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    Island pursuits

    Monday, May 31, 2010

    Bungalow Industries had a bank-holiday field trip to the Isle of Wight - a return to a childhood holiday haunt for David, and a first time for Scott - with a very packed itinerary in store! A 4am start for an ungodly-timed ferry from Portsmouth landed us in Fishbourne bright and early for a weekend of touring in the Spider, visiting friends... and seeking out some of the Island's mid-century modernist architectural gems.

    Having a couple of hot leads property-wise on the very south of the Island, we based ourselves in Bonchurch - a picturesque seaside village on the easterly edge of Ventnor. The town and its 'Undercliff' region is nowadays home to the Island's species-rich botanic gardens - with the unique geology offering a sheltered, sub-tropical microclimate. Formerly the site of the Royal National Hospital, the renowned therapeutic air offered comfort to consumption sufferers for over 80 years until the arrival of effective antibiotics whereupon it fell into disrepair, to be demolished in 1969.

    Our chosen B&B turned out to be something spectacular and quite unique: the Winterbourne Country House. With a breath-taking coastal setting, mesmerising view, suite-like room and superb hospitality, all expectations were exceeded. We'd taken some work with us and planned to use spare time to recharge batteries and provide inspiration. Of this, there was no shortage: some 151 years earlier, none other than the great Charles Dickens had occupied the very next room penning David Copperfield! (No pressure there, then!)

    With our days filled with coastal walks, the Botanic Gardens, mackerel lunches in secret coves and even a boat trip to a birthday party on the beach, we barely had time to check out the architecture - but luckily we'd based ourselves in just the right spot...

    Exploring the Undercliff, we were lucky enough to spot a number of gems including Chert (shown below left) - now owned and let as holiday accommodation by the National Trust, and described as one of their most unusual properties. Several more individually styled mid-twentieth century homes are to be found dotted around, enjoying the panoramic sea views and it was a treat to see these buildings preserved in their original state by fellow modernist enthusiasts. These properties are of true architectural significance and the Twentieth Century Society has, in the past, organised guided tours of Wight's mid-century-modern hideaways. You can read more about Chert's interesting history here on their website.

    Our visit was timed to perfection to coincide with the Bembridge Street Fair where we stepped back into a bygone era of bunting, brass bands, bric-a-brac and cream teas all to the most perfectly elocuted commentary over the Hi-De-Hi-style tannoy. Our Island chums Zoë and Tim were holding their regular stall, selling Zoë's beautiful art-based photographic cards and knitted ties, along with Tim's wonderfully ingenious driftwood sconces. Their stall created a real buzz and a lot of smiles, and it was great to see their work being bought by holidaymakers and locals alike.

    There's so much more to explore on Wight than our three days allowed and we're really looking forward to getting back there as soon as we can. We'd definitely stay at the Winterbourne again, and highly recommend it too (try the kippers for breakfast!). The great British seaside holiday is alive, well and thriving on Wight and with all the fun of the ferry it even feels like you're going abroad.

    All too soon, and with heavy hearts, we bade our farewells and made for the port - but not before a mad dash to Captain Stan's for two pots of his finest crabmeat for a seafood supper back home!