1958 or 2018? You decide
By Angelica Campion
Planning a trip to the Isle of Wight (IOW), a friend warns me it’s 1958 over there. That’s Ok, there are parts of Hastings like that, but I look up the EU referendum results to see that nearly 62% of the islanders voted ‘leave’ compared to Hastings’ 55%. I’m not saying anything.
If this had been 100 years ago we could have caught the steamboat from Hastings Pier all the way, but we go by car to Portsmouth (2hrs 20mins) and ferry to Fishbourne (40 mins). Its reputation, being the most expensive ferry journey in the world per mile, turns out to be a myth (there’s one in Norfolk that wins that award at six times the price).
There are parts of the UK coast which still haven’t changed since the American writer Bill Bryson travelled around the entire edge of the UK by train in the 90s, bringing our attention to all the charming-not-charming fading rusty miserable bits.
Like the Albion Hotel in Freshwater practically built in the sea. It’s a great location, but outside it’s tatty and even the newish carpet is desperately old fashioned. Customer service is still in its infancy and the room ventilation completely inadequate, which in a three-month heatwave is useful if you want your guests to stay awake all night.
Similarly, the Royal Victoria Hotel in Hastings is another of those wasted opportunities to make something fabulous. Its restaurant has the best view of any in the whole town yet the food, on the two occasions I’ve eaten there, is as if they are still using ration books. When we stayed a few years ago the rooms were tired and grim, yet the hotel is architecturally grand inside.
The Isle of Wight has a discernible whiff of being stuck in an age gone by, especially when driving past the abandoned National petrol station in Brighstone. Lovely. I wouldn’t get rid of that.
A family meal at the ancient Wight Mouse pub was memorable not just for the ambience but for my plate of dry gluten free toast (bread-substitute punishment), layered with old sock flavour sardines and tomato pasta sauce (what?!!). There’s a photo of something similar in a 1953 Good Housekeeping recipe book (fish cookery: page 17). Credit to the pub though, they very quickly exchanged it for proper modern food.
I love retro but not when it smells or tastes funny.
PICTURE: Angelica Campion
The highlight of our two-day visit was Garlic World. Ok it’s not called that. It’s worth a trip to the IOW just for this place alone. The Garlic Farm has garlic ice cream, garlic and nettle cheese, revolutionary garlic cutters and crushers, garlic fudge, garlic mayo (I cleared the shelf), beautiful pottery for garlic related activities, my god it’s a cook’s heaven. Our teenage son, difficult to enthuse about anything that doesn’t have a button (I’m not talking cardigans), left the farm shop with plans to start a business making his own brand garlic pesto sauce.
We didn’t have time for the farm tour, preferring to sit in their garden restaurant eating garlic related dishes, with whole roasted bulbs of garlic on the side, from their quirky but delicious garlicky menu. Let’s just say the car didn’t need petrol to get back to the ferry. Next time we’ll go to the The Lavender Farm straight afterwards.
Back to paddle steamers then. Could the recent procurer of Hastings pier reintroduce them and do excursions from the pier to the Isle of Wight, Eastbourne and Calais? How about vintage entertainment for kids? Or a bandstand, not just for brass bands and orchestras but for buskers on a bookable rota like they have in Covent Garden (thanks for that idea Glenn Veness). Plastic hippos and cartoon characters holding aloft bags of chips? Oh, we already have that.
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