dorset Hotel go to

31 Dover Street, Ryde P033 2BW

Tel: 01983 564327.