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Our top things to do on the Isle of Wight this winter

The Isle of Wight is southern England in a nutshell, with a coastline that ranges from high cliffs to meandering estuaries, vast beaches and woodlands home to that definition of animal magnetism, the red squirrel. Christmas, when a wintry, cool, crisp frost settles on the undulating coastal downs, is a perfect time to visit, take a walk and enjoy some fine food.

Where to see red squirrels and great walks on the Isle of Wight

Winter is the best time of year to see red squirrels (which are incredibly rare elsewhere in England) as they descend from the leafless tree branches to gather nuts. 

You are more or less guaranteed to see them at Parkhurst Forest by the coast near Gurnard and Cowes. You can cycle to and around parts of the forest on the Red Squirrel trail.  Further west, the landscapes of the Isle of Wight reach a dramatic crescendo at The Needles, an ensemble of chalk pinnacles that resemble upturned teeth. These teeter into the milky waters at the base of mighty Tennyson Down, a sweeping expanse of grassland whose contours resemble a ski-jump. 

With collapsed cliffs falling 100m into the sea, sweeping views, estuaries and hills bouncing away to the horizon, you can see why the late English poet laureate Sir John Betjeman described the area as ‘an earthquake poised in mid-explosion’. A stunning three-mile walk (there and back) from the Needles leads eastwards along the down up to the Tennyson Monument and views right across the Island.

After a brief exposure to the wintry elements at the Needles it’ll be time to warm up. For a nearby coffee and cake you could try PO41 Coffee House in the small port of Yarmouth on the north coast – fine coffee and home-made bakes are the order of the day in this converted Post Office (food is displayed on the original counter

Yarmouth is England’s 2nd smallest town and it’s a short stroll across the square to the Yarmouth Deli which stocks some of the more than 50 Island food producers including locally-made sourdough, soft and hard cheeses,  meat and vegan sausage rolls and pies along with excellent flapjacks and tiffin.

On the east coast, Sandown Bay is simply magnificent – there are five miles of unbroken sands here to wander along. After you’ve worked up an appetite on the sands, you could head for the 16th century Buddle Inn, fabulously located at Niton high above St Catherine’s Point with views over the English Channel. A former haunt of smugglers, this pub ticks every box, with hearty pies and real ale amid inglenook beams, a roaring fire and flagstone floors.

Our top things to do on the Isle of Wight this winter Our top things to do on the Isle of Wight this winter
Our top things to do on the Isle of Wight this winter

Looking for a place to stay on the Isle of Wight? Stay on a farm or in a boutique B&B

A working sheep farm, Nettlecombe Farm offers both cosy-1-bed cottages and larger converted barns and mill parlours that accommodate families, all spread around a courtyard. 

Young families and children can feed farm animals, from llamas to rabbits on morning tours. The farm is owned by the Morris family, which has had an agricultural presence locally for more than 100 years. The farm also offers access along public footpaths to the high downs. Take the short hike up to Stenbury Down to the east of the farm where you have a 360-degree panorama of the island. Look west and you can gaze all the way to Tennyson Down’s chalk cliffs, more than 20 miles away.

Just below Tennyson Down, in the village of Freshwater, you will find the excellent Bay Boutique BB. Rooms are extremely comfortable and fixtures include refurbished vintage furniture in a completely renovated Victorian building. Ask for a room at the front: in the morning you can pull back the curtains and gaze out across the whaleback contours of Afton Down hard by the English Channel. 

The B&B is run by Paul Mocroft, a former UK National Recycling Officer and everything is done with a low-carbon footprint, including solar panels and heating boosted by biomass. Breakfast includes vegan and vegetarian options with almost everything sourced from food grown on the Island. Paul also hires out electric bikes to explore the surrounding downland.