A twenty minute boat ride from the mainland lies a 24-acre private estate on the Isle of Wight which you can have to yourself. Toby Keel paid a visit.
If it weren’t for the fact that the place itself is so beautiful, we’d be tempted to say that getting to the Pinkmead Estate was half the fun: catch the exotically-named ‘Red Jet’ ferry to Cowes, from where Dave the boatman will pick you up and drop you off at your very own jetty. From there, it’s a delightful stroll across a vast expanse of lawn to the house that’s the centrepiece of a 24-acre estate previously owned by Henry VIII and Oxford University, but which has now been in the O’Dell family for three generations.
The O’Dells have just begun to rent the estate out to visitors on an exclusive basis. At the heart of the property is a three-bedroom main house, beautifully and comfortably furnished, whose greatest feature is the huge garden room complete with electric baby grand piano and views across to the River Medina. The adjacent sitting room has a log burner, if you’re coming in colder weather.
A few steps away there’s a separate summer house, dubbed the ‘Kitchen Garden’, with kitchen, dining area, cinema projector and a glass-wall bathroom where you can soak in the tub while looking out for red squirrels playing on the grass. We found that the main house was the focus when the weather was gloomy, but when the sun came out we gravitated to this lovely annexe, which opens onto a patio with barbecue and, almost unfeasibly, a sauna room.
There’s also a boathouse, with canoes you can take out onto the water, and a garage that’s been converted into a private yoga studio and gym.
Don’t expect the high life, but if you’re after a tucked-away, dog-friendly paradise it’s hard to imagine a better retreat in the south of England, a place where the only traffic ‘noise’ comes from the Cowes-to-Newport bicycle path. On a sunny summer’s day this is a dreamlike spot for a long weekend with friends or family, and it proved just as enjoyable in bad weather.
Biblical rain fell on our second day, and after a morning splashing through the woods in wellies and raincoats we were only too glad to snuggle in front of the log burner, playing board games and mixing the odd drink using Pinkmead’s very own gin.
Three-day breaks at the Pinkmead Estate start from £1,250, sleeping up to eight – and you can get there via a farm track if you don’t fancy the boat or the tide is too low. Book at www.mulberrycottages.com or by calling 01227 464958.
Things to do
Quite honestly, if you’re taking the foot ferry to Pinkmead we’d barely recommend leaving – Dave the Boatman can take you to a decent pub across the river, or you can stroll into Cowes for something fancier. But if you want to explore and are happy to negotiate the farm track that leads to this remote estate (we made it in a VW golf, but wouldn’t recommend anything sportier) then the beauty of the Isle of Wight is that there’s nowhere on the island that isn’t an easy drive away.
The Isle of Wight might not be big, but the variety of beaches it offers cover almost every imaginable option. Across on the sheltered east coast the soft, white sands of Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin attract thousands of families when the sun comes out, with all the candy floss, arcade machines and crazy golf courses you could ever wish for.
For something more serene the south side of the island is the place to head: Ventnor still retains plenty of Victorian charm, the town nestled into the steep slopes that head down to the pebbly shore. Further along to the west is our particular favourite: Compton Bay, where the almost-red cliffs crumble towards sands peppered with fossils, and shallow water where you can go for a dip.
The gardens are a highlight of the Isle of Wight – the microclimate here allows all manner of things to grow which struggled in almost all of the rest of the UK; in fact, Country Life regular contributor Alan Titchmarsh has written about this phenomenon on this very website. Well worth a visit is Ventnor Botanic Garden, where Mediterranean and subtropical plants grow happily outdoors. Entrance is £9.50 (£6 for children).
The National Trust’s Mottistone Gardens and Estate has a few similar climate-defying wonders on display, as well as all sorts of quirky things to see at this pretty estate – not least The Shack, a garden office made in the 1930s by Lord Mottistone’s architect son, and boasting state-of-the-art equipment of the day – including a mini kitchen that can be hidden behind panelling.
Getting to the Isle of Wight
Red Funnel operates regular services between Southampton and Cowes on the Isle of Wight – and if you’re going to Pinkmead without the car, you’ll want the high-speed foot-passenger-only Red Jet service. It travels between Southampton and West Cowes in as little as 23 minutes and costs from £10 for an adult return.
If you’re taking the car, the vehicle service between Southampton and East Cowes takes 55 minutes and costs from £44 for a day return or £56 for a short-stay return for a vehicle and up to seven passengers – from there, you can either get the chain ferry across to West Cowes, or follow the main road around the Medina estuary via the outskirts of Newport. For more information please see www.redfunnel.co.uk
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