Bembridge is a high end village that entices the rich and famous with its charms: the characterful housing, the surrounding sandy seashore and the good restaurants, boutique shops and art galleries. It always has been too, with the Victorian Royals playing golf here, David Niven and Errol Flynn getting up to no good and a couple of latter day film stars buying a home here.
We couldn’t possibly divulge their names, suffice to say that it might be best not to be out alone after dark as this pair have strange appetites. Luckily they will have Dan’s Kitchen, Ganders and the sumptuous Priory Bay Hotel on hand to satisfy any earthly desires of the culinary kind. There’s also a good Chinese restaurant and several good pubs including the Crab and Lobster, famed for its seafood, and the Bembridge Village Inn that does exactly what it says on the sign.
The harbour is fringed with colourful houseboats: one is a seafood restaurant, another offers accommodation, and the harbour is full of yachts. A fort built by Palmerston guards the entrance and on the low August spring tide the locals walk out en masse to walk around it just because they can. In the summer months the sea is shallow and clear, although it is rocky around here. Bembridge Ledge is a platform of rock that stretches out some way from this eastern corner of the Island and it can be dangerous – especially at low tide if you are in a boat. Make sure you know this coastline well before launching your new yacht/speedboat as it can be treacherous.
Luckily there is the Bembridge Lifeboat on hand if you do get into difficulties. This brand new lifeboat station at the end of a long foot-pier was officially opened by Princess Anne earlier this year and is a triumph of modern engineering. Timber framed and with a balcony viewing area, the public can see the lifeboat launching and docking via the state of the art hydraulic system of pulleys.
If flying is more up your street then Bembridge has its own airport that may or may not be open, depending on the situation down there at present. Currently it is open but you do need to get prior permission to land. The airport is also home to the famous aircraft builders Brittan Norman who designed the famous Islander aircraft – you may even see some on the runway if you’re lucky.
All around the Bembridge area are caravan sites that are especially popular in the summer months. There are two large ones, Whitecliff Bay and Nodes Point, and several smaller family run sites such as Sandhills and the Old Mill, so if you can’t afford a holiday home here you can at least run to a temporary one – and some of these are quite luxurious.
St Helen’s on the other side of Bembridge Harbour boasts the largest village green in the country that is bordered by one of the best restaurants on the Island: Dan’s Kitchen run by ex-head chef of the Royal Hotel in Ventnor, Dan Maskell. On the other side is another great little eatery, Ganders, named after the geese that once used to live on the green.
Down the road is the Duver sand spit that borders the other side of the harbour and was once the home of the best golf links course in the country – it closed in 1961. Queen Victoria’s children were members, including Bertie and later David Niven, who owed Rose Cottage in Bembridge Village, was a regular at the 19th hole – along with his famous film star friends when they were in town – oops village.
Just up the road is the Priory Bay Hotel – the best country hotel on the Island at the moment. It has acres of grounds and woodlands, its own beach and the mandatory helicopter landing pad. There are two restaurants including the beautiful ‘Island Room’ with its antique mural of the Bembridge harbour area over which it looks. Lounges here are comfortable, the accommodation is superb and the ambiance is laid back but most certainly upmarket – a home from home and a special treat.
In Bembridge village there are all the shops you need and some you just want. A good deli, florists and fruit and veg shop, a great fishmongers, a traditional old family run butchers, an interiors shop, a couple of art galleries and a shop selling clay things – called clay – but clay things you will want, badly. This is a real traditional village and luckily there are full and sometime residents in this area who can afford to support them rather than drive over to Tesco’s near Ryde. There is also a Co Op for those extra essentials that might not be elsewhere, including your newspaper and magazines.
Small but perfectly formed, Bembridge is a village that really ought to be a town but its holding on to its roots against the march of ‘progress’ and therein lies its allure. Once discovered, never forgotten, Bembridge will charm you too.