Friday 31 May 2019

Isle of Wight 24th-28th May 2019

The 25th May saw my parents reach their Golden Wedding Anniversary – fifty years since they tied the knot in 1969. It was perhaps one of the first times I have really thought about my own age and the fact that I have been around for nearly all of that time that they have been Mr and Mrs Vaughan.

They had chosen the Isle of Wight as a suitable place to celebrate as we spent many a family holiday there from when my brother and I were too young to remember.

My own memories start sometime in the mid to late 1970s when, pre-caravan, we used to stay in the Savoy Hotel in Sandown that overlooked the sea and had curved steps that led up to the front door through lovely gardens. I remember nothing of the interior but I do recall losing my Britain’s Zebra in that front garden just hours after I had bought it with my pocket money from the proper toy shop where the zoo animals were all laid out in lift top wooden and glass cabinets.

I remembered the piers and their amusements and Crazy Golf along the Prom at Shanklin, the dinosaurs of Blackgang Chine, the glowing white cliffs and the Needles and the coloured sands of Alum Bay.

A page from my 1982 notebook...

I had not been back since May 1997 for a mad Bank Holiday Monday twitch for the only Little Swift I have ever seen in the UK and seven years before that for the Alpine Accentor the day before going for the Ancient Murrelet on Lundy. Where does the time go?

And so we found ourselves on the 3pm ferry from Portsmouth on Friday 24th heading across a calm Solent with a keen and chilly breeze in our faces but even this simple journey was not without drama as Mum and Dad had ended up on a different ferry due to an earlier cancellation.

Mum- all aboard!

The Spinnaker and HMS Victory
They boarded before us, the boats were then switched and we left first leaving me with the very odd feeling of disembarking at Fishbourne onto an island on which I had not ever driven and without a clue of where to go.

But time has moved on and you are rarely ever really lost any more and a quick Google search and a few quick taps and a route was laid out before me complete with accompanying polite female voice.  The Fernbank Hotel in Shanklin was our destination and it was a straightforward route down through the leafy hedge lined lanes with Yellowhammers flipping ahead of us. Russell and Ruth came by train from London and hovercraft to Ryde and then the final few miles on the local line to Shanklin meaning that we all got to have dinner out together that evening.

The Saturday dawned grey but there was a hint of blue coming through so it was decided to quite literally have a walk down memory lane all the way along the Promenade from Shanklin to Sandown Pier.

This is quite a stroll as you perambulate along beneath the sandstone cliffs and both my phone and camera were frequently finding some moment or view to capture.

Mum & Dad

The beach huts were where I remembered them and some look old enough to have been there for the last forty years and I looked up hoping for Fulmars and House Martins and found both along with Jackdaws patrolling the cliffs.


Clumps of lemon yellow Lupins clung to the cliff face with trails of pink Hottentot Figs and escaped Mesembrianthimums while Trefoil and Red Valerian splashed colour amongst ferns, Horsetails and Ox-eye Daisies and Southern Marsh Orchids pushed vibrant purple spikes through the grasses but other than a few bees and a single Holly Blue, there were no insects.

Southern Marsh Orchid
It was a day for photos and captured moments and I was having fun with the scenery and candid pics of the family while they were not looking.

We paused at Sandown Pier but declined the delights of the Pier. I was taken aback at how run down the old Victorian hotels were along the seafront.  All were in a sorry state and none looked occupied with broken windows, rotted balcony railings, peeling paint and overgrown frontages but I was still able to find the old Savoy with those steep entry steps upon which my little zebra so mysteriously vanished over forty years ago...

The Savoy - poor thing

After pondering an icecream that we never had it was time for an amble back and by now the sun was out and unbeknown to us we were all getting cooked.  Even the chance of some shade while having coffee and then lunch was scoffed at as it was just nice to feel some warmth.  Foolish humans.

Both bench loads were studying the ice cream options...

The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier heading for Portsmouth

A UASC container ship heading out from Southampton

Crazy golf awaited us back at Shanklin and although the design has changed, it was still where I remembered it and I am even sure that it had dinosaurs back then too.  Eighteen enjoyable holes later it was time to make our way back to Fernbank before heading out for the celebratory dinner with glowing faces, panda sunglasses eyes and crispy shoulders.

Sunday was a bit of a blow out with cold and windy conditions and we had to make do with indoor sites such as the Freshwater Pearl centre, some craft barns where I bought some hundred year old sea charts for a couple of quid (there even have Rainham and Strood on them!) and the wondrously smelly Garlic Farm. I barely took a picture all day but did find some nice Black Bryony (the only European representative of the Yam family) and the last of the Wild Garlic blooms in the lane along side the hotel and a fine patch of Broomrape in a random front garden!

Black Bryony

Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic


Caper Spurge

Broomrape but not sure which one - no obvious host

Bank Holiday Monday was Osborne House day and we arrived in sunshine. The grounds were wonderful and my amblings found four singing Firecrest and even two fledged broods following around at least one parent. This is the first time I have ever seen young of this species. A solitary Red Squirrel dug up what looked like an Oak Apple Gall and scampered up a pine tree while the oaks adjacent to it held am agitated swarm of incredibly noisy Honey Bees.  

Red-ish Squirrel

Honey Bees

The Walled garden held rows of Rhubarb, Ferns, Glads, Peonies and even the Yellow Asphodel that I see on Lesvos and the unmistakeable smell of rotting meat lured my like a fly to the presence of several resplendent Dragon Lilies, again dragging me back to my island.

Giant Tree Echiums towered through the beds and these at least were attracting several species of Bumblebee (pascuorum, terrestris, hypnorum, pratorum and lapidarius).

The scent of the many Pelegoniiums inside was magic...

Dragon Lily

Butchers Broom

Tulip Tree

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I was actually very impressed with Victoria and Albert’s house with its delightfully cluttered rooms of a stately home that was actually ‘homely’ and felt lived in. The mix of art and eclectic display pieces showed that it was actually filled with things acquired because they liked them rather than their appropriateness  to the designated room.

I had some fun with the super slo-mo on my phone...

However it was the Indian room and gallery that caught my eye. The portraits were the best in the in house in my completely un-arty opinion although I could find no artists name for the collection of masterfully captured vignettes of Indians from all walks of life.

I even found some resplendent Khans to send to Nicole.

The views across the Solent to Portsmouth were superb and you could actually picture the Royal family sitting in the terrace with a G’n’T with the bubbling fountain behind them.

The wind was beginning to pick up so we left the rest of Clan Vaughan and spent the rest of the afternoon frustratingly almost circumnavigating the island in search of elusive white cliffs, non-extortionate parking, lunch, sunshine and a bit of road without double yellow lines...

The day ended back down in Shanklin for part deux of the Crazy Gold Challenge where we took on the dangerous world of the Pirate course with its red flowing waters and ribald sea shanties which really were near the mark if any one actually bothered to listen to them!

'Do you recommend the five iron?' Mum asked of Russell

Tuesday morning actually dawned blue and bright and even the wind had dropped and so after a final hearty breakfast I headed back west in the hope of some butterflies.

Just beyond Niton the heavens opened and rain drops that were almost hail pummelled the car as we sat stuck behind two coaches and a dustcart; it was not going well.

As we left the sandstone and came back to the chalk the sun popped out again and I re-found the little car park at Afton Down that I froze in the day before. I scurried up the slope and immediately found several Small Blues, Small Heaths, Dingy Skippers and single Adonis Blues and Glanville Fritillary and no sooner had I thought ‘yay’ then the sun went in and everything disappeared again.

Small Blue

Small Blue

Small Blue

Small Blue

Adonis Blue

Dingy Skipper

Glanville Fritillary

I ventured further up the slope and found no more and then spied a squall heading over the Needles and along the coast so I scampered back down to the car only to see it pass offshore and so trudged my way back up to the top with Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Linnets and a male Stonechat for company.

Linnet and Mipit


I was not so lucky with the second cloudburst as it snuck up on me over the hill and hunkering down for twenty minutes in the lee of a two foot high gorse bush only really stopped my bum, front and lap getting wet. I was soaked through but the views were splendid and I did not mind. Within a minute of each dull spell or rain the Small Blues would appear and dance around the dwarf Privet  and then disappear instantly the sun retreated along with a couple of dazzling Green Hairstreaks.

East towards Whale Chine and Blackgang Chine beyond

The Needles from the Blackgang Chine viewpoint

The Needles
Small Blue
Green Hairstreak
Yellow Rattle

One of the vetches

Rock Rose

Pyramidal Orchid

My twelve minute sunshine total was worth every second. From here it was up to Newport for lunch a la Lidl and then back to the Garlic Farm for a lazy repast on the green sward with added coffee and garlicky aromas before a rendezvous with the other at the Fishbourne pub in preparation of a smooth sunshiny crossing back at 6pm.

Would love to know the breed of domesticated pigeon at the Garlic Farm - superb

I was the only one up on deck with the sun glinting off the Solent to watch a huge container ship heading into a monster squall over Southampton to the west while Osborne House looked down on me from its lofty viewpoint and the green clad trees dipped their toes in the sea all along the shore as far as the eye could see.

It may not have been the visit of relived childhood memories that I envisaged but it jogged a few loose of the Vulcan bomber deafening us and shrouding us with is shadow as it passed low over the centre of town in either 1981 or ’82; of Charles and Di getting married in ’81 with the streets lined proudly with Union Jacks and a walk one evening with my Grandad Stan through the edge of a cornfield with tiny Heartsease Pansies at my feet and Long-eared Bats wheeling around in the darkening blue summer skies...