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Directions are well sign-posted on the islandThe Isle of Wight opens up the summer season each year with Britain's biggest Walking Festival. For 2010, the fortnight goes from 8-23 May. 

Around 300 themed walks are planned to suit everyone, from those who prefer a gentle ramble to those who need something tougher. Just pick a walk from the published programme and turn up at the listed starting-point. 

Local guides have worked out the routes and can talk about local history, wildlife and culture. With over 500 miles of footpaths and bridleways including four coastal trails and eight long-distance walks, there is the widest possible choice. 

A free guide, describing the walks available can be obtained from the Isle of Wight Council Events Team  Tel: 01983- 823070 or email: via the walking festival website.

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Foot passengers can reach Isle of Wight from Portsmouth, Southampton, Southsea and Lymington aboard a choice of Catamarans, Hydrofoils and Hovercraft. 

Trains and coach services operate to the passenger ferry terminals at Portsmouth and Lymington. At Southsea and Southampton, a bus connects from the railway station to the ferry terminal.

Car ferries operate from Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington. Book early for peak season weekends.

Contact Wightlink Ferries 0871 376 4342; or Red Funnel 0844 844 9988. Hovertravel provides a hovercraft passenger service from Portsmouth Southsea to Ryde. Tel: 01983-811000.

More information or a free accommodation guide: Isle of Wight Tourism, Westridge Centre, Brading Road, Ryde, Isle of Wight PO33 1QS. Tel: 01983- 813800 .  Email: info@island

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Of course, on a go-it-alone basis, walking is fine any time of the year. Local councils are keen to promote their stunning scenery and viewpoints with well-signed footpaths. 

A 60-mile Coastal Path goes right around the island. A back-packer can easily walk it in four stages, stopping at different B&Bs. But for shorter hikes there are frequent access points. 

A Festival challenge is for super-fit walkers to do the full circuit in 24 hours. 

Nature Trails and long-distance paths also criss-cross the island. Within its 115 square miles, the Island probably has a higher density of footpaths than any other UK holiday region. 

Tourist pamphlets give useful trail notes, covering wildlife, monuments and buildings.

For an occasional glimpse of the grim walls of Parkhurst Prison, there's a trail through Parkhurst Forest, though mostly you cannot see the prison for the trees. 

The Tennyson Path offers plentiful scenic variety: cliffs, pasture, woodland and coastal marsh, rich in birdlife. You get grandstand views of ships that pass in stately procession to and from Southampton.

Cowes is the principal yachting centre, with its world-famed sailing regatta held from 31 July-7 August in 2010. But also Yarmouth, Seaview and Bembridge are popular yachtsmen's havens, with a regular programme of races and regattas between May and October. Don't forget binoculars!

Another natural feature that gets the full tourist treatment are the chines - deep gorges carved by torrential streams from cliff-top to the sea. The best developed are at Shanklin, Blackgang and Luccombe.

For a cool walk on a summer's afternoon, take the rustic path down Shanklin Chine - a canyon, 300 feet deep, carpeted with ferns and lush undergrowth beneath the trees. 

Entrance to Osborne House When Queen Victoria, her husband and their nine children wanted a family holiday by the seaside, they chose the Isle of Wight. As a young married couple, Victoria and Albert bought an estate in East Cowes and built their holiday home, called Osborne House.

The property is open from late March till 31 October - otherwise for pre-booked groups only. From the splendid Durbar Room, designed in Indian Palace style and crammed with trophies from Victoria's reign as Empress of India, you pass through State apartments and private rooms.

Family life for the royal children was out of ear-shot, half a mile away at their own Swiss Cottage. An adjoining museum is crammed with their hodge-podge collection of curios, stuffed birds and animals. Everything that moved was liable to be shot, even a pathetic-looking starling.

A miniature barracks with gun emplacements and small cannon formed part of the green lawns.

If the island was good enough for the royal family, it rapidly became a very popular resort of the Victorian middle class. Hence the development of the main traditional resorts - Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor - with wide choice of hotels and guest houses. Many of the tall Victorian houses have been converted into holiday flatlets.

These three sun-trap resorts of the south-east coast, backed by pie-dish hillsides that rise steeply from the promenades, capture the bulk of the holidaymaker traffic.

The beach and promenade at Ventnor During high season, the narrow streets of Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor are jammed and parking is difficult.

But the Isle of Wight offers ample choice for those who prefer to escape the crowds. Smaller stretches of good beach are located at Totland and Colwell Bay. For perfect sands and comparative solitude, with trees down to the beach, try Seaview near Ryde. 

Over fifty large and small caravan sites and holiday centres are spread around the 60-mile coastline, with access to secluded bays. 

Distances are so small that 20 miles is about the maximum you need travel to reach a particular point of interest. Bus services radiate from the main resorts, while British Rail operates an electric line between Ryde and Shanklin. 

Coach trips feature all the main attractions along the scenic roads. Rover bus and rail tickets are best buy for a week of sightseeing.

Historically, the Isle of Wight focusses specially on King Charles I and Queen Victoria.

Prior to his trial and execution, Charles was held for a year in Carisbrooke Castle, the medieval stronghold of the island governors. At Arreton Manor, relics of King Charles are displayed in rooms furnished in Stuart style. The Manor is not open to the public other than as an upmarket bed and breakfast establishment.

Other tourist attractions on the island include a Wax Museum, a Manor House and the remains of a Roman Villa at Brading; steam trains at Havenstreet; old mills at Calbourne, Bembridge and Sherwell; and a traditional Tuesday market at Newport.
A typical thatched cottge at Godshill
The village of Godshill, with olde-worlde thatched and slate-roofed cottages, is totally dominated by tourism. Take plentiful cash to cover varied entrance fees, souvenirs and refreshments! In high season, be prepared for crowds.


Consider these other South Coast destinations

BRIGHTON - London's Regency pleasure dome

PORTSMOUTH - Visit this new-look Portsmouth and Southsea

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Isle Of Wight (Explorer Maps) - An essential purchase for any serious walker who wants to pick his own route.

Pub Walks in Hampshire and the I.O.W. - A handy guide for anyone who wants to be sure of refreshment on a walk, whenever needed.

50 Walks in Hampshire and Isle of Wight - A different set of recommendations from the previous book suggested, but with less attention to thirst-quenching.

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