Sunday, September 30, 2012

Farewell to the Island, or A Laddie Who Lunches

. How could a month go so quickly? Tomorrow I leave the island, to begin my trek to the Southern hemisphere – in a fortnight I will be at Gerolstein, deepest New Zealand, warming up for this year’s second summer… I intended to do a great deal of resting and writing while in Europe. Well, Berlin had far too many unrestful attractions, and somehow I spent far too much time partying and dining in Jersey, but Wight? Spot on … Here, far away from toil and care (and a bit of a drive from the restaurants and high life), I have rested and written to my heart’s content. Victorian Vocalists has reached its 500th essay (about 200 to go?), and I have lounged in my beautiful suite, overlooking sea, downs and sunrises (and sunsets), day in and day out..
Of course, I haven’t been hermetic. Since three weeks out of my four have been sunny, I have ventured out to my old beauty spots … up to the Hoy Monument, from where there is a beautiful view over to Freshwater
Up to the famous lighthouse, the ‘Pepperpot’ … Sigh. I used to do the two sights in one breath, as an hors d’oeuvre to a day’s walking. Now I am thankful to be able to manage them one at a time… and without my stick …
But I have to admit that most of my sorties have been vehicular, and associated with nice food! Well, I’ve seen so much of the island in previous visits, I don’t need to go sight-seeing (the view from my window is the best sight, anyway!), but I’m a laddie who lunches … So red Fred was awakened from his lethargy every few (sunny) days, and we sallied forth. Having started my gastro-tour of Wight with a splendid new discovery in the Hillside Bistro, I then decided ‘no more chances’: I would simply return to The Best of Former Years: the favourite eateries from my days criticking for the ex-Ventnor Blog, now re-named On The Wight due to its expanded coverage.
I was not disappointed. Places rarely get better, usually worse. Not the case here. I actually paid to park – against all my principles – to do lunch at the Bistro. Lunch is not quite the quality of dinner, but I had a splendid fish pie one day, and crisp fish n chips another…
I returned regularly to the New Inn. It is so pleasant, so good, so reliable. And it is such a pretty 30-minute drive – through Limerstone and Brightstone, over the hills past Mottistone Downs, past the Moulton Barrett estate at Calbourne … to get there.. And one day, determined to find a new place, I drove right out to Freshwater Bay in search. Finding nothing. I’m just not a pub eater. Especially not at ‘family’ pubs. A coach park, swings and ‘family’ signs send me shuddering away. You know that everything -- in spite of the basically charming architecture -- will be doorstep bread, lettuce, potato crisps and chips! Yes, I tried one the other day, the Buddle Inn: the oldest and toughest chopped lettuce I've thrown away in years.
But, on this occasion, I knew I was safe. At Freshwater Bay is lovely Dimbola, the former home of Julia Margaret Cameron, now a photographic museum and gallery. And it has a nice tea-room which serves veritably home-made soup and bread. (I wonder which home half the advertisedly ‘home-made’ stuff on sale comes from), which goes very nicely with my new discovery: slightly alcoholic ginger beer!
And finally, yesterday, on a beautiful sunny autumnal day, I went back to the Royal Hotel. Debby and I sat in the sun, under the wisteria, with an extra-dry sherry, amid the quiet, garden surroundings …
and then I ordered the famous (partly thanks to my raves of the past!) Gallybagger soufflé. Would it … could it be as good as the first time we tasted it? Answer: oh my goodness, yes! It is still the best single dish I have tasted on this island in five years. Light, crisp, cheesy … oh, yes!
Follow it up with a deliciously light and pink duck cassoulet and a glass of chablis, served by a waiter who will be running the joint by the time I get back next time .. why didn’t I come here for lunch sooner? Ah well, a fabulous finale ... the sun, the wine, the sea … then back to the Hermitage … and I slept on my big lavender bed for two hours! In the afternoon!
And now it is time to go. Goodbye to my lovely suite, to the Wightish sun, to my Wightish friends (yes, I caught up with them all!) ... to that agreeably unhurried pace one can live at here … until I come again. Footnote: the last photo, taken from the top of the Downs shows Hermitage Court Farm's position. See that dormer, down in the left corner? That's me. Till tomorrow.

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