'She thinks of nothing but the Isle of Wight and she calls it 'The Island' as if there were no other island in the world." Jane Austen
Bone-jour, your corguide woofing :) Did we ever mention how much we love to travel? We do! It's a bug Maman and Papa caught long before they even thought of welcoming a fluffy member to the family.
Whilst they will leave me behind occasionally, they find it a lot less stressful and much more enjoyable for me to tag along, when reasonable (ie they would not fly me in the haul "just for a holiday" or take me to a place they know will be too warm for me to be comfortable).
So we were really thrilled when Red Funnel invited Maman and I to sample how incredibly welcoming the Isle of Woof (aka the Isle of Wight) is to humans and dogs, with activities to please the whole family. Joining me for the weekend were Plum Pudding and her mom Lisa, Baxter and Jen, and our fabulous guides Jasper and Sophie.
Put aside all the silly things you may have read or heard about the island, I'm taking you on a 3-day trip to one of my new favourite UK destinations!
Our journey begun at London Waterloo station, on a very hot Friday afternoon, with a 1h25 min train ride to Southampton Central. Dogs travel for free on National Rail in the UK and are also allowed on the shuttle bus from the train station to the ferry terminal (which is free for Red Funnel ticket holders and runs every 15-30min).
Boarding the regular Red Funnel ferry from Southampton to East Cowes as foot passengers (the one that also transports cars), we were shown to the upper A-deck, where well behaved dogs are welcome, inside and outside, free of charge, as long as they keep their owners on lead and respect other passengers. Dogs can also stay in the car if they prefer (with windows slightly ajar and water). During the 55-60min crossing Maman and I enjoyed the views across the Solent whilst acquainting with our travel companions, refreshing ourselves (dog bowls and water are provided on board) and dreaming of one day taking one of the bigger cruise liners to cross the pond.
Le House (& Farm)
Upon arrival we were picked up by our driver for the stay, in a dog-friendly taxi, and driven to our accommodation for the weekend - the stunning and very recently modernised East Afton Farmhouse in Freshwater.
Described as perfect for a self-catering escape, the luxurious 5-bedroom and 6-bathroom Georgian country house was built in the 1700's and played host to the original Isle of Wight Festival in the 1970's (rumour has it Jimi Hendrix used its facilities). It can accommodate up to 12 guests (six more in the annex) and is equipped with a spacious kitchen, cinema room, wifi and hot tub/jacuzzi on the deck. There is plenty of space for dogs to play outside in the pretty gardens, and even a pond I could not resist to put to le test ;)
The house is surrounded by stunning countryside with fine views towards The Downs. It is situated next to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with many walking and riding opportunities, close to Brightstone Forest and Compton Beach (a surfing spot), as well as the picturesque harbour town of Yarmouth.
The building was recently acquired by the family-run Tapnell Farm, which offers a variety of dog-friendly accommodations (from glamping in safari or bell tents. cabins and pods to modulogs, cottages and a manor, hot tub optional), a honesty store, a restaurant, and hosts many activities.
Le Evening Walk & Dinner
After we called shots on our bedrooms of choice, my new buddies and I strutted along the Tapnell Trail, a short inland walk connecting East Afton Farmhouse to Tapnell Farm.
There we had dinner at The Cow Co. (open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and Thursday to Saturday for dinner), a vibrant and rustic restaurant with stunning views. We were offered fresh water and treats whilst the humans enjoyed beer from the island and delicious, locally-sourced food including heirloom tomatoes, baked camembert (the bread I hear was to die for), true blue salad, spider steak and Eton mess.
After a very relaxing night and filling breakfast, our minibus took us to Compton Car Park for a quick sighting of the Round the Island Race. The 50-mile one-day yacht race around the coastlines of the Isle of Wight attracts competitors from around the UK and the world, and so we were treated to spectacular views over 1600 boats and the White Cliffs.
Next on the agenda was Carisbrooke Castle, which has served as an Elizabethan Artillery Fortress, a King’s prison and a Royal Summer Residence and was built in 1066 to prevent an attack from the Normans.
Today preserved by English Heritage, the castle welcomes well-behaved dogs on lead and we had a lot of fun taking photos (with a Nikon and a... err... cannon), walking on the rampart, greeting the donkeys and sniffing the gorgeous flowers in the gardens.
Le (1st) Pub Lunch
Conquering a castle is exhausting and so we then left and headed to the Blacksmiths Arms, a family-run pub located just outside the village of Carisbrooke. With indoors and outdoors seating (both welcoming dogs) and breathtaking panoramic views, the freehouse offers fresh seafood, daily specials, and a selection of the finest Isle of Wight brewed beers and ales.
After an aperitif of dog biscuits and fresh water for Plum Pudding, Baxter and I, we enjoyed a well-deserved nap on the terrace whilst Maman, Lisa, Jen and Sophie lunched on mouth-watering salads, homemade pies and even found room for a cheeky dessert. The Blacksmith Arms also offers many vegetarian options and the new owners take pride in offering daily specials and welcoming their guests.
Le Godzilla Moment
Now this is the part we thought would the cheesiest activity of the stay: Godshill Model Village. Well I can report that it was actually super fun! Described as a very "fifties Isle of Wight experience", the family-run business was established in 1952 and is perfect for families. In the miniature village, set in the grounds of the Old Vicarage, we went down memory lane, admiring the vintage buses, train, churches, bathing huts and thatched roofed cottages.
After a quick photo op and that dogzilla video, we drove to Alum Bay for our next adventure.
Le Boat Ride
The Needles Pleasure Cruises offers boat tours around The Needles, giving you the chance to get up close and personal with the world famous rocks. The 20-minute cruise around the coastline and lighthouse also offers a great panoramic view of the coloured sands of Alum Bay. Dogs are welcome on board, free of charge, and there are departures every 15-30 minutes from 10.30am.
Le Greek escape, Dinner (and a cocktail or two)
This is the part where Red Funnel teleported us to Greece and the Caribbean, without leaving the Isle of Wight! As we arrived at Colwell Bay early, we did get to enjoy one of the most picturesque beaches on the west coast of the Island with views stretching across The Solent and to mainland England (the New Forest and Hurst Castle are visible on clear days), clear turquoise blue water (no kidding!) and the prettiest colourful beach huts.
After a refreshing stop for a cocktail and bowl of water, and shopping stop for Maman (finally reunited with her infamous inflatable lobster float, don't ask!) we walked along the headland to nearby Totland Bay and had dinner at The Waterfront, a beachfront location that specializes in Mediterranean and seafood dishes and is the perfect place to watch the sun set.
Le UK Corgi Club frap
Back at East Afton Farmhouse after dinner I was treated to an off-programme surprise: my handsome UK Corgi Club friend Rocket, who lives on the island, came to say bone-soir and we had a jolly good time playing in the garden whilst our co-travellers were watching the other Marcel (Love Island what?) in the cinema room and the humans took a relaxing dip in the hot tub (too bad I'm too stumpy to jump in).
Le très dog-friendly Breakfast at Off the Rails
Venture to the old Yarmouth Station and you will find yourself at Off the Rails. Originally built in the 1800’s, the building house Victorian tradition and character. The old station has been given a new lease of life welcoming walkers, cyclists, birdwatchers, tourists and locals to the area by becoming a wonderful restaurant that specialises in first class service, excellent food (and I'm not just saying that because the owner is French!). Pawssibly the most dog-friendly eatery on the island, Off the Rails even offers doggie ice-cream and main meals.
The human breakfast options include the aptly named "Mind the Gap" and "Flying Scotsman" (pictured), and beautiful views. Plum Pudding, Jasper, Baxter and moi then took on an ice cream eating challenge and I am pleased to repawt that I won by being the first to finish mine!
Le Wight route walkies
After such a filling breakfast we walked from Jubilee car park across Brighstone and Mottistone Downs with views across to Afton and Tennyson Downs, partly on an official ‘Walk the Wight’ route. As we headed towards the Jurassic Coastline, we met some very curious cows and a lot of sheep.
Le (2nd) Pub Lunch
The fantastic walk left us... hungry and so we hand lunch at The Sun Inn in Hulverstone. The gorgeous thatched-roof pub with a history spanning over 600 years old is described as the perfect pit stop for walkers and cyclists. Dogs of all shapes and sizes are welcome there, as long as they are well behaved, and there is a dog menu and even a Facebook page dedicated to their canine visitors.
For the humans, head chef James has created a wide range of mouth-watering dishes including pub classics, gluten-free and vegetarian options to suit all tastes and budgets. Maman opted for the Yarmouth crab salad and a cheeky citrus tart for dessert, which she loved.
Le Fossil Hunt
Brook Chine (the word "chine" is specific to the Isle of Wight and comes from the Saxon word "cinan" - a gap or yawn) lies on the unspoiled south-west coast of the Isle of Wight and is made up of nothing more than golden sands. The beach forms part of the Jurassic Coastline where Dinosaurs are believed to have walked thousands of years ago and fossils have been collected here since the 1850’s.
The last adventure of the weekend was organised by Dinosaur Expeditions, offering us a unique chance to explore the area with an expert hunting for fossils and Dinosaur traces. Up to three different types of Dinosaur footprints are believed to have been found here. After playing with our guide's dog on the beach we found some sparkly fossil wood and quartz, and I compared my mitts to that of a dinosaur (now who's got the biggest?).
As all good things come to an end we then made our way back to East Cowes for the ferry and then train ride back to the mainland. Believe it or not this was "only" a sample of the West part of the Island so I hope to return to show Papa our findings and what a fantastique destination the Isle of Woof is, for a short or longer break, with activities to everyone's taste, stunning views and outstanding food.
Merci beaucoup to Red Funnel and all the wonderful local businesses who invited us, you all truly made us canine (and humans) feel welcome and have fun, we will be back soon!
Bonus film of my Instagram stories during the trip:
Ferry / Trains / Going out manners :
- allow for a potty break before and after the ferry / train ride / meal
- please consider leaving dogs that are nervous with other dogs or people in the car during the ferry crossing (with water and windows ajar under cover) and avoiding uncomfortable situations for Fido (ie crowded transports or busy pubs if they are not house trained, used to those or nervous), don't ruin it for the rest of us!
- bring a safety harness for the dog
- pack a towel that can also double as a cover for the seats - some taxis will charge a surcharge to have the car professionally cleaned
- keep your humans on lead near livestock (you never know they could get too excited like mine or have that herding instinct kick in and scare the poor animals - remember farmers are allowed to shoot dogs bothering their livestock in the UK).
- if the cows become too promiscuous, get the humans to make big gestures with their arms to keep them at bay and walk away.
- always carry some water and a bowl, especially on hot days, and when walking on tarmac put the back of your hand on it - if it's too hot for you to hold a few seconds then it's too hot for us to walk on.
We were invited to the Isle of Wight to report on how dogs were welcome there. All opinions are our own.