- Travel - Accommodation - Tourism
Known as 'The Garden Isle', this
jewel of England indeed resembles a diamond in shape
- being some 23 miles west to east, from The Needles
to Bembridge, and 13 miles north to south, from Cowes
to St. Catherine's Point. This, the smallest, and perhaps
the most geographically diverse, of England's counties
covers just 147 square miles and is bounded by about
60 miles of coastline. Within this watery border of
the Solent to the north and the English Channel to the
south lies 'an England in miniature'.
The natural processes of deposition,
folding and erosion
during the last 120 million years have resulted in the
rich variety of the Island's surface geology.
The clay soils in the north and mainly sandy loams in
are bisected by a chalk spine running west to east
across the entire Island, and reaching 240 metres
(787 feet) bove sea level at its highest point on
St. Boniface Down. The resulting and kaleidoscopic
contrasts in the Island's scenery encompass open
downland, beech woods, conifer forests, grazing land,
wide sandy beaches, sheer chalk cliffs, rocky coves,
creeks and estuaries.
The resident population of about
150,000 is concentrated in the main towns of the Island,
all of which are coastal except for Newport - the county
town at the literal centre of the Island.
As a contrasting locality, the
unrivalled opportunities for geographical study.
There are three rivers on the Island, all flowing from
to north. In the centre, and almost dividing the Island
the Medina rises at its source on St. Catherine's Down.
From here it flows north, to be
joined by one of its tributaries,
the Merstone stream at Blackwater, before continuing
lazy meandering until it reaches Newport Quay, where
As it continues on its journey
northwards, both banks are
lined with marine-related industries and businesses,
service and manufacturing, while the river itself is
with its water-borne traffic of working and pleasure
The river reaches the Solent at
its mouth where the twin towns of Cowes are sited. This
estuary is about 17 kms from the source of the Medina.
The Island's longest river, at
27 kms is the Eastern Yar,
which also has its source on the southern chalk outcrop
of St Catherine's Down. From here it flows north-east,
through the small town of Wroxall, before slicing through
the Island's central chalk ridge at Brading, and then
meet the Solent at Bembridge harbour - the mouth of
Eastern Yar estuary.
The third, and shortest river,
at only 3 kms is the Western
Yar which has its source in the salt marshes only a
hundred metres inland from Freshwater Bay - almost
making the West Wight an island in its own right. From
here it flows north to its mouth at the busy harbour
of Yarmouth. Like its sister river in the East Wight,
the course and estuary of the Western Yar boasts reed
beds, an abundance of wildlife, an old railway causeway,
and outstanding scenery.
Your visit to the Island will
introduce you to both familiar and different transport
systems. The motorway or train on the mainland will
be followed by the ferry - the first experience for
many children of a 'real' ship and the sea. However,
there are a variety of cross-Solent forms of transport,
aside from the ferries which ply between Lymington and
Yarmouth, Southampton and Cowes, and Portsmouth and
Fishbourne. These include hovercraft (Southsea to Ryde),
passenger catamaran (Portsmouth to Ryde & Southampton
On the Island, a modern electric
railway operates between Ryde Pier and Shanklin, using
former London Underground stock. There is also the chance
to travel back in time on the Island's steam railway,
based at Havenstreet, and connecting with the modern
line at Smallbrook Junction. By way of further contrast,
there is a crossing of the
River Medina between East and West Cowes via one of
the country's few remaining 'floating bridges', which
painstakingly heaves itself to and
fro by its chains.
There are over 500 miles of roads
on the Island, and almost as many miles of well- sign-posted
footpaths and bridle-ways made up of more than 1,400
separate public rights of way - offering ready access
to both coast and countryside
The Island displays an enormous
variety of settlement types, characterised by the main
strands of the local economy - namely tourism, farming,
and light industry - as well as a significant proportion
of the population being retired. This has resulted in
a mixture of historic and modern developments, ranging
from small harbour towns to busy ports, seaside resorts
to market towns, and secluded rural villages to modern
Tourism is very important to the
Island's present economy and future prosperity. During
the summer season the Island's population is increased
10-fold by the influx of visitors - both long-stay and
daytrippers. Consequently, the associated service industries
and businesses are important seasonal employers. The
Island's strategic planning both reflects and recognises
the major role that tourism plays in the economic well-being
of the Island.
Both agriculture and horticulture
benefit from the favourable climate and fertile soils
and are also important to the Island.
As well as being employers they
are also a major influence on the appearance of the
Island's countryside and its ever-changing environment.
The Island sends most of its produce to the mainland,
but it is sufficient in its own supply and production
of milk and fresh vegetables - characterised by the
predominance of dairy farming (mainly in the north,
and chiefly Fresian and Holstein breeds), and market
gardening (particularly around the Arreton Valley).
The greatest proportion of arable land (mainly in the
south) is given over to winter wheat and spring barley.
Grass and fodder crops account or over half of the
agricultural area, which supports the dairy, beef and
sheep farming communities.
Light industry (particularly electronics
businesses, the construction industry and associated
trades, and marine- related firms (such as boat-building
and sail--making) constitute the third leg of the
Island's business economy. Although the Solent poses
certain problems for Island Industries, local businesses
have adapted to the special requirements of an island
economy, while above national average unemployment
and the seasonal nature of many jobs remain as causes
of concern to the Island and much of its population.
Surrounded by water, the Isle
of Wight can be said to have
a climate of its own. With relatively mild winters,
annual rainfall of 76 cm (31.74 inches), and high light
intensity, the local climate borders on sub-tropical
and allows many Mediterranean-type plants and trees
(even vineyards) to flourish in the open air. The South
Wight is particularly blessed in this respect, and Sandown,
Shanklin and Ventnor (the main seaside resorts on the
Island's south-east coast) regularly top the British
league for recorded hours of sunshine.
The Isle of Wight, being relatively
small and populous, generates a considerable number
of environmental issues, chiefly relating to the competition
for resources. The essentially tranquil and rural nature
of the Island is threatened by the needs of economic
wealth manifested in both commercial and residential
development. The driving force of wealth-generating
tourism in particular can often be at odds with the
need for the conservation and protection of wildlife
habitats, areas of Special Scientific Interest, designated
areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and land managed
by the National Trust. Marine pollution is another 'muddy'
issue, as is the old and often argued question of a
'fixed-link' to the Mainland.
Such issues characterise this
jewel of an island as it acknowledges, and tries to
reconcile, the needs of both its resident population
and seasonal guests.