Hotels & Travel, Mr Sloan

Guided Walking with HF Holidays at Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland, offering a peaceful haven of picture-postcard thatched villages packed with tempting teashops. The island’s glorious 85-mile coastline boasts unspoilt sandy beaches and dramatic white cliffs. Soak up breathtaking views as you stride out, invigorated by the sea air. Admire the gleaming white jagged spires of the Needles, stroll along the chalk downland and the scenic coastal paths, or stretch your legs following the Tennyson Trail.

On a Guided Walking break with HF Holidays you can choose between three guided walks a day that range between easy, medium and difficult, each carefully planned by local experts and led by experienced walking leaders. Spend each day taking in the area’s best routes and hidden gems.

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A break on the Isle of Wight is perfect for those who want to complete full-day walks, both inland and on the coast. Walk to the beautiful villages of Calbourne, Godshill and Shorwell, take in the Neolithic Long Stone on Mottistone Down or view the coloured sands of Alum Bay. Enjoy the island’s culture and trace Queen Victoria’s long connection with the island, and follow in the footsteps of writers Tennyson, JB Priestley and Lewis Carroll. Those looking for more of a challenge can follow longer coastal routes and visit St Boniface Down.

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Stay at Freshwater Bay House, a prominent local landmark that dates from the 1790s and occupies a premier coastal location below the chalk cliffs of Tennyson Down. Tailored to the needs of walkers, the house offers excellent boot and drying rooms along with three lounges, each offering stunning views across the bay, a comfortable bar and heated outdoor swimming pool open from Easter to September (weather dependent). The hotel has this year undergone a refurbishment, all bedrooms have been given an extensive makeover, with the décor varying between those looking out over the coast and those that face the inland countryside.

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Both guided and self-guided walking breaks with HF Holidays are full board with all meals included, from dinner on arrival to breakfast on the day of your departure. The relaxed dinner is a highlight of any stay with HF Holidays and gives you an opportunity to get to know your fellow guests with tables seating up to ten. Enjoy a three course meal featuring local specialities and in the evenings take part in light-hearted activities with fellow walkers.

All HF Holidays’ UK holidays include full board three or four star accommodation. Assessed and accredited by VisitBritain, the breaks include transport to and from the walks, experienced leaders and an evening programme of activities. HF Holidays’ Outdoor Escapes are best suited to anyone of working-age looking to explore the great outdoors.

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These holidays give you an escape from the 9-5 with a fantastic daily selection of walks and the chance to opt in or out of a mix of relaxing and lively evenings. Prices start at £289 per person for three nights. Choose from the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Cornwall, Snowdonia, Western Highlands, Dorset Coast or Isle of Wight.

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After making our way to the south coast the Isle of Wight was only a hop away. We boarded the ferry and took some of the last seats of this very efficient service. It was a smooth trip over the waters to Isle of Wight and we saw many boats and hovercraft in the water which made for an exciting boat ride.

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We arrived in Ryde in timely fashion and once there we were greeted by our friendly taxi driver who took care of our luggage and proceeded to give us an en route tour whilst we travelled. It took an hour or so to drive to the hotel during which time we chatted with other guests about the much needed breathing space from the city. Upon arrival we were greeted by the HF Holidays team and were invited to discuss the days ahead.

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Check in was swift and we were shown to our room. The room had a small but modern bathroom shower and bathroom. It was the perfect place to rest weary limbs after a days walking.
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The room’s main ‘win’ was its views. Our twin room had a large window looking out to an amazing view. The cliffs edge to the sea and the winding mineral coloured coast line, with a backdrop of ongoing waters one direction and the swooping upward march of the hill side on the other. Like always, you just can’t beat nature’s views!
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The first meeting is for tea and cake which is a welcomed early afternoon treat and a great time to put forward our lunch requests for the next day where we jotted down the desired option from a small choice onto a paper sandwich bag with our hotel room number on it. Nice and simple. Then we needed to look at the dinner menu options, and select which starter, main, and dessert we would like that evening. Marking it on a form in line with the room number you stay in. Easy admin, easily squared away.

This is somewhat a new experience for some more used to a restaurant setting, however it has it’s benefits. It allows for a more efficient service for all tables at the same time, allowing everyone to keep to their set schedules, and attend all meetings and historical talks. Besides anyone who has attended a wedding has experienced this, and the unfortunate face we make, when your head suddenly goes blank, and you cannot remember what you ordered!

We now have some quiet time to rest and unpack and work out what to wear for the first hike.

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A group of us meet at 5pm, for the first ‘hike’, well I say hike, it’s more to stretch your legs, a brief 30 minute walk around the local vicinity, and up a few paths, learning the history of the land.

Although interesting the walk is brief so we decided to continue our hike for another hour each way walking up along the cliffs of Freshwater Bay. This allowed us to walk in our new hiking shoes, and get a feel for some of the Isle of Wight, and enjoy the sea air. Letting go of city life has begun and we relax taking in the beautiful sunset!

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On our return we freshen up, and head to dinner. Dinner is served as swiftly as you can expect, given the pre-ordered meals. The food was enjoyable and filling. It was exactly what we needed leaving us satisfied and ready for a night of interesting lectures.

The night’s lecture was a fun talk from a local historian, whom we had also had the pleasure of sitting with at dinner. The talk was fantastic in depth interesting with some light-hearted moments thrown in.  The talk really made the history of the Isle of Wight interesting and gave us a better idea of how important the island has been to the mainland throughout the ages. This was actually very useful to build context to the next day’s hike ahead. It meant we would have a better understanding of the places we were about to visit on the walks we were about to embark on.

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After being briefed on the walks we found out they start between 9-10 am (walk length dependent). This was quite pleasant as it meant an early morning rise would not be needed. The length and category of the days walk around Tennyson Down and Alum Bay was categorized into three options.

  • easier: with a distance of 7 miles and an ascent of 360 metres.
  • medium: with a distance of 8 miles and an ascent of 390 metres.
  • harder: with a distance of 12 miles and an ascent of 480 metres.

It was worth noting these are all easy walks, not hikes! They could be reclassified as ‘short’, ‘a little longer’, and ‘a little longer still’. The longest of the three is still less than a half marathon in distance this works well for the average city person, who isn’t recently used to walking or hiking such distances.   

The next morning we made our way to collect our prepared packed lunch and any additional snacks that took our fancy, from the tables full of options.

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We also find out which group we are with having put our names for the night before and find our name badge before setting out on our walk! We start off carrying a light back pack, with water, lunch, a warmer jacket, gloves and a hat, for when it gets colder. Lightly packed and ready for anything! We then visit the graveyards of the Tennyson family, and learn some of the local history, which slots in nicely with what we learned of the Isle of Wight the night before in the history talks.

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The first half of the walk went so fast, most people are shocked by the distance we have walked and so swiftly. however, most of this half of the walk was of flat, or downhill walking.

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Once we had conquered the flat it was time to get back up that hill and start our ascent towards the Needles and some beautiful views however before that we had to put in a little hard work to get there…

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On our way we passed some viewing points however the best and one not to be missed was that of Sway Tower. Not only do you see beautiful views of the Solent but also have views of the first concrete tower in England. The tower is 66m tall and 5.5m square, and took a team of 40 workmen interestingly around five years to construct.

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We stopped off to enjoy the views of Alum Bay. The multicoloured rock of geological interest really stands out as one of the must see places on the Isle of Wight. The coloured rock can be bought dried and layered to give a rainbow effect to take home. The more adventurous can dig their own rock from recent rock falls but are discouraged from doing so!!

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Ahead of us lay the iconic Needles. This was our first view of the Needles but before we walked to get a better view it was time for lunch…

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Keeping warm with my North Face Thermoball jacket whilst eating our packed lunches and enjoying group conversations all the while soaking up the views upon a cliff top. The lunch break goes fast! We then navigate our way down to the old weapon placements, this allows for great views of the ‘Needles’, which are iconic ‘islands’ of rock, cut away from the coast line by strong currents and many many years of erosion.

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The final leg of our walk is a steady uphill walk, towards the first ‘old’ Tennyson monument, which is now in disrepair, and then on further up the hill to the newer more visually extravagant monument, upon the hill top. This is a great place to just sit or stand, and relax, taking in the view and mingling with the cows that graze freely on this grass hill, while using the monuments accessory structures, to assist the cows in a good scratching!

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Now the hotel is in sight…… from the top of the hill, you can see where the end of our walk is, this instills us with a new wave of energy, to get home for a much needed warm cup of tea.

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After checking our bearings we decide we are not quite ready to visit the North Pole today so make our way down hill to the comfort of the hotel. Once back at the hotel, we are left to our own devices until the evening meal time, which is a set time each day, perhaps to assist in efforts of walking groups leaving and coming back on time. Dinner is again enjoyable, and the conversations around the large round tables, is more than entertainment enough to make the dinner go swiftly. As soon we finish our desserts we are reminded of the band which will be playing in the next room.

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The band have some fantastic / interesting instrument inventions, which leave people speculating how they worked. After enjoying the entertaining music of country, rock and roll, blues mix. It is time to retire.

The following day is a Sunday, and it feels like it! Luckily it is only self guided walks today (yesterday was guided with a very competent and passionate guide). Besides, we need to catch a 12:30 taxi to get to the ferry departure, allowing easy train links back into London. But there is always time for another stroll! We head out for another self guided walk up to the Tennyson monument, as the views are great, and its a lovely place to feel the fresh sea breeze.

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We sit down at the Tennyson memorial. The wind is chilly so we don our Berghaus windproof down jacket to warm up. The jacket is so warm even Mrs Cow wants one! After enjoying the views once again, we head back in time for the taxi, which shuttles us direct to the port, and ferry, for departure. A swift ferry hop and we are back at the Portsmouth Harbour station, to catch a train back to London and home after a thoroughly enjoyable weekend!

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Founded in 1913, HF Holidays is a co-operative society that has been organising outdoor holidays for over 100 years. HF Holidays has 19 country houses in the UK’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as independent hotels for overseas holidays. HF Holidays has a host of accolades under its belt including: Which? Recommended Provider status for the fourth successive year; voted Best Large Tour Operator by Guardian and Observer readers 2010-2014; and Best Large Short Break Operator 2011-2014. HF Holidays is committed to responsible tourism and is a member of ABTOT and ATOL protected.

For more information on HF Holidays, please visit www.hfholidays.co.uk or call 020 3424 6162. HF Holidays can be found on Twitter: @HFHolidays, Facebook: @HFHolidays.co.uk and Instagram: @HFHolidays.co.uk

 

 

 

 

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