Saturday September 15th 2012
Ahoy landlubbers! This is a report on a trip we undertook to the Isle of Wight in September 2012. I am typing this up in 2020 during lockdown so I have no doubt forgotten plenty about the holiday. I will post a few chunks that have somehow remained in the memory bank and, hopefully, this will form a tale of drinking in taverns endowed with a rich seafaring heritage. The Isle of Wight's pubs may not boast the buccaneering legacy of nearby Portsmouth but on Vectis, with its treacherous coastline, there is a rich heritage of selfless valour and assiduous nautical endeavour. However, the question we had to answer was whether this spirit still prevailed within the walls of watering holes once frequented by hardy fisherman and robust lifeboatmen who put sail in perilous waters, or whether the invasion of "overners" from the North Island had diluted the character of the boozers. In other words, was the prevailing wind that of bountiful jugs of Stingo or was the shoreline a case of Southern sophisticates sipping Sancerre?
Our visit to the Isle of Wight was to be a two-wheeled exploration of the island so we undertook a bit of 7 P's [proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance] before setting off. We were not intending to visit every pub on the Isle of Wight as we wanted to combine some sight-seeing and cycling adventure. Lawrence Wilson's book on the island was most informative in terms of contextual setting and historical background. The local CAMRA branch had also outlined much information on the island's pubs on their Wightwash pages. This was a little out-of-date but still very handy when determining a shortlist of taverns worth further investigation. Accordingly, we butchered our OL29 OS Explorer Map as we mapped routes, plotted pubs and pasted historical information in order to save carrying guidebooks. The most palpable element of perusing the map was the worrying number of contours that were hideously close to one another. The riding was clearly going to be lumpy bumpy and I viewed the prospect of hauling our boxer dog over the climbs with a little foreboding.
Our journey south to the Isle of Wight meandered a little in order to enjoy a sojourn through the New Forest. As we were approaching the forest, we had a bet who would be the first to spot a wild pony. In the end, it was a case of there's one, oh there's another, blimey there are five, oh wait a minute, here comes a bunch of them, to hang on a minute ... you can't move for wild ponies. It's equine ecstasy. Another reason for heading to the forest was to enjoy a beer in the Royal Oak at Fritham, a historic thatched tavern at the end of a quiet lane within the forest.
Forming part of a working farm, the Royal Oak run by Pauline and Neil McCulloch is thought to date back to the 16th century. The village itself is just a scattering of cottages. Indeed, the visitor would not imagine that, until the 1920s, Fritham was the location of the Schultze gunpowder factory. One hundred people worked on a site, of which just the superintendent's and gatekeeper's houses remain. Another surprising fact about Fritham is that, from a village with a small population, four men went down with the Titanic in 1912.
As we rolled along the lane towards the Royal Oak we thought it would be fairly quiet but when we arrived it was clear that, on warm sunny Saturday at least, everyone comes out of the trees and the pub is rammed. Some people have driven to the pub but most seem to have cycled. Thirsty ramblers turn up for a welcome pint and some drinkers even arrive on horseback! Most folks are happy to sit in the sprawling beer garden - and with the forest forming the perfect backdrop who can blame them? However, we wanted to soak up some of the pub's atmosphere so nabbed a table in the bar.
The Royal Oak is a nice old pub. A recent refurbishment has combined old and new timber which will look great in about fifty years time. The interior is still a pleasant place in which to savour the excellent beer on offer. The ales are served straight from the cask on a stillage behind the servery. Despite the resurgence in the popularity of real ale, few pubs store and sell cask beer in this fashion. Of course, I wish there were far more as we'd be all the richer for it. In the above view of the stillage, the beer on the left which I wish I could have tried [but had to drive] was Upham Stakes from another brewery local to the pub. The beers we did try were perfect and cost £3 per pint which is not bad for a pub close to the south coast. Ales sold in this fashion are a lot easier to manage, saves on pipe cleaning and simply looks good and is a talking point. Come on landlords and landladies, let's have more beer straight from the tap.
I had not quaffed a beer from the Stonehenge Brewery for a few years so was delighted to find their "Eye Opener" on sale. The citrus and spicy flavours of this ale were superb. The Venerable Bead then enjoyed the Itchen Valley IPA whilst I sampled the house beer. I think the Royal Oak Bitter is produced for the pub by Downton Brewery.
Some may describe the food as basic but it is absolute perfection. Ploughman's, quiches and pork pies form the basis of a single-page menu. Other pubs could learn a lesson from this place. The McCulloch's endeavour to use as much local produce as possible. For example, almost all cheeses on offer are produced nearby by Mike and Judy Smales on their farm just outside Nomansland, further north in the forest. Using local free range eggs, all the quiches are homemade. The award-winning pork pies and sausage rolls are produced by Upton's of Basset, rated one of the top five butchers in the country. When available, the Duck Breasts are cured and smoked in Cherry Wood at the Royal Oak. The gammon is cooked and honey roasted in the pub's kitchen where they also make their own paté. Dishes are served with freshly-baked bread, jars of real ale chutney and cider mustard.
Needless to say we fell in love with this pub. We later learned that, in 2009, the Royal Oak was awarded the "Best Country Pub" in Britain by The Good Pub Guide. We'd go along with that. Indeed, if we lived within an hour or so of Fritham we'd be pointing our bikes in the direction of the Royal Oak on a regular basis. Calling in at The Royal Oak was a most excellent start to our holiday.
We sailed to the Isle of Wight on the Red Funnel service from Southampton to East Cowes. As far as I can tell they have four boats, Eagle, Kite, Falcon and Kestrel, rotating across the Solent in order to ferry tourists to-and-from the island. The vessels are a bit shabby but they do the job. Interestingly, it costs twice as much to sail to the Isle of Wight as it does to make the crossing from Dover to Dunkerque. Dog owners have to sit on deck so I am not too sure how folks cope in January - they probably have to chisel customers off the seat at the other end, along with pouring a kettle of hot water over the pooch. Even in late September the wind is bracing. We sat on deck and got our heads blown off in the breeze. No wonder Cowes is home to sailing - there is enough wind here to fill the breeches of Johnny Fartpants.
We based ourselves at Milk Parlour Cottage, just to the north of Godshill. Originally the milking parlour of Lower Yard Farm, this proved to be a good central location for cycling to all parts of the island. Visiting during the tail-end of the season, we thought we would be OK without bothering to book up for dinner on the first night of our holiday. However, the Pointer Inn, a Fuller's house at Newchurch, was packed to the rafters, though co-tenant Rachel Burrows is very polite and professional as she informs you that you have zero chance of a table and to sling your hook. Consequently, we made a note to return to this popular tavern and headed for the Dairyman's Daughter at nearby Arreton.
After finding the Pointer Inn full we telephoned ahead to check that they had a table spare at the Dairyman's Daughter. They had tables to spare and when we arrived we could see why ... it is a very big pub! It was dark by the time of our arrival so things may look different in the light but, by heck, this seemed a bizarre place. It is a theme park with a bar-restaurant. Despite the old enamel advertisements for fags and soap, the type you see at preserved railway stations, the place felt like a fake western town. Having seen Yul Brynner in "Westworld" I was kind of worried, so I shoved a Colt 45 down the back of my trousers before walking inside. As it turned out, the clientele were a fairly anodyne crowd. The place felt like a holiday camp with families chomping their way through meals with chips. Or, it would appear in some cases, chips with chips.
The Dairyman's Daughter is part of a local chain that includes the Bargeman's Rest in Newport and the Steamer Inn at Shanklin. The bar's name commemorates Elizabeth Wallbridge - click here to read more about the wife of Oliver Cromwell's grandson. Considering that the "Dairyman's Daughter" is a story of spiritual enlightenment, I'm not too sure that the name of this bar is entirely appropriate. I cannot really call it a pub, though in fairness to the proprietors, they have made a half-decent job of it. And it would appear they spent a considerable sum of money on the place. Plus it is great to see a bar billiards table. I also quite liked some of the exhibits on display in the Dairyman's Daughter. There were a number of old slot machines, the sort in which you slide an old penny in and, by skilfully directing a ball bearing, try to win your penny back. This evoked memories of a machine I played as a youngster on the pier at Weston-super-Mare. The machine paid out packets of Polo Fruits and I figured out how to win every time. I was stacking up so many packets I was giving them away to a crowd that had gathered around me. The buzz of excitement alerted the management who sent over a couple of heavies wielding spanners that looked like they had just been used to undo the wheel nuts of a tipper lorry. An ugly scene ensued during which I quickly filled up my pockets with a month's supply of Polo Fruits before doing a runner for the shoreline!
The beams of the building support a vast array of accordions and squeeze boxes - I could almost hear a sea shanty coming on. The site's impressive display of old enamel advertisements continues inside the bar; our favourite being an old Cycling Touring Club sign. On the ceiling there is a large advert for W.B. Mew, Langton & Co. Ltd., a 'lost' brewery founded in 1873 at nearby Newport. We started our I.O.W. drinking with the locally-brewed Yates' Undercliff Experience, a beer supposed to have lemon kick amid the bitter finish but, unfortunately, this example was a bit flat. We switched to another of the island's brews by ordering Goddard's Fuggle-Dee-Dum which was OK but not dazzling. We would later find that this beer was the most widely-available of the local beers and the quality varied considerably from pub-to-pub. The bar of the Dairyman's Daughter also served some very average examples of Ringwood Fortyniner and Best Bitter. It wasn't a great start to the boozy bit of the holiday. On the plus side, the bar sells a large selection of meals and the standard is not too bad for pub fodder. They serve very large portions for £10-12, though we would have been happier with £8-9 with smaller portions. I could have done with a smaller portion of the Cobra Blues Band, a combo booked for Saturday's entertainment. A shocking version of "Route 66" told us it was time to hit the A3056. I couldn't help but feel that we should have been in the nearby White Lion, the surviving historic hostelry of Arreton. The village once had a Red Lion further along the road, a pub subsequently converted into cottages. We made a mental note to come back to the White Lion for a balanced view of Arreton.
Sunday September 16th 2012
On Sunday we teleported to the Sun Inn at Calbourne from where we could embark on a journey around the south-western section of the Isle of Wight. Although anticipated from prior map research, it soon became noticeable that there is little flat territory on the island; you are either pedalling three-penny bits up a long hill or rolling down the other side. There's no relaxing on the way downhill as one can generally see the next climb out of the valley or chine. I normally enjoy hill climbing on a bike but pulling our boxer dog in a trailer adds an extra 55lbs to the weight to be hauled up the slope. Still, the effort works up a thirst for a beer!
First things first, we took the dog to the beach so she could get it out of her system. She enjoys riding in her trailer but looks forward to her free runs at regular intervals. So we headed to Brook Bay in order for her to play in the sea. Libby is an old boot now so it was poignant to witness another two year-old boxer, full of beans, running around begging her to play. I think Libby was envious of the athleticism of the younger dog. We didn't realise at the time but this would be the last holiday we would enjoy with her.
Despite access being relatively easy, Brook Chine and Brook Bay appears to be one of the lesser-visited beaches, though we were near the end of the season so perhaps this is not the case in high summer. Brook is an attractive village. From the church up on the hill the chine has been landscaped alongside some ribbon development and opens out at a green where the old lifeboat station still stands. Many lives were saved from the time the station was established in the mid-19th century up until its closure in 1937. Interestingly, the door faces inland but this was so that it could be opened during a fierce storm. From Brook Chine we pedalled a short distance to Shippards Chine, a part of the coast that attracts a large number of visitors. The key attraction is supposed to be the dinosaur fossils though lazy arses who can't be bothered walking down the steps to the beach focus more on the erosion of the car park. Above you can see Shippards Chine's disabled parking facility, or whats left of it! By the way, we would be back in this area very soon in order to visit the Sun Inn at Hulverstone.
From Shippards Chine we followed the Military Road overlooking Compton Bay. There are excellent views of the rugged coastline as you head towards the famous Wight Cliffs. The contours on the map told the tale that there was a steady climb up to Compton Down. As we neared the bottom of the climb I spotted a cyclist up the road who had got shipped out of the back of a small group of club riders. Maybe, I thought, I could bridge up to him. I was pulling the dog trailer but I was feeling good. It was a fairly breezy day with a slight chill in the air but I soon warmed up as I stamped on the pedals with some gusto. As the gradient increased I looked up. The gap was coming down. This encouraged me to give it full gas and I slowly reeled him in. Just before the crest of the hill I came up alongside him and bade him "Good Morning." He looked across. Then he looked down at the dog in the trailer. This destroyed him. He had been overtaken by a bloke on a shopping bike hauling a dog up the hill. But then I thought to myself : The poor chap, it will be a long time, if ever, before he gets over this. I think that the dog even felt a bit sorry for him.
We descended off Compton Down to Freshwater Bay. Having cycled along a gravel track to what looked like the main entrance of the Sandpiper's Hotel, we discovered that we were at the tradesmen's door or the arse end of the building. This made the Sandpiper's about as inviting as the forlorn-looking Albion Hotel. Besides, I had read beforehand that the old Edwardian interior had been ripped out in a recent refurbishment so it would have been hard to witness the 'contemporary' furnishings installed in its place. Instead, we cycled along The Causeway and across the beautiful Afton Marsh Local Nature Reserve which presents one of the best scenes of the island's interior. An open expanse of water, reeds, ducks, and the magnificent tower of All Saints' Church forming the backdrop. I can think of no better place to drop in a quote from John Hillaby who wrote: "Few things are more pleasant than a village graced with a good church, a good priest and a good pub." I have no idea whether the vicar is a good egg, but Freshwater certainly has a very fine pub next to its elegant church.
We pedalled up the slope from Afton Marsh to the Red Lion at Freshwater. It was Sunday lunchtime and the place was heaving. I have been cycling with our dog in a trailer for a number of years so I have got used to people pointing at us as we sail by. To me taking the dog for a spin seems a perfectly natural thing to do. However, to many folks the sight of a boxer dog being trundled along the road makes them go all gooey-gaga. Accordingly, as we rolled up to the front of the Red Lion many faces suddenly appeared at the windows as people pressed their noses against the glass to glimpse Libby in her chariot. Some people actually came outside for a close-up. Over the week, our four-legged cyclist became something of a tourist attraction on the island. She was photographed by locals and holidaymakers so many times I was beginning to feel a little empathy for Alfred Tennyson who was pestered by tourists when he lived on the island. And here we were in the town he made his home for a number of years. The poet laureate endeared himself to the local populace as he would often chew the cud with ordinary folk across the garden gate, showing an interest in the lives they led. It is highly plausible that he walked into the Red Lion from time-to-time to enjoy a jar of ale.
The history of the Red Lion Inn probably dates from the period when The Causeway was constructed across Afton Marsh which provided an important inland communication link to West Wight. Until the late Elizabethan period, the land to the west was, at times, an island, particularly at high tide. Before the opening of The Causeway, passage across to the west was only possible via Freshwater Gate to the south or via the ferry from Yarmouth to Norton Spit. The Red Lion may have evolved into a stopping point for horses pulling waggons and carriages across the island. Its main competitor in earlier times was the Mermaid Hotel at Freshwater Gate. Henry Corney was mine host at the end of the 1820s. In 1839 both the Albion Hotel and Red Lion Inn were operated by Barnabas Plumbley, who later kept the Freshwater Bay Hotel.
The Red Lion has been altered over the decades and the exterior looks to date from late Victorian times. In more recent years, somebody has taken a sledgehammer to the walls that divided the building into separate and distinct rooms. However, the Red Lion's interior remains pleasant and maintains some sense of victualling custom. Flagstone floors, hotch-potch furnishings around scrubbed tables. We later learned that some folks on the island consider the Red Lion to be expensive but, looking at the chalkboards, it didn't seem particularly more for a meal than many other pubs and if it is good then perhaps it is worth paying a little extra. Clearly, it is a popular place for diners and the Red Lion was voted Isle of Wight Best Pub by the Wight Good Food Guide 2010. We tried to book a table later in the week and were turned away so they are onto a winning formula by the look of it. Today however we had different plans for lunch so we simply parked outside for a beer.
The pub was selling Goddard's Fuggle-Dee-Dum but I opted for the Yates' Best Bitter. Little did I know that I would not see this 3.8% session ale again all week. If I had known this I would have been tempted to stay all afternoon as it was fantastic. Superbly kept and served bright, this beer has a subtle fruitiness with a delicate hop bitterness to finish. A perfectly-balanced beer, this was a true highlight of the week. Nothing short of 10/10. The brewery responsible for this wonderful beer was founded in 2000 by Dave Yates, a former brewer at Burt's Brewery which closed in the 1990s. He started off with his 5-barrel brewing plant at the St. Lawrence Inn at Ventnor. His beers were immediately successful and in 2004 the brewery scooped a bronze award at the Champion Beer of Britain awards. In 2001 his son David joined the business and concentrated on developing a wholesale drinks company to operate alongside the brewery. With the company's increased business, they moved to larger premises at Newchurch.
We sat outside the front of the Red Lion so that we could enjoy a view of All Saints' Church and, in particular, the beautiful tower with a 13th century arched doorway and window. Recorded in Domesday, the church is thought to have some remains of a Saxon chapel that was reconstructed in the 12th century. I have developed quite an interest in churches - maybe because, like public houses, many are under threat and many have closed. The wonderful thing about churches is that they are all so different and the furnishings differ greatly. Pubs used to be like this back in the day. That is until big breweries and pub companies thought it would be a great idea to try and make them look and feel the same. Indeed, the Isle of Wight has not been spared of some horrific pub refurbishments and I will be looking at some of these in detail on our travels.
Lord Tennyson, who was buried in Westminster Abbey, has a memorial inside All Saints' Church. The war memorial also has two Tennyson names, that of Captain Alfred Aubrey Tennyson and Navigating Sub-Lieutenant Harold Courtenay Tennyson, both of whom were grandsons of the poet laureate. All Saints' is not the only church in Freshwater. Hallam, the 2nd Baron Tennyson, donated the land on which the Church of Saint Agnes was built. And this is where we cycled to next for it is the only thatched church on the island. Designed by the architect Isaac Jones and utilising stone from an old farmhouse near the Red Lion Inn, the church was consecrated in 1908.
OK, I am going to admit that, as I was looking at the thatched church, I became more interested in a corner structure facing the church. It is a bit of busman's holiday thing spotting former pubs and a habit that probably drives those who cycle with me to distraction. Anyway, the building on the corner of Blackbridge Road was the former Stark's Hotel. The building adjoined a parade of shops that once included a grocery store and chemists. It was established by John Stark who, in the late 1880s, billed it as a family and commercial hotel and posting establishment. In 1927 Stark's Hotel was run by Charles Orman who was also a butcher. The pub was later operated by Mew's.
W. B. Mew, Langton & Co. Ltd., were based at Crocker Street in Newport. Brewing on the site can be traced back to the 17th century but the modern company was not founded until 1814 when Benjamin Mew and his partner James Cull were the occupiers of the premises. The business was continued by Benjamin's son William Baron Mew. In 1873 he formed a partnership with Walter Langton. However, the Mew family remained firmly in control of the business which later passed to Francis Templeman Mew, grandson of the co-founder. Following his death in 1922, the company passed to his son Francis Joseph Templeman Mew. The business was not restricted to the island and, by the mid-1960s, the brewery's tied estate comprised of 200 public houses and 20 off-licences around the Isle of Wight, Southampton, Portsmouth and Lymington. In 1965 however W. B. Mew, Langton & Co. Ltd. was acquired by Strong & Co. of Romsey. Three years later Strong's were themselves bought out by Whitbread after which the Newport brewery ceased production.
On the way up to the Church of St. Agnes we pedalled along Camp Road where another former pub can be found on the corner of a lane called New Village. The former Star Inn has a date of 1895 along with a large star painted on the building. Funny that, as I have seen a reference to this pub in a trade directory dated 1889 in which Mrs. Jane Denham is shown as the licensee. Clearly therefore the pub is older than the date displayed on the building. An old postcard of this pub shows that it was once an outlet for Allsopp's ales. The New Inn, another former pub in the parish since converted into a holiday cottage, can be found at Norton Green. This was also run by the Denham family in the Victorian period. Some of these pubs may have been supplied by John Emberly who was a maltster and brewer in Freshwater in the 1880s.
Having enjoyed our time in Freshwater, we made our way up the climb along Moon's Hill. We enjoyed a slight respite to look at two former lime kilns on the side of the road. These were once thought to have been ice houses. In fact, a certain Robert Walker excavated these in the late 1800s and rather wildly espoused that they were evidence of a Phoenician settlement on the Isle of Wight. We cycled past the High Down Inn as we were on a mission. However, before I whizz past mentioning the place, I ought to point out that this would be a good port-of-call for those walking the downs and visiting Tennyson's monument. Fresh local fish and seafood is served with real ale in this traditional-looking establishment.
Unfortunately for the High Down Inn, we intended to fill the cash register at Warren Farm in order to enjoy some cream tea. Visiting cafés forms an important part of cycling club runs and, combined with my love of a good pint of beer, I should be the size of a double wardrobe - it's the pedalling that helps to keep things in some sort of proportion. Anyway, before our trip to the Isle of Wight, I had read on Trip Advisor that the cream teas at Warren Farm were the "best on the island, if not England." Now, how can you resist such a claim? No pressure then for the ladies baking and serving!
The caption for this photograph should be something along the lines of "if you think I am making do with Markies whilst you pair tuck into cream tea then think again!" As usual, we caved in to her begging eyes and gave her some of the savoury scones. Anyway, as it turned out, the reviews for Warren Farm weren't far off the mark - the cream tea was magnificent. I almost had to turf Libby out of her carriage in order to transport the huge scones to our table. These come with nice big portions of jam and clotted cream. La Goddess du Vélo meanwhile had the cheese scones served with Lyburn cheese and date chutney. This was also awarded top marks. So, if you find yourself on the island head down the lane by the old coastguard's house for a superlative cream tea that will be enjoyed in tranquil surroundings.
Fully fortified at Warren Farm, we headed for Alum Bay where tackiness prevails on quite a large scale at the Pleasure Park. However, hidden in the complex behind the bus stop is a bar-restaurant that has recently traded as The Pantry. This was once the Royal Needles Hotel. It is not the original as that edifice burned down in 1910 and a replacement was erected shortly afterwards. In the late 1830s the earlier hotel was run by James Groves. It was from the hotel that, in December 1897, Guglielmo Marconi made the first successful radio transmissions. Continuing with his pioneering work, he erected a 168ft mast in the grounds of the hotel. The proprietor attempted to cash in by putting up the Italian inventor's room rate but this forced Marconi to move to another site within the bay.
Once in a blue moon cyclists get to laugh in the faces of motorists and at Alum Bay the joy is priceless. Drivers are forced to pay £4 for a parking space at the pleasure park and then the vehicle's occupants are faced with a long walk up the hill to the Old Battery overlooking The Needles. I reckon there are countless numbers who have given up before getting halfway, finding some excuse why they didn't want to see the rocks anyway. Or they get so far they simply have to press on but then realise it is the same distance back to the comfort of the car. Cyclists however get to ride all the way to the end of the road for free! The gradient is nice and easy until you get to some devilish switchbacks that make you think you're on Alpe d'Huez. But once you are up the views are fantastic.
The excellent quality of the road surface to the Old and New Battery is down to the fact that the site was used to test rockets in the cold war years. Over 240 boffins used to work in the concrete buildings that have mostly been claimed by the elements. The first lighthouse was erected on top of the Downs in 1785. This was hardly effective in poor visibility and work on a replacement built directly on the rocks was started in 1859. According to legend, The Needles took its name from a slender rock, locally dubbed "Lot's Wife." that once formed part of the formation but collapsed into the sea in 1764. However, a Dutch painting of the period has cast doubt on the actual shape of the rock - either that or Lot's significant other was rather plump. Three men, doing shifts of two months on and one month off, used to staff the lighthouse but it has been automated since 1994. We had read up on Lord Palmerston's Follies before our trip so didn't visit the Old Battery but this is probably worth a visit if you find yourself at this extremity.
The ride back down to Alum Bay is lovely and from the road you can appreciate the different colours of the cliffs for which the place became famous and developed into a tourist attraction. You are not allowed these days, but in the bay's halcyon days people used to pay for a bottle and then fill it up with layers of different coloured sand - you've probably seen the sort of thing I am on about when you visit your grandmother's wondering what that thing is on the mantlepiece. There is a geological explanation for the colouring on a number of websites so click away if you are curious. The bay's earlier name of "Whytfylde Chine," suggests that Alum was produced here in earlier times. The compound was a principal constituent in paper making, cloth dyeing and leather tanning. Alum Bay once had a pier but a storm caused considerable damage in 1927 and the iron landing stage suffered a long agonising death. The remains were still visible in the 1960s.
We pedalled off in the direction of another ailing pier at Totland Bay. There is a sharp drop downhill to the pier and, as ever, one thinks about climbing back up again! It was heading towards tea time when we rolled towards the pier and we had the whole bay to ourselves. There is a sorry-looking chippy at the beach end of the pier and the proprietor's eyes lit up when we rolled down the hill. He had probably been waiting for a customer for several hours. Whilst keeping his merchandise warm, he'd no doubt solved the cryptic crossword. Mind you, by the look of things he'd had time to figure out the answer to life and everything. When he realised that we weren't ordering he stuck his head in the deep-fat fryer and begged us to turn up the gas.
The old lifeboat station still stands down the other end of Totland Bay. If you think that there is a level of iniquity with the government not funding the air ambulance, then this building serves as a reminder that it was ever thus. The money required to open a lifeboat station at Totland Bay was raised by the local Sunday school children in 1870. We rode along the seawall to take a look and this became a theme for the rest of the week - it was blissful gently rolling along seafronts with the sound of waves lapping on the beach or crashing up against the sea wall. We headed in the direction of Yarmouth but, being gluttons for going up-and-down hills, we went to take a look at another forlorn-looking pier at Fort Victoria, the location of a mid-19th century fortification forming one of many to defend the Solent and coastline. Built on the site of an earlier fortress, the military complex remained in use until 1962. Today part of the fort forms a Country Park that houses an underwater archaeology centre, a planetarium and a model railway.
It was late by the time we got to Yarmouth. We'd had a fantastic day and this means falling behind schedule so we decided to come back later in the week. The town looked interesting and we felt we couldn't do the place justice in half an hour. However, there was just enough time to sneak into the Bugle Inn, a 16th century building that was re-fronted in the 18th century. It is thought that it is not the original Bugle on this site, though it is not known exactly how many preceded this structure. If, as it is claimed, a hostelry dates back to medieval times, it is likely that the French destroyed the place, along with the rest of Yarmouth.
There are a couple of taverns with the Bugle name on the Isle of Wight. It is suggested that the reason for the popularity of the name is because a wild bull is a supporter of the arms of Henry Beauchamp, 1st Duke of Warwick. He was crowned King of the Isle of Wight in 1444 by his childhood friend King Henry VI. It is said that the King wished his lifelong friend to be on a more equal standing. The term bugle is derived from the Latin "buculus," for bullock. A link that seems a little tenuous but what the heck! Isaac Butler was the licensee of the Bugle Inn during the mid-1840s when it is claimed that it was a coaching inn. However, the only conveyance noted in trade directories for this period is that of John Legge's "Spring Van," for passengers and goods, which started out from his house. Some mail was delivered inland but most letters at this time arrived by steam packet. George Cleary was the hotelier in charge for much of the early 20th century.
The Bugle is certainly well appointed. We felt a bit scruffy as the interior retains some sort of dignified ambience. There were few customers and a very young barman who looked like he was possibly approaching puberty. Sharp's Doom Bar and Goddard's Fuggle-Dee-Dum were among the six beers on offer. I am not sure why it is the Fuggle-Dee-Dum which is the most prevalent of Goddard's ales. At 4.8% it is not a session ale so perhaps the Scrumdiggity should be the most widely available. And yet it was almost impossible to find the latter on sale during the week we visited. The Fuggle-Dee-Dum was pleasant enough but I do not find it refreshing. It's more like a beer with which you round off the evening. Or perhaps it was just the batch that I sampled which seemed to have these qualities.
From the Bugle Inn we pedalled off in the direction of the Sun Inn at Calbourne. We followed a pleasant route through Thorley, Wellow and Newbridge. This pub was rebuilt for W. B. Mew, Langton & Co. Ltd. following a fire in April 1894 that destroyed the old thatched tavern that stood on the junction. It was thought that the fire was the result of the upsetting of a lamp. At the time the pub was kept by a Mr. F. G. Piper but when the new pub was erected the licence was granted to Thomas Beard.
The Sun Inn overlooks Westover Cricket Ground. I don't wish to sound harsh but this place needs a little investment in both time and money. I noticed that although the pub has a space allocated for pétanque it looked like it hadn't been weeded for ages. The interior has some of the worst of 1970s rural pub trends and furnishing. The novelty of a model train operating on a track above the servery was however an amusing distraction.
The Sun Inn has not got a great track record in terms of fires. In this building during March 1953 a customer was injured when an explosion occurred in the fireplace of the bar. Mr. W. Tanswell was taken to hospital where his injuries were treated. He was sitting close to the fire whilst enjoying a beer with his friend, when an explosion, thought to have been caused by a detonator in the coal, caused damage to his thigh. The landlord, Mr. A. J. Harvey, had apparently had the coal in store for about two years. A window of the pub was smashed as if by a bullet. Mr. Tanswell and his companion were the only persons in the bar at the time which was, perhaps, fortunate as the Sun Inn was crowded during the evening when a darts match was played.
Three real ales were on sale, one of which is was Greene King IPA - so two really because this beer is not deserving of its name. We seemed to see it in loads of pubs on the island. However, it simply cannot be called an Indian Pale Ale as the title suggests so we simply refuse to drink it. We braved a half pint of Courage Mild which tasted odd. The other beer was Exmoor Gold which was OK but a bit tired. I suspect it had been on sale for a while. Being as it was Sunday we ordered some traditional Sunday dinners. This was combined with a pudding for £11 per head. Having pedalled all day we were hungry so we didn't mind too much that it was a bit like a school dinner. It really was. If I said that the Exmoor Gold was tired then our vegetables were completely knackered. On the plus side the banana sponge pudding and custard was very nice. I was all ready for classes and lessons again. The couple running the pub were very friendly so I feel a bit guilty for typing up some criticisms but I have to be honest with my reporting. An elderly couple made a fuss of Libby and then on the way out, said to the landlady "same again tomorrow night" as if they came here every night of their holiday and ate the same meal on each visit. They were probably named Howard and Hilda and had an Austin 1100 in the car park.
Spending less time at the Sun Inn that we had planned, we had time to address the previous night's oversight of not nipping into the White Lion at Arreton. Billed as a 200 year-old staging inn, the exterior of the pub is superb. It raised our hopes that we'd find plenty of history within the building but the place simply had the ambience of a chain pub with lots of generic memorabilia that you can find almost anywhere. Not that the interior was without soul as a quiz night was in full swing and the White Lion was packed. I suspect that the quizmaster was also the licensee and, if this was the case, he certainly knew how to work a crowd. He had banter to spare but remained professional throughout. In aid of the of the Earl Mountbatten Hospice, the quiz had, as is always the case, a table with extrovert numpties who think it is amusing to shout out witty answers to the questions, the sort of people who like to make a meal of going through the supermarket checkouts whilst wishing they were starring in some sort of docusoap entitled "The Only Way is Vectis."
Beer choice in the White Lion was also predictable. Greene King IPA and Sharp's Doom Bar were both present. I have already mentioned that the former, the weakest and most insipid of all India Pale Ales, can be found in many of the island's pubs but now is the time to point out that almost EVERY pub on the Isle of Wight has Doom Bar on offer. I can remember drinking Doom Bar in Cornwall during the 1990s and it was a beer to savour. Those were the days when it was produced in a small brewery and was not that easy to find beyond the county border. Now that it is owned by Molson Coors, some marketing bods have seemingly decided that this should be brewed in vast quantities and sold throughout the land. Indeed, not all Doom Bar is produced in Cornwall so a key ingredient is missing from the recipe! Like many once-mighty beers that have been marketed in this fashion, the very essence of what made it a great product in the first place has been lost somewhere along the line. The beer that was named after a sand bank at the mouth of the Camel estuary close to the brewery, and famed for being treacherous to ships, should perhaps carry a label warning of corporate treachery.
Talking of "if it ain't broke don't fix it," the White Lion's third beer has also suffered from a drop in tastbud zing of late. It is still possible to find excellent pints of Timothy Taylor Landlord Bitter but it is now so widely distributed to pubs that do not know how to store and sell it. Experts seem to agree that beer is best stored at 12 degrees Celsius [54 degrees Fahrenheit] but too many outlets seem to think it would be great to stillage their real ale in the same cellar in which they keep the fizzy lager. They then set the cooler to run at a ridiculously cold level. Result? A beer with little or no flavour and often a chill haze toboot. Funnily enough, this seems to be what my Landlord was like in the White Lion. On the plus side, the menu of the pub looks reasonable and they have promotions such as "all you can eat" curries for £8.75p on Wednesdays, whilst Friday night is Italian night.
Another positive is that a page within the menu does mention some history of the White Lion. The tenants claim that a small window in the corner of the bar area used to be a dole window through which the landlord used to pay the poor. The window starts at a high level so that the landlord could not see who he was paying. The sheriff would stand outside the window to make sure that the poor only got what was entitled to them and not a second helping. Delving into some records for the White Lion, I found that it was run by James Davidge for many years during the mid-19th century. He concentrated on his role as an innkeeper and took in a number of lodgers before extending into the grocery trade. In the 1880s Frank Woodford combined running the pub alongside his farming enterprise.
Monday September 17th 2012
We started Monday with a reconnaissance mission. From our cottage in Godshill we headed up the hill to Rookley to check out the menu at the Chequers Inn. Surprisingly, the pub was open at 09.30am and the servery had a massive breakfast spread. Apparently, this is available every day. There were only two punters in the pub so I wondered how they were going to shift the mountain of bangers and mushrooms.
Thought to date from the late 18th century, the building previously traded as the Star Inn. It is marked as such on a map dating from 1866. The Morris family kept the Star Inn in the early 19th century. Frederick Morris died on the premises in 1841. The name of the tavern had changed by 1885 as the house was named as the Chequers in a couple of inquests held within the pub. One case was the apparent suicide by Laura Attrill who had got into financial difficulties. It was concluded that she had taken a fatal dose of Strychnine.
In the late 19th century the Newport-based W. B. Mew, Langton & Co. Ltd. took over the Chequers Inn. In October 1887 they were offering the house with immediate possession. James Reynolds was an early tenant for the Royal Brewery at Newport. Indeed, the Reynolds family remained in charge of the Chequers Inn for many years. In the early 1890s James's eldest daughter, Mary, became the licensee and, along with her sister Bella, remained at the helm for nearly 60 years. Mary was a prominent member of the Girls' Friendly Society, a philanthropic body established by members of the Anglican church in 1875.
For a brief spell the pub fell under the umbrella of Strong's Brewery who had took control of W. B. Mew, Langton & Co. Ltd. However, they were hoovered up by Whitbread in the 1960s. It was Whitbread who made the decision to close the Chequers Inn during the 1980s. However, in 1988 the pub was saved by Sue and Richard Holmes, a local farming couple who, together with their son Mark, have been running the Chequers Inn ever since. We came back for a meal and a few beers at the end of our long day of cycling.
With the reconnaissance mission completed, we undertook the rather lumpy ride to Chale Green. We nipped into the village shop and were amazed to find that it was quite an emporium. Fresh bread and cakes, a deli counter, the post office and, well just about everything that a small supermarket would retail. There was even a good bottled beer section with Isle of Wight breweries well represented. The place was spick and span and the service excellent - oh why can't every village shop be like this?
Whilst Chale Green can justifiably be proud of their shop, sadly they have no tavern to which they can wander along for a pint and a natter. The New Inn is a distant memory and the Star Inn closed in the 1980s. Located on the corner of Town Lane and Chale Lane, the Star Inn was the tap house of Sprake's Brewery which operated behind the pub. The buildings have since been converted into flats.
Born locally in the 1790s, Robert Sprake established the brewery in 1833. Ten years later he was succeeded by his son Robert who was both brewer and beershop operator at what was known as Corner Cottage. In the mid-19th century he was joined by his sons Charles and Robert. Local folklore has it that the beers produced by the Sprake family were rather good and very popular. However, the family business was somewhat parochial and they only supplied a modest tied estate of public houses around the Isle of Wight. It was these properties that attracted the attention of Brickwood & Co. Ltd. of Portsmouth. In the autumn of 1928 they acquired Sprake's brewery, ending four generations of family ownership. The acquisition of the six Sprake pubs increased the number of Brickwood houses on the Island to 13.
Despite the fact that the brewery buildings had been expanded and plant renewed, it was found that the premises still preserved numerous relics of the old smuggling days, including a rusty candle lantern, which was used for signalling from the cliff to the smugglers at sea, and a cleverly constructed small pump, which was worked through a hole in the hearth stove to secure liquor from a cask hidden below whilst the family were seated in the chimney corner. The first brewers licence issued for the house had still been preserved. It showed that the Excise duty on beer at the time was 6d. per 36 gallon cask.
At the time of the takeover in 1928, Brickwood's announced that they intended to maintain the old brewery buildings as a malthouse for barley grown on the island. Brickwood & Co. Ltd. was another regional brewer to be mopped up by Whitbread in 1971.
From Chale Green we undertook another gentle rollercoaster ride to Shorwell, a very attractive village with another 'lost' pub. Located opposite the Post Office, the Five Bells closed some years ago. In the 1850s this was run by Frances Coombes. Naturally, the pub's name celebrated the fact that the tower of St. Peter's church features five bells, three of which date from the 17th century. The church consists of a nave with north and south aisles which is supposedly because there are three manors in the parish, all have which have fine houses. Talking of which, Shorwell has retained a fine pub.
Parking up the bicycles we were rather taken by the trout stream and ducks pottering around the large garden of the Crown Inn. The pub's website claims that the building "is believed to date back to the early 1700s" but it is more likely an 18th century building that has been extended in more recent times. Nonetheless, it is an attractive pub and very inviting. Isaac White was mine host for many years during the Victorian period. He and his wife Ellen incorporated a grocery shop within the building.
George Brading lodged at the Crown Inn whilst producing beer. He later settled in the village and worked as a maltster. However, it is a post-war publican for which the Crown Inn became quite a famous hostelry. Between 1947 and 1969 the pub was kept by Vivian "Nutty" Edwards who, it is argued, turned the Crown Inn into one of the first pubs that could boast an Island-wide trade. People would come to Shorwell to enjoy the bon viveur of this charismatic character. Nutty Edwards must have been dreamed of a life in show business but, with the Crown Inn as his stage, he would hold court with his customers, combining music hall entertainment infused with anecdotes of his army life and, in particular, tales of the Great Wall of China. Nutty Edwards also gained some notoriety as a window cleaner, a role in which he was accompanied by his dog Skipper. In later years he became a Chelsea Pensioner and no doubt got to entertain those in higher circles.
Our boxer dog Libby clearly liked the Crown Inn. She enjoyed cooling off lying on the flagstone floor of the bar. The Crown Inn is seemingly a pub that, once they arrive, licensees do not want to quit. The licence has only been transferred four times since Nutty Edwards handed over in 1969. Mike and Sally Grace kept the pub for 24 years before Nigel and Pamela Wynn arrived in 2007. Under their stewardship the pub appears to ticking over nicely. The Crown's interior is a pleasant environment despite a refurbishment to cater for modern wining and dining. We settled down with some Goddard's Fuggle-Dee-Dum which wasn't too bad, a lot better than the examples served in the Dairyman's Daughter two days earlier.
There was a distinct smell of sick around the kitchen area which could have been down to the fact that the pub's sound system was playing "The Wind Beneath My Wings," the teeth-gnawing version by Bette Midler that gets my hackles up - but not quite as much as a pub ignoramus. A couple entered the pub with a Labrador that promptly pissed the floor. The first rule of taking your dog to the pub is to ensure the tanks are empty before stepping over the threshold. The idiot on the other end of the dog lead didn't even volunteer to clean up the mess - little wonder that some pub owners are not keen to allow dogs inside their pub which, more often than not, is also their home. The poor barmaid had to come over and clean up the mess. She'd only just been despatched to deal with the smell of sick. At least the pub has a flagstone floor. Anyway, aside from such matters, I was quite impressed with the Crown Inn and wished that we'd made a second visit during our holiday. The menu, by the way, looked pretty good.
Our route from the Crown Inn at Shorwell meandered a little in order that we could look at the mill at Wolverton Manor and Yafford. This lanes here are wonderfully quiet and the cycling nice and easy. Dragonflies were darting around as the sun burst through the trees with the sound of a babbling brook interrupted by the tapping of a woodpecker. Can cycling get any better than this? It looked as though the mill had benefited from some restoration work which I believe was undertaken by Dick and Gilly Steele. The mill is private nowadays but around twenty years ago it was open to the public when the Clarke family owned the building and installed Kathleen Pettit as a live-in caretaker. A tiny tea garden was supplemented with a small shop selling products made on the site. The mill itself dates from the mid-18th century, though it probably replaced an earlier structure. Some brickwork and foundation stones are thought to date from the 15th century. Serving the local farming community, the business operated as a grist mill, producing ground food for livestock until the mid-20th century.
We cycled through Limerstone and headed west for Brighstone. We passed the Countryman, a large property located in an isolated spot half-a-mile from the village. The place looked closed and plants had started to grow above the windows. In terms of Back of the Wight, Brighstone is quite a metropolis and yet it was still a peaceful haven with butterflies dancing around the manicured gardens of thatched cottages whilst one could hear the sound of chinking bone china emanating from the tea rooms. You wouldn't think that we were in the heart of what was once smuggling territory.
We headed for St. Mary's Church, a fascinating building with at least 800 years worth of history. It is quite extraordinary that three of its former rectors were consecrated bishops and this fact is celebrated by the name of the pub. However, the Three Bishops was formerly known as the New Inn and the name change of 1973 is relatively recent. We pondered about having a pint in here but decided to press on towards the Sun Inn at Hulverstone before more boozing. However, due to local intelligence we came back to this pub. Later in the day we were told by one of the locals that the publican of the Three Bishops is something of a local legend. Apparently, he is a dead-ringer for the Gestapo officer out of "Allo 'Allo!" and has been dubbed Herr Flick by the locals. The German officer, sorry Brighstone publican, stands for no nonsense in his pub and bars people for swearing. Well, we just had to witness this for ourselves so we came back to Brighstone later in the week [click here for more details].
On the opposite corner of Warnes Lane stands the former Five Bells Inn, a building that now serves as a hairdresser's and the village shop. At one time the Hall family operated both pubs in the village. In the 1890s the licensee of the Five Bells Inn was Frank Buckett who was also a volunteer on the lifeboat named Joe Jarman. The local station of the Royal National Life Boat Institution was at Brighstone Grange, as that section of the coast was notoriously dangerous in the 19th century. It was in 1860 that the first boat was placed at Brighstone Grange. In November 1892 the Joe Jarman, the fourth boat stationed here, replaced the Worcester Cadet which was moved to Yorkshire. In just 30 years more than 300 lives had been saved by the boats stationed at Brighstone Grange.
There is a museum in Brighstone but the opening times are very limited and we were out of luck so we headed west towards Mottistone. If you feel like stripping down to your Mankini and dancing around waving a flagon of cider above your head then you should walk up to the hill above Mottistone where the island's only Megalithic monument can be found. Feral celebrations are often the order of the day around such ancient monuments - with advancing years, I often have to put up with being encircled by outlandish eccentrics sporting twigs in their hair who hinder my approach to the bar by wildly gyrating around me waving joss sticks. But I digress. However, if you do ever wander up to The Longstone, you can also have a mooch around the site of an iron age fort.
There was a road warning sign at Mottistone warning motorists of red squirrels. I must admit, being a sucker for squirrels, this is one of the things I really wanted to see on the island. No luck here for us, though we did find the village quite enchanting. The medieval church is quite remarkable for it is relatively small but inside there is much light and space. Most architectural boffins are critical of Victorian re-modelling of churches but, in this case at least, the Gothic tracery has bestowed the interior with an unexpected but uplifting atmosphere. It is said that the chancel roof timbers came from the wreckage of a Bermudan barque called Cedrene, which was smashed on the shores of the Back of the Wight only days after it was first launched.
Onwards and upwards to the Sun Inn at Hulverstone which sort of brought us back to where we were yesterday for the pub lies in the parish of Brook. Records of the Sun Inn stretch back to 1816 though its history could be earlier. The building is in quite an isolated position but it is recorded that Lord Mottistone approved of the pub being in Hulverstone as: "it meant the men would be sobered up by the time they got home, having walked in the fresh air back to Brook or Mottistone." Charles Wolfe, the pub's licensee in the mid-1850s, was also a leather collar and harness maker. Indeed, anyone running the Sun Inn during the 19th century would have had another occupation. Few visitors came to Hulverstone in those days and the Sun Inn's trade was almost dependent on locals nipping in for a glass of beer. Later in the century, the Mussell family also operated a small grocery shop from the premises.
There are stories of the pub's popularity in the post-war years and, particularly in the 1960s when Allan Elliman kept the Sun Inn. Locals still talk fondly of this jovial publican who was also a member of the cliff rescue team. Today, the Sun Inn has a large restaurant extension but has sensibly retained a bar by the old entrance. With flagstone floors and wooden benches, this is a very nice drinking room. It would be even better if it were still the original two rooms with a passageway between but the warming fire, flagstone floor and simple furnishings make it a pleasant place to drink. Today, of course, there is a servery but in days of old the publican would have to do cellar runs for his customers and bring it to the table on a tray.
On our visit the pub was selling Wychwood Hobgoblin, Charles Wells Bombardier and Greene King Abbot Ale but, with our palate fine-tuned for anything locally brewed, we dived into some Goddard's Ale of Wight. The brewery produce personalised pump clips for the Sun Inn which is a nice touch. We'd been cycling for a while in the warm sun so the refreshing pale beer was very welcome. So refreshing in fact that we stayed for another! The official tasting notes by the brewery states that: "Drinking lager is no excuse for bad taste when this stunner is on tap!"
We spent much of our time in the pub talking to a nice old bloke who shared some memories of the local pubs. He had lived over this part of the island for 31 years so was still regarded as a foreigner despite living all of his life on the Isle of Wight - and he was now 80! A regular drinker all of his life, he could recall many of the publicans and how the pubs used to look inside before they changed to cater for mass tourism. It came as no surprise to hear him mourning the loss of an old tap room or the conversion of a smoke room into a dining area. For example, he told us how the interior of the Wight Mouse Inn had been ruined and, after cycling along the coast, we saw exactly what he was talking about.
From Hulverstone we cycled down the hill through Brook and picked up the Military Road. This was relatively traffic-free during our autumnal visit but apparently is chock-a-block during the high season. A good alternative to avoid the traffic is to head inland at Grange Chine, cycle past Brighstone Mill and along Thorncross before meandering through Yafford and Atherfield. Just as you start to climb a steep hill you turn right at Pyle Hall Farm and down into Chale for the Wight Mouse Inn. Apparently this was a highly regarded pub in years gone by. We were told that the building used to have quite an individual character and was full of nooks and crannies. The building was formerly known as The Clarendon Hotel and used timbers from the wreckage of the ship of this name, a vessel that sank in 1836 at Blackgang. The Clarendon sank within ten minutes of striking land with a terrible loss of life. Eighteen of the victims are buried in the neighbouring churchyard. The disaster led to the construction of the lighthouse at St. Catherine's Point.
I was intrigued to see what the Wight Mouse Inn was like inside. However, the remarks by the old chap we met in the Sun Inn had dampened my enthusiasm. This was compounded by the sight of what is essentially a family restaurant that is so awful it could be any large pub restaurant in any town, such is the homogeneity of the refurbishment. The guilty party is Hall and Woodhouse of Blandford in Dorset. There is an excellent resource for dining out on the island at http://mattandcat.co.uk/ and on the page for this establishment there is a comment: "This is a perfect example of what happens when a national company takes over from a family run business. Give it up Hall & Woodhouse, come back John Bradshaw, all is forgiven!" Well, at least I could make up for this by getting to try out some Badger beer. Unfortunately, this was also lacklustre, bland even. Having lived in Dorset many years ago, I know that this beer can be good but the Wight Mouse Inn was selling beer of a very poor standard.
Almost all of the calories we had piled on by drinking beer were burnt off during the climb up to the viewpoint above Blackgang Chine! The view of the island's south coast is spectacular from this promontory. A canny ice cream vendor, realising that many walkers and cyclists would be in need of an energy hit after the ascent, had expanded into complimentary product lines by setting up car boot-like trestle tables offering a veritable array of snacks. It is a short walk up to St. Catherine's Oratory but the effort is worth it because the views are quite wonderful. On a clear day it is possible to see much of the island. Apart from some areas where cereals are grown, much of the agriculture is conducted on hilly ground so plenty of the hedgerows are still in place, thus providing one the best 'patchwork quilts' in Great Britain.
Dubbed the 'Pepperpot,' the tower of St. Catherine's Oratory looks a little like a medieval space rocket. Built around 1328, it was allegedly erected by a local landowner called Walter de Godeton. He got into a bit of a pickle when he bought the smuggled booty from the local fishermen who had fleeced a stricken ship off the coast. It turned out that the vessel was transporting casks of wine that originated from a French monastery. Consequently, the Church authorities were not best pleased with de Godeton and, as part of his penance, he was ordered to construct a lighthouse high on the land above the scene of the shipwreck. In addition, he was forced to pay for the upkeep of a priest who, in addition to maintaining a light in the tower, prayed for any souls lost at sea in the adjoining chapel. Only the tower of the building survives but it is possible to trace the remains of the chapel. One can only imagine what a lonely life the priest must have led. Standing on the hill I tried to imagine what it would be like on a freezing cold January night. St. Catherine's must have been regarded as a ghastly posting. The origins of the term 'sin bin' must surely stem from this barren windswept place!
As a lighthouse, the Oratory at St. Catherine's was always something of a folly because when it was misty the light could not be seen from the sea. Moreover, it was located too far from the dangerous rocks and underwater ledge so, by the time navigators noticed the light, ships were already in grave danger. Accordingly, following the disaster that befell the aforementioned Clarendon, a lighthouse was erected down on St. Catherine's Point. The lighthouse was operational by 1840, though it was built a little too high. With the light often shrouded in mist, the height of the tower was later reduced. The lighthouse was one of the first to be powered by electricity in the late 1880s. This provided light for a distance of some 18 miles.
It was a long way down quite a steep gradient to visit the lighthouse and the climb back up with the dog in the trailer was a bit of a leg cruncher. Still, a good thirst was worked up so, with a tongue hanging out like a bacon rasher - that was me, not the dog, we staggered into the Buddle Inn for refreshment. Folklore has it that the Buddle Inn dates back to the 16th century and is laced with more than a fair share of the island's smuggling history. Bearing an unusual inn sign, the pub is probably mid-late 18th century but perhaps it replaced an earlier tavern. The Buddle Inn has featured on postcards since Victorian times so it is a building with which I was quite familiar and was looking forward to finally having a beer within its walls.
Parking up the bikes, I was disappointed to see that the area in front of the pub was mostly made up of slabs. Old photographs of the pub show a neat walled garden with a model of St. Catherine's Lighthouse. The interior of the Buddle Inn however remains fairly good. The separate rooms may have gone but the massive fireplace helps to segment the room. Brasses, guns, pewters and horseshoes adorn the walls and low timbers. The servery is tucked away at the back and features a line of six handpulls, none of which are simply for show. Beer choice included Charles Wells Bombardier, the omnipresent Sharp's Doom Bar, Caledonian Flying Scotsman and a hand-written pump clip for Exmoor Silver Stallion. I once knew a pub landlord who refused to buy casks of beer from a company if they did not supply pump clips and I can see the reason why - I generally ignore them so I assume many a punter does the same. We delved into two of the ales on offer. Brewed just across the Solent in Hampshire and named after a fishing fly used for luring trout, the Andwell Gold Muddler proved to be a light refreshing beer and was just the ticket after tackling a hill fit for the Vuelta a España. The local beer was our first sighting of Yates' Holy Joe. We didn't see this again throughout the week and rather lamented the fact that we wouldn't get another chance to taste this spicy golden ale as it was rather agreeable.
From the Buddle Inn, it is still a reasonable climb up to Niton but we didn't get to stop and take a look around the village and enjoy a beer in the White Lion due to the light fading. This was another pub to go on the list of places we needed to return to later in the week. I took the above photograph on the way through the village to the lighthouse but by the time we returned to Niton village it was dusk. Our bikes are fairly well equipped with lights but the Isle of Wight's narrow country lanes really are dark and, although the lack of light pollution results in wonderful star-gazing opportunities, it is a bit scary to pedal at night.
Laden with beer bellies at Niton, we made it back to The Chequers at Rookley in little over 20 minutes - not too bad pulling a dog trailer. Who needs energy bars and gels when you have Yates' "Holy Joe" on tap!
The Chequers is in a relatively isolated spot but seems to enjoy decent trade. So, how does a sprawling pub survive in the middle of nowhere? Well, it goes down the route of many of the island's pubs. Turn it into something of a restaurant, upgrade the menu a bit and bung in activities for children to make it a family-friendly venue which will appeal to tourists whilst offering something for the locals too. If they stuck to the blueprint of a truly traditional pub they would be out of business in no time. It is all about covers these days. Personally, I thought the bar area of The Chequers was inadequate so was surprised to hear that a darts match was to take place later in the evening. This seemed a little at odds with the vibe of the interior. There was only one drinker propping up the bar. Anyway, enough of this nit-picking when indeed we too were here to fill our faces with pub grub.
So that we didn't get in the way of the arrows match, we were directed to another area of the building even though this was technically out of bounds to our dog. Not that this is an issue - as you can see, our boxer was exhausted by the end of the day. She is pretty much in this position when we call into a pub for a pint. Absolutely no trouble to anybody else. And now is as good a time as any to highlight the dog-friendliness of the pubs on the Isle of Wight. Not one single pub that we visited had a problem with a dog entering the building. Indeed, in many cases, they made quite a fuss of her and gave her biscuits. I guess it is down to the fact that each publican recognises that they cannot afford to turn away any custom in a retail environment largely dependent on the tourist trade. Of course, we found the canine-welcoming approach most refreshing and something that the publicans on the north island could learn from. We hardly spent a penny on tourist attractions as we spent much of our days in the open, enjoying the scenery, looking at architecture or delving into some local culture and folklore. All of this was free. However, we can quite easily get through £100 per day on cafés and pubs, especially when the average cost of a pint was £3.70p. Chuck in a nice lunch and a hearty dinner and the local economy is getting a decent boost from us. But the story is similar when we go out for the day on the mainland. And yet many a foolish publican has turned us away.
Some of the pubs on the Isle of Wight aim for an attention-grabbing niche and The Chequers takes the locally-sourced meat slogan onto another level. In addition to Godshill lamb, the pub offers Angus beef from a herd managed by the pub's owners. So, carnivores with a little savoir-faire can glance across the road and view the source of their meal. Us leaf-munching herbivores however enjoyed an excellent Veggie Lasagne which was a notch above some pub fodder and very enjoyable. The pub's Ringwood Best Bitter and Forty-Niner was much better than those served at the Dairymen's Daughter in Arreton. We also sampled the Fuggle-Dee-Dum which wasn't bad but I was beginning to tire of this ubiquitous ale. Either it is overrated or it was not being served as it should. The jury is out.
Tuesday September 18th 2012
On Day 4 of our holiday we rode into Shanklin but not before calling into the post office at Godshill. It was here that we discovered a little slice of nirvana - balls of nirvana if you like. Browsing around the shop's modest display of provisions, I was attracted to some bags marked date balls. Never heard of 'em I thought but, at £1 for a bag of five, I was curious to learn more. Sometimes I often wonder about the explorers of the middle ages and the things they found on their voyages. Imagine in the 16th century a fresh-around-the-collar English sailor happening on a banana tree for the first time and finding that the fruit tastes wonderful. At Godshill we shared a mini-eureka moment ourselves when we first sampled the date balls. Moulded into the shape of a malteser, coated in coconut and with a light dusting of sugar - yum yum. Inevitably, you are faced with the question of who gets the odd ball out? Fancy only putting five in a bag - like it is a test of domestic harmony. For the rest of the week we kept going back to the post office for re-supplies. We must have looked like a right pair of desperados. It was like we were prisoners-of-war being presented with our Red Cross parcels. In the end, the shop ran out of stock and we were suddenly like heroine addicts facing a stretch of cold turkey. In cycling terms we were going to have to ride paniagua.
Heading out of Godshill, at the eastern end of the village, we stopped to look at the Griffin Inn, an old stone building that was undergoing what appeared to be a complete refurbishment. I believe the stone building was to become a sister pub to the Horse and Groom at Ningwood.
It is thought that there was an older tavern here but the present structure dates from the early-mid 19th century and is thought to have been built by the Earl of Yarborough who, through marriage, had inherited a mansion and estate on the Isle of Wight. Brixton-born Frank Creeth was the innkeeper of the Griffin Hotel for many years during the late Victorian era and into the Edwardian period. He became the oldest licensee on the island.
For all its architectural features such as the mullioned windows, the decorative bargeboards, the ornate Griffin above the neo-Tudor entrance doorway, it is a garden feature that makes the Griffin Inn unusual. The difficulty of solving the hedge maze may not be too demanding but this is quite a unique pub feature. The pub can also boast another unusual attribute, and one that few others can match, it is in miniature within the famous model village at Godshill.
The Griffin Hotel was once patronised by Princess Beatrice, the youngest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Mind you, she was not on the lash, simply taking tea with her daughter Queen Ena of Spain. This no doubt enhanced the reputation of the Griffin Hotel as an exclusive and genteel establishment.
Shanklin was fairly busy by the time we rolled into town. However, the popularity of gaudy trinkets over geology resulted in shops looking busy whilst there was hardly a soul venturing into Shanklin Chine. A lot of people might have a whinge about paying £3.90p to walk down one of the island's many chines. However, this is no ordinary chine and it is worth the entrance fee simply for the atmospherics. With only a few other tourists traipsing through the chine at the same time, it was possible to enjoy moments of pure tranquillity. An odd attraction is a segment of the Pluto pipeline, a key fuel supply line to troops following the Normandy invasion of 1944. You can get a great view of the Chine Inn from the Pluto pipeline.
A sign covering the old stone panel bearing the pub's name claims a date of 1621 for the Chine Inn. There is plenty of folklore regarding this old tavern and the notorious smuggling for which this coastline was famous. Some of the stories are, of course, embellished but there can be no doubt that the tavern's location provided the perfect topographical setting for such illegal activity. Some claim that this favourite haunt of the smugglers had a tunnel that led up to Shanklin village as the trade in booty was so rife. In response, the excise officers established a post in Shanklin to counter the illicit traffic of goods. Eventually, a Watch House near Shanklin was established in 1820. Tales of smuggling are often laced with intrigue and romance but, in reality, it could be a dangerous and violent business. The pub has a lovely sign that evokes the smuggling days at Shanklin Chine.
Looking back to more concrete facts regarding the Chine Inn, the tavern was once owned by the Shanklin Manor Estate. However, in September 1931, the fully-licensed freehold property was put up for auction. The tenant at this time was Mr. S. J. Clark who, it was reported, had family associations with the Chine Inn dating back some 300 years. The highest bid for the Chine Inn was offered by Messrs. Burt aud Co., brewers, of Ventnor, who paid £6,600 for the historic tavern. Although the name of this brewery was Burt's, the Burt family's ownership of the company had ended in 1906 when Albert Phillips acquired the business. The brewery was established in 1840 by John Burt, a brewer and coal merchant who originated from the Wiltshire town of Welford. He had already hung up his apron by the early 1890's when he and his wife Janet retired to Godshill. Forming a partnership with Henry Blake, Albert Phillips had previously operated as a brewer in Portsmouth. A decision was made to retain the Burt trading name and the business continued to develop gradually throughout the 20th century. The brewery had to be rebuilt following a bombing raid during the Second World War. The spring water obtained from Saint Boniface Down was a key ingredient for the brewery which employed a modest workforce. The company operated 11 tied houses and supplied the free trade, mainly on the island. The company eventually ceased trading in the 1980s.
It was too early to launch into the day's boozing so we headed to the tea rooms within Shanklin Chine as they were selling homemade scones as part of their cream tea offering. Consequently, we thought we would do a bit of comparison shopping and see how they measured up to those cooked at Warren Farm near The Needles. Match Result: Shanklin Chine 2 [now adopt slightly higher intonation] Warren Farm 4. Post-match analysis: The Chine's scones were pretty good, though they didn't feature any currants. The clotted cream was excellent, though we could have done with more strawberry jam. The tea rooms should afford visitors the opportunity to enjoy refreshments in peaceful surroundings. Unfortunately, the entire outdoor seating area was subjected to a mobile phone call made by a rather loud woman clad in goth clothing. Her chops wobbled as she talked about the state of her current weightwatchers plan. In fact, it wasn't going to plan at all as she had the remnants of jam and cream on her double chin.
After we had piled on our calories, we ventured into the conservatory to enjoy the excellent exhibition of prints showing the Isle of Wight during the 18th and 19th centuries. As a romantic landscape painter, it was little wonder that Turner carted his easel to the island. Keats was one of a number of poets who found inspiration at Shanklin Chine. Our canine travelling companion was so moved by the place she opted to create some sculpture work of her own. Good job we carry poop bags. We wheeled our bikes through the small park in Old Shanklin and were rewarded with our first sighting of a red squirrel. Hooray! We had been very keen to see one of these little creatures so were thrilled that he sat in the tree just above head height and put on a little tail-wagging show for us. He probably clocked the dog trailer and thought that it was us that were the nuts.
From Shanklin there are two ways to cycle to Sandown. There is the flat car-free road on the sea wall where you can whizz along trying to dash the waves crashing in. Oh, and wonder why the dog has opted to go for a swim [see above photograph] The alternative is the roller-coaster ride along the tarmac coastal path high up on the cliffs. We decided to do both for good measure. Actually, I am not sure if you are supposed to cycle the latter but nobody shouted at us and we always give way to strollers in a bid to be regarded as courteous cyclists. You need strong legs for the roller-coaster ride but the views from the cliff top are rewarding. Of course, providing the tide is in, the flat road along the sea wall is more fun, though you have to accept that you may get a bit damp! One of the beach huts near Sandown had been converted into a Boot Camp HQ. I had visions of those old Charles Atlas adverts in which the beach wimp went from eating sand to teaching the bully a lesson. A guy who some may describe as buff was standing outside hoping to sign up some conscripts. I should have shouted "No need mate, towing my boxer dog around the island, I am already ON boot camp!"
Dating from 1869 and built in Neo-Classical style, Sandown's Old Town Hall is hidden away in the back streets. Before the Victorians erected such municipal buildings most council business was conducted in the pub. The Castle would have made a great place for the aldermen to argue over litter bins and parking fines for horses tied up in the wrong place. After a couple of beers in this one-room back street pub, The Castle was rapidly elevated to our favourite pub of the trip thus far. Serving the local community, this tavern has successfully avoided the pitfalls of having to convert the premises into a pseudo-restaurant to pander to the tourist trade. And it would appear that the locals have embraced The Castle to the point that the boozer can boast several darts and cribbage teams. Pub games feature highly on the bill and we were pleased to see a bar billiards table in the top corner of the room.
The Castle was selling a mix of classic beers, a local brew and a couple of unusual casks, particularly the Bakehouse Malt Loaf. This could have tasting notes along the lines of 'does what it says on the tin' because, like John Montgomerie's chewy creation, it had a lovely fruity character throughout with a smooth malty finish. Brewed at the Bakehouse Brewery in Leamington Spa, this is quite a complex ale and uses Pale [Tipple], Crystal, Caramalt, Malted Wheat, Northdown, Celeia, and Styrian Goldings hops. Essentially, all you need to know is that it is awesome.
Considering the journey we had just undertaken along the cliffs, we could not resist the Triple FFF Elder Skelter and this was also in tip-top shape and a great ride. On a local level, the Yates' Golden Bitter was lovely with plenty of zingy, refreshing taste. By this point, it was clear that the publican knew how to keep his beer. We were doing the card and coming up trumps every time. Whilst we were supping our ales, he was busying himself making sure everything was in order for the evening's pub games. He has converted The Castle from a ruin into a palace over the past couple of years. The interior décor will not be to everyone's taste - the ghouls and skeletons however would go down a treat in Belgium, a country that is home to the themed pub interior.
Considering the interior décor of The Castle, the music system should really have been playing "The Monster Mash" or the theme from "The Munsters" rather than Sweet Sensation's "Sad Sweet Dreamer." What is going on here? On the previous day we'd heard Middle of the Road's "Soley Soley," the first time I had endured this tune since the early 1970s. However, an all-time low was reached at The Castle with the sound of Mike Sarne and Wendy Richard singing "Come Outside." Did the punk revolution not drift across the Solent? Is the Isle of Wight not part of the Brit in Brit-pop? I can sort of understand islanders not playing drum and bass in fear of another part of Blackgang Chine collapsing but all we were hearing was the sound of "The Best Double Top Ten Show in the World. Ever!" But this aside, it is worth venturing through the portcullis of this boozer for it is a bastion of fine beer.
It was our doing. We were enjoying our time in The Castle at Sandown so much that we fell seriously behind schedule. But when you are on holiday you should be able to, every now and then at least, say sod the schedule. We wobbled off to Yaverland to look at the enchanting church of St. John the Baptist, a former garrison chapel that was once detached from Brading before the construction of a causeway. Much of the building dates back to the 12th century when the church was erected by the Norman family of de Aula, incumbents of Yaverland Manor. The church is noted for its Norman entrance doorway and chancel arch. During the 13th century a chantry chapel was added by the Russell family who had come into possession of the manor through marriage. Following its elevation to a parish church in the 15th century, further modifications were made to the structure, notably the Perpendicular windows and the insertion of a hagioscope cut through the southern pier. The Victorians were responsible for the restoration which spoiled some of the historic character of the building. However, there remains a captivating ambience inside the structure.
Noting the mass of contours around Bembridge Down, a hill that we would have to cycle over later in the evening, we headed to Brading. It was throwing-out time at the schools so the place seemed to have more traffic that the London orbital and it was impossible to hear each other talk. We sought solace at the railway station where we'd heard that time had stood still for some years. Indeed, the bread pudding in the café had also been stood for a while and had an interesting culture growing on it. The tea was from seemingly from the ration period and tasted revolting. Still, this was compensated by an excellent tour of the signal box by one of the volunteers. He was a man born too late. Listening to him, "getting all steamed up" was nothing to do with having wild sex in a sauna but rather the sound of levers and pulleys directing old locomotives around Brading's sidings. However, his enthusiasm was infectious and we warmed to his anecdotes of a period consigned to black-and-white picture postcards. Trains do still run through Brading but they are museum pieces from the London Underground. Mind you, they have upgraded since electrification of the line. Instead of 1923 rolling stock, customers can now luxuriate in modern trains dating from 1938! Wow, we had found something older than the Isle of Wight's pub jukebox playlist.
We followed the enjoyable but rather bumpy ride across Brading Marshes Nature Reserve as we were heading to Bembridge. Time was running out and we decided to target just the one pub in order to make it back to Godshill in what was left of the daylight. We were told that the Crab and Lobster Inn was a bugger to find but well worth the effort. So whizzing past the Pilot Boat Inn [click here for a lovely film of the pub that looks like a boat], we headed through the village in search of this boozer billed as a hidden treasure. Whilst it is true that one has to ride down some small streets to arrive at this tavern, it is impossible to miss the place - there are brown tourist signs all along the route.
Although the Crab and Lobster is not too bad a place, we were rather disappointed with the pub. There was a partitioned drinking area by the servery that seemed to be the domain of the locals. The rest of the building was laid out like a cafeteria with salad cream and red sauce on every table. Reviews of the Crab and Lobster on sites such as Trip Advisor suggest that the pub is resting on its laurels whilst standards have slipped. These reviews are based on the seafood but I cannot comment as we did not eat here. And we do not eat fish! Beer choice was poor with the ubiquitous Greene King IPA and the omnipresent Sharp's Doom Bar. They did have Goddard's Fuggle-Dee-Dum but the standard was very ordinary and, rather than enjoying fine bitter, we were left embittered. On the wall there was a nice old photograph of the pub in what looked like the post-war years and I had a yearning to wind back the clock to enjoy a decent pint of local ale in simple boozer overlooking the sea. The current Crab and Lobster represented a unique type of coastal erosion and the deterioration of a certain point of reference that we know as the village inn.
Wednesday September 19th 2012
Today we decided to explore the north-eastern section of the Isle of Wight so made our way over to St. Helen's. Thought to be one of the largest in Britain, the village has an enormous green with a cricket field. The Vine Inn enjoys a commanding position and is probably the pavilion for thirsty players. We planned a route in order to return to this establishment around early doors.
We cycled off towards Nettlestone, passing the 'church on the hill' that dates from 1717 replacing an older structure on The Duver - but more of that later. We called in for a cuppa at the 2 Ticks, part of the Made on the Isle of Wight shop. We went mobile and drank our tea whilst walking a pleasant sculpture trail and wondered how we'd carry a piece of work called "Fallen Bird" not to mention discussing the price tag of £800. Actually, the piece was worth that but we weren't worth it. If you prefer, you can take your tea in a horizontal position on a hammock! The dog was baffled by this and couldn't figure out how to get involved. I think she ended up barking in frustration. The hammock is ideal for taking a break from pedalling! These tea rooms are totally leftfield and completely rock.
At this point we weren't a million miles from Goddard's brewery and it was tempting to stick our noses in for a whiff. Instead we went in search of red squirrels. We took a pleasant route through Upton to Havenstreet where we turned north-west through Firestone Coppice. It was a great ride but there wasn't a squirrel to be seen anywhere.
We sought solace at the Fishbourne Inn but we'd have been better off sticking our heads in Wootton Creek - at least it would have tasted better than the beer served in this place. The pub's interior is one of those trendy contemporary jobs, the likes of which you will notice sprouting up everywhere so that we can spend the rest of our days in blissful homogeneity. These days you can even nip along to a Swedish superstore and order your very own pub by numbers.
On entering the Fishbourne Inn I had to suppress a scream when I noticed that this was yet another outlet for Sharp's Doombar. You've got to hand it to the sales rep - he or she has mopped up on the Isle of Wight. Making a quick value judgement, I decided that the Goddard's Fuggle-de-Dum was probably going to be second rate in this soulless joint so we took the safe bet of Ringwood Best Bitter. With the duty manager fully occupied by his Sudoku and the indifference of the serving wench who looked like she was daydreaming of starring in a docusoap, we couldn't raise the enthusiasm to complain about the awfulness of the beer we had just been served. We simply took the glasses, two-thirds full of rank snifter, and plonked them back on the counter and walked out. Nobody noticed, nobody cared.
Every cloud has a silver lining, or so they say. As it turned out, being served sump oil at the Fishbourne Inn resulted in our speedy departure from the pub, time that we could devote to some spiritual enlightenment. We trundled along a bridleway opposite the pub and, in less than a kilometre, discovered Quarr Abbey. I say discovered because this was an element of the trip we had not researched. Consequently, we were gob-smacked by the sudden appearance of Byzantine architecture as we emerged from the trees. So, after picking ourselves up off the floor, we rolled down the lane for a closer look.
There are pigs trotting around and the orchard looked ripe for harvest. Then we spotted a monk busying himself with some gardening chores. I did not speak to him because I felt as though I was intruding on what was a sanctuary of tranquillity. Besides, he might not have been allowed to utter a word at this time of day! But imagine our surprise when we found that the community of monks had established a tea room in the gardens and the lunchtime specials sounded mouth-watering. Much of the produce is grown in the gardens of the abbey and is supplemented by locally-sourced ingredients. And so we sat on the terrace and enjoyed a fabulous lunch with the abbey forming a spectacular backdrop. Erected close to the site of the original abbey during the late Edwardian period, the buildings were designed by the monk Paul Bellot who just happened to be an architect. Red Belgian bricks were used in the construction but, unlike monks from the Flemish region, there does not appear to be any production of ale on the site. However, locally-brewed ale is available and to accompany our lunch we lapped up the Goddard's Ale of Wight with gusto. Without getting into histrionics, I must stress that this lunch experience engendered a mood of euphoria. Moreover, it was rather gratifying to appreciate that the profits from the café helps to maintain the spiritual community at Quarr Abbey.
Determined to avoid the main road, we forged on towards Ryde on the track from Quarr Abbey. This really is mountain bike territory so riding skinny tyres and pulling a dog trailer was quite difficult when the going got rather pebbly. When we stopped at the Church of the Holy Cross at Binstead I learned that the local stone is a tough shelly limestone and had been used by the Romans for road-building and construction. The Normans took their chisels to this tough stone to build the abbey and this lovely little church. Their herringbone masonry can be found in the chancel.
A fire in 1969 caused extensive damage and destroyed the roof of the Church of the Holy Cross but the building was restored and re-dedicated in 1971. The Victorians probably did a lot more damage to the building's integrity when they re-modelled the structure to suit the gentrification of the locality. When the north aisle was added in the 1870s the figure dubbed "The Idol" was moved to the churchyard gate. Some think that this may be a Sheela-na-gig though architectural historians remain unconvinced. The weathering of the figure certainly makes for a cryptic puzzle. Less ambiguous is the location of this historic building in relation to modern Binstead. The original settlement, separated from Ryde by a small stream, was closer to the shoreline.
Based on a recommendation, we continued into Ryde and headed for The Orrery, a planetarium café that incorporates a museum to Donald McGill, the man hailed as the 'King of the Saucy Seaside Postcard.' Entering through a portico of four Corinthian columns, the interior of The Orrery is quite remarkable. Created by James Bissell-Thomas, of the globe-makers Greaves & Thomas, the walls and ceiling is a working model of the universe. The customer experience is augmented by the mirror-topped tables. There is also a superb Victorian counter that was moved from a nearby chemist's shop.
We were unable to enjoy The Orrery as much as we would have liked as we had to constantly keep our eyes focused on the bikes parked in a busy thoroughfare. Indeed, Union Street was not a great experience and it sort of set the tone for Ryde and we soon re-arranged the letters to Dyer. It started going seriously downhill when a drunken slob attempted to accost us outside the Fuller's-operated Castle Inn. The filthy-looking good-for-nothing was sitting alone at the pub's outside tables drinking a tin of cider. He should have perhaps been in The Castle's smoking courtyard which is dubbed 'Leper's Grotto.' He was not the only drunkard in the streets of Ryde where we also ran into some loud foul-mouthed chav women. A pity because both The Castle and the Star Inn looked like interesting boozers but we got the impression that in either of these drinking dens you did not need to go as far as spilling anyone's ale to get a whistersniff in the chops.
And to round off our trip to Ryde we nipped into the Railway Inn, a pub with a curious tariff that got us thinking about the economics of ale. A pint of Gale's Seafarers at 3.6% was £3.10p, the same price as a pint of Bass at 4.4%. However, the Young's was only £2.75p. Despite the fact that these were some of the cheapest prices we had seen on the Isle of Wight, they just didn't seem to add up. All of these beers have to be hauled across the Solent so one would think that a local ale that has lower transportation costs would be cheaper. Yet the Yates' Nipper at 3.8% was £3.10p. I realise that there are other factors to consider but it was something to mull over as the barman pulled our glasses of Nipper. I wish he hadn't. It was perhaps the worst beer I have ever been served. It looked flat, stunk like a sewer rat and after taking a small sip to confirm, I almost suffered a bilious attack. It was changed without a fuss but it does beg the question of how such a rancid beer could be served in the first place? We'd had enough of Ryde by this stage so we pointed our bikes in the direction of East Sands.
The cycle ride along the sea wall at Ryde East Sands was delightful. We virtually had the place to ourselves. Surprising really as it was only mid-late September so where, we wondered, were the remains of the tourist trade? We bumped into another couple at Appley Tower, a Victorian folly for Sir William Hutt. The designer was Thomas Hellyer, a Ryde man responsible for the coastal protection revetment that forms the basis of the coastal promenade. We followed this to the Boat House at Spring Vale, a pub formerly known as the Battery Hotel. The building's refurbishment steered the drifting doom-laden vessel into an upmarket eatery that made its pitch to those from the north island rather than the local trade.
Visiting late in the afternoon, Seaview was a real treat. Lined with pretty cottages in places, the streets were empty. It was like siesta time in a quiet Greek resort. The shops were open but it was a token gesture as there were no customers. However, I was later told that in the summer season the population of Seaview increases eleven-fold and it can be hell. We found a nice steep hill to surmount on the way back towards St. Helen's. We had time to head out to The Duver, an enchanting nature reserve and home to the original parish church of the village. Only the tower of the 12th century church remains, the rest being lost to the sea. It was near the church that, in 1805, Admiral Lord Nelson boarded HMS Victory before sailing to Cadiz and the Battle of Trafalgar.
The Vine Inn, a smashing-looking pub on the outside, proved to be a disappointment. Almost all of the interior is given over to eating with just a few locals propping up the bar on stools. And blow me, we were forced to drink the Doom Bar as the Ringwood Fortyniner was on the turn. So far this was a bad day for beer quality in pubs. Thank goodness that we had enjoyed some bottled ale at Quarr Abbey.
On the way back to Godshill we nipped into the Propeller Inn at the airfield just outside Bembridge. It was not quite what I had envisaged but the bar was agreeable enough except for the mass bunting as if they were celebrating the end of the war. Further into the airfield there is a pillbox housing a couple of old Home Guard soldiers who refuse to accept the war is over. They are even down to their last box of rations and they are playing cards to see who gets their last bottle of Burt's ale.
OK, I made that last bit up but, with the interior décor and fittings, there is an element of the Dunkirk spirit within the ambience of the Propeller Inn. Or at least this is perhaps what the proprietors are attempting to convey. This impression was lost, however, by the appalling jazz-funk to which customers were subjected. If there is one music form to outstrip all others for awfulness it has to be the slappy bass rhythms by white strummers who should be forced to perform on the edge of the fast-vanishing car park at Compton Chine.
At the Propeller Inn the Yates' Golden Bitter wasn't bad but not as good as that served on the previous day in The Castle at Sandown. The Goddard's Fuggle-de-Dum was OK and there was a beer from Castle Rock. Although we normally enjoy beers from this Nottingham brewery, we held our discipline of trying to stick to locally-brewed ales. With the balloon going up, it was time to scramble and tally ho to Newchurch.
The day's disappointing pub experiences were wiped out at the Pointer Inn, a Fuller's house located next to the enchanting church that has a white timber-clad tower. Here we found excellent beer, very good food and polite service. Indeed, the barman struck the right balance between courteousness and deference to the customer whilst being completely on the ball. The tenants of the pub would do well to hang on to his services. In fact, it is obvious that the whole place is being run very efficiently.
The Pointer Inn had recently reached the final of the Griffin Award for "Country/Village Pub of the Year," a competition run within the extensive estate of Fuller's brewery. Indeed, after experiencing this relatively small public house, it is easy to see how the tenants, Robert and Rachel Burrows, have gained such accolades. At the same time, you cannot help but feel that the pub is on the verge of regression, like it has reached a peak and is heading towards a slippery slope. It is a classic case of being a victim of its own success. The pub is arguably far too crowded and diners are virtually timed at the table in order to get more punters through-and-off. A conveyor belt of patronage if you like. You can hardly blame the management - apparently, they moved into an already-successful village inn and took it on to the next level. There is no place else to go apart from, of course, moving onto bigger premises.
One of the best innovations at the Pointer Inn is the "produce-for-beer" scheme. A chalkboard lists the donations made to the pub so diners can view where their veg originated. "Oh look, the sprouts are from Bill's allotment." It is not clear how much ale you get in exchange for a box of carrots but it is a great way to give the locals a sense of ownership in how the pub operates. Not that the regulars would notice on this evening - they were all in the beer garden where a boules match was in full swing. Despite this, the Pointer Inn was still rammed.
As much as we enjoyed our food at the Pointer Inn, it was the beer that stole the show. I have had so many pints of average Fuller's beer, it was really refreshing to find a pub that serves the Chiswick ales at their very best. The Red Fox gave us autumnal cheeks and the London Pride would have had the Mayor of London glowing. Oh well, may as well do the card eh? Best pint of Gales HSB I have had since it was made in Horndean, whilst a guest ale from the excellent York Brewery was very refreshing. An excellent pub experience, one of the best on the Isle of Wight.
Thursday September 20th 2012
We had been staying in Godshill for almost a week before we thought it would be rude not to have a look around. The best time to wander around Church Hill, the chocolate box image of the village and known throughout the universe for being one of the most popular picture postcard views of the island, is whilst breakfast is still being served in the guest houses. This way, you can have the place to yourself until the coaches arrive en masse. The cottage on the right was once a pub called the Bell Inn. The interior of All Saints' Church is packed with interesting historical detail. The building is famous for "The Lily Cross," a 15th century mural on the east wall of the South Transept.
We were enjoying a moment of tranquillity when, all of a sudden, the first coach load of tourists were marched into the church. They were led by a German woman holding a standard, making her look like she was leading a team of athletes into the Olympic opening ceremony. That is until you noticed that the party she was heading were all pensioners. The international flavour was enhanced by a coach load of Dutch visitors, again with a standard bearer. It probably read "Follow me you idiots" as the group traipsed behind her as she boomed out her spiel in an attempt to drown out the German contingent. The German tourist guide raised her game, along with her voice, and suddenly All Saints' sounded more like a football stadium than a peaceful parish church. Then war broke out and the pensioners started fighting. A bunch of resistance guerrilla fighters suddenly burst out of the organ and opened fire. I'm kidding. But no sooner had the parties burst onto the scene, they were given two microseconds to capture their snapshots and get back on the coach. Schnell. Or snel just to keep things balanced. And it was time for us to head off before the next wave of attacks came. As we headed out of the village we noticed that the car park was full of coaches, each with a whistle stop schedule. Keep up at the back.
We cycled out of Godshill to Sandford where there is a nice little Methodist Church. There is a cycle route south along Redhill Lane but this misses out on one of the island's premier attractions - I mean who doesn't go goo-ga over a cute donkey? So, pedalling along St. John's Road we went to Lower Winstone Farm where they have loads of four-legged friends. They even allow well-behaved dogs to visit which was great news as we had Libby in the trailer. It is free-of-charge but if you do not donate then you would be a complete twonk. And not just your loose change - stick some proper wodge in the box! Although it is a visitor attraction, the sanctuary undertakes important work, such as rescuing homeless donkeys, providing education for children and volunteers, along with therapy programmes and work with people suffering from Alzheimers and strokes. But like I say, this is also a place where you go all soppy for an hour or so. We loved it.
There was a nice steady climb up to Wroxall but it was too early to call in for a beer. There was a horrifying loss of height going down into Ventnor. One realises, of course, that one has got to climb back out of the place later on towing a dog in a trailer! We headed towards Bonchurch for a spot of lunch. First licensed in the early 19th century, the Bonchurch Inn was originally in another building within the courtyard complex occupied by the present public-house. I am not sure of the exact date that the pub moved a few yards but it occurred sometime during the golden age of motoring between the wars. The great thing is that the building has hardly changed since and, consequently, it is now one of the great unspoilt pubs on the island. I fell in love with the place.
The Bonchurch Inn kind of reminded me of a fine estimet/brown café in rural Flanders - I could almost picture the hop yards out of the windows. Ulisse and Gillian Besozzi took over as landlords in 1984 and their children Adrian and Victoria have since become partners in the business. It was the grandson who served us and I joked that he could go on to ensure the pub remains in the family for another generation. He may just do that as he seems to be a natural, being completely professional and unflappable.
Some fat sweaty rugby types podged at the bar and then grumbled at the beer choice. The beers in the Bonchurch Inn are served straight from the cask with a stillage behind the servery. As it was a relatively quiet weekday, they were rightly serving just the one ale. The Charles Wells Bombardier was fine however. Now, at this point I have to reveal that I love authentic Italian food. And here is a pub run by an Italian family selling beer from the cask along with home-cooked food. Sounds like a match made in the heavens. And lo and behold the Spinach Cannelloni was fantastic.
Whilst we were eating our lunch a total knob, probably on a day out to the island, drove his Land Rover into the courtyard and came into the pub asking where he was expected to park. Well, if you drive a blinking great heap of metal into Bonchurch, the land of tiny lanes, you should expect that parking is going to be an issue, never mind driving into the courtyard of such an intimate space. The gaffer was far too lenient and allowed him to leave it there. Mr. Arrogant then demanded some menus and that he would like the sun lounge to be made ready for him and his wife. When he returned to order drinks he made a right meal out of the fact that the pub did not stock still apple juice, though a sparkling version was available. I can imagine that he made life awkward during his entire stay at the pub. But it was time for us to bid farewell to this wonderful tavern, one of the island's great treasures.
A very short distance from the Bonchurch Inn is Winterbourne, the house in which Charles Dickens wrote six chapters of David Copperfield. A blue plaque on the gate post informs the visitor that the watercolour artist Myles Birket Foster also stayed at the house when he painted "On The Shore, Bonchurch" in 1862. In what is a busy blue plaque there is also detail of William Adams, the Christian scholar who spent the last years of his life at Winterbourne.
A little further down the lane is the enchanting 11th church dedicated to Saint Boniface, an Anglo-Saxon priest formerly known as Winfrith. The new church is pretty impressive too, though we spent more time that was perhaps logical trying to find the grave of the decadent poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. Here at the old church the doorway has some Norman stonework, the church being rebuilt in 1070. The chancel was added in the 14th century whilst the porch is so ultra-modern being from the 18th century. This is a special place to visit and, if you are lucky to be in Bonchurch on a Sunday evening, there is a candlelit service. More light is required however to pick out traces of a medieval wall painting on the north wall.
With our bellies laden with hearty portions of the Bonchurch Inn's Spinach Cannelloni, we could postpone our climb for a little while as there is a path from the church down to the undercliff. The cycle ride from Monk's Bay to Ventnor was quite lovely. Once again, the shoreline was fairly quiet so we could roll along slowly to enjoy the views. Mid-late September really is a good time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds but still have the fag end of the summer weather. I found the activity around the Fishery quite interesting and a welcome distraction from the esplanade at Ventnor which is a bit Blackpool-ish.
I wonder what the origins of seaside tackiness are? Somebody must have pioneered the trend many, many years ago. During the early railway age, it was the Victorians who popularised coastal destinations. But who thought of painting everything in bright yellow or pink and creating dubious tourist attractions. Talking of tawdry, the Spy Glass Inn looks hideously vulgar on the outside but is quite agreeable once you are over the threshold. Is there such a word as nauticalana? Well, if not, I am making it up to describe the mind-boggling array of artefacts on display inside the Spy Glass Inn. It's a Captain Pugwash Car Boot Sale.
The Spy Glass Inn has been run by the Gibbs family for donkey rides' years and they have seemingly refined their business model to maximise the building's earning potential. Combining real ale, hearty platters of seafood and free music entertainment, the pub seems to be one of the most popular on the island. Although the building had been around for a long time, the pub is not actually that old. Neil and Steph Gibbs took on what was a holiday apartments building and created the Spy Glass Inn. With a name picked out of a hat, the Spy Glass Inn opened in March 1988. They couple have since replicated their formula at other venues such as the aforementioned Dairyman's Daughter at Arreton.
Beer on sale inside the Spy Glass Inn was Ringwood Best Bitter, Ringwood Fortyniner and Yates' Undercliff Experience. With such a name, you would not get very good odds at William Hill for betting on which ale appealed to us! And the local brew was pretty good too. Admittedly, one does end up walking around with a beer inspecting all the stuff on the walls. There is quite a lot of repro-antique bits-and-bobs but there are a few authentic items of interest. But fair play to the owners for making the place feel older than it is. An amusing and engaging port-of-call.
It was time to climb from the esplanade. Shore Hill is not too bad - if you are simply riding a bike. However, pulling our boxer dog in a trailer makes the task a little more difficult. There were plenty of tourists in this part of town, many of whom were admiring Libby sitting regally in her chariot and hardly noticing that the rider was getting hot and sweaty hauling the contraption up the steep slope. I barely had time to admire the art deco character of the Winter Gardens. I do like climbing uphill and would normally continue up to the old radar site on St. Boniface Down but, hey, we were on holiday and went in search of a pub which had been mentioned in despatches by several seasoned drinkers we had encountered around the island.
A dray was delivering casks of beer as we arrived at The Volunteer, said to be the one of the smallest pubs on the Isle of Wight. Some original fixtures and fittings of this Victorian boozer have survived, though there has been some tinkering over the years. However, it is easy to detect the old layout of two small rooms and a jug department accessed via an entry. The Volunteer serves up to five beers and during our visit these were Courage Best Bitter, Charles Wells Bombardier, Ringwood Fortyniner, Itchen Valley Nelson's Victory and IOW Wight Knight. We had some of the Nelson's Victory before getting stuck into the local ale, a very pleasant light dry hoppy beer. However, unlike many of the 'tourist' pubs we had visited this place had the feel of a locals house. And rather than snubbing us tourists they made us feel welcome and engaged in friendly discourse, enhancing our visit no end. One guy sat at the bar was a very enigmatic character with the disposition of a retired classics teacher. We enjoyed a most agreeable hour or so in this fine tavern.
It was with some regret that we had to bid farewell to the publican and our drinking companions but we had to roll on westwards. The traffic was not too bad so we enjoyed the journey past the Botanic Garden and through St. Lawrence where there is a charming toll house on a bend in the road. Road cyclists on the Isle of Wight have some lovely little leg tinglers dotted around the island and St. Lawrence Shute is one such incline. We rolled onwards towards Niton.
Failing light precluded a drink at the White Lion a couple of evenings ago so we managed to catch up this time around. We only had a bit more time today as we have enjoyed dawdling around and calling into taverns. The above illustration is taken from a watercolour hanging in the pub in which Pete Classon dabbled with his palette to show the White Lion in 1977. The pub was selling Yates' Undercliff Experience which was impossible to resist after we had just experienced the gradient for ourselves. It wasn't bad but we got the fag end of the cask so it was a bit lacklustre. The Golden Bitter from the same brewery was a notch up but still not dazzling. We were nearing the end of our holiday and couldn't help but reflect on just how many very ordinary beers we had bought during the week. If we simply considered the economics we had squandered a considerable amount of money on below average ale. I guess the Isle of Wight is no worse than many other parts of the country. For every, say, ten pubs there are a couple of stars, a few howlers and a lot of average stuff in between.
Friday September 21st 2012
Today, the last full day of our Isle of Wight touring we tried to concentrate on mopping up some of the places we had been unable to take in properly during the week. Whitwell was one such village and we had picked the best day to go. On Fridays, the parish church doubles as the post office and the locals get together for a tea morning with crafts and other stuff on sale.
Managed by a very friendly landlady, the White Horse was a surprise in that it seemingly offered the widest selection of veggie meals on the island. Goddard's Fuggle-Dee-Dum was available along with Ringwood Bitter and that blinkin' Sharp's Doom Bar. A sign on the pub's exterior wall claims that the White Horse is one of the oldest inns on the island. Once forming part of the George Gale's estate, today's pub has a nice comfortable interior making it quite an inviting hostelry.
Making our way back to Brighstone, we worked up an appetite and enjoyed an agreeable lunch at the Three Bishops in Brighstone. We never did get to see the publican dubbed Herr Flick by the locals. However, we did have the most fabulous pints of Adnam's Broadside. When this is on form it is a classic ale and, Gott im Himmel, Herr Flick's Southwold bier was wunderbar. After taking over the pub in 2006, it was Chris and Helen Hessey who spent more than two months refurbishing the former New Inn. There is a nice story about one of the carpenters remarking that "he had never seen so much woodwork go back into a pub!" I like the fact that there remains a bar and dining area demarcation and, accordingly, dogs are more than welcome in the front room. Much of the menu is genuinely sourced from local producers and the prices are fairly reasonable. Our visit will remain in the memory bank simply because of the high quality of the Broadside, the best examples we have sampled for many years.
Leaving Brighstone we enjoyed a pleasant journey to Yarmouth and, although we tried to do it justice, we perhaps did not have enough time here. The town is nice enough but we did not rate the pubs. Having patronised the Bugle Inn earlier in the week, we ventured into The Wheatsheaf and wished we hadn't. It has an appalling interior of modern flooring and ikea furniture, was generally pretty dire. It was also home to some awful music. The King's Head had a poor choice of ales and served them flat. This place was also playing some shocking music. A great disappointment given that the exterior of the building looks superb. Thought to date from the 17th century, the building was altered during the Victorian era and features a stucco frontage with incised lines. It would seem to us that Yarmouth is there for the taking for a savvy pub operator who can transform and operate a good pub! Or a simple no-nonsense tavern such as The Volunteer in Ventnor.
Our meander around Yarmouth was far more enjoyable than the time spent in the public-houses. The walk along the pier was most delightful with the harbour being full of interest. I believe that Yarmouth has the distinction of possesing the longest timber pier in England. Our boxer enjoyed the bit of shoreline available with the tide out - you wouldn's tell by the above photograph but she often looks like a misery chops even when she is happy! A short town trail was interesting and the town still retains much of the grid plan laid out by the Normans.
The church is interesting and has an extraordinary statue in the Holmes Chapel - or at least a statue with an extraordinary story. Apparently, it was sculptured for, and represents Louis XIV, and was being conveyed to France when the vessel and the artist was captured by Sir Robert Holmes. The sculptor had finished the body, but the head was left for completion in France. On learning who it was for, the English adventurer compelled the sculptor to finish the work with his head on the King's body. Sir Robert Holmes was later appointed Governor of the Isle of Wight and, following his death, the statue was placed in the church to his memory.
One of our last sites of interest in the later afternoon was the curiously-named Newtown amid the bird-watching National Nature Reserve. A planned town and port was laid out here by the Bishop of Winchester in the mid-13th century and those who chose to settle here were free from their feudal duties and tied to the landlord. Subsequently, it was known as Francheville or Free Town. This all sounded idyllic until 1377 when the French came and sacked the settlement. Despite efforts to restore its fortunes trade drifted to nearby Yarmouth.
In an attempt to revive the poor fortunes of the borough of Newtown, Queen Elizabeth granted a Charter for parliamentary representation in 1584. For 250 years the village with its tiny population was allowed two Members of Parliament - one of the so-called "Rotten Boroughs" finally abolished in 1832. A borough returning two MPs is the reason why the remarkable Town Hall exists in such a remote location. Built around 1699 when Newtown only had around a dozen dwellings, the building eventually fell into ruin but was saved by the Ferguson gang, the secretive organisation that helped to raise funds for the National Trust.
The nearby Church of the Holy Spirit is also worth visiting - even architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, a.k.a. Mr. Grumpy, heaped some praise on the building. Designed by the Portsmouth-based architect Augustus Frederick Livesay and constructed in 1835 on the site of a ruinous medieval chapel, the interior looks superb with its three ribbed vaulted bays.
Between the church and the town hall is the former Noah's Ark Inn, a pub remembered as either a quaint tavern or a den of smuggling activity. The name possibly reflects the nature of the local topography where reclaimed land has been taken back by the sea. Indeed, during a terrible storm in November 1954 the waves breached the walls which had, for more than several centuries, kept the Solent from the fields.
Saturday September 22nd 2012
And so, after six excellent days with good weather, it was time to leave the Isle of Wight. I am all too aware that those living on the island who manage to wade through these notes will think we did not cover some places. This is true, but we took things at a leisurely pace rather than rushing everywhere. Apart from a brief foray into Ryde we avoided the larger towns such as Newport as it is not really practical with a dog trailer. Besides, we have to leave something for a second trip!
Overall, it was a terrific holiday. I may have whinged about the beer is some places but, equally, I have praised those who run their pubs well. Sitting on the ferry seeing Cowes disappear we came up with a few observations on the week. Firstly, very few of the road signs indicated the mileage to destinations. There were plenty of public conveniences - handy when continually fuelling up with ale. The island seemed very dog-friendly and our boxer had a great holiday. Being from a large urban area, we noticed how the sky at night was so lovely with very little light pollution where we were based. Pub meals seemed to be slightly better than those offered on the North Island. When stopping for snack or water we observed that the Co-op seem to have a monopoly of small-medium supermarkets. And finally, the roads could have been in a better state of repair. We would certainly come back for a second, and completely different holiday, perhaps with more walking in areas such as the Hamstead Heritage Coast. For now, we will look back on our time on the island with very fond memories.
If you are ploughing through these notes to get some ideas for touring yourself then the topographical information will still be valid. However, pub visits are ephemeral experiences and things continually change and evolve. For up-to-date information and guidance on the best pubs for real ale click on the above logo to visit the CAMRA website for the Isle of Wight.
The long journey home required a pit-stop for lunch and a run-out for the dog so we elected to visit the Blue Boar at Aldbourne, an old tavern that was known as the Cloven Hoof when it was used in Doctor Who back in the black-and-white days. Well, colour telly had been introduced but most people could not afford such extravagance in the early 1970s.
If the Bell Inn still served ale in the picturesque village I would have patronised the bar where the massed ranks were allowed, the Blue Boar being the exclusive retreat of gentrified officers before the D-Day landings. Many years ago I was attached, for a brief spell, to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers when the adjutant posted details of a Christmas dinner-and-dance on the daily orders. If anybody thought that the class divide had eroded since the Second World War they could observe the notes which read: "Officers may be accompanied by ladies, Senior NCOs may attend with their wives and the ordinary ranks may bring their women." I seemed to be the only person who was outraged by this language. On another occasion I had to spend a few days in a land rover with a staff officer from the Blues and Royals. Officially, I was sent as the communications expert but he simply regarded me as his personal batman. On the first evening he expected me to erect his campbed, lay out his sleeping bag and polish his boots. This may have been the case within his regular domain but, on learning that I would rather take his regiment's ceremonial axe, complete with spike, and insert it where the sun does not shine, his anachronistic world fell apart.
The social order within the country tavern has seemingly changed over the years but it is largely superficial - you only have the hear the interactions of Ambridge residents when visiting The Bull to perceive this. Radio drama it may be, but the hidden codes can be transposed to most rural establishments. Removing interior walls so that customers are forced to mingle does not dismantle the intangible customs entrenched since a weaver portrayed a Norman arrow entering the eye socket of Harold Godwinson. Notwithstanding this, our experience in the Blue Boar was most agreeable and a fine lunch was accompanied by some very fine Wadworth Henry's IPA. I imagine that parts of this tavern, some of which dates back to the 17th century, perhaps older, feels like a pair of comfy slippers to some of the regulars.
The Blue Boar enjoys a terrific position looking out towards the picture postcard village green overlooked by the tower of the Church of Saint Michael. Of course, the latter demanded further exploration. To our surprise, the church displays two ancient fire engines. Dubbed Adam and Eve, these were acquired in the 18th century following several destructive fires to the thatched buildings in the village. The engines were originally kept in the church but, following restoration work in 1867, a dedicated engine house was constructed nearby. Early parish records refer to payments "for beer for men who work the engine." The engines remained in service until the inter-war years when they were finally replaced by a second-hand engine purchased from a neighbouring village. It was not until 1941 that a motorised fire engine was used by nationalised Fire Service.
Inn Signs seen on the Isle of Wight
The tree is here, the crown is visible and there is a horse without a rider. One has to assume that King Charles is hiding in the tree on this sign of the Royal Oak at Fritham.
Commissioned by Fuller's of Chiswick, the signboard of the Pointer Inn at Newchurch shows a Pointer dog in classic working mode in which it is 'pointing' at sitting game. An extremely athletic gun dog, the Pointer is a breed that was recorded in the 17th century. The colour of the dog is often, as seen here, white with liver markings on the coat.
The sign of the Dairyman's Daughter commemorates Elizabeth Wallbridge, wife of Oliver Cromwell's grandson William Wallbridge and a heroine within the Reverend Legh Richmond's influential work first published in 1814 as "The Annals of the Poor." The book was published in several countries and sold over two million copies in the early 19th century. Richmond was curate of St. Wilfred's parish church across to the east of the island in Brading. He was also in charge of the Church of St. John the Baptist at Yaverland. Elizabeth, the "Dairyman's Daughter," is buried nearby in the churchyard of St. George's [see photograph below], an interesting building that dates back to the 12th century. The grave was once a place of pilgrimage - even Queen Victoria paid a visit to Arreton.
The sign of The White Lion is widespread throughout Great Britain but is particularly common around East Anglia because of its heraldic reference to both Edward IV and the Earls of March or the Duke of Norfolk. The lion has been a signboard favourite and is generally illustrated in an upright position. The most common variant is that of the Red Lion. This evolved because of John of Gaunt who, during the fourteenth century, was the most powerful man in the England. At one time many publicans were former employees of an ancient house, either of the church, the state or nobility and often demonstrated their continued association or loyalty by including their heraldic shield along with a colour prefix such as The White Lion.
If this signboard at Brighstone was a hand-painted effort it would no doubt scoop some for of inn sign of the year award. However, the computer generated artwork still has some merit. Formerly called the New Inn, this hostelry was re-named the Three Bishops during 1973. This was to celebrate the fact that three former rectors of the nearby St. Mary's Church were subsequently consecrated bishops. The first of these was Thomas Ken, one of the fathers of modern English hymnody. Born in Hertfordshire in 1637, he wrote the hymns "Awake my soul and with the sun" and "Glory to Thee my God this night." He was interred in a unique crypt at the Church of Saint John the Baptist at Frome. Samuel Wilberforce, dubbed Soapy Sam, was appointed rector of Brighstone in 1830. The son of the anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce, he was later the Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Oxford. The Clapham-born orator is best remembered for his opposition to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Brighstone's third bishop was the Russian-born academic George Moberly. The former headmaster of Winchester College moved to Brighstone in 1866. He was later appointed Bishop of Salisbury.
With many taverns being named the Star Inn, The Sun Inn was also a very popular signboard on the Isle of Wight. This version of the sign is quite traditional in that it simply features the smiling face of the sun with a few rays radiating outward.
I am not sure when this pub started to trade as the Wight Mouse Inn. The building had formerly been called The Clarendon Hotel and used timbers from the wreckage of the ship of this name, a vessel that sank in 1836 at Blackgang. Eighteen of the victims are buried in the neighbouring churchyard. The disaster led to the construction of the lighthouse at St. Catherine's Point.
An unusual name is the Buddle and there is many a theory of how it came about here at Niton's undercliff. A buddle is a shallow trough in which ore is separated from gangue. For full details see "Paint Your Wagon!" On a more cerebral level, some historians make a case for nearby Puckaster Cove [claimed to derive from the Latin "Portus Castrensis"] being a port for the export of tin. Other considered opinion suggests that the name Buddle derived from an old English word 'Bothele,' meaning a dwelling. A lease document dated 1776 records the sale of land and property in 'Bundle Place' and sixty years later the site was referred to as 'Little Buddle or Bundle.' The earliest document recording a Buddle Inn is in a will dated 1859. Putting the two tales side by side, I still like the sound of "No Name City."
This legendary creature is clearly of local significance though it does not feature in the crest of the Earl of Yarborough who is cited as the estate owner when this buildng was erected. This fabulous signboard is the work of the noted inn sign artist Peter J. Oldreive. His roadside illustrations have graced many a tavern in the South of England. This is a curious interpretation of the sign because, although a Griffin features within the small shield, the main illustration is that of a Wyvern. The artist seems to have drawn inspiration from a carved stone Wyvern above the front entrance to this Godshill hostelry - but this begs the question why a Wyvern and not a Griffin when the building was erected? A mystery indeed. The Wyvern features a dragon's head and wings but has a reptilian body supported by two legs. The legendary creature is generally pictured with a tail ending in an arrow-shaped tip. Used widely in heraldry, the Wyvern is often displayed as a fire-breathing creature similar to the dragon.
Not the sort of illustration I expected at Brading for the Bugle Inn. I am hoping it is a reference to a prize bull owned by a previous publican. However, I fear that it observes the fact that bull baiting took place nearby. The 'sport' is commemorated by a wooden carving by the wood sculptor Paul Sivell and stands near the modern Town Hall.
An obvious name for a tavern located next to the reefs of Bembridge Ledge, a source of crabs, lobsters and shoals of mackerel. This coastline has also been dangerous for shipping and was known for shipwrecks and smuggling. There is a passage or channel within the Bembridge Ledges known as "Dickie Dawes Gut," named after a notorious smuggler, a fisherman by trade, who was renowned for outwitting the local excise men through his navigational expertise in these waters. His daughter Sophie became famous as the 'Queen of Chantilly,' a rags-to-riches tale laced with mystery and intrigue.
The Vine Inn at St. Helen's boasted a fine cricket sign when we visited the pub. By the way, until relatively recent times there was an adjacent public-house known by the sign of the Sailor's Home. Across the road from the Vine Inn is one of a number of greens which, combined, form the second largest village green in the country. Honestly, it is massive. The green has both a cricket pitch and a football field. I assume that a few front windows have been broken by a good solid stroke of the ball.
The inn sign for the Fishbourne Inn features an idyllic pastoral scene where a shepherd is chatting to a couple with a basket full of fish. The young lads are carrying the boat in which the fish were caught. The pub is close to Wootton Creek which flows into the Solent nearby. It is thought that the name Fishbourne means "stream of fish" or "fish spring" so there is a possible connection to Quarry Abbey which stands a short distance from the tavern.
The sign for The Castle at Ryde bears little resemblance to the crenellated building constructed from 1833 by J. Dashwood as a private residence. For many years the entrance to this building was accessed from Dover Street. Six months before our visit to the Isle of Wight the Castle, trading as a hotel, went up in flames following a wedding party that included fireworks. The fire started in the roof which partially collapsed causing extensive damage.
The Star was a very popular name as an inn sign on the Isle of Wight and this signboard was photographed in Ryde. I would guess that the star signboards on the island referred to the importance of the stars as a navigational aid. However, the origins of the sign are religious and, in many case, refer to the Star of Bethlehem. Another historical reference is the 16 pointed star that featured in the arms of the Worshipful Company of Innkeepers.
This signboard hangs outside the Railway Inn, a short distance from the railway station for Ryde St. John's Road. When the station opened in 1864 it was known simply as Ryde Railway Station and served as the northern terminus of the Isle of Wight Railway. In 1880 the railway line was extended to Ryde Pier.
I took this photograph in 2012 and was interested to note that the vessel featured on the signboard is similar to that featured on the old Whitbread sign that used to hang outside this building. Being pulled by a small tug, it is a steam-powered vessel but also has sails. Being a land-lubber I do not know which vessel it is that features in the illustration. It is flying the Red Ensign which is used by British merchant navy ships. It is also deployed as an courtesy ensign by foreign private vessels in the waters of the UK. The sign was the work of the noted artist P.J. Oldreive.
This is the signboard for King Harry's Bar at Shanklin. The bottom-right of my photograph is a little fuzzy but the artist's name is either B.R. White or R.R. White and dated 2010. However, it is a very similar image to the previous board which was painted by B. Brookes earlier in the century. The illustration is based on the painting of King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger, a work he produced around 1536.
This signboard at Whitwell shows a galloping white horse, traditionally used as an heraldic reference to the House of Hanover, and dates from the accession of King George in 1714. Having said that, in the spiritual world the white horse carries patron saints or the world's saviour.
The Blue Boar was a prevalent inn sign during former times and was a heraldic reference to the Earl of Oxford. The number of signs increased after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, a campaign in which John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, was a principal commander of the victorious King Henry VII's army. The White Boar was a symbol of the vanquished King Richard III and, according to legend, most inn signs bearing a white boar were painted blue, a badge associated with John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. The above inn sign is a photograph I took outside the Blue Boar at Aldbourne in Wiltshire. Notice that the Blue Boar is trampling over a standard of the deceased king, the monarch who would turn up under a Leicester car park centuries later.