Island memories of golden era

The stunning view over Freshwater Bay on the western side of the Isle of Wight.
Pictures courtesy of Visit Isle of Wight

Bill McCarthy enjoys the delights of the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is host of to one of the largest collections of fossils in Europe and I’m not talking about the ageing relics who flocked there for what was, arguably, the biggest music festival ever in 1970, writes Bill McCarthy

It seems a little incongruous that an island of such relative tranquility could have hosted that Isle of Wight Festival, one of the most famous music events of all time – but a bronze statue of the legendary Jimi Hendrix, who died just weeks after performing there, is a permanent reminder at Freshwater Bay, Dimbola Lodge museum.

After Bob Dylan headlined the 1969 event, the 1970 event is said to have surpassed the numbers attending the legendary Woodstock festival in America, with an estimated 600,000 fans watch over fifty performers were Jimi Hendrix,  The Doors, The Who, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Joni Mitchell, The Moody Blues, Melanie, Donovan, Free, Leonard Cohen, Jethro Tull and Rory Gallagher’s Taste.

The unexpectedly high attendance levels led, in 1971, to Parliament adding a section to the Isle of Wight County Council Act 1971 preventing overnight open-air gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special licence from the council.

The Hendrix statue at Dimbola Lodge

A form of that festival continues to this day as do other musical gatherings such as the International Jazz Festival and Bestival. But music fans and other visitors can also take advantage of some of the most stunning coastal vistas and inland green beauty that make up the biggest island of England.

Especially in this time of Covid infections, where the island remains a relatively untouched haven, currently in the lowest lockdown tier.

The Island supports the nationwide ‘Good to Go’ initiative by Visit England, a national criteria set to equip you, our valued visitor, with everything you need to know before, during and after you travel to the Isle of Wight. 

It would have seemed a long way off back in those days, but travel to the island has now become greener. Having introduced its new environmentally-friendly ferry Victoria of Wight in 2018, Wightlink has introduced a hybrid energy ship that runs partly on electricity. Victoria of Wight offers greener crossings every hour, using at least 17 per cent less fuel than its sister ships.

The Isle of Wight is also the seventh area in the UK to be awarded a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, in June 2019.  The Isle of Wight is ideal for an eco-friendly escape, and with Wightlink visitors can choose to travel by foot, bicycle, or car. For those on foot, Wightlink’s FastCat service takes just 22 minutes and customers can bring their bicycles on board at no extra cost.

For those wanting to bring their eco-friendly electric vehicles to the Island, there are 17 charging stations spread across the Isle of Wight, as well as Wightlink’s own EV charging points at Portsmouth car ferry terminal, Lymington, Fishbourne and Ryde Pier, all part of Wightlink’s Green Agenda.

The island was home to the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, and to Queen Victoria, who built her own residence at Osborne House at East Cowes. It is home to a myriad of wildlife and is one of the richest locations of dinosaur fossils in Europe.

With its miles of coast it’s no surprise that it is popular with families looking for seaside locations, but it also features picturesque walks and cycleways that offer the tranquility that is often missing in the island’s towns. Initiatives offer a range of fresh air challenges for parents and children to tackle.

Families can set out on foot to find miles of virgin sand, rocky ledges, monster vegetation covering huge expanses of rock pools, flora and fauna rarely found on mainland Britain and even those dinosaur bones and fossils that have been hidden for millions of years. The island is situated between three and five miles from the mainland and is serviced by a number of ferries from various ports.

We travelled from picturesque Lymington to Yarmouth on the western side of the island with Wightlink.

Previously we have travelled from Porstsmouth to Fishbourne, but as we were staying in the quiet, but pretty, Totland Bay, we landed just a couple of miles from our accommodation, the Sentry Mead hotel.

An imposing Victorian house that has been a hotel since the 1930s, the building has 16 individual rooms, the best of which give spectacular views across the Solent.

On top of that the staff are naturally friendly and the hotel offers excellent food in a cosy and relaxed atmosphere. A nice touch is the complimentary coffee that is available from late afternoon onwards.

From the seaside atmosphere of Ryde to miles of mostly unpopulated downland, the island is surprisingly diverse. Try an offbeat trip to the island’s garlic farm. Here you can try all types of garlic and they even offer a garlic beer.

The Isle of Wight Steam Railway takes visitors back to the golden age of steam. Be prepared for queues though, this is a very busy attraction.

For those who love spectacular scenery the imposing Needles rocks are worth seeing, but be prepared for a walk. When the kids have tired with that the Needles theme park virtually next door offers plenty of rides for them to let off steam.

So much to see and do. The relics who attended that momentous festival in 1970 probably didn’t know what they were missing.­

* Bill travelled to the Isle of Wight with Wightlink. For hotel information, visit www.sentrymead.co.uk

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