In my experience some of the most beautiful places in the world are better discovered on foot. So when I was offered the chance to discover a treasure trove part of the Isle of Wight with HF Holidays I couldn’t tie up my brand spanking new Hi-Tec walking boots quick enough alongside my trusted backpack over my shoulder.
But my journey began by non-foot modes of transport namely a train to Portsmouth Harbour, then on the Wightlink ferry across to Ryde ,before travelling by taxi to Freshwater Bay House where the fun all began. A much needed three-course dinner was served swiftly washed down with a glass of wine to help us wind down in preparation for the day ahead.
This historic country house dating from the 1790s, which has been newly refurbished, sits on a cliff top location overlooking the bay after which it is named. It wasn’t until the morning after (my guest and I arrived after dark) that I saw this local landmark commanded awe-inspiring views from many of the rooms and its extensive grounds. But that evening I was only able to admire them via a presentation in the bar which gave us a brief history about the house as well as the various walks that can be had via HF Holidays. It was interesting to learn Queen Victoria had a long connection with the island which follows in the footsteps of writers Tennyson, JB Priestley and Lewis Carroll.
HF Holidays have been organising walking trips as far back as 1913. Choose from a range of destinations around the UK and worldwide with a choice of walks that are all organised by them. Your destination worldwide, accommodation, and choice of walks can all be organised by them.. And as the activity company is owned by their members, all profits are pumped back into the company which means more holidays to enjoy as well as building up a thriving social life.
It’s great watching scenic pictures on the big screen as well as learning about the history that hides behind them, but it’s not until you actually venture out into the great outdoors yourself, do those very scenes come alive. To make the most of them I opted to do the harder of the walks, while my guest Nicky switched from doing the medium to the easy route. Feeling invigorated and refreshed after a good night’s sleep, a hearty well cooked breakfast, I was ready to hit the pavement, road, coastal paths, hills, and whatever else lay ahead.
HF Holidays offer guided, self-guided, challenge walking, walking and sight-seeking, guided trails and island hopping packages. Ours was a guided trip which I prefer because it takes out all the equation of navigating mainly because I have zero navigation skills when it comes to walking but also because I like to immerse myself in the moment. It’s one of the draws of going hiking in my opinion. So our guide Linda led the way as some 20 walkers followed.
The island’s glorious 85 mile coastline boasts unspoilt sandy beaches and dramatic white cliffs. With weather on our side, the sun shining and blue skies, it felt refreshing to have left the hustle and bustle of the mainland. That life seemed like a distant memory at the very first stride. Our 12.4 mile circuit of the western tip of the island followed the Yar Valley to Yarmouth before following the coastal path to Alum Bay. From different angles we were able to spot the jaggy spires of the famous Needles Rocks – the Isle of Wight’s most famous landmark. Linda explained that the needle-shaped rock about 120ft high and known as ‘Lot’s Wife’ collapsed into the sea in 1764 with a crash which had scared the living daylights out of people some serious miles away.
There’s something magical about eating lunch al-fresco and none more so when you have been walking for miles. Our packed lunches made by staff at Freshwater Bay were more than ample. You can choose your lunch from a baguette or a salad and add snacks from their famous self-picnic resembling a mini supermarket containing chocolate, crisps, cereal bars, cake, biscuits and more. They say you should eat mindfully and although my chicken salad was delicious, my mind was well and truly absorbed in my surroundings as I took in the landscape, mountain panoramas and coastal vistas.
Bellies full and more energy to last us for days let alone the remainder five miles, our journey continued over the chalk cliffs of Tennyson Down where several stops were made to admire the views. Too often than not we can get so absorbed in conversation or where we are placing a foot, it’s easy to miss them. But the careful story telling from Linda at various points ensured we had time to take it all in before heading back to Freshwater Bay.
Taking the weight off my feet was bliss as well as ending the day with a hot dinner after six hours of trekking with 1,500 feet ascent. Food at Freshwater Bay is what can only be described as beautifully home-cooked fare. Wherever possible, local produce is used such as beef, ham and fresh fish. Vegetarian and gluten-free diners can rejoice as there is ample choice every day. There’s always room for pudding but if you’re feeling virtuous, you can always ask for half a portion. That way you really can have your pudding and eat it!
Entertainment is laid on many evenings during your stay and we were treated to a live band ‘All Washed Out’ you’d think the last thing I wanted to do was move my feet after that long walk but I found myself tapping to the music. I guess it’s something about being in the open air, a hearty meal and good solid entertainment that just keeps you going.
For more information on HF Holidays visit here.
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