When I was young, we lived in Sandown and shopped in Ryde. A trip to Newport was a massive treat – possibly to visit the cinema, or buy some new shoes. But Cowes? We never went there. It was just too far… and maybe just a touch too alien. A little enclave of the mainland that had somehow established itself on the Island, maybe. So Cowes simply didn’t appear on my map of the Island as a child.
When I came back to live here, with my own children, I soon found out what I’d been missing. True, Cowes has a lot of second homes and is a haven for yachting types. But it’s also a characterful little town which has plenty of shops to visit and, wonder of wonders, most of the narrow main street is actually traffic-free, unlike most other Island towns. This makes it a great place to just wander about, and the pubs, cafés, restaurants and alright, yes, maybe a few stupidly expensive boutiques make it well worth the visit.
In fact, one of my most treasured possessions, on my wall in place of honour, was bought in a junk shop in Cowes – ‘That Shop‘. They specialise in festival memorabilia, and I managed to get an original ticket for the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival of Music, featuring The Who, Bob Dylan, and the Bonzo Dog Band. No, I didn’t attend – I was two years old. But it is an iconic symbol of my Island’s history; bought in Cowes.
This summer I improved upon my acquaintance with Cowes even further. For the first time I went along to throw myself into the fun of Cowes Week, without getting my feet wet at all – unless you count a short trip on the floating bridge. I spent a delightful afternoon and evening enjoying the sights and sounds of Cowes, buzzing as it was with one of the UK’s most exciting sailing events – and also with such a lot of fun on the shore. Amazingly, we didn’t have to shell out much money, either. Music, street performances, promotional stuff – you could even watch the racing if you really got desperate.
All for free.
So it’s not quite the last resort of the rich and famous that it’s sometimes reputed to be.