The Isle of Wight, Part 1

This summers holiday took myself and the family to the Isle of Wight. I’ve often sat on the mainland and gazed at the island wondering what it was like, but apart from a sailing weekend from Cowes some years ago I’d never been there. Prior to the trip, several folk I spoke to who had been there said, ‘It’s very nice, but very 1950’s’, implying that were a bad thing. I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, so I set off expecting bakelite telephones, knobbly knee competitions and casual racism. But the reality was nothing like that, in fact the Isle of Wight turned out to be a lovely place, very green and full of cool wildlife.

Shanklin Bay looking over the garden of out holiday abode

Within a day of arriving at our destination at Shanklin, on the southeast corner of the island, we’d encountered a pair of ravens who were keen to share our fish and chips on the seafront, and several red squirrels running around the trees in the garden below our apartment. Red squirrels are delightful creatures and the island is one of the few places in the UK where they haven’t been ousted by the bigger and more aggressive North American grey squirrel. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get photographs of these but there was plenty of other flora and fauna to keep me occupied.

The weather on the island during the first week in August was remarkable, it was hot and sunny virtually the whole time we were there, but that coincided with continuous heavy rain and big floods a short distance to the west in Devon and Cornwall. As well as the trees in the garden, there were flowers and butterflies basking in the glorious sunshine:

Wild pansy (Viola tricolor)

The wild pansy is a lovely little flower and has been used as a herbal remedy for eczema and asthma and it was believed it was good for the heart, hence its other name of ‘heartsease’. It’s laden with potentially beneficial chemicals including salicylates (aspirin), antibacterials and antiinflammatories and has many amusing common names such as ‘love lies bleeding’ (!), bullweed, ‘tickle my fancy’ and ‘love in idleness’.


Also frequenting the garden was the equally beautifully coloured, but less poetically named, gatekeeper butterfly (Pyronia tithonus). I was pleased to see lots of butterflies here because the dreadful spring weather meant I’d seen very few around Cambridge, a horrid situation which, alas, prevailed for the rest of the summer.

Below the garden at the bottom of the cliff was lots and lots of beach with lots and lots of birds, including the ravens I mentioned earlier. And amongst them was this gull youngster. It wasn’t at all fazed by me and my son running around and seemed more curious than nervous.

A young gull – either a herring gull or a lesser black backed

Alas, I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about gulls to be able to differentiate the first year herring gull (Larus argentatus, Dansk: Sølvmåge) from the lesser black backed gull (Larus fuscus, Dansk: sildemåge), even with my Collins bird guide to assist. And while the gull was peering at us a sandwich tern patrolled the shallows occasionally diving into the water:

Sometimes returning to the surface with a fish… and other times not:

Sandwich tern (Sterna sandvicensis, Dansk: splitterne) fishing off Shanklin beach

From our limited explorations around the island it seemed to be quite distinctly in two halves. The eastern end, where we were based was green and agricultural with wide sandy beaches, and the western end, at least on the south side, was more chalk down rising to imposing cliffs toward the Needles at the far western tip. All the photographs in this post were from in and around Shanklin in the east and I’ve divided the IoW into two posts, so ‘Part 2’ will be from the western end.

25 responses to “The Isle of Wight, Part 1

  1. When we visited Steve’s homeland near Liverpool back in 2006 we headed out to a woodsy area and got to see your beautiful red squirrels in action. We don’t have squirrels here in Australia (unless you count the little ones that escaped their enclosure in Perth Zoo and that live in the surrounding suburbs with their population controlled by the local feral cats 😉 ) and it is lovely to be able to see your local wildlife and insect life in this blog. I must get some Viola tricolor seed to spread around the property. I didn’t realise it was so useful. We are trying to use as many edible species as we can and ground covers are especially useful when incorporated with Permaculture principals because they act as a green mulch and our ancient soils need to be mulched at all times to prevent moisture loss. The soil conditions in Tasmania tend to the acidic but where I originate from in Denmark Western Australia is more alkaline and the cliffs around the sea shore are all limestone. Thank you for sharing the Isle of Wight with us 🙂

    • Were you up around Formby? I was at college in Liverpool and we used to wander out to Formby ands occasionally. It’s a lovely part of the world up there on the north west coast and there’s lots of wildlife.

      How does ‘permaculture’ work? I can imagine your soils can get a tad parched down there. Is the climate in Tasmania as brutal it can be on the Ozzie mainland? I’ve heard that there are real problems with the Murray drying up and the agricultural hinterland being desparately short of water.

      • We were in Formby woods :). Steve was born in Liverpool, moved to South End on Sea when he was 4 and returned to liverpool when he was 27 then we exported him to Australia :). Permaculture is an holistic approach to being the stewards of your own little patch of earth no matter how big or small it is. It’s an all encompassing way to live a sustainable and meaningful life that integrates many cycles to create healthy and sustainble networks indeed it is a combination of “permanent” and “agriculture”. It was invented right here in Tasmania by a man called Bill Mollison and is a way for us all to live how we should be living. Starting with the soil and using compost and the assistance of worm farms to enrich the topsoil and growing nutrient dense foods by utilising natural cycles that have been evolving for millenia. I guess it’s just doing things the way that nature intended and once you get your cycles up and running it pretty much runs itself. Our Australian soils are ancient. Our topsoil is incredibly thin and prone to erosion and learning how to preserve our soil for future generations to be able to live sustainably is the ultimate goal. If you check it out it’s very exciting and has been used to reclaim desert and give third world populations back a degree of self sufficiency regarding food. One thing we DO have here in Tasmania is water and in my opinion that makes us rich! Even a large percentage of our electricity is generated from water flow. Most of mainland Australia’s problems come from unsustainble farming practices and the use of potable water for farm irrigation rather than recycling and reclaiming water. It is going to be interesting to see how we adapt to an increasing shortage of water and a world screaming for our natural resources.

      • That’s a great way to run things, and you’re dead right about the water. I reckon there’ll be wars fought over water in a few deacdes time (if indeed it takes that long).

        My wife comes from near Southend (Billericay) and the fun fair on Southend sea front is one of my kids favourite places! There’s a coincidence 🙂

      • Steve lived in Billericay from when he was 4 till he was 21!!!!) How coincidental! 🙂 At least if you talk about anything to do with that area he can explain it to me in more detail now 🙂

      • That is a coincidence! I usually post once or twice a year about Norsey Wood which Steve probably knows. There are fantastic fungi in there!

      • Steve wasn’t even vaguely interested in plants at all when he lived in the U.K. He moved here in 1999 and we moved to Tassie in 2007 and studied horticulture and got hooked by the hort bug. When it hits you…it hits you hard! When the 2 of you BOTH get hit there isn’t anyone left to reason with the other one and we both went on a mad propagating and collecting spree that ended up with us collecting over 400 conifer species and 500 other trees and shrubs that we are having to plant out or relocate to other deserving homes. I can’t stop propagating and recently grew 30 chestnut trees and 25 walnut trees…4 acres can’t possible sustain that may so I am going to use them to swap for open pollinated vegetable seed at our next local seed swap. Might even start our own seed swap. Steve wishes that he could go back to the U.K. to all of the wonderful woods and magnificent gardens now with his newfound appreciation. We both love trees and one day we will get back to the U.K. and go hunting for woodsy areas to oooh and ahhh at 🙂

      • Best be quick before all ours disappear too!

        We’re going to have to wise up here though. We’ve ripped trees out of flood plains and built houses on them, taking care that the land which doesn’t have houses on is tarmac’d over for roads, carparking etc etc. I don’t know if you see international news but the weather here has been ferocious this year. We had over two years of droubt with little or no rain (‘What, no rain? In the UK?’ I hear you cry), but then it started raining in early April and has rained pretty much ever since. Consequently the lakes and rivers are full, the ground is saturated and because we’ve built over the flood plains… you guessed it… we’ve got horrendous flooding going on over alot of the country here right now. And if it carries on raining the outcome is going to be ugly, or even more ugly than it already is. And right at this crucial time the government has relaxed planning laws so developers can rip out more woodland to build on greenbelt land, they’ve cut back funding for flood defences, and they won’t agree to help out the insurance companies which means that up to 200,000 homes which are in direct danger of flooding may be left uninsured. Scary times at both ends of the globe!

        I hope you find homes for all your propagated trees though. I love walnut trees (having said that, I love all trees, but walnut is one of my favourites and I’ve been wondering if I can shoe horn one into my garden.

      • We have been watching the flood situation avidly from our television screens because Steve’s mum lives in Liverpool (and his Aunt lives in Crosby) and his brother and sister in law live in South End on Sea. We were shocked to see houses under water up to their state roof tiles yesterday. It seems to be a direct correlation to our worsening drought conditions. We have had 2 mild wetter years (which the garden has absolutely loved) and now we have been promised an extended drought this year. Not that we Aussies know much more than drought to be honest ;). Walnuts are incredibly easy to grow. Just find a source of nuts fresh from the tree and plant them direct into pots. It may take a winter for them to grow but this year I planted mine straight out expecting them to stratify over winter and they germinated within a month! You can always espalier the tree against a fence and they are naturally smallish trees. I am also growing hazelnuts from seed and plan on having a small hazelnut grove because the trees are small and very useful. Suckers can be used to create more trees so perhaps Serendipity Farm might one day be named Hazelnut Hill! 😉

      • I uprooted a hazel sapling from a friends garden a cfew years ago and planted it in my front garden wherre it’s in rude good health and taller than me now. All the nuts get robbed by the local squirrels though before I get a look in. But They have to eat to I guess. I’m pleased that walnut trees are small and easy to grow, that gives me hope. I know where some are growing down in Cambridge, so next year I’m going to nip down there and scrump a pocketful of nuts.

        I guess your weather is almost win-win, if it’s droubt there’s no change and you know how to deal with it, and if it rains all your crops grow. Perfect.

      • I watched a cooking show last night where they were talking about it getting too arid to grow citrus in South Australia so they are going to ditch it for pomegranates. I guess its the old Aussie resiliance thing…we are bred tough thanks to our conditions and when life takes our lemons away we grow pomegranates 😉

  2. The viola is such a nice flower. Beautiful photo. But in august, that must have been late for this flower?

  3. That was really interesting to learn about all the uses of the wild pansy! It sounds like you had great weather too – a perfect holiday 🙂

  4. Thanks, Finn, for a much closer insight of a place that I’ve been dreaming of since I first heard “When I’m 64.” This is now also added to my wish-list of places I’d like to visit. Thanks again!

    • I forgotten that particular musical angle. And on the subject of musical angles there’s the IoW festival too – I think the one in 1970 was the last gig that Hendrix ever played (which incidentally was on my 6th birthday!) It’s well worth a visit next time you’re in southern England, it’s a beautiful spot.

  5. Beautiful photos – and ravens on the seafront?! I’m amazed by that, I think of ravens as elusive and secretive birds. I’d love to visit the Isle of Wight some day, thank you for the introduction. Looking forward to part 2!

    • Hello Lorna, the ravens surprised me too. I’ve never seen one that close before – and they are huge! I wasn’t sure it was a raven but then a carrion crow rocked up too, and the difference was in size was very plain to see. These guys were anything but secretive too, they were scavenging along the seafront along with the other corvids.

      I’m pleased you enjoyed the intro to the IoW, make sure you get to check it out, it’s a great place 🙂

  6. Very enjoyable! I love the photo of the young gull especially!

  7. What a beautiful place – I love your photos.

  8. We kept hearing about how good the weather was ‘up country’ Finn. 🙂 Glad you were able to enjoy it. I’ve not been to the Isle of Wight myself. Sailed round it but I have always based south coast holidays in Poole. Looking forward to part II.

    • Part 2 is imminent, I’ve got all the images together apart from one.

      Poole’s a great spot. I love Poole harbour, and Sandbanks, and Purbeck, and Studland… which I’ll also talk about in Part 2.

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