The Isle of Wight - simply ‘The Island’, to locals - has had a varied population over the years. The Romans occupied it. During the Civil War, King Charles was imprisoned on it. Queen Victoria spent her summers on the island, and ultimately died on it. In 1970, Jimi Hendrix played one of his final shows there.
And before them all, there were dinosaurs. Lots of them. Their fossils are still everywhere. In search of a similar discovery, we set off with a gang of friends to see why so many people (and prehistoric beasts) have made their own way to this little island off the south coast. Our journey started on what Islanders, rather distantly, call ‘The Mainland’. We boarded the hovercraft at Southsea, in bright but decidedly chilly autumn sunshine. Hip flask weather, for sure. We had all come prepared.
We bounced across the sea, the noise of the hovercraft making it hard to talk, and the bump and sway of the ride making it tricky to sip at the warming contents of our flasks. We managed it anyway. We touched down in Ryde, and began our coastal trek to Bembridge: skirting first past the railway line, with its recycled London Underground trains running back-and-forth, and then along the picturesque seaside trail by Appley - with green country to our right, and sighing sea to our left - until we reached the Point at Nettlestone.
It is all craggy rocks and pebbly shore at Nettlestone: a jumble of tough and weather-beaten buildings and hardy vegetation, growing in sporadic bursts. It is a beautiful, rugged sort of spot. We pressed on to Priory Bay where the beach, in summer, is a competition of colours: sea green, sky blue, gold sand. Today, it does not invite sunbathing, but we still want to stop and enjoy the view. One of our group asks, apparently earnestly, if we are standing on the spot where a T-Rex stood, millions of years ago. We all shrug, and he decides to do an impression of a roaring dino. We ask him what on earth was in his hip flask.
Finally, we push on towards Bembridge Harbour: a stunning little inlet, busy with resting boats. As we make our way around the curving harbour, the wind picks up. Cold hands stay firmly in warm pockets. It feels as though we are a long way from ‘The Mainland’. It suddenly makes sense that the locals call it The Island, as if no others exist. It feels like that, perched here in Bembridge.
As long as you can handle the bumpy ride over, make a date to experience it yourself. If Jimi Hendrix thought it was worth the trip, then you should too.