A family holiday tradition – Viv’s view
One of my earliest photos, aged two and three-quarters, shows me in the sea at Seaview on the Isle of Wight, splashing and beaming with pleasure (I’ll spare the reader this image). I can date it exactly because the chain pier at Seaview is behind me in the photo, and this blew down on Boxing Day 1951. The visit marked the start of my love of the Isle of Wight and a long family association with the island.
My parents, uncle and aunt and their families used to holiday every year at Seaview, staying in boarding houses in the magically-named Fairy Road. This was a pattern for several years, and returning again in my teens, nothing seemed to have changed.
For me and my sister, the long, sandy beaches were (and still are) heaven. They were too for my own children and their friends, when we started visiting again in 1988 after a 25-year gap. We were lucky enough to discover a large flat in a lovely old house, which we rent once or twice a year. The flat can sleep up to 10 people, including four children in bunk beds, so we have always visited with a combination of family and friends across three generations. A huge bay window looks out across the Solent, so you can watch the ships passing day and night.
The main appeal of the flat is its large garden, with a door leading down to the beach. When the children were small, they would tumble down the garden and start digging in the sand as soon as we arrived. They were quite happy to spend most days on the beach, though Blackgang Chine was a firm favourite – Britain’s oldest theme park which I also visited as a child. As they got older, we discovered special places such as Dimbola, former home of the Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
My son, now nearly 40, has rarely missed a visit. After travelling round Europe in his gap year, he caught the Santander to Portsmouth ferry so he could join us. My mum also joined us every year into her 90s. Over the years, we’ve explored every inch of the Island and walked on most of the beaches – in my case, often at dawn.
The Island – and particularly Seaview – is a very special place to me because of its apparently unchanging nature, though every year the weather has eroded some part of the shoreline. I can chart my own life and my children’s lives through the annual visits and there is a great sense of familiarity and continuity. When I get on the ferry, I start to relax, and in some ways, it always feels like a homecoming. I feel like an Overner even if, to Islanders, I’m still a Grockle!
Living on the island – Janice’s view
I don’t have Viv’s lifelong connection to the Isle of Wight. I visited when I was fifteen with my parents, and again when my own children were very small. But life takes unexpected turns, and twenty years ago we relocated here, joining the ranks of the Overners. An ‘Overner’ is someone not native to the Island, as opposed to a ‘Caulkhead’ who is, and a ‘Grockle’ who comes for holidays.
With a population of 142,296, you’d be surprised how often we meet people who know other friends or colleagues. Those people we stayed with when I was fifteen… a new friend turned out to be their daughter-in-law! Recently I asked someone for historical information to help me further a piece of research. I didn’t say who the work was for, but she already knew…
We also quickly realised that, although the Island is a diamond shape measuring just 23 x 13 miles, those distances can seem huge in the mind of the locals. When I found myself commenting that Yarmouth was a long way to travel for afternoon tea, I knew I’d become an Islander. Not a Caulkhead, you understand, but an Islander nevertheless.
Like Viv’s home from home, we’re fortunate to have a house overlooking the sea – in our case Sandown Bay and the English Channel beyond. Twenty years on, I still can’t believe my luck to gaze from the windows and have whatever the weather reflected back to us in the colours of the sea. As I write this, it’s a beautiful rich deep blue; but there is beauty in all its guises.
Like many coastal towns, parts of the Island seem a bit down at heel these days, but I always think it has something for everyone if you know where to look. When we have friends and family to stay, I’ve developed a knack for matching outing to person, and factoring in weather, time available and present direction of travel. Often, these little gems cost nothing at all.
Favourites include Yaverland Beach and Brooke Beach, where fossilised casts of dinosaur footprints, not to mention actual dinosaur bones that are worked on by palaeontologists, fall regularly from the cliffs after heavy rains; Newtown, once a thriving borough and port, now a beautiful nature reserve and harbour with a seventeenth century Town Hall and a handful of houses; Quarr Abbey, a working Benedictine monastery with a teahouse, farm animals and tranquil walks that include the ruined former medieval abbey; and Godshill, the quiet picturesque village with thatched cottages and a medieval church, where – well, where else?! – the first Isle of Wight Festival took place in 1968.
It’s difficult to believe we’ve been here twenty years. When I was a teenager holidaying with my parents, I was always envious of the kids growing up by the sea. My own children are adults now, living and working back on the mainland, but I’m really happy they were able to grow up here beside the sea.