I love the Isle of Wight, I really do. I have many happy memories of family holidays there and still love visiting as an adult because there’s always something new to discover. It may be just 23 miles wide but this beautiful island, off the coast of Hampshire, has plenty to see and do. As a youngster, I ticked off the main tourist attractions such as Blackgang Chine and The Needles but having a four-legged friend in tow allows you to really explore.
WHAT ARE THE MUST-SEES? You could spend weeks in the Isle of Wight and barely scratch the surface but travelling with a dog means you have to rethink your sightseeing slightly. Fortunately though, so many places here welcome pets, you won’t be missing out.
One of my favourite places to visit is the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary, between Shanklin and Ventnor. Home to more than 90 donkeys and 25 horses, the sanctuary is open to the public seven days a week and often puts on special events.
You wouldn’t normally expect dogs to be allowed here but as long as they’re on lead and are well-behaved, they’re welcome – even in the sanctuary tea room. Entry is free but the sanctuary relies entirely on donations so dig deep. If you take a shine to any of the residents, you can also “adopt” them for as little as £20 a year and receive regular updates from them. Cute!
Fort Victoria Country Park, near Yarmouth and Freshwater, is well worth a visit, too. The fort, which was built to guard the Solent, now houses a planetarium, model railway and underwater archaeology centre but for dogs, the surrounding country park is the main attraction. Unlike the attractions and a small café, which welcome visitors from Easter until the end of October, the country park is open all year round and allows you to get off the beaten track and explore a mix of beach and woodland.
A trip to Quarr Abbey, between Binstead and Fishbourne, is also a must. This impressive red-brick monastery has been home to a small group of Benedictine monks since the 12th century. Today, you can take a tour of the abbey, sit in on a service or enjoy the beautifully-manicured gardens, where the monks grow their own fruit and veg and rear pigs and chickens.
Dogs are allowed to explore the grounds on-lead and there are some nice woodland trails to follow. There is also a tea room and monastery shop packed with local produce if you’re in the market for souvenirs to take home. Dogs are not allowed inside but there is plenty of outdoor seating.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? Ooh, where do I start? With more than 500 miles of footpaths, the Isle of Wight was made for walking and is pure doggy heaven. But it would be criminal not to mention the 23-mile Red Squirrel Trail, which winds through the beautiful countryside and is mainly traffic-free. Honestly, I can’t sing its praises enough – whoever came up with the idea for the trail is a genius!
Running from East Cowes to Sandown, the peaceful pathway is popular with both cyclists and walkers, not to mention nature lovers keen to spot the island’s native red squirrel. It follows the old railway line and is mostly paved so can be enjoyed all year round, even if the weather is a bit grim. There are also lots of attractions to stop at along the way.
You don’t have to walk the entire trail (obviously) but can pick it up at various points on the island. We walked from Sandown to Wroxall, for example, and stopped off for lunch before strolling back (it’s approximately five miles each way). We also explored the section of the trail around Newchurch and Alverstone, where there were a couple of cafés to stop at and refuel.
You can’t come to the island without exploring some of its beautiful beaches, either. From vast, sandy expanses to secluded pebbly coves, there truly is something for everyone. Many beaches have restrictions during the summer months but plenty are dog-friendly all year round, such as Yaverland, just outside Sandown, and Bembridge. Click here for more specific information about the beaches.
Compton Bay and the Downs, which is owned by the National Trust, is also great for some off-lead adventures and fossil-hunting. There’s a super-scenic 7.5-mile trail you can follow that’s known as “the ABC” because it takes in Afton, Brook and Compton Bay. The walk starts and finishes at the Freshwater Cliffs car park.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? The food on the Isle of Wight is fantastic and many pubs and restaurants champion local produce. Dogs will be warmly welcomed almost everywhere but I have a few favourites.
The Sun in Calbourne is fantastically dog-friendly and treats are kept behind the bar for pups popping in for a pint. There’s also a large beer garden. The pub offers a range of delicious home-cooked meals such as pies and chilli. There are some great vegetarian options too and even a separate gluten-free menu.
Equally as impressive is the Star Inn in Wroxall, which offers vegan dishes alongside light bites and pub favourites. Dogs are welcome throughout the pub, which also does great quality food to take away.
For a meal with a view, you can’t beat The Spyglass Inn in Ventnor. Situated right on the water’s edge, this maze-like pub is full of nautical memorabilia. The former smugglers’ haunt is a big hit with tourists who come for the sea views and to enjoy free live music in the evenings. Rooms are also available.
And if craft beer’s your thing, head to The Ventnor Exchange. This quirky bar, which opens at 5pm daily, is housed in the former Post Office and has more than 50 brews from around the world, not to mention an excellent selection of vinyl. Well-behaved dogs are welcome.
WHERE SHOULD I STAY? You’ll be spoilt for choice on the Isle of Wight as there is a whole host of dog-friendly accommodation from eco-friendly glampsites to posh boutique hotels. I don’t think you can go wrong with the Newchurch Nook, though – a rustic garden lodge that’s right on the Red Squirrel Trail. Read my review here.
GET ME THERE: There are two ferry companies that travel to the island – Wightlink and Red Funnel. Both carry dogs free of charge and have excellent onboard facilities, such as cafés selling local produce. The ferries are also great when it comes to helping plan your trip – they carry lots of magazines and leaflets with touristy information, so stock up!
Wightlink car ferries run from Lymington to Yarmouth and Portsmouth to Fishbourne. There are around 150 sailings a day and both routes take approximately 40 minutes. While the ferry is in motion, dogs can either be secured in your vehicle or you can keep them with you – pet-friendly areas are clearly marked.
If you’re not taking a vehicle, make the most of a fast ferry from Portsmouth to Ryde, which takes just 22 minutes. To find out more about Wightlink sailings, click here.
Red Funnel, on the other hand, sail from Southampton to Cowes. The car ferry docks in East Cowes with the journey taking around an hour, while the Red Cat hi-speed foot passenger ferry will get you to West Cowes in approximately 25 minutes. For more information about the routes and facilities, click here.