“What’s the difference between an Alpaca, and a Llama?”
While this might sound like a question in need of a punchline, the actual answer – along with “Where did Benedict Cumberbatch get married earlier this year?”, and “Where’s the best place to spot a red squirrel?” – can be found on any regular, 24-hour, whistlestop tour of the Isle of Wight.
All you need is a notebook, a camera, and a schedule prepared by Visit Isle of Wight…
Two days of glorious sunshine also helps, of course – along with a couple of relaxing crossings of the glistening Solent mill-pond, courtesy of Red Funnel Isle of Wight Ferries.
If you spend an extra £1.20 to take the floating bridge from East Cowes, to Cowes, you’ll find a funky high street filled with some attractive shop fronts, behind which lie the likes of the new Mess Canteen and Staples and Green – along with fine seafront which overlooks the mainland.
Home to The Little Gloster, neighbouring Gurnard is probably the ‘best known hidden gem’ on the Island. The restaurant and B&B is run by the talented husband and wife duo, Ben and Holly Cooke. Ben has doffed his cap to his grandparents, who owned the former Gloster Hotel (once one of the most prestigious hotels on the island and former home of the Royal Yacht Squadron), and now offers diners a mixture of dishes inspired in part by his travels around the world and through some simple, but delicious, recipes taught to him by his Danish grandmother.
Lunch here, in the light and airy restaurant, with a stunning view beneath clear blue skies consits of Seared local bass fillet and sesame crevette with parsnip puree, crispy soba noodles, stir fried greens with celery and wasabi sauce.
All washed down by a quick tour of the accommodation they offer to guests in this little corner of heaven.
From there, it’s a 20 minutes drive to West Wight Alpacas where, in five short years, Neil and Michelle Payne have managed to create a 23-acres alpaca stud farm and trekking centre – as well as a nationwide reputation for themselves as being leaders in their field. It’s here you’ll meet Icarus, the male Suri Llama on whose young shoulders rests the responsibility of ‘growing’ the UK’s fledgling Suri Llama pedigree herd.
Visitors can spend time here learning the difference between Llamas and Alpacas (Llamas are pack animals capable of walking 8-9 hours a day; Alpacas are reared for their fleece), trekking with Llamas, or simply enjoying a cuppa and a cake.
Time is running out on day one, but there is still the need to discover the full story of Warrior, a true “war horse”, which is now told on a six miles walk around the best of coast and country in the Island’s south west. The Warhorse Trail has been created in tribute to World War One heroes Jack Seely, who lived on the Island, and Warrior – “the horse the Germans couldn’t kill”.
Places of interest along the way include Mottistone Manor, where Benedict Cumberbatch married Sophie Hunter (a descendant of Jack Seely); the sands where Warrior would train the surf; and Brook House where Jack Seely lived, and which is now a welcoming B&B within walking distance of the pub Benedict, Sophie and their guests gathered to celebrate their marriage the day after the wedding.
Following an early breakfast of creamy scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, it’s time to visit Northcourt Manor a grand Jacobean House, which will be celebrating its 400th anniversary throughout 2015. Boasting one of the finest gardens in southern England, it will be open to the public every Wednesday this year from May 13th to July 8th.
24 hours after setting foot on the Island it’s time to make one final 30 minutes drive back to East Cowes through some spectacular countryside – and passing close to Alverstone where, I’m reliably informed by the Ramblers Association, there is an “80 percent chance” of seeing one of the Isle of Wight’s most iconic figures, the red squirrel, from a hide at Skinners Meadow.
But that’s one for my next 24 hour visit…when I’ll be asking “So what’s is the difference between the red and grey squirrel?”.