There’s something very special about catching a ferry. For me it goes back to my childhood when the family would always start the summer holiday by driving aboard in Dover.

So, although we were only spending a weekend away, driving onto the Red Funnel Ferry in Southampton meant I was on holiday and my spirits instantly soared.

In fact, we squeaked in with two minutes to spare and were literally the last car on.

Maybe it was the over-elaborate waving gesture from the fellow guiding us aboard, or perhaps it was just because I was pleased to make the 3pm sailing and knew I’d be driving into the Cowes’ sunshine just an hour later, but I already felt elated.

It’s a good few years since I visited the Isle of Wight and my wife Julia had never been so we were both fascinated to see what we would find.

First we found a seat in the bar for a drink and I plugged my laptop in to send some emails but I was far too fascinated by the view out the window to get anything done.

It is only 60 minutes across the Solent and I enjoyed every minute – ferries have improved massively and even on a short crossing like this the staff make sure your every need is catered for.

Once off the ferry I set the satnav to find the venue for our first evening on the island – The Royal Hotel in Ventnor. Within half an hour we were parked in the hotel car park and checking in. It has a fantastic location sitting, as it does, up above the town. It takes just five minutes to walk down to the art deco-style Winter gardens and the beach.

Moments later relaxing in room 3 with an Isle of Wight gin in hand I gazed through the window as the sun set across the ocean.

The Royal is a truly superb place to stay. It is the perfect blend of luxury and old world charm.

Built in 1832 and renovated with real style it is said to be Queen Victoria’s favourite spot in the town.

Approving of her choice we adjourned to the bar for a pre-dinner drink and enjoyed the live pianist playing a wide variety of music – he even accommodated a keen four-year-old with brief renditions of Twinkle, Twinkle and Bob the Builder.

Dinner was a sumptuous affair. Perhaps this was to be expected in a Two AA Rosette restaurant but the attention to detail and service was second to none. The range of food offered was matched by the quality – Julia chose a Royal favourite and went for the beer battered fish, with triple cooked chips and crushed peas. I opted for the loin of venison, smoked potato croquette, root parsley, mustard greens and port jus. This is hotel dining at its very best.

After a restful night, during which I insisted the window was slightly ajar so I could fall asleep to the sounds and smell of the sea, we awoke to a sumptuous breakfast.

Following a very special smoked haddock and hollandaise sauce I knew I had to tackle some exercise before lunch.

We set off in light drizzle, by the time we’d driven the few miles to Yarmouth it had turned into cats and dogs.

Fortunately we’d come prepared so by the time we arrived at Wight Cycle Hire we were dressed head to toe in waterproofs. The warmth of John’s welcome made up for the weather and he soon had us set us up with everything we needed. Julia opted for an electric bike and we headed off along the disused railway to start a great few hours in the saddle. There was no way the rain and mud was going to put us off enjoying the wonderful scenery and wildlife as we pedalled south to Freshwater.

The End of the Line café looked incredibly inviting but the downpour had abated and we were keen to make the most of the break in the weather.

We had planned a stop at Farringford House which looked absolutely fascinating but drenched through and covered in mud we weren’t sure how happy they’d be to see us and we were running out of time.

I did manage to stop for just a moment or two to buy half a dozen eggs at a little stall on the roadside – you just put your money in the box – I loved this old-world charm and the boiled eggs were brilliant.

Back at the old station it was time for lunch and we were treated to something special at Off The Rails. Located right next to Wight Cycle Hire this must be the perfect place to stop when you’ve built up an appetite.

The old station has been beautifully renovated and styled to look like a railway carriage. But, the food and drink is nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced on a train. This is quite superb food, beautifully presented in a wonderful venue. Julia tried the fish burger, which looked incredible and tasted even better. I felt I needed a lighter option and went for a gourmet sandwich. I can, however, report that the Furnace sandwich, with steamed chicken, avocado and smoked bacon, was superb too.

This is a unique dining opportunity in a spectacular restaurant so if you can get to Yarmouth to try it then you really should.

The welcome and the good food meant we stayed a little longer at Off The Rails and although we did drive to Alum Bay and The Needles the driving rain meant we really didn’t have the time, or the inclination if we’re honest, to give this landmark the attention it deserves.

Instead we headed back to West Cowes at the north of the island and North House where we were staying on Saturday night.

A Grade II listed townhouse, this wonderful venue in the heart of the town has been superbly renovated to retain all the important original details but, at the same time, provide guests with all the extra luxury they could possibly wish for.

With 14 great bedrooms on offer it is the perfect size to deliver a personal service with all the best home comforts in an incredibly professional way.

With a restaurant, private dining room, bar, library, garden and an outdoor heated swimming pool it is the perfect base to explore this fascinating town.

Having settled in and enjoyed a drink in front of the hotel’s roaring log fire we were treated to an evening meal at its sister restaurant in town, Coast Bar and Dining Room.

The restaurant was buzzing and very popular. Julia went for the risotto and I chose a wood fired pizza – both were excellent.


Red Funnel operates regular services between Southampton and Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The vehicle service between Southampton and East Cowes takes just 55 minutes and costs from £44 for a day return and £56 for a short-stay return for a vehicle and up to seven passengers. For more information see

Make a reservation, log on to or ring 01983 852186.

Well worth a visit

To book or for more information visit or call 01983 761800. for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

A great place to stay in Cowes 01983 209453

For more information about the IOW log on to:

The following morning, after breakfast we headed to the Cowes Floating Bridge to take us from the west of town to the east. However, it wasn’t running as it had broken a chain the night before.

This breakdown turned out to be a real bonus as it meant we decided to take a longer drive.

First we headed off to visit the island’s Garlic Farm – it’s incredible what you can make from garlic, I even bought some beer.

From here we drove to Bembridge Beach and then worked our way right round the coast all the way back to East Cowes.

Here we were booked into the Consort Restaurant, Albert Cottage Hotel for Sunday lunch. I started with the swordfish and had the local sirloin of beef for a main, followed by the cheesecake. Without any doubt I can put my hand on my heart and say you will not find a better value, top notch Sunday lunch anywhere.

The service was fantastic, the food superb and the prices incredible. The menu is in the process of being redesigned so do yourself a favour and get along to the Consort Restaurant – it alone is worth the ferry crossing.

Following lunch we just had enough time to pay Osbourne House a visit. During winter months only part of this great house is open to the public but it is still well worth taking a walk round. And, at this time of year you won’t face the crowds, but you still get the excellent guides, all resplendent in Victorian dress to explain all the finer details.

We made the return ferry with a little more time to spare and to conclude a great trip we decided to try the signature lounge for an extra tenner. For this you receive the best seat in house, panoramic views of the Solent, enhanced Wi-Fi, complimentary hot and cold drinks and refreshments, dedicated bar and food service and a host of other indulgences. It’s well worth the investment. And the sunset at 5pm was spectacular.

It was a fantastic weekend away enjoying all the very best things on offer on the Isle of Wight. We enjoyed great food, great drink and a wonderfully warm welcome. I’m not sure it has been quite as good for our waistlines, though we did at least work some of it off with a morning’s cycling.

A Saturday of torrential rain was followed by blue skies and crisp sunshine on Sunday – the weather may have been mixed, but two days on the IOW couldn’t have been better.