The best things in Wight are free

Cat James

I love a bargain. Now that car boot sale season has started up again I can be found hunched over a battered biscuit tin pawing through knotted necklaces and single partnerless earrings, hoping to find a piece of genuine silver. For me, it’s an entertaining way of passing a Sunday morning. And if I buy nothing, I’ve had an hour or so’s amusement without spending a penny!

Talking of which, last weekend I travelled gratis in Shanklin’s cliff lift. For reasons too municipal to go into, the Isle of Wight Council was offering free goes on this vertical ride. So, in the lift car I hopped; descending from cliff top to esplanade in a matter of moments. And, as it was free, I went back up again. All day I was up and down, like a bride’s nightie.

It got me to thinking about what other local attractions are free – and there are a surprising amount. Most churches welcome visitors; many a time I have popped into St Mary’s, Brading to stare into the eyes of Sir John Oglander, whose effigy reclines on his tomb. In Gatcombe’s St Olaves, I have admired noted stained glass windows created by members of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

One of my favourite free places is The Needles rocket testing site, where up to 240 people worked in secret on the British cold-war space programme. All that remains (above ground) are the concrete blasting pads but, with some great pictorial interpretation, the National Trust helps us imagine what it must’ve been like as the test rocket engines fired up.

The Isle of Wight is a mecca for transportation nerds. The hovercraft is an obvious draw and pointing at it from the railway bridge at Ryde interchange is practically an Olympic sport. If it’s buses that float your boat (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor) then I can’t recommend  IW Bus Museum highly enough. Astonishingly, entry to the museum is free. You can climb aboard many of the historic buses, plus there is a very well-stocked shop full of all manner of transport-related ephemera.

If you’re in Newport, don’t forget to have a spin on Sainsbury’s travelator – or The People’s Ride, as it’s colloquially known. While you’re in that neck of the woods, visit Parkhurst Forest and try your luck at the squirrel hide. Don’t look through its slits; sit with your back to the wooden wall and peer up into the tree canopy to stand a chance of seeing a squizzer. If it’s an animal encounter you’re after you’ll have more success at Quarr Abbey, where pigs frolic in their pens, or lay sleeping in the dust with just their ears flicking. After free pigwatch, I’ve been known to visit the abbey cafe for a sausage sandwich…

So, there you have it. We CAN have nice things, and free ones at that. Can you think of any others? Tag them on social media (Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) with the hashtag #FreeWight  – and let’s share this abundance!

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 3 May 2019, and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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