On discovering that I was from the Isle of Wight, an unnamed friend at Oxford once exclaimed, in a rather untactful manner, “I didn’t know that people lived there. I thought it was only orangutans, penguins and hobbits!” Despite the obvious offensiveness of this assertion to any island inhabitant (as well as its evident ecological errors), said friend is not, admittedly, entirely wrong in his ignorance.
First, the delightfully obscure Owl and Monkey Haven – a tourist attraction built legitimately in someone’s back garden – although neither large nor audacious enough to house any orangutans, accommodates an abundance of tenuously-related primate species. Secondly, you cannot possibly enjoy a day (or, perhaps more accurately, a thirty-minute perusal) of the Seaview Wildlife Encounter without stumbling upon a small colony of penguins. Thirdly, I can assuredly relate, as an eye-witness, that there was indeed a mass influx of hobbits to the island over the Christmas period that just passed – albeit only to invade the screens of Cineworld.
This may all seem to be futile justification of a comment that I may have taken a little too closely to heart, having been born and bred on this roughly diamond-shaped land mass. Yet, I feel that it raises an important question, one which I tend to ask myself on a worryingly frequent basis: Is there really any point in sailing over to the Isle of Wight?
It is only fair that we begin with the positives. A huge plus that instantly comes to mind is the presence of an H&M on the Island, which is more than even Oxford can boast. Aside from this the Isle of Wight isn’t often (or ever) praised as a retail hotspot, but when you consider the fact that it is the home to the world’s (yes, the world’s) oldest passenger hovercraft operator, red squirrels rather than ugly greys, a twelfth-century Cistercian monastery, more hours of sunshine than any other UK resort, dinosaur fossils and – best of all – Bestival, it is still clearly a land of many wonders.
Even so, a key problem working against of the Island’s favour is the hefty cost involved in just reaching it, with the Solent being one of the most expensive water crossings on the entire planet: an impressive and no doubt interesting statistic unless you’re the one having to cough up for the ferry fare. Once you’ve finally made it ashore, far too many pounds worse off, you can then … you can then … Well, there’s not really a great deal that you can do on the island outside of the summer season, especially if you are neither an OAP nor a child under the age of ten. Since starting university I have increasingly found that a vac on the Isle of Wight is much more like a vacuum (excepting some tumbleweed), with a pace of life just about slower than the average speed of snails competing in a marathon. But, then again, at the end of a busy term sometimes a bit of nothing is all you really need.
Regardless of the opinion that you may choose to take, at the end of the day I feel that you have no real right to insult the Isle of Wight, unless you actually live there – then you are more than welcome to sing its abuses.