Cycling Guide, Stan
Justin Brown at Farringford
Barefoot on the Beach
Welcome to Salty's!
Barefoot on the Beach Lobster
3 Meals on the Isle of Wight, England
There’s often a sizeable distance between how I imagine that events will unfold and what actually happens. Take the arrival of an invitation, from Red Funnel Ferries, to spend a weekend cycling on the Isle of Wight. I was certain that this would involve sedate pedalling with a west highland terrier in my bike basket, sauntering through village streets and stopping frequently for ice cream to escape from the relentless sun (oh yes, Shanklin is officially the sunniest place in the UK with over two thousand ray filled hours each year). I excitedly trawled my Mary Poppins outfit collection for the white, frothy It’s a jolly holiday one – highly suitable for riding side saddle past talking rabbits whilst I twirled my parasol. I shook my head at the naysayers that were using terminology like “countrywide severe weather warning.”
The reality? Of course there’s gentle cycling on the Isle of Wight and hours and hours of sunshine – just not for me because the island also offers some very serious biking. Stan, the cycling guide, from the West Bay Resort is the most hard-core, all weather cyclist that I have ever met. He wasn’t about to let lashing rain, my whimpering about being sure that it was an actual tornado, or the fact that a professional cycling race had been cancelled (pah, wimps!) stop him from taking us off road to get soaring views from on top of some very steep hills. The island’s a stunning place to cycle through: follow an old railway line nestled against the River Yar’s estuary; climb the chalky hills out of Freshwater Bay for sea views; pass shaggy black cows wandering beside a cliff-top golf course; and wind along high hedged country lanes. The absolute best part of all is that cycling raises a hearty appetite and the Isle of Wight is a hungry, biker’s dream.
Here are my three favourite meals:
Owner, Fraser Jones, has turned a traditional beachside cafe into a first class dining destination. Barefoot on the Beach is open for coffee and daytime eating but going for dinner at sunset is a real treat. The waves crash (or probably hiccup in more restrained weather) and, as the sky darkens outside, candles are lit inside. The menu makes for perfect weekend eating: my meal started with chunky breads dipped into oil made with gigantic, roasted garlic (the island is a prolific garlic producer) and what could be more relaxed than a delicious whole lobster with chips?
When you’ve had a beast of a week there’s a specific kind of meal that you need: one with good friends, slightly wine blurred in an unfussy environment. Salty’s hits the spot. The menu – heavily focused on seafood – is scrawled on chalkboards and there’s graffiti covering the wooden tables, benches, and the ceiling. The food is great – coarse, homemade mackerel pate; hearty steak; whole crab and chips - whilst the owner is seemingly the man behind the phrase “salty old sea dog!”
Farringford - former home of Alfred, Lord Tennyson – is currently being carefully restored by Martin Beisley and Rebecca Fitzgerald. The aim is to return the house to how it would have looked during the Poet Laureate’s residence. However, a very modern restaurant – complete with wood fired oven - nestles in Farringford’s gardens led by, chef, Justin Brown. The menu showcases the best of the island’s produce cooked in innovative and intelligent ways. I went for Sunday Lunch which opened with local tomato soup (it sounds plain but is stunning if you get it this right), followed by Isle of Wight Roast Beef with the best Yorkshire puddings that I can remember and a pudding finale that was an explosion of chocolate, bread pudding magic.
- Getting to the Isle of Wight is easy with Red Funnel. Vehicle Ferries and Red Jet Hi-Speed foot passenger services run regularly around the clock from Southampton. Return Red Funnel Vehicle travel to the Isle of Wight starts at £45 for a short break, but you can save up to 50% off ferry travel when you book your accommodation through Red Funnel Holidays. 0844 844 9988 or visit www.redfunnel.co.uk
- The West Bay Club offers luxury self-catering accommodation in 'New England' cottages. 01983 760355 or visit www.westbayclub.co.uk . They will be able to arrange bike tours with Stan.
- Bikes can be rented from Wight Cycle Hire. 01983 761800 or visit www.wightcyclehire.co.uk
- My lovely biking, eating and drinking trip companions can be followed on Twitter at @LezaanRoos @LifesGreatAdventures @ActuallyAkeela