You may recall that I am Eastbourne’s only sight-seeing guide licensed by the council. Recently, I was contacted by a Dutch travel agent, with a party of 53 to be staying in a seafront hotel.
They were to be staying for five days, and on one of these they were planning on visiting the Isle of Wight. For the day. From Eastbourne. And they wanted me to be their tour guide on the coach.
The island is diamond shaped, 25 miles by 13 miles, or 40k by 20k. In the English Channel off the south coast county of Hampshire, it has 59 miles of coastal roads, the majority of the south western area is an area of designated natural beauty, and a population of 132,000.
I have frequently performed the role of coach guide when in the local vicinity, but it was a first to travel so far afield, because it is 100 miles to the ferry port of Southampton. This is where the Red Funnel ferry departs from, and the majority of the journey is taken along the A27, some dual carriageway, but quite a lot of potential areas for hold ups.
There is also ferry access from Portsmouth, and a foot passenger hovercraft from Southsea that takes twenty minutes. Our ferry took just under an hour, seating in very comfortable chairs in a choice of lounges. Plenty of snacks and hot food available, toilets unisex and clean.
It was a wet day. The Isle of Wight was wet. The Isle of Wight was under frequent mist the higher we went, but it was a great day out.
We landed at East Cowes, home to the famous annual August regatta. The route took us along the easterly coast via Ventnor, Sandown, Shanklin, and we ended on the remote south west coast with the long coach straddling the cats eyes in the middle of the road. Fred the driver, or Fritz as he was known to his passengers, (don’t ask why the name change, I have no idea why it was anglicized for UK benefit) really earned his pay today, with frequent narrow roads and superb width judgment.
Our destination was the only attraction open in the island to larger parties who required refreshment as well as comfort areas – the Isle of Wight Pearl factory. This is right on the coast with superb view, and a large sign in the grass for the public not to stray too close to the cliff edge.
It is a single story building right in the middle of nowhere, on the road to the western point called The Needles. There is a huge car park, a very large area for coaches, and it was deserted. The Isle of Wight struggles to cater for visitors out of season, and it was only this commercial outlet that was open.
The shop is light, airy, and with excellent views out to sea – as long as there is no mist to obscure. The self service restaurant lady was completely unfazed at such a large number descending, coping efficiently and quickly. The pearl factory manufacture on site, with demonstrations available.
The visit went all too fast, as we had a booked ferry for the return. This was fascinating to me.
I was seated in the front next to Fred/Fritz, and under the dashboard was a large fridge. In the fridge were small bottles of wine and beer, with sodas in the door almost as an afterthought. During the return to Eastbourne it was emptied, as the passengers stayed awake to lustily sing national songs, even at one stage performing a conga dance along the central aisle.
They certainly knew how to enjoy themselves, they were a real pleasure to be with, all speaking excellent English. What a great day out.