The Isle of Wight is an English island and county in the English Channel between three and five miles (8 km) from the south coast of the English mainland. It is situated south of the county of Hampshire and is separated from mainland Britain by the Solent. Popular since Victorian times as a holiday resort, the Isle of Wight is known for its outstanding natural beauty and for its world-famous sailing based in Cowes.
The island has a rich history including its own brief status as a nominally independent kingdom in the fifteenth century. It was home to the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Queen Victoria built her much loved summer residence and final home Osborne House at East Cowes. The island's maritime and industrial history encompasses boat building, sail making, the manufacture of flying boats, the world's first hovercraft and the testing and development of Britain's space rockets. It is home to the Isle of Wight International Jazz Festival, Bestival and the recently-revived Isle of Wight Festival, which, in 1970, was one of the largest rock music events ever held. The island has some exceptional wildlife and is also one of the richest fossil locations for dinosaurs in Europe.
It has in the past been part of Hampshire; however, it became an independent administrative county (although still sharing the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire) in 1890. In 1974 it was reconstituted as a non-metropolitan and ceremonial county with its own Lord Lieutenant and the name was adopted as a postal county. The island is the smallest ceremonial county in England at high tide (if the City of London is excluded), but its land area at low tide is larger than that of Rutland, normally thought of as Britain's smallest county. With a single Member of Parliament and 132,731 permanent residents according to the 2001 census, it is also the most populated Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom.
At the end of the Roman Empire the island of Vectis became a Jutish kingdom ruled by King Stuf and his successors until AD 661 when it was invaded by Wulfhere of Mercia and forcibly converted to Christianity at sword point. When he left for Mercia the islanders reverted to paganism.
In AD 685 it was invaded by Caedwalla of Wessex and can be considered to have become part of Wessex. Following the accession of West Saxon kings as kings of all England, it then became part of England. The island became part of the shire of Hampshire and was divided into hundreds as was the norm.
In 686, it became the last part of England to convert to Christianity.
The Lordship thereafter became a royal appointment, with a brief interruption when Henry de Beauchamp, 1st Duke of Warwick was in 1444 crowned King of the Isle of Wight, with King Henry VI assisting in person at the ceremony, placing the crown on his head. With no male heir, the regal title expired on the death of Henry de Beauchamp.
Henry VIII, who developed the Royal Navy and its permanent base at Portsmouth, fortified the island at Yarmouth, East and West Cowes, and Sandown. Much later, after the Spanish Armada in 1588, the threat of Spanish attacks remained and the outer fortifications of Carisbrooke Castle were built between 1597 and 1602.
The Isle of Wight Festival was a very large rock festival that took place near Afton Down, West Wight in 1970, following two smaller concerts in 1968 and 1969. The 1970 show was notable both for being one of the last public performances by Jimi Hendrix and for the number of attendees reaching, by many estimates, 600,000. The Festival was revived in 2002 and is now an annual event.
Isle of Wight is approximately diamond-shaped and covers an area of 380 km2 (147 sq mi). Slightly more than half of the island, mainly in the west of the island, is designated as the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The island has 258 km2 (99.6 sq mi) of farmland, 52 km2 (20 sq mi) of developed areas, and 92 km (57 mi) of coastline. The landscape of the island is remarkably diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description of "England in Miniature". The West Wight is predominantly rural, with dramatic coastlines dominated by the famous chalk downland ridge, running across the whole island and ending in The Needles stacks — perhaps the most photographed aspect of the Isle of Wight. The highest point on the island is St Boniface Down, at 241 m (791 ft), which is also a Marilyn.
The rest of the island landscape also has great diversity, with perhaps the most notable habitats being the soft cliffs and sea ledges, which are spectacular features as well as being very important for wildlife, and are internationally protected. The River Medina flows north into the Solent, whilst the other main river, the River Yar flows roughly north-east, emerging at Bembridge Harbour on the eastern end of the island. Confusingly, there is another entirely separate river at the western end also called the River Yar flowing the short distance from Freshwater Bay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth. Where distinguishing the two becomes necessary, each may be referred to as the eastern or western Yar.
The south coast of the island borders the English Channel. Without man's intervention the island may well have been split into three with the sea breaking through 1) at the west end of the island where a bank of pebbles separates Freshwater Bay from the marshy backwaters of the Western Yar east of Freshwater, and 2) at the east end of the island where a thin strip of land separates Sandown Bay from the marshy basin of the Eastern Yar, east of Sandown. Yarmouth itself was effectively an island with water on all sides and only connected to the rest of the island by a regularly breached neck of land immediately east of the town.
Island wildlife is remarkable, and it is one of the few places in England where the red squirrel is flourishing, with a stable population (Brownsea Island is another). Unlike most of England, no grey squirrels are to be found on the island, nor are there any wild deer but, instead, rare and protected species, such as the dormouse and many rare bats, can be found. The Glanville Fritillary butterfly's distribution in the United Kingdom is largely restricted to the edges of the crumbling cliffs of the Isle of Wight.
The island is known as one of the most important areas in Europe for finding dinosaur fossils. The eroding cliffs also assist hidden remains to become more visible.
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The Isle of Wight is made up from a wide variety of different rock types which date from Early Cretaceous times (around 127 million years ago) to the middle of the Palaeogene (around 30 million years ago). All the rocks found on the island are sedimentary, made up of mineral grains from previously existing rocks. These are all consolidated to form the rocks that can be seen on the island today, such as limestone, mudstone and sandstone. Rocks on the island are very rich in fossils and many of these can be seen exposed on the beaches as the cliffs erode.
Cretaceous rocks, normally red, show that the climate was previously hot and dry. This provided suitable living conditions for dinosaurs. Dinosaur bones and footprints can be seen around the island along beaches, especially at Yaverland and Compton Bay.
Along the northern coast of the island there is a rich source of fossilised shellfish, crocodiles, turtles and mammal bones. The youngest of these dates back to around 30 million years ago.
The Isle of Wight is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county. Since the abolition of its two borough councils in 1995 and the restructuring of the county council as the Isle of Wight Council, it has been a unitary county. It is unique in England in this way — all other unitary areas are single districts with no county council, while the Isle of Wight is the other way round. It also has a single Member of Parliament, and is by far the most populous constituency in the United Kingdom (more than 50% above the average of English constituencies).
As a constituency of the House of Commons, it is traditionally a battleground between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The current MP, Andrew Turner is a Conservative, and his predecessor Dr Peter Brand was a Liberal Democrat.
From the census taken in 2001, the island's population was at 132,731. This shows a change of 5.4% since the last census in 1991 which is a higher increase than the average for the UK at 2.6%. The mean age of people from the island is 43.19. This is higher than the national average of 38.65.
From the 2001 census data, the population on the Isle of Wight by age group is:
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The lack of a university on the island causes many younger people to leave for higher education. The Isle of Wight is also considered an attractive place for many people to retire, due to the perception that it is more peaceful than the rest of the UK. This results in a higher proportion of older people.
The most popular religion on the island is Christianity, with 73.72%, however this census question was optional and 7.89% did not wish to state a religion.
The Isle of Wight has no cities. In addition to the above, there are smaller towns along the coasts - particularly on the east side of the island. As well as the towns, the island has many smaller villages. Some of these (for example, Godshill) also attract many tourists.
The island also has its own local and regional words. Some words, including grockle (visitor) and nipper/nips (a younger male person), are still commonly used and are shared with neighbouring areas. A few are unique to the island, for example overner (a mainlander who has settled on the island) and caulkhead (someone born on the island or, for sticklers, those born there from long-established island stock). Other words are more obscure and used now mainly for comic emphasis, such as mallishag (meaning caterpillar) and nammit ("noon-meat", meaning food). Some other words are "gurt" as in large or great, also "gallybagger" as in scarecrow..
The Isle of Wight Marathon is the United Kingdom's oldest continuously held marathon, having been run every year since 1957.. The course starts in Ryde, passing through Newport, Shanklin and Sandown, before finishing back in Ryde. It is an undulating course with a total climb of .
The island is home to the Isle of Wight Islanders Speedway team, who compete in the sport's second division, the 'Premier League'. The club was founded in 1996, with a first-night attendance of 1740. The island is also home to the Wightlink Raiders, an ice hockey team based at Ryde Arena. They compete in the English Premier League, the 2nd Division in the country. There is also an ENL team, Vectis Warriors, also based at Ryde Arena.
The Isle of Wight Hockey Club run three senior teams and a junior side, with the 1st XI competing in Hampshire's top division, just one below the regional leagues. The island also has a ladies team - the Vectis Ladies - which is a separate organisation to the IW Hockey Club. Ventnor Middle School on the Isle of Wight runs a successful hockey set-up, producing a number of players who have since gone on to play at high standards.
The now-disbanded Ryde Sports F.C. was founded in 1888 and became one of the eight founder members of the Hampshire League in 1896. There are several other non-league clubs such as Newport (IW) F.C. There is an Isle of Wight Saturday Football League with three divisions, and a rugby union club, plus various other sporting teams . Beach football is particularly prevalent on the island and has several of the nation's premier clubs with almost all of the England Beach Soccer team made up from players from the island.
The Isle of Wight is the 39th official county in English cricket, and the Isle of Wight Cricket Board organise an internal cricket league between various local clubs, and Ventnor Cricket Club compete in the Southern Premier League, and have won the Second Division in several recent years. There is a new County Ground near Newport currently nearing completion and the Board's intent is to enter a side in the Minor Counties tournaments in future seasons.
The Isle of Wight competes in the bi-annual Island Games, which it hosted in 1993. The Isle of Wight will host these games again in 2011.
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The making of sailcloth, boats and other connected maritime industry has long been associated with the island, although this has somewhat diminished in recent years. Cowes is still home to various small marine-related companies such as boat-builders.
Although they have reduced the extent of the plants and workforce, including the sale of the main site, GKN operates what was once the British Hovercraft Corporation a subsidiary of, and known latterly, when manufacturing focus changed, as Westland Aircraft. Prior to its purchase by Westland, it was the independent company known as Saunders-Roe. It remains one of the most notable historic firms, having produced many of the flying boats, and the world's first hovercraft.
The island's major manufacturing activity today is in composite materials, used by boat-builders and the wind turbine manufacturer Vestas, which has a wind turbine blade factory and testing facilities in Newport and East Cowes.
Bembridge Airfield is the home of Britten-Norman, manufacturers of the world-famous Islander and Trislander aircraft. This is shortly to become the site of the European assembly line for Cirrus light aircraft. The Norman Aeroplane Company is a smaller aircraft manufacturing company operating in Sandown. There are have been 3 other aircraft manufacturers that built planes on the island.
The heritage of the island is a major asset, which has for many years kept its economy going. Holidays focused on natural heritage, including both wildlife and geology, are becoming a growing alternative to the traditional seaside resort holiday. The latter has been in decline in the United Kingdom domestic market, due to the increased affordability of air travel to alternative destinations.
Tourism is still the largest industry on the island. In 1999, the 130,000 island residents were host to 2.7 million visitors. Of these, 1.5 million stayed overnight, and 1.2 million visits were day visits. Only 150,000 of these visitors were international visitors. Between 1993 and 2000, visits increased at a rate of 3% per year, on average.
At the turn of the nineteenth century the island had ten pleasure piers including two at Ryde and a "chain pier" at Seaview. The Victoria Pier in Cowes succeeded the earlier Royal Pier but was itself removed in 1960. The piers at Ryde, Seaview, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor originally served a coastal steamer service that operated from Southsea on the mainland. The piers at Seaview, Shanklin, Ventnor and Alum Bay were all destroyed by storms during the last century. Today only the railway pier at Ryde and the piers at Sandown, Totland Bay (currently closed to the public) and Yarmouth survive. Blackgang Chine is arguably the oldest theme park in the UK, and one of the oldest in the world.
As well as more traditional tourist attractions, the island is often host to walking holidays . or cycling holidays through the attractive scenery. Almost every town and village on the island plays host to hotels, hostels and camping sites. Out of the peak summer season, the island is still an important destination for coach tours from other parts of the United Kingdom and an annual walking festival has attracted considerable interest. The 67-mile Isle of Wight Coastal Path follows the coastline as far as possible, deviating onto roads where the route is impassable closer to the sea.
A major contribution to the local economy comes from sailing and marine-related tourism.
The Isle of Wight has a total of of roadway. Major roads run between the main island towns, with smaller roads connecting villages. It is one of the few counties in the UK not to have a motorway, as the islands largest road is only a dual carriageway, running from Coppins Bridge in Newport, towards the north of Newport near the island’s hospital and prisons.
A comprehensive bus network, operated by Southern Vectis links most island settlements with Newport as the central hub.
The island's location off the mainland means the most common form of transport is by boat. Car ferry and passenger services are run by Wightlink and Red Funnel as well as a hovercraft operated by Hovertravel. However, fixed links have also been proposed.
The island is home to the smallest train operating company in the United Kingdom's National Rail network, the Island Line, running a little under 14 kilometres (about 8.5 miles) from Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin.
There are currently two airfields for general aviation, Isle of Wight Airport at Sandown and Bembridge Airport.
The island has over 200 miles of cycle ways much of which can be enjoyed by families off road. Major Trails to note are 'The Sunshine Trail' which incorporates Sandown, Shanklin, Godshill and Wroxhall in a 12 mile circular route. 'The Troll Trail' Which leads from Cowes to Sandown or vice-versa (90% off road) approx 13 miles either way and 'Round the Island Cycle Route' which circumnavigates the island on a reported 62 mile ride. Cycles can be brought to the island by foot passengers on any of the car ferries. Hire cycles are also available
All of the island telephone exchanges are broadband-enabled and in addition, some urban areas such as Cowes and Newport are covered by cable lines. Some areas, such as Arreton, have no broadband access in certain places.
The Isle of Wight has one local broadsheet newspaper, The Isle of Wight County Press. It discusses local issues and is published each Friday, or on the last working day if a public holiday falls on a Friday.
The island had a television station called Solent TV from 2002 until its closure on Thursday, 24th May, 2007.
The island has two native, commercial radio stations and has access to other nearby local stations based off the island. Since 1998, Isle of Wight Radio has broadcast on 107 and 102 FM, as well as on the internet, and on the AM band since 1990. In 2007, Angel Radio began broadcasting on 91.7 FM from studios in Cowes.
Camp Hill is located to the west of, and adjacent to, Albany and Parkhurst, on the very edge of Parkhurst Forest, having been converted first to a borstal and later to later a category C prison. It was originally on the site of an army camp (both Albany and Parkhurst were barracks), where there is a small estate of tree-lined roads with well-proportioned officers' quarters (with varying grandeur according to rank, but now privately owned), to the south and east.
There are sixty-nine Local Education Authority-maintained schools on the Isle of Wight, and two independent schools. As a rural community, many of these schools are small, with average numbers of pupils lower than in many urban areas. There are currently five high schools. However, there are plans to close at least one of the high schools. There is also the Isle of Wight College, which is located on the outskirts of Newport.
The island implements a middle school system.
Over the years, the island has had many well-known visitors. Many come over for health reasons due to the cool sea breeze and clean air. For example, Winston Churchill and Karl Marx were visitors to the island. Notable residents include:
Larne couple Steven and Marita McAlister (right), both 39, were host parents several years ago while Marita was on a career break from her NHS job.
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