A quaint old seaside resort on the Isle of Wight’s north-east coast, Ryde looks back to Portsmouth across the Solent. It grew in size as a seaside resort after the villages of Upper Ryde and Lower Ryde were merged in the 19th century. The influence of this era is clearly visible in the town’s central and seafront architecture.
As a resort Ryde is noted for its expansive sands revealed at low tide, making the listed pier necessary on the wide beach for a regular passenger ferry service. The pier is the fourth longest in the United Kingdom, as well as the oldest.
The town started attracting affluent tourists in the early 19th century, and has lots of palatial late-Georgian and Victorian architecture on streets sloping down to the waterfront Esplanade.
Ryde’s beaches are long, clean and sandy, and the resort’s funfair, road train and lido will keep children on board.
Ryde is served by the only year-round hovercraft line in the world, making the 10-minute hop from Southsea to Ryde’s Hoverport, beside the 19th-century pier.
1. Ryde Beach
The beach begins just east of the Hoverport, and carries on for just over a mile to Puckpool Head, becoming Appley Beach on the way.
If you’re visiting with children or want lots of amenities close at hand, Ryde Beach is the pick for you.
On the resort’s waterfront there’s an amusement arcade, permanent funfair, children’s play area, a popular open-air pool, boating lake and a selection of cafes and restaurants.
You can rent deckchairs and watch the yacht sails scrolling past on the Solent on a sunny afternoon.
The beach is watched by lifeguards in summer, and because it faces back across the Solent to England, the currents are light.
At low tide you may be shocked by how far the water recedes, and you’ll occasionally spot boats stranded on the sandbanks.
2. Quarr Abbey
In quiet countryside between Ryde and Fishbourne to the west is a working Benedictine abbey.
Quarr Abbey existed in Medieval times as a Cistercian monastery, founded in 1132 and then dissolved by Henry VIII during the Reformation.
The ruins of the domestic buildings are some of the most extensive of any Medieval abbey in the UK, and include portions of the infirmary chapel, some of the refectory and kitchen, the brothers’ dormitory and a wood store.
The modern Quarr Abbey moved here from France at the turn of the 20th century, constructing new monastic buildings and a church in 1912 that are now Grade I monuments.
The architecture is a striking blend of French Gothic, Moorish and Byzantine, composed of bricks fired in Belgium.
There’s a visitor centre at the abbey, as well as an art gallery, and a farm shop selling ale, cider, juices, fruits, vegetables and other items produced by the monks.
3. Appley Beach
Tracked by the paved Garden Walk, Appley Beach is on the east side of town and merges with Ryde Beach, offering the same spotless golden sands and calm waters.
At Appley Beach you’ll feel like you’ve left the resort behind.
At the back is Appley Park and its wooded hillside, as well as a handsome neo-Gothic tower that we’ll talk about below.
As with Ryde Beach, at low tide the beach goes out for hundreds of metres, and is still lovely when the water comes in.
In this quieter corner of Ryde you’ll be trading peace for facilities and amusements, but at the west end is the Appley Beach Cafe, which has a balcony looking over the beach, and with views up to Portsmouth.
4. Goodleaf Tree Climbing
For a family activity out of the ordinary, you can climb a 21-metre mature oak tree in Appley Park, just in from the beach.
Goodleaf, providing helmets, harnesses and climbing tuition, was founded by a New Zealander in 2005. Scaling this tree will be different to climbing a wall, and overcoming the challenge will be rewarding, whether you want to get right to the top or as far as you feel comfortable.
In the canopy you’ll be able to relax on branches or even try out a tree top hammock.
Once you’re back on terra firma you can unwind on a picnic blanket with a cup of tea and a piece of homemade flapjack. Source: Goodleaf Tree Climbing / facebook
5. Isle of Wight Bus Museum
The old Southern Vectis bus depot on Park Road is the venue for a collection of more than 20 buses dating back almost a century.
The oldest of these is a 1927 Daimler CK, but with an older Dodson body.
From 1934 there’s a wonderful 20-seater Dennis Ace, restored to its 1934 appearance.
This is a local vehicle that used to run the Ryde – Alum Bay route, stopping at the long defunct Ryde Airport.
There’s a pair of lovely double-decker tourist buses from the 30s and 40s, and an open rear platform Paris bus from around the same time.
6. Royal Victoria Arcade
On Union Street, which leads down to the waterfront through a canyon of Georgian and Victorian buildings, one monument stands out in particular.
On the west side at 54-76 is the Royal Victoria Arcade.
Dating to 1836 and crowned with Victoria’s royal arms, this is an early example of a purpose-built shopping arcade and is Grade II* listed.
The arcade was named in honour of the then Princess Victoria, to mark her stay close by at Norris Castle.
Inside are some diverting curiosity shops, as well as a museum dedicated to postcards.
Check out the rotunda’s dome, with a fine leaded glass oculus.
The arcade’s basement is the home of the Historic Ryde Society, and features a preserved ice well, also from the 1830s.
7. Isle of Wight Coastal Footpath
Ryde is on a 70-mile signposted trail hugging the Isle of Wight’s coastline.
This route is mostly on public footpaths, but has a few short sections on lanes and roads where it cuts in from the sea.
There are plenty of points where you can catch public transport.
For instance, on a day hike you could walk clockwise around to Sandown, taking in the majestic views over Sandown Bay and the Solent from Culver Down.
Then at Sandown you can catch the train back to Ryde in little more than 15 minutes.
On this leg of the walk there are lots of places to stop for food, like the charming weatherboard cafe, Baywatch on the Beach, at the National Trust’s St Helens Duver on the way to Bembridge.
8. Puckpool Park
Keep going past Apple Beach and you’ll be at Puckpool Point.
In the mid-1860s this became the site for a Palmerston Fort, a link in a massive defensive system to prevent an invasion during the Napoleon III’s rule.
The Puckpool Battery is still in place, and was fortified on-and-off up to the end of the Second World War.
The surrounding park is a peaceful green haven, with a cleverly designed playpark, a putting green and a 12-hole crazy golf course.
There’s also a cafe in the battery’s old barracks building, while to the east of the headland is an appealing, sheltered beach.
You can get to Puckpool Park via the road train that runs here from Ryde’s Esplanade.
9. Ryde Pier
In order to attract upper class tourists in the early 19th century Ryde needed a pier to make it easier for boats to dock, and avoid a long walk up the beach at low tide.
This was started in 1813 and opened a year later.
By 1833 the pier had reached its current length of 681 metres, allowing ferries to berth, even at low tide, and that basic structure survives today, which is rare in the UK. Two parallel piers were later constructed, first for a horse-drawn tram and then for the double-track railway line that continues to run from the Wightlink ferry terminal at Ryde Pier Head at the top.
Ryde Pier is the second-longest seaside pier in the country, and, although it serves more of a functional purpose as a road and rail link to the terminal, still deserves a visit for its age and for some sea air.
10. Appley Park
Backing Appley Beach are the former grounds of a country house that was posted atop the seawall but demolished in the 20th century.
Pieces of the estate’s architecture are still standing, most noticeably a Gothic Revival folly above the beach, dating to 1875 and designed like a castle tower.
The tower has an oriel window pointing towards the sea and has long been used as a seamark by sailors.
Appley Tower is right on the seafront path, the Garden Walk, at the foot of a wooded hillside with trails leading off into the park.
Appley Park is the base for Goodleaf Tree Climbing, while there’s also a children’s playground in the park and some specimen trees harking back to the 19th century.
11. Rosemary Vineyard
On the south-facing slopes of a valley just outside Ryde is a vineyard benefitting from the Isle of Wight’s moderate climate.
Cultivating recently developed cool-climate grapes like Phoenix, Solaris, Triomphe d’Alsace, Pinot Gris and Seyval, the Rosemary Vineyard produces a variety of whites, reds, rosés and sparkling wines, as well as cider, liqueurs and fruit juices.
You can call in for a tour on Tuesdays or Saturdays from March to December.
These start at 11:00, 12:00 and 13:00 and last around half an hour.
You’ll take a look around the winery and its various equipment, and watch “Vine to Wine”, a film encapsulating a year at the Rosemary Vineyard.
There’s a tasting session at the end, while children will get to try the vineyard’s selection of non-alcoholic fruit juices. Source: Rosemary Vineyard / facebook
12. Haven Falconry
Minutes into the countryside at Havenstreet there’s a birds of prey centre keeping falcons, hawks, owls, vultures and eagles.
The art of falconry takes centre stage here, but you can take part in a range of other experiences, on a “hawk walk” or handling up to five different owl species.
At the hour-long “Birds of Prey Experience” you’ll meet several birds, learning about their different hunting habits, physical traits and behaviour.
For something more in-depth you can shadow a professional falconer for the day, becoming an expert on falcons and discovering many of the skills needed to fly these birds from a gauntlet glove.
13. All Saints’ Church
A striking landmark, with a spire that can be seen from all around the island and across the Solent, All Saints’ Church is often called the Isle of Wight’s cathedral.
This ornate neo-Gothic church went up in the 1860s to accommodate a growing town and was designed by the famed revivalist architect and restorer George Gilbert Scott.
The church’s fittings and decoration were carried out to a high level of quality.
See the pulpit, fashioned from Derbyshire alabaster and awarded 1st prize at the Crystal Palace during the Great Exhibition.
The frescoes in the chancel were painted by the eminent Clayton and Bell workshop, which also provided most of the original stained glass.
Sadly a lot of this was lost in the Second World War, although fine pieces survive in the east window.
14. Peter Pan Funfair
On the Esplanade, moments from Ryde’s ferry terminal there’s a permanent funfair with rides and games for younger holidaymakers.
Among these are carousels, bumper cars, cups & saucers, zorbing and a “Helta Skelta” slide.
Along with a crazy golf course, Peter Pan Funfair also has plenty of old-fashioned fairground amusements in its arcade, like claw machines, coin pushers and a range of mini-games. Source: isleofwight.com
The crossing from Southsea to Ryde via Hovertravel is remarkable for being the only hovercraft line still in service in the UK, and the world’s only year-round hovercraft service.
Hovertravel is also the UK’s oldest hovercraft operator, dating back to 1965, and once running several lines between the island and English south coast.
Because of this swift mode of transport Hovertravel provides the fastest land-to-land crossing over the Solent, taking just ten minutes.
You travel in a Griffon 12000TD, launched in 2016, while there’s a pair of older AP1-88s in reserve in case of a technical fault.
In early 2019 an adult period return came to £32.00 (day return £23.90), and services depart Portsmouth from 06:30 to 22:00 on the summer timetable.