I hadn’t actually been over to Ryde and walked around for over a year, so it was interesting to look in on new additions, catch up with old favourites and walk the dog on the practically deserted beach in the sunshine.
Looking over to Portsmouth’s Spinaker Tower glinting in the sunshine, I watch as the Hovercraft flies in to land on the beach next to Ryde station. Ryde has always been a gateway to the Island and once had three piers. It still boasts the only rail link and the quirky vintage ex underground trains, painted with dinosaurs, rattle their way on through Brading, Sandown and Lake to Shanklin.
The town saw huge popularity in Victorian times but also has Georgian and Edwardian architecture with quite a few imposing squares and seafront properties. The old pavillion is now a bowling alley, Ryde Superbowl, and nightclub and Ryde also boasts an ice rink, Planet Ice, that doubles as a venue. It has always been a shopping centre and now boasts the most boutique style shops on the Island, the best nightlife with many popular pubs, live music venues and nightclubs and great fish and chips on the beach from establishments such as The Codfather.
First stop after my walk was the Chocolate Apothecary almost opposite the pier entrance on the seafront. My daughter and I have a notion that the owner of this shop (Sue Van Praagh) read the book ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris and then went to see the film and decided there and then to open a chocolate shop.
Imagine her surprise, we thought, when earlier this year Johnny Depp, co star of the film, walked in with two of his friends, ordered three coffees and sat down in the window. He didn’t offer to stay and fix the doors or windows though – shame I guess. Not that they need mending.
This shop is superb. Full of the old fittings in the Chemist shop that it once was, and heady with the scent of chocolate and real coffee. Olivier the French chocolatiere makes absolutely fabulous chocolates and has special ones for Halloween at the moment. Jules was the perfect hostess. The pastries looked good too. Heaven.
Up Union Street the enormous globe that overhangs the pavement outside the Orrery café is deceptively realistic. It looks like a mirror of the street scene but if you stop to gaze into you will see that the reflection is of the street as it was on the day it was made on 06/06/06 when the Isle of Wight Austin Club parked their cars in the street.
Patrick Moore is waving back at you and a couple of dinosaurs are causing havoc in the background. Inside the café is full of quirky things with an Alice in Wonderland ceiling and, of course, more globes, as this is also the workshop of James Bissell-Thomas who is probably the last globe maker in Britain.
At the back of the café is the amusing museum to Eric Gill, artist of thousands of ‘saucy’ postcards and scourge of the censors in the early to mid 20th century. A police van pokes out of one wall and inside you see hundreds of his confiscated postcards. The whole ceiling is plastered with his postcards and his story is told through artifacts and press cuttings.
Across the road and up a little and it was the newly restored Victoria Arcade that was pulling me in, with its pale green colour scheme and colourful paintings by local artists around the domed stain glass ceiling above the atrium. On the circular bench below Geoff was pricing up some vinyl – he’s been a fixture in Ryde with his music shops for over 30 years. If you want an old vinyl record, cassette tape or even a more modern CD Geoff can find it for you, no problemo.
Downstairs there is a new museum courtesy of Diana Wood and the Historic Ryde Society, along with the Heritage Lottery Fund, and it’s very tastefully done. The museum opened at the end of July (2011), and its centerpiece is a reconstruction of what Ryde Pier would have looked like, floored with the old boards that were removed in the pier’s recent renovation.
Glass cases house old artifacts, the walls have lovely old prints and photos and an enormous map of Ryde graces one wall. But the members have been experiencing some spiritual disturbances so there will be a paranormal investigation on Halloween for £10 including refreshments. “A spirit pushed one of our members twice and he’s a skeptic,” said Diana. Call 01983 717435 if you want to join the hunt or contact via the website.
On Cross Street I was pleased to see the Kandy Box tuck shop style sweet shop was still open with its amazing array of old fashioned sweetie jars and incredible range of milkshakes. There’s every flavour of milkshake you can imagine: cake shakes such as Bakewell Tart or chocolate bar shakes such as Kit Kat and Dime Bar and about a hundred more.
You have to go up the pier, or at least view it from the beach – it’s looking rather smart in its new livery since being restored in 2010. And make sure you also visit Ryde Boating Lake, where there are hundreds of swans, ducks, Canada Geese and other birds and in the summer you can hire a huge swan pedalo.
Oh dear I’ve done enough words and I still haven’t mentioned half of Ryde’s attractions. I’ll have to pen another focus on Ryde soon, but if you know of any new gems please let us know and we can include them.