On the Beach
Isle of Wight beaches in general make for wonderful picnic spots; but at the wilder (and often more beautiful) beaches, you will need to take packed food as there are no shops, restaurants or cafes. Compton Beach, for example, has only an ice-cream van and a toilet block, where there’s a tap. So, if you’re spending a day there you need a picnic, and the same can be said for Brook Beach, Grange Chine and any of the other wild south west coast beaches, but they don’t even have a tap. Luckily, they’re some of the Island’s most stunning beaches too, so enjoy!
After a long lazy day on Compton Beach, what could be better than having a barbecue? You could build a barbecue on the sand, utilise the flat rocks further down toward Compton Farm to place your fire or nestle in the lower lying grassy dells in the cliffs. But you’re on National Trust land so it’s not encouraged – make sure you take absolutely everything away with you.
Only one beach managed by the Council permits barbecues and it’s one of the best beaches on the Isle of Wight – Red Cliff at Yaverland. There’s a huge expanse of beach at low tide, but very little at high tide so pick your day and time carefully. If you want to be a bit more secretive, you can set up in the lowlands of the tumbling lower cliff area about halfway down. But don’t barbecue beneath the red sandstone cliffs – there have been recent cliff falls.
Another superb picnic spot on the Isle of Wight is Sandhard Beach at Yarmouth, which is only accessible by water taxi or by walking around the spit by Norton Grange. It’s owned and managed by Yarmouth Harbour and there’s a static barbecue area that you can use, and it is very hidden and secret – only those in the know, know where it is, and now you do too. There is a built-in barbecue on the seaward side of Fort Victoria close by, but you may have to queue up to use it on sunny summer evenings. On the other hand, you may make some new friends.
The stretch of beach between Gurnard and Gurnard Marsh is well used for barbecues, especially by the youngsters from the Cowes area. It’s pebbly and dotted with large rocks, ideal for sitting on, with a pathway that winds its way from behind Gurnard Sailing Club. Some of the beach above high tide is owned by the houses that border it – so be mindful of this.
If you have your own boat, or hire one, you could sail around to Scratchells Bay, a hollowed out semi-circular chunk out of the chalk cliffs close to the Needles. This would be an extremely private and secluded barbecue with only the seagulls for company and you’d have to take everything with you. No problem with skinny dipping here. But make sure you check the tide tables first.
In the Woods
Picnicking in shady woodland is a lovely idea when the sun is really too hot to bear. Firestone Copse has picnicking areas around its car park, some of which are in the shade, or you could venture further into the trees. At Parkhurst Forest there are picnic tables close to the car park if you enter from Forest Road, or you can walk into the forest and find a place to lay your picnic blanket – there’s a squirrel hide to discover as well. Brighstone Forest is mostly of pine trees that tower above the pathways, and there are no picnicking areas, but you may be able to find a grassy clearing.
Borthwood Copse is one of the island’s most ancient woodlands and is another scenic picnic spot on the Isle of Wight. It has a clearing under a group of ancient beech trees with fallen tree trunks for seating. Carpeted with fallen leaves, with the sun glinting through the canopy overhead, this is a lovely place for an early evening picnic, and you may see a squirrel or two overhead.
Barbecues in woodland and forests are not advised for obvious reasons, especially in the summer when the ground is covered in very flammable dry leaves.
In the Country
The Downs are ideal for picnics anywhere along their stretch from the east of the Island to the west. Brading Downs have views across to the Bay area to Luccombe Cliffs, and the inland rolling fields; Brighstone Downs are well worth a walk and you can go all the way from Carisbrooke to The Needles with a picnic in your backpack. Or park at Brighstone and walk up to the top of the pathways leading from the car park to the burial mounds on the top – amazing views.
There’s also Ventnor Downs in the south, which are almost high enough to be a mountain, and Stenbury Downs that stretch from Ventnor to Godshill with views to each end of the Island. For a picnic excursion, walk up from Viewpoint car park at Blackgang to the Pepperpot on St Catherine’s Down and then to the Hoy Memorial at the other end, and back, stopping for a well-earned picnic break somewhere on the way.
Barbecues in the open countryside are also problematic as they will leave burns on the grass, and the downland is owned by the National Trust for everyone to enjoy and may contain grazing animals.
Wherever you decide to have your picnic or barbecue on the Isle of Wight, have a fabulous one, and, of course, be mindful of taking away all your rubbish, especially barbecue trays, and recycling any debris. Enjoy!