myIsleofWight Guide to Island Carnivals

The Isle of Wight is well known for its fabulous carnivals and have more carnivals per square mile than any other area in the country, so make sure you catch at least one of these magical and quirky events. With over 15 carnivals throughout the summer season, held in Ryde, Ventnor, Sandown, Shanklin, St Helen’s, Cowes, Yarmouth and Newport, most of these towns have both a main carnival and an illuminated procession and a children’s carnival too. There’s even a Christmas carnival in Newport.

In fact we have some of the oldest carnivals in the country. Ryde carnival began in 1888 after the success of a Jubilee pageant for Queen Victorian in 1887, meaning that this year it celebrates its 130thanniversary. Ventnor and Sandown followed in 1889 and the others came later. Nowadays when you visit us during the summer holidays there is likely to be at least one carnival procession on the Island during your stay and although many of the floats will appear in other carnivals around the Island, each parade has its own unique flavour. Here's our pick of some carnivals not to be missed...

Capital Fun

Newport carnival, in our county town, almost bookends the carnival season with the main procession on Thursday 26th July, starting at 7pm and wending its way around the town. The illuminated procession is then over three weeks later on Saturday 18th August, setting off at 9pm and travelling the same route. There are loads of vantage points to see the carnival as it comes up South Street, into Upper St James Street, then up Trafalgar Road and down Carisbrooke Road to the top of the High Street, which it travels down as far as Quay Street and then disperses.

Sailing Around

Yarmouth Carnival runs from 11th – 18th August and has the theme ‘anniversaries’ this year. There are all sorts of activities around the town during the week. Make sure you attend the Harbour Sports on Thursday 16th August - where there are a whole host of races you can enter on the water. The dirty shirt race sees competitors trying to navigate a short course using nothing but a shirt and the wind to power them. There are standard rowing races for different ages, paired oars, sculling - a dying tradition that sees less and less entrants every year, where a single oar is used off the back of the boat to scull you round the course. And everyone gets involved and wet for the last few races, especially the hand paddling race; as many as you can fit on your vessel all leaning over the side and using their hands to paddle round the markers - very competitive and great fun.

On the Beach

Shanklin Regatta has been running annually for 163 years and brings the whole town and its visitors together for a day jam packed with entertainment and excitement for everyone – this year on Thursday 9th August. The fun begins at 10am with a sand castle competition, beach sports and swimming events running throughout the day and at the pier apron you will find stalls and games. The Regatta Queen is crowned and festivities continue into the evening with a barbeque and live music from 7pm until a fantastic firework display lights up the sky above Shanklin at 9.30pm. It really is quite a spectacle with the entire Esplanade and cliff path lined with spectators.

Shanklin’s carnivals are held the week before with the children’s carnival on Tuesday 31st July at 1.15pm, the main carnival procession on Wednesday 1st August at 7pm and the illuminated procession at 9pm on Saturday 4th August.

Quirky and Arty

Ventnor's main carnival procession is on Wednesday 8th August, with the illuminated procession on Saturday 11th August and carnival week coincides with Ventnor Fringe festival that runs from Tuesday 7th to Sunday 12th August. Ventnor carnival is always a bit different. For starters it contains the infamous Ventnor Comic Jazz Band, a mish mash of locals on instruments made from kitchen and other implements along with other international class musicians, including at least one famous one. Plus they're all dressed up in fancy dress – many with a 'days of the empire' army feel. Think Monty Python meets 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum'. After the procession around the town everyone repairs to the seafront (and the pubs) before the fireworks at around 9.30pm, which are pretty spectacular and the seafront and cliff top vantage points heave with people

Big and Bold

Ryde carnival is the biggest and most flamboyant of all the carnivals with loads of Notting Hill style costumes, mass bands and samba bands, along with the more traditional floats and walking entries. The Children's carnival is on Wednesday 29th August at 3pm, the main procession on Thursday 30th August, starting at 6.30pm and the illuminated parade is the very last of the season on Saturday 1st September at 8.30pm and an amazing spectacle. Carnival experts from London were drafted in to help with the Island's carnivals around the millennium and luckily they set up a permanent home in Ryde. The result is an amazing cavalcade of carnival artistry that has flourished not only in Ryde but bloomed all over the Island.

Jo Macaulay

21 July 2018

By Jo Macaulay in Articles