Our recent trip to the Isle of Wight was our first, but one we were very much looking forward to. There are a number of ways to reach the island but we opted for the ferry crossing from Lymington to Yarmouth, since we were heading for the West Bay Club and Spa between Yarmouth and Freshwater. This is an immaculate 15-acre self-catering complex of New England style cottages, with extensive sports facilities and a spa on site.
Arriving in the mid-afternoon, we were warmly welcomed and given a short tour of the club’s sports facilities (more on that later), before settling into our accommodation. We stayed in a three-bedroomed, two-storey Whitfield cottage which could sleep 5. Downstairs consisted of an open plan living area and dining room.
I’ve always felt that self-catering accommodation is ideally suited to families – particularly young families – so having access to our own fully-equipped kitchen as well was an added bonus.
Of course, when you first arrive, unless you have pre-planned and packed carefully, or thought ahead and pre-arranged a Tesco delivery, you won’t have provisions ready for your arrival, but staff at the West Bay Club are well aware of this, and you can pre-order items such as milk, cereal, bread, etc. for your first night/morning. There’s also an on-site deli that stocks basic provisions. What’s more, the coffee house at the Country Club can even prepare a dish for you – we had a delicious shepherds pie made for us, and all we had to do was put it in the oven at our convenience. What a great way to get your holiday off to a hassle-free start!
If instead you prefer to eat out, there are also plenty of options. We ventured to the nearby Red Lion at Freshwater which had an open fire and cosy atmosphere, as well as to the New Inn, a regular winner of the Isle of Wight Dining Pub of the Year just the other side of Yarmouth.
Returning to the accommodation, upstairs were the bedrooms (one double, a twin and a single) – light and airy, and simply but tastefully decorated.
But perhaps the biggest asset of all at West Bay is the Country Club. This is a great bonus, both for local residents and holidaying guests, and with ample facilities to accommodate both. At its heart is a heated indoor swimming pool where, as well as swimming, there are allocated sessions for aqua-fit lessons, games of water polo and for children to simply play and splash about.
Wander around and you’ll discover that there’s much more to this building. As well as the coffee house, you’ll find a sports hall for football, basketball, badminton, etc., a table tennis and pool table area, a gym, a room dedicated to spinning, squash courts and a spa.
At the ESPA spa I had a back, neck and scalp massage, which was very relaxing but also worked at some deep-rooted issues I seem to have been having with my neck (too much computer time, no doubt).
Outside there are tennis courts and there’s a highly experienced resident tennis coach available. Our two boys had a joint lesson with Andrew Fisher, a former tennis professional and coach to Heather Watson (the current female British number one). Andrew has a keen eye for detail and was very quickly able to pinpoint our boys’ strengths and weaknesses and provide them with specific tasks to help overcome them.
Beyond the immediate confines of West Bay, there’s lots more to enjoy. You can hire bikes and go on guided trips with staff from the Country Club. We went on a multi-terrain mountain bike outing with the very friendly Zach – a short circular route of around 5 miles, but a very muddy one, too!
We also went on a walk with Stan (himself training for an Ironman so no pressure to keep up!) who took us up to the famous Needles and the Needles Battery, a Victorian coastal fort, at the westernmost point of the island.
It was an overcast day, but it was dry and the views were very enjoyable, despite the slightly restricted visibility. On our return from The Needles, we took in the beautiful Alum Bay. These colourful sand cliffs become a hive of activity in the Summer months. There’s an amusement park at the top and a chair lift down to the beach below.
On our return, we called briefly at Freshwater, with its chalk cliffs. This was where the poet Alfred Tennyson used to live and also happens to be the birthplace of the 17th Century physicist Robert Hooke, famous for being the first to look at cells through a microscope. Freshwater was once a smugglers’ delight and if you venture along the coastline at low tide, you’ll find a number of smugglers’ caves.
Our outings with Zach and Stan had been really fun. They were both very friendly – something we found throughout the staff at West Bay – and they were both helpful and accommodating with our children.
On the penultimate day of our stay, we went further afield to Sandown on the other side of the island, and went on a fossil walk led by a member of staff from the Dinosaur Isle attraction.
The weathered rocks of the cliffs here were riddled with fossils, from exciting finds such as dinosaur bones and sharks’ fins to simple trace fossils. There was a great variety in such a small area so both fun and educational at the same time.
In Dinosaur Isle itself, there was lots more to see, as well as a BBC film crew at work, here filming a piece on iguanadons.
We’d had a great time on the Isle of Wight but sadly it had to come to an end. On the plus side, there was lots more to see and do should we ever have the opportunity to return.
Before we boarded the ferry to return home, our boys had a very quick impromptu basketball lesson with Zach. This is Zach’s main sport and so watching them try to tackle him as he did various tricks with two balls at the same time was highly entertaining! On a practical level, he did give them a few tips on how to shoot – balance, elbow, extend and flick were the four key things they were taught to remember (“BEEF, not horse”, Zach said to them, making reference to the current horsemeat scandal which they found highly amusing!).
If, like us, you’ve never been to the Isle of Wight… then go! And if you’re travelling with family, and want to find a place that caters for all, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better base to stay than the West Bay Club & Spa.