As we all know, the Isle of Wight’s not a bad place really. Having said that, not everyone likes it. In the days before Tripadvisor, plenty of people made their feelings known, among them, Aubrey de Selincourt, a well-known writer who lived at Niton.

A bit of a highbrow with a brain the size of a planet, in 1948 he wrote a travel book, ‘The Isle of Wight’ in which he cast his eye over our towns and villages. He was not impressed.

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Of Freshwater Bay he wrote: “They say it is better to travel there than to arrive — I wish the saying were not true of Freshwater Gate. This famous beauty spot is as tawdry and sluttish as an unswept room. The dismal hotels, the dreary eating houses, the neglected shanties, the pervading atmosphere of paper-baggery and crumbs, are disconcerting to say the least.

"Being hungry, I entered one of the eating houses, packed to the ceiling. ‘Abandon hope’ seemed written over the door, full of crowds of people all hot and all smoking; I hoped at least for a bean-paste sandwich. But there was nothing — sold out. So I escaped as quickly as I could to the hills above.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Freshwater Bay - "As tawdry and sluttish as an unswept room." Photo © Alan Stroud/ County PressFreshwater Bay - "As tawdry and sluttish as an unswept room." Photo © Alan Stroud/ County Press


Well, he wasn’t much happier there: “The plain immediately north of High Down is not attractive. Most of it is occupied by the towns of Totland and Freshwater. Both these towns are undistinguished, straggling and of mean appearance.”

Oh dear — perhaps Brighstone will be better. I’m afraid not,

“One wants one blind eye at Brighstone. The village must have been lovely generations ago. Now, to enjoy it at all, one has to touch it up, so to speak, like a photographer who removes blemishes from his negative. The Church Hall for instance, the asbestos tea gardens, the pub (it doesn’t deserve the old name of inn)... Nobody nowadays except a handful of highbrows, cares a tinker’s cuss what a village looks like.”

Well, it’s not looking too good so far. Let’s try the 1912 Ward Lock Guide to the Isle of Wight and see if we get a better response there.

Fat chance! If anything, Ward Lock were worse, with this withering review of Bembridge: “Let us say frankly, lest we be accused of raising false hopes, that Bembridge will not suit every taste. Its frequenters seem to have come to an understanding that in the matter of dress, anything will do.

"The scenery is not sublime; some of the shops are still rather primitive; and we are not sure that all the cottages conform to the latest requirements of civilisation. But if you care for a place where the only noise is the laughter of children, where the only daylight occupations are bathing, boating, fishing, and golfing, and the evening occupations as nearly as possible nil; where the only excitement of the day is the arrival of a railway train, or the departure of a steamer, then Bembridge is not likely to disappoint.” Blimey! Let’s go back to Aubrey.

“It was said to me in Niton that all the village wanted now was a nice public lavatory. On the model, I suppose, of the Odeon cinema at Newport.” Blimey! Perhaps things will get better at the next port of call, “I was soon in Wroxall — perhaps too soon, for the village is of an undescribable, stony hearted ugliness. The best part of it is the railway station.” Oh dear. How about Ventnor? “I know only one place in the Island less endearing than Ryde: the portion of Ventnor which lies along the road to Wroxall. There are no slums or squalor here, only downright un-reclaimed savage ugliness. How men could choose to build precisely thus, is a mystery.”

OK then, back to Ward Lock, who also went to Ventnor: “The streets which run uphill from the sea are as higgledy-piggledy as well can be. The simplest way to go down to the sea is to go steadily down — where you can go steadily — till you come to it.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Ventnor Railway Station - "The simplest way to go down to the sea is to go steadily down - where you can go steadily - till you come to it." Photo © Alan Stroud/ County PressVentnor Railway Station - "The simplest way to go down to the sea is to go steadily down - where you can go steadily - till you come to it." Photo © Alan Stroud/ County Press

As for Cowes, Aubrey was of two minds, “Nobody who knows Cowes could fail to love it, in spite of the fact that the greater part of the town is even uglier than Ryde. The shops in Cowes waste little on appearance.”

In August, 1958, Mr Moore of London came to Cowes for a holiday. He wasn’t impressed either. He wrote to the County Press: “Sir, When I arrived at Cowes last week I asked a resident what there was to do here. She replied: “If it is hot you sunbathe on the Green; if it is cold you walk up and down the High Street; if it is wet you shelter in Woolworths and in the evening you stay indoors or go to a pub.” I thought this was a joke, but found it was quite true. Apart from the cinema and pubs, there is literally nowhere to go. This is my first visit to Cowes and it will be my last. I can honestly say that I have never had a more dreary holiday.”

Can’t win them all. Finally, Aubrey went to Sandown — and surprise, surprise:“As for Sandown, no-one, even if he doesn’t love the town, could help loving the bay. It is superb.”

Permission to shout “Hooray!”

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