Looking like a jigsaw piece or a bite taken off the mainland, the Isle of Wight fits snugly into its spot on England’s south coast. The island, and this stretch of coastline, has an intriguing history both ancient and modern.

Anyone interested in learning more about this stretch of coastline will welcome a new exhibition at the St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Lymington; running from 30 November, ‘The Story of our Coast: Fact, Fiction and Fantasy’ takes a look at the history of the area and its role in industry, legend and progress. In addition to local salt and boat building industries, the strategic position of the Lymington and Milford area led to the building of Hurst Castle by Henry VIII and anti-invasion defences during World War II. Myths and stories about the coast abound, with tales of tunnels where smugglers hid their booty becoming flooded by giant tidal waves. The area has also inspired many plans which never came to fruition, including historic ideas for a suspension bridge at Lymington, a pier at Milford and a tunnel to connect Keyhaven with the Isle of Wight. This exhibition explores all this and more.

Info:  01590 676969       www.stbarbe-museum.org.uk

Portsmouth is the usual starting point for a trip over to the Isle of Wight, but visitors should make time to explore the town’s own attractions before jumping on a ferry. At 170 metres high, soaring over the town and sea, the Spinnaker Tower is unmissable, but it is worth a closer look as well. Its position over Portsmouth Harbour provides visitors with incredible views stretching for up to 23 miles over the historic harbour, the Solent and the Isle of Wight. There are three view decks to explore, including ‘Cafe in the Clouds’ at 105 metres above sea level, plus a gift shop and the Waterfront Cafe on ground level. The new i-VIEW interactive view interpretation on view deck one allows everyone to find out more about the many points of interest in the view. The interactive multi-touch screens also use amazing gigapixel photography to enable visitors to zoom in to get a closer look at any aspect of the panoramic view, and i-VIEW can be switched between night and day mode, so no matter what the time of day, visitors can experience the view as it is the rest of the time. The touch screens also offer an option to choose a category from selected points of interest to discover more about all that is connected to it – from famous people to historical places. Icons appear on the screen explaining more.

Next year will see Spinnaker Tower join a number of significant commemorations honouring the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the 100th anniversary of World War I and the 350th anniversary of the Royal Marines. Its unique position next to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard makes it the ideal place for groups to explore what are some of the most significant military events in history. The tower offers a number of joint tickets, which can include entry into the Royal Marines Museum, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum to complete a day out in Portsmouth.

A variety of exhibitions and events being held in 2014, as well as the unique position of the tower itself, presents groups with the chance to see the landmarks, coastline and berthing points that have been crucial in military action for hundreds of years. The tower has recently announced an early bird group booking rate – group bookings for next year, made before the end of November 2013, will be able to take advantage of the 2013 rates.

Info:    02392 857520      www.spinnakertower.co.uk

Once you’ve hopped onto the ferry to make the short journey over to the Isle of Wight, a whole host of tourist attractions, landscapes, walks, beaches, restaurants and historical sites awaits. Groups looking for accommodation will be warmly welcomed at the Trouville Hotel, renowned for friendly hospitality and an ideal base from which to explore the island. All rooms are ensuite, with most offering superb panoramic sea views; the restaurant too looks out over the sweeping bay. The Trouville Hotel offers ferry inclusive group rates by coach or by car and coach drivers are free of charge with discounts also available for couriers.

Info:    01983 402141     info@trouvillehotel.co.uk    www.trouvillehotel.co.uk

Once you’ve settled in, an island packed with beauty and interest is just waiting to be explored. Here, Hilary Allen reports on some of the island’s best bits.

Halfway through a walking holiday, and on the hottest day I had experienced for a couple of years, we headed off to Osborne House in search of a change of pace and some ambient shade! We found both, in abundance. Osborne House provides an insight into the life of Queen Victoria as she seemed to prefer it: away from public scrutiny and surrounded by her family – although Swiss Cottage was erected for her children about a mile away from the house – what a good idea! The tour of the house is both comprehensive and fascinating, as the route navigates visitors through each beautifully restored room. The highlights for me were the excerpts from Victoria’s personal diaries in the entrance hall, which set the scene for what was to follow, and the final climax: the Durbar Room, an extravagantly decorated stateroom demonstrating her patronage of colonial style and craftsmanship. The staff were friendly but not intrusive and the grounds extensive, varied and beautiful, enticing visitors to stroll in gardens, parkland, woodland or along the beach to view Queen Victoria’s bathing machine. More poignantly, behind the Swiss Cottage vegetable plots, we found the cabin of the ship which carried her body from the Isle of Wight to the mainland. If you don’t fancy walking around the estate there is a courtesy bus and there are opportunities for refreshment at various sites around the grounds.

A couple of days later we headed to the area of the Isle of Wight’s most iconic sight, The Needles. After a slow, bumpy ride in a small car (mine) from Shanklin to Alum Bay, a slow trip around the bay in a small boat seemed like a good idea. After paying for parking, we chose to use the steps down to the beach instead of paying another £4 each for being transported by chairlift over the cliff tops to the shore. The steps were well-constructed and very safe, and we arrived on the pebbly beach in time to hop aboard the Ramblin’ Rose belonging to Needles Pleasure Cruises. I think the board that advertised ‘boat trips’ was more accurate than the name of ‘pleasure cruises’, but what ensued was definitely a pleasure, and I’m not entirely certain how or when a trip turns into a cruise – so I won’t quibble!

Pete is the captain of the ship, and he was ably assisted by his one-man crew and his dog – who demonstrated how to position yourself in the exact centre of the boat (under the seats) and brace yourself (on four legs) against any possible turbulence. After one slight splash as we turned to head away from the shore, a quiet word from Pete to the crew ensured that the rest of the journey was calm and dry. Pete’s commentary added an extra layer of interest to the close-up views of coloured cliffs and chalk-white Needles. Stops were made to allow vaguely steady photography before returning to shore.

We later watched the Ramblin’ Rose head away from Alum Bay as the number of visitors wanting pleasure cruises dried up in the face of wind gusts of 27mph … We were lucky with our timing so our sea trip was much smoother than our road trip back home!

On one evening during our Isle of Wight break we headed to a restaurant nearby, Fine Nammet. What does ‘Fine Nammet’ mean? Well ‘nammet’ is an old, local word for food, or specifically, a workman’s lunch. So was the nammet fine? It was indeed! As their website states, this is a restaurant with a passion for local produce and friendly, almost elegant, dining. The location is perfect for visitors to Shanklin, being on the main street, in the midst of a variety of other establishments serving food. The large windows give it an open and spacious feel, and allow passers-by to see what they are missing (booking is essential, as people were being turned away at 7pm on the first Monday in July). The calm and friendly atmosphere is enjoyable in itself and complements the task at hand of ultimately enjoying the delicious and beautiful food! Fine Nammet has received a fantastic response from tourists and locals alike since it opened earlier in 2013. A commitment to working hard and a passion for giving customers great quality local food at a reasonable price shines through, and the effort that has been put in is definitely paying off.

The proprietors, Jenna and Paul, were relaxed and friendly, quickly putting customers at ease, and ensuring that everyone felt welcome and valued – including the children who were enjoying their dinners when we arrived. We were delivered to our table along with a carafe of cold water doing a Pimm’s impression, i.e. garnished with frozen raspberries, mint leaves and chopped cucumber – very refreshing. My meal started with a tasty slice of ham terrine, artistically presented, followed by sea bass and leeks served on a bed of the most scrumptious potato pieces I have ever eaten. My companion kindly allowed me to sample his mixed vegetables (he had a generous portion of tender lamb shank) and these too demonstrated how clever cooking can elevate vegetables from the ordinary to the divine. The final flourish was a generous helping of burnt honeycomb ice-cream in a brandy basket; the texture of the ice-cream included an element of delightful stickiness which made it both an unusual and delicious eating experience.

We chose to accompany our meal with the recommended wine from a local vineyard. This did not disappoint and the next day we drove the few miles to Adgestone Vineyard to purchase a fitting and highly consumable souvenir to take home. Hats off to local produce, local producers and these local restaurateurs who seem to be well on their way to success, as they work beautifully together to delight the tastebuds of their lucky customers.

Info: Osborne House – 01983 200022    www.english-heritage.org.uk/IOW

Needles Pleasure Cruises – 01983 761587  info@needlespleasurecruises.co.uk  www.needlespleasurecruises.co.uk

Fine Nammet – 01983 300335    www.finenammet.co.uk