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Guide to caravanning on the Isle of Wight

Introduction

There’s something exciting and alluring about an island. The smaller scale and the fact that you are cut off from the outside by the water surrounding it, gives you a sense that it is your own patch on earth, at least for a while.

That might be what makes the prospect of a caravanning holiday on the Isle of Wight so tempting. You are away from it all, off the mainland, a coastline in any direction you move – yet in the case of this island, never so very far from home.

The Isle of Wight certainly ticks many of the boxes:

  • it’s small – roughly diamond shaped, it measures approximately 25 miles east to west and 20 miles north to south;
  • it is a genuine island with access only by boat or ferry – even at low tide;
  • it is surrounded by the waters of the Solent and the English Channel;
  • it is tranquil and scenically attractive;
  • it has many beaches, cliff walks, inland countryside and historic monuments;
  • the Isle of Wight prides itself in being a dog-friendly island, so feel perfectly free and relaxed about taking your best friend with you on holiday;
  • it is a walker’s paradise – the island even has its own Walking Festival (IsleWalk17) from the end of April until the middle of May, with 80 different walks and trails to choose from and stretching for a total of 620 miles;
  • from family bike rides to hair-raising mountain bike trails, the Isle of Wight is also a favourite with cycling enthusiasts; and
  • although permanently separated by the sea from the mainland, the latter is never more than just four miles away.

One of the fun facts about the Isle of Wight you might not have heard is that it’s often called the Dinosaur Isle – thanks to the remains of no fewer than 20 different types of dinosaur which have been found there, including remains of the largest to have been unearthed in Britain, at some 26 metres long.

Dinosaurs are not the only oddity about this idiosyncratic island destination. Look carefully at some of the place names and you’re likely to discover:

  • Cowes – you can’t milk;
  • Freshwater – you can’t drink;
  • Needles – you can’t thread;
  • Ryde – where you walk;
  • Newport – you can’t bottle;
  • Lake – you can walk through and stay dry;
  • Winkle Street – that has no winkles; and
  • Newtown – which is old.

You might have fun during your holiday visiting some of these places and seeing how many you are able to cross off your list – nowhere is all that far from anywhere else on this charmingly odd island – these so-called “8 Wonders of the Isle of Wight” were hatched about 100 years ago.

All this, and so much more, lies in store just a short hop across the Solent with your touring caravan safely stowed aboard the drive-on ferry.

You are likely to find this a delightful island to visit with your caravan at just about any time of the year.

What you need before you go

You might be leaving mainland shores, but your visit to the Isle of Wight involves no foreign travel. So, there’s no need to worry about passports or the ins and outs of driving abroad. You can concentrate on the excitement of planning and making the most of your caravan holiday.

What you need to do before you go is everything that needs to be put in hand before taking off with your caravan anywhere in Britain …

Driving licence

  • make sure your driving licence has not expired and that, if you have recently bought a new one, that you have the appropriate category to tow the trailer;
  • in the majority of cases, of course, the Category B licence you have to drive your car is going to suffice, since you may tow a trailer, such as a caravan, weighing up to 750 kg, or a heavier caravan if the combined weight of the car and trailer remains less than 3,500 kg;
  • 3,500 kg is the maximum weight of any caravan you may tow in the UK, and it must not exceed 7 m (excluding the tow bar and coupling) in length or 2.55 m wide;
  • if yours is an exceptionally large caravan, and you passed your driving test after the 1st of January 1997, you may need to hold a licence for the car and trailer – Category B+E – explains the website Tourer Info;

Insurance

  • just as anywhere else in the UK, there is no legal requirement for you to have touring caravan insurance, since your car’s cover extends to third party insurance for the trailer it is towing;
  • since you are likely to have invested a tidy sum in your caravan, however, it is certainly prudent to arrange insurance against accidental damage, loss and theft – touring caravan insurance may also provide third party liability cover, protecting you against potentially substantial claims from other caravan users, their visitors or members of the public who are injured or suffer property damage in some way connected with your caravan;
  • whilst checking your insurance, you might also want to keep in mind that some providers offer discounts on premiums to members of a recognised caravan club and also for additional security devices (such as Phantom Trackers).

All about your caravan

You are going to be towing your caravan on busy mainland roads (and probably motorways), as well as the rural highways of the Isle of Wight, so safety needs to come first when preparing your caravan – just as it does on any outing.

You also want your touring caravan to be as comfortable and with all its mod cons in good working order as any other home away from home.

It is worth working through a detailed checklist to prepare your caravan for the holiday ahead – an especially detailed checklist is suggested by My Caravan – and this might feature all of the following:

  • the law requires that your caravan is in a roadworthy condition – and this applies, in particular, to the axles, wheels and tyres, the lighting bar at the rear and the tow-hitch coupling;
  • thoroughly check the tyres for undue wear, cracks or bulges and make sure that they are inflated to the correct pressure – checking the condition of the tyres is especially important if your caravan has been laid up for any length of time, particularly if it has been standing on the same patch of tread all that time;
  • check, too, that the wheel bolts have been properly tightened – especially if it is your first outing of the year or if the caravan has recently been in for a service;
  • ensure that the coupling mechanism is well-lubricated and works as it should and that the jockey wheel can be raised and lowered easily, is properly secured and has a correctly connected breakaway cable;
  • check the caravan’s signalling system and road lighting;
  • turning to the interior of your caravan, safety first is still the primary order of the day – so make sure to check locks, intruder alarms, smoke detectors, the first aid kit and your breakdown kit;
  • unless it was thoroughly checked during a recent service, check that the cooker is working properly by lighting each ring and make sure there are no blockages – bear in mind that the ferry companies (WightLink and Red Funnel) limit the amount of gas you may carry to 47 kg;
  • make sure the gas supply is turned off at the cylinder;
  • check that the on-board toilet is empty and its tanks flushed;
  • secure cupboards, wardrobes, stowage hatches and the fridge door;
  • before moving off, make sure all the windows and roof vents are closed shut;
  • when loading the caravan, make sure that it is within the recommended weight limits – including the nose weight.

Provided everything checks out, you’re ready for your trip to the Isle of Wight.

Getting there

Since it is only a few miles across the Solent, the Isle of Wight is not a difficult place to get to. Indeed, there are nearly 5,000 commuters every day who leave their homes on the island for work on the mainland (principally in Southampton and Portsmouth, although some “super commuters” regularly make the daily journey to London).

  • London is approximately 100 miles away and the journey takes just over 3 hours;
  • Birmingham is around 170 miles away;
  • Leeds is approximately a five-hour drive away;
  • Manchester is just over 250 miles away, or a six-hour drive.

Car ferries

The fun part of your journey, of course, is crossing the Solent and you have two ferry companies to choose from, each sailing to and from different destinations:

Red Funnel

  • Red Funnel is certainly the longest-established of the ferry companies, having been founded in 1820 as the Isle of Wight Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, and offers car ferry services between the docks at Southampton and East Cowes on the Isle of Wight;
  • sailing time is between 55 minutes to an hour and the service operates 24 hours a day.

WightLink

  • WightLink offers a choice of two car ferry routes;
  • one is from Portsmouth to Fishbourne on the Isle of Wight and takes approximately 40 minutes;
  • the other sails between Lymington in the New Forest and Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight and takes around half an hour – the sailing from the small and tranquil harbour town of Lymington offering perhaps a more restful boarding experience than the busy ports of either Southampton or Portsmouth.

Once you have disembarked on the Isle of Wight, of course, you will have no further than 20 miles or so to drive to the caravan site of your choice.

Destination ideas

For a small island, you’re likely to be surprised at just how many – and varied – are your possible destinations. Your choice, of course, is likely to be determined by the kind of holiday you are looking forward to, with a touring caravan site as your base.

The following suggestions, therefore, are by no means exhaustive.

Osborne House

More of a palace than a house, this was Queen Victoria’s favourite summer retreat which she enjoyed with her beloved consort and husband Prince Albert. It was certainly a big favourite of hers, describing it as being “impossible to imagine a prettier spot”. Prince Albert went so far as to compare the views across the Solent to those of the Bay of Naples.

In addition to visiting the private rooms once used by Victoria and Albert, you may also stroll along the very beach they used, stroll in the colourful gardens of the house and let the children explore the play-house Swiss Cottage for a taste of the life enjoyed by the royal children when on holiday.

Osborne House is situated on the island just outside East Cowes.

If you were sold on the views from the gardens of Osborne House, equally impressive views across the Solent may be enjoyed from your own caravan if you pitch up at Waverley Park camping and caravan site, which is also nearby in East Cowes.

Cowes Week

If yachting is your spectator sport of choice, you will certainly have heard of Cowes Week – and its showcase for races between some of the finest, most luxurious and expensive ocean-going yachts in the world.

The 2017 Regatta starts on the 29th of July and continues until the final race day on Saturday the 5th of August.

Expect the whole of Cowes to be heaving with visitors and for yachting talk to be the only topic of conversation in local pubs, bars and restaurants.

Even if you want to join in some of the nautical fun and merriment, therefore, it might be wise to avoid the immediate area of Cowes to pitch your caravan and instead head off to the Caravan Club’s Southland site in Sandown, on the southeast coast of the island. The site is flat, level and well drained, offering a wide variety of pitch types.

Freshwater

Some of the most stunning scenery on the Ilse of Wight may be found around Freshwater Bay, with its soaring chalk cliffs and the iconic Mermaid and Stag rocks on the coastline.

Tennyson Down (yes, named after the poet of the same name) rises up from the small village of Freshwater and offers spectacular cliff walking all the way to the Needles rocks and lighthouse.

To the east of the village is the large area designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Natural Beauty and, alongside it, Afton Down, made famous as the setting for the famous Isle of Wight Music Festival in 1970.

Heathfield Farm Camping Park may be found just on the outskirts of Freshwater and ideally placed, therefore, for exploring the beauty of this most western part of the island. The park offers a total of 75 spacious pitches, 60 of which have electric hook-up.

If you prefer somewhere to enjoy the rural peace and quiet of inland Wight – yet still just a stone’s throw from the scenic attractions of the western part of the island – you might choose the Orchards Holiday Caravan & Camping Park, near the village of Newbridge, between Newport and the ferry terminal at Yarmouth.

Ventnor

Ventnor, on the south coast of the island, is a traditional seaside resort and was once one of Victorian Britain’s favourite health spots, thanks to an especially benign micro-climate. Indeed, the beach huts that line the sand and shingle shoreline are converted Victorian bathing machines – which you may still hire for the day.

Ventnor and its shallow, gently shelving shoreline makes for an ideal family holiday, made all the more appealing thanks to a couple of the caravan sites close at hand.

Appuldurcombe Gardens Holiday Park is a large site catering for caravans, tents, static holiday homes and lodges, but the meadows set aside for touring caravans offer a variety of pitches from grass, to hardstanding and grass to fully hardstanding. Many are fully serviced.

Chine Farm Camping Site is just a little further to the west of Ventnor itself, where the cliffs begin to rise from the sea, affording spectacular views from your very own touring pitch. There are between 80 and 100 grass pitches available for campers and caravaners alike.

Carisbrooke Castle

One of the historic landmarks and ancient monuments at the heart of island history is the Elizabethan fortress of Carisbrooke. King Charles I was imprisoned here after the English Civil War.

Its rich history is kept alive today through well-preserved battlements, a Norman keep and castle museum and gardens.

The castle is in the very centre of the island, so views from any of the castle walls command an island-wide panorama.

Since it is at the very heart of an island measuring only 25 miles by 20 miles, no caravan site is all that far away.

One to try might be Kite Hill Farm Caravan and Camping Park, which is close to the village of Wootton Bridge, between the ferry terminals of both Ryde and Cowes – so access is very straight forward. The site is also open the whole year round and sits on a 13-acre site in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Summary

Good things come in small packages – and that is certainly the case with the Isle of Wight. With your touring caravan as a second home, you might make a small piece of the island your very own for a week or two, whilst exploring some of the natural beauty, historic monuments, and lazy-day beaches on offer.

Getting there is just a hop skip and a jump across the narrow Solent – yet will probably feel a world away once you roll off the ferry.