Richard, one of our lovely Group Travel Organisers sent us a lovely piece about his group's holiday to the Isle of Wight recently, so we thought we would share his lovely review. The style of the review is fabulous, giving you a full insight into what a full UK holiday looks like with us!
"The Saffron Walden contingent of the holiday group departed Swan Meadows coach park at 08:15 on Saturday 4th June bound for Royston with eight members on board the luxurious, brand new Irizar coach driven by Winston, our driver for the holiday trip. The coach arrived at King James Way to collect the Royston group and at 09:00, 26 members of the Royston and Saffron Walden National Trust Association set off on their short break to the Isle of Wight.
The weather was cloudy and cool, but more importantly, it was dry. The first part of the coach journey took us, via the A1, onto the M25 where there were some rain showers. At 10:20 there was a comfort stop at Cobham services where the group were also able to buy a coffee and get something to eat. After 25 minutes the group rejoined the coach and we were on our way, via the A3, towards Portsmouth where we would board the ferry for the crossing to the Isle of Wight, calling at Petworth House and Park on the way.
Petworth House, modelled in a French baroque style is set in the stunning rolling countryside of Sussex and contains world-famous collections of sculpture, furniture, and art, of which one of the most notable are the paintings on display by JMW Turner, some of them of Petworth Park and the lake. Some of the most talented craftsmen of the period decorated the house, including the woodcarver Grinling Gibbons, about whom we were given a short presentation in the room where some of his carvings are on display.
The park at Petworth, with its serpentine lake, is the work of ‘Capability’ Brown as is the Pleasure Garden which was designed during the second half of the eighteenth century. Brown, in his usual way, removed the formal features that had previously existed and created serpentine paths and an informal planting style. Brown also placed the Ionic Rotunda, providing stunning views of the surrounding countryside, and the Doric Temple, a memorial to Henry Scawen Wyndham, in the Pleasure Garden The effect of Brown’s design is to provide a peaceful and beautifully scented area in which to wander. The Audit Room café, where group members could have lunch, served hot and cold drinks, light lunches, and delicious cakes and scones.
We departed for Portsmouth at 14:00. Our ferry for the sailing across the Solent to Fishbourne on the Isle of Wight was named the Elizabeth of Wight. We set sail at 15:25, the sea was calm and it was sunny with a light breeze. Group members could sit out on the deck and enjoy the sunshine, or enjoy the view from the lounge. Having docked at 15:55, the coach disembarked the ferry and we were then en route to the Trouville Hotel in Sandown to check in for 4 nights' dinner, bed and
breakfast. We were given a welcome cup of tea or coffee and a brief talk which provided details about the hotel and after time to rest and unpack, dinner
was served at 18:40.
Our driver, Winston, had already brought the coach round to the front of the hotel ready for a 09:30 departure on an island tour. Our guide was Kevin who was already on the coach. As we set off, Kevin provided some interesting statistics about the Isle of Wight, one of which was that the island is the smallest county in England – when the tide is in! When the tide is out, Rutland takes up the mantle of being the smallest county. Having driven through Lake, which you can walk through without getting your feet wet (another of Kevin’s anecdotes), we were heading for Shanklin, a seaside resort which has an architecturally interesting theatre, and some very pretty thatched cottages in Old Shanklin. Next stop was Ventnor, famous for its invigorating air. The resort was famous as a place of recuperation, Karl Marx was a resident for a period of time, and the town also boasts glorious views of the sea and the coast. Whitwell was the next town on the tour,
famous for its springs and for containing the oldest public house on the island, The White Horse Pub.
At St. Catharine’s Point is the famous lighthouse, and the next village we drove through was Niton, known as ‘back of the Wight’. Niton was a famed area for smuggling and other nefarious activities such as ‘wrecking’, where ships laden with merchandise were deliberately lured onto the rocks, wrecked, and the goods were stolen. From Niton, the coach joined the Military Road (built by Napoleonic prisoners of war) heading towards Tennyson Cliffs and Freshwater Bay, and from
where there were more wonderful views along the south coast of the island.
At 10:30 we arrived at the Needles Leisure Park where the group had their first stop. Members had half an hour in which to view the magnificent Needles rocks and take photos from a viewing platform. Just behind the viewing platform is a memorial stone which marks the site of the Marconi Wireless Station, famous for many telegraphic inventions and achievements, and from where, most notably, the first telephone call was made. Members returned to the coach and it was at this point our guide, Kevin, gave us a memorable and moving description, written by a soldier, of the sight of many ships passing by the Needles Battery heading for France and the DDay Landings. The day was 5th June 1944.
The next tour stop was Totland on the way towards Yarmouth with its busy and interesting harbour. We then headed inland to Newport (population of c. 25000) which is the capital town of the Isle of Wight. Here is situated HMP Isle of Wight, a category B high-security men’s prison, set across 2 sites, Albany and Parkhurst. The next coffee stop was at Cowes, the famous yachting centre which hosts the annual Cowes Regatta in August, where your reporter enjoyed a cheese omelette and coffee at ‘The Place to Eat’ café.
At 12:50 the coach left Cowes and headed inland again to Newport where the group enjoyed a scenic journey back to the Trouville Hotel. The afternoon was free time for members to enjoy a stroll in Sandown, and perhaps sit on the promenade with ice cream!
Osborne is really too lovely. Charming and romantic and wild as Balmoral is – there is not that peaceful enjoyment that one has here of dear Osborne – Queen Victoria – in a letter to Princess Royal, from Osborne – July 20, 1858. As ever, our wonderful driver Winston had the coach ready and waiting for us to board at 09:30
on Monday 6 June for our day trip to Osborne. Osborne was Queen Victoria’s favourite residence. Built between 1845 and 1851, it was designed by Prince Albert as an Italianate villa and is preserved very much as it was left when Victoria died in 1901. The rooms have an intimate atmosphere and it is not difficult to imagine Victoria and Albert sitting at their desks, side by side, attending to affairs of state, or visiting their children in the nursery where three cots are lined up in a row! The room in which Queen Victoria died has an especially sad and moving air to it. Monday was a beautiful sunny day and after visiting the house, many people made their way to the Palm Terrace with its wonderful views across the Solent, where much-needed coffee was available.
There is a stunning tree-lined footpath which leads down to the beach at Osborne Bay and this was a favourite haunt of Victoria and Albert and their children. From here, the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth can be seen. Victoria’s bathing machine is on display here, placed on the original concrete runners which led down into the
water. Refreshment is available from the Beach café and on this perfect sunny, breezy afternoon, a romantic walk along the historic beach is derigueur. A walk up to the Swiss Cottage, ice cream from the van, a walk back to the house, and tea and a date slice rounded off a delightful visit.
A busy itinerary, the timings of which had taken a great deal of working out, was planned for Tuesday and a 09:00 start was required. The first visit was to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway at Havenstreet. By this time, our driver Winston was getting used to the navigation of the narrow lanes and sharp bends required to get the group to the various venues booked on the trip, and the route to Havenstreet was no exception. The weather was dull and it was raining, however, we had a fantastic journey on the steam railway, one way from Havenstreet to Smallbrook Junction (where the steam railway connects with the modern island electric railway) and then back down the line to Wootton. It was exciting to see the train being run round for each leg of the journey. There was time to visit the shop, museum and café before re-joining the coach for the onward trip to Brading Roman Villa.
The road up to Brading is little more than a track and Winston had previously realised that the very large coach he was driving would not be able to access the site. It was, therefore, arranged for a taxi to transport the less mobile in the group from Havenstreet to Brading and this worked well. The rest of the group was dropped off by Winston and walked up the track to the site. We had a guided tour of the archaeological remains of the villa which was extremely interesting. The mosaics are
beautiful, even in their faded glory, and must have been stunning when newly laid. The remains have been left as the Victorian archaeologists found them, with restoration work carried out only on flood-damaged areas.
At 14:30 the taxi passengers left to meet their transport at the entrance, and the other members started the walk down to the main road to meet the coach. Winston was waiting with the coach at a bus stop pull-in and everybody was safely aboard. After the excitement at Brading, the next stop was the Botanic Gardens at Ventnor where members called in at the tea room for liquid refreshment and (in this case) lemon drizzle cake. There are many different areas in the Garden to explore, too many for a short visit, however, hydrangea dell and the South African terrace still had many gloriously coloured and scented blooms to enjoy. Built on the site of an old hospital, the garden has its own micro-climate and subtropical and exotic plants thrive out of doors here.
It was up early on Wednesday morning, cases out by 07:00, breakfast, and then on the road at 09:00 heading for the IoW ferry after saying goodbye to the staff at the Trouville Hotel. The weather was sunny and breezy and we arrived at Fishbourne at 09:30 and joined the queue for the ferry. Our ferry for the return crossing was named the Victoria of Wight and the weather was again sunny with calm sea conditions. Many members sat outside on the sun deck to enjoy the journey through what is an incredibly busy shipping lane.
At 11:15, after disembarking the Victoria of Wight, we were en route to Basildon Park, a National Trust property at Lower Basildon, near Reading, for our final visit of the trip. It was here that Winston faced his most momentous challenge, getting the coach through the extraordinarily narrow gates of Basildon Park, a task that he achieved with tremendous skill, dignity, and aplomb despite there being little more than an inch of space on either side of the coach. Basildon Park was purchased in the 1950s by Lord and Lady Iliffe when it was facing almost certain demolition after it was de-requisitioned following the Second World War. Basildon Park has been used extensively for filming (Downton Abbey, Pride and Prejudice) and filming is currently taking place. Members had lunch in the tearoom and then dispersed to explore the house and gardens. The view from the balcony garden across to the rolling hills of Berkshire is glorious.
All too soon it was time to head home. Richard, our tour leader, thanked Winston for his driving skills, his friendliness, but mainly his jokes! Rufus Barnes, our chairman also gave a vote of thanks to Richard Priestley for organising such an enjoyable and interesting holiday, and presented Richard with a book on Roman mosaics, much to Richard’s delight! And then it was homeward bound, first to Royston for the drop-off there, and then on to Saffron Walden."