Where to see red squirrels and great walks on the Isle of Wight
Winter is the best time of year to see red squirrels (which are incredibly rare elsewhere in England) as they descend from the leafless tree branches to gather nuts.
You are more or less guaranteed to see them at Parkhurst Forest by the coast near Gurnard and Cowes. You can cycle to and around parts of the forest on the Red Squirrel trail. Further west, the landscapes of the Isle of Wight reach a dramatic crescendo at The Needles, an ensemble of chalk pinnacles that resemble upturned teeth. These teeter into the milky waters at the base of mighty Tennyson Down, a sweeping expanse of grassland whose contours resemble a ski-jump.
With collapsed cliffs falling 100m into the sea, sweeping views, estuaries and hills bouncing away to the horizon, you can see why the late English poet laureate Sir John Betjeman described the area as ‘an earthquake poised in mid-explosion’. A stunning three-mile walk (there and back) from the Needles leads eastwards along the down up to the Tennyson Monument and views right across the Island.
After a brief exposure to the wintry elements at the Needles it’ll be time to warm up. For a nearby coffee and cake you could try PO41 Coffee House in the small port of Yarmouth on the north coast – fine coffee and home-made bakes are the order of the day in this converted Post Office (food is displayed on the original counter
Yarmouth is England’s 2nd smallest town and it’s a short stroll across the square to the Yarmouth Deli which stocks some of the more than 50 Island food producers including locally-made sourdough, soft and hard cheeses, meat and vegan sausage rolls and pies along with excellent flapjacks and tiffin.
On the east coast, SandownBay is simply magnificent – there are five miles of unbroken sands here to wander along. After you’ve worked up an appetite on the sands, you could head for the 16th century Buddle Inn, fabulously located at Niton high above St Catherine’s Point with views over the English Channel. A former haunt of smugglers, this pub ticks every box, with hearty pies and real ale amid inglenook beams, a roaring fire and flagstone floors.