Isle of Wight. We have a mission: to follow the route of an old 1940s board game around Great Britain, sticking to the instructions as closely as we possibly can. Along the way we will look at the history of the places we visit, with a particular focus on how things have changed since the tour was created around 70 years ago.
Our last stop on the tour was square 9, Bournemouth, and the game instructions for that square directed us to “miss a turn whilst you take a sea trip round the Isle of Wight”. Although the Isle of Wight isn’t actually illustrated on the board itself we thought it would be nice to interpret these instructions by having a week’s holiday there. Our interpretation had to be quite creative. Due to a combination of circumstances our ferry crossing had to serve as the “sea trip”. In fact, we were lucky to get to the island this year at all. We had booked our holiday just a couple of weeks before the Covid-19 lockdown hit the UK, and then had to play a waiting game as to whether we would be allowed to go or not. Fortunately, by the time of our holiday at the beginning of August the government had allowed holiday parks to reopen, so we were able to enjoy our week away. I realise we have been very lucky there. Anyone who booked a holiday earlier in the year was not so fortunate.
We decided to photograph the game board at “The Needles”, probably the most recognisable landmark on the island. This was at the opposite end of the island from St Helens, where we were staying, and it took about an hour to cross the island by car, so that’s about the longest journey it’s possible to take on the Isle of Wight, which is about 22 miles across (the roads through the middle do not go in a straight line!). Most places we decided to visit took us about half an hour at most. The Needles are at the south-eastern tip of the island and are chalk stacks that stick out from the cliffs into the sea. They don’t look much like needles, but that’s because there was originally a fourth, needle-shaped stack, which was taken by a storm in 1764, so the name doesn’t make much sense any more but has stuck over the years. When our game board was made, the Needles were still the site of an artillery battery which had been there since the 1860s, but it was decommissioned in 1954. In 1973 a chairlift was opened, so the whole area looks quite different to the appearance it would have presented to a visitor at the time the board game was made. There is a pleasure park at the top of the cliff, and try as I might I haven’t been about to find out when that was opened originally, so if anyone knows I would be grateful for any information – please use the comments section and then I can update this article, as I am curious to know exactly what a visitor to the Needles would have found there in the year 1948, which is the approximate date of the game.
Throughout the week we visited a variety of locations on the island, the highlights being the beautiful cliff walk at Shanklin Chine, Butterfly World at Wootton Bridge, the Donkey Sanctuary near Wroxall and of course some of the huge choice of beaches. But I like to focus on history for these articles, so my favourite location was Appuldurcombe House, also near Wroxall. Once the site of a priory and then a convent, the current building was constructed in the 18th Century, beginning in 1702. The ornamental grounds were designed by the famous Capability Brown. During the Second World War the house was bombed, so a visitor to the house in 1948 would have already seen the ruin that remains today. It was nearly demolished but was saved by the Ministry of Public Building and Works in 1952. It is now looked after by the English Heritage Trust. We were surprised to find that it is entirely free to visit. You don’t even have to pay for the car parking. The building presents a strange sight. From the front it is intact, with even the roof remaining on that part of the building, and you can look through the windows to see a couple of portraits on the walls, but once you walk around the side it presents a different picture altogether. You can walk inside the ruins, and even walk up one of the staircases, although of course it leads to nothing but a dead end because the upper floors are gone. The grounds are a lovely place to take a walk. The children had fun running around, and we enjoyed a picnic there.
Our next leg on the tour will be Exeter. To read previous articles in this series please follow the links below.
The photos that accompany this post were taken during our visit. Please do not reuse them without permission. RP