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22 April 2016

celebrate england, on the isle of wight

oh hey, did i mention i got a new camera recently? well yeah, i did, and last weekend was the first time that i really got to break it out and have a play with it. i really couldn't have asked for a nicer day to have a play, either, than on saturday when we arrived in portsmouth for a quick jaunt over to the isle of wight for the weekend. with half an hour to kill before the next hovercraft to the island, bex and i took a wander through the pier and bathed in the sunshine and bright colours (and fresh donuts) while we waited.

with st. george's day coming up, i thought it would be the perfect time to get away and continue my exploration of the english countryside; the twelve in twelve bucket list is ticking along just nicely, and this weekender across the water rounds out the home-side half of the list; this pleases me so, considering it's still only april..!

i chose to travel over on the hovercraft rather than the ferry, because after spending time in venice, i'm all about alternate modes of water transportation. plus, it's a fricken hovercraft! bex was a bit worried about getting seasick, but considering the journey across the water to ryde is only ten minutes, plus the fact the vessel doesn't actually even go in the water - it hovers above it, we were assured by the staff that she would be fine. and, she was. ten minutes later we'd arrived on the island and were making the mad dash for the route 9 bus for the first stop on our itinerary: the monkey haven.

the monkey haven was established about ten years ago, but only open to the public for just over half of that time. it was set up to help rescue, rehabilitate and re-home primates that had mostly been caught up in the illegal pet trades around the world. because of all the excellent work the green team does in the haven, their residents slowly started to include birds of prey, as well as random other animals in need of a good home and a handful of square meals a day. 

*bog the siamang celebrates st. george's day like the rest of us | image courtesy of monkey haven*

we arrived just as beau the tawny owl was due to come out for an introduction, so of course we took the opportunity to spend some time learning about his back story, the truth behind the eyes (different colours represent the different hunting style - not all owls are nocturnal! or wise. apparently rather dumb, in fact), and have a wee stroke while he lazily sat there and looked handsome as hell. giddy with excitement from playing with a real life owl (i love owls), we spent the next hour or so wandering around the enclosures and cooing at the various teeny, tiny, human-like primates, before heading into the cafe to avoid the spitty rain and to warm up a little before our next experience...

feeding the damn squirrel monkeys! we had to have a quick h&s session to prepare us for the fact we a) weren't allowed to keep the monkeys, b) weren't allowed to sneeze on the monkeys, and c) understand we'd be feeding them live mealworms, but then we were in! metal bowls in hand, we entered the enclosure and within seconds we had four or five squirrel monkeys climbing all over us, grabbing handfuls of worms from the bowls, and stuffing them into their cheeky little mouths! there were mealworms flying through the air, and monkeys in our hair, and i could not have been happier!

the whole experience lasted about forty seconds, so the lovely haven employee went off to grab some more worms so we could have another go. topped up to the brim, these teeny monkeys were ravenous for worms, so we stood in their spacious enclosure until they were done feeding. most of the monkey squad were boisterous little boys - only five or six years old, but there was one frail little girl in there who'd just turned 27. these monkeys live to be no older than 20 out in the wild, which is testament to the way these animals are cared for by the dedicated team in the haven.

we were there about two hours overall, and could easily have stayed longer if we weren't on such a tight schedule for our trip to the isle. would i go back? heck yes i would. it would be the best tenner ever spent, and there are so many other experiences to have while in the sanctuary that you could easily spend a whole day there. in fact, we overheard one woman saying that she'd been there twice already that week, so it's definitely worth a trip if you're looking for something a bit different while on the island - it's not every day you get to play with a monkey in your own back yard!

from there we jumped back on the bus, headed to newport bus garage where we did a quick-change and hopped on another headed through to carisbrooke. thankfully the drivers are all so totally friendly, and whenever we hopped on one, we just told them where we wanted to go so that they knew to stop for us. having nice and helpful people in charge of public transport was a nice change. we drove for about fifteen minutes, then walked a short ways through some mud and up a bit of a grassy knoll before we got to the next attraction: carisbrooke castle.

with the promise of donkeys and flowers and a swish museum to have a squizz through, we had arrived with plenty of time before the last admission so we could basically have an entire windy photo shoot outside the castle entrance (much to the chagrin of those guests leaving the castle). after my trip to nottingham castle a few weeks ago, this one had some big standards to live up to. and sadly, just wasn't able to.

the donkeys weren't there, the museum was closed, and the chapel was locked, so all we really had to keep ourselves busy was to walk through the grounds reading plaques, and have a jolly in princess beatrice's garden. the once-royal residence was a little lacklustre in the greying afternoon, thanks to quite a bit of restoration happening around the grounds, but having chosen to visit the artillery fortress that afternoon over osborne house (in hindsight: bad decision), i wanted to at least get some decent photos out of the trip.

the weather was turning a bit grim and it was fairly cold wandering around in the open courtyard, so with not a lot left to really look at, we packed it in and headed off. not considering the buses were running hourly on that route, we found ourselves with a bit of a hefty wait too, which sort of put another dampener on the decision to head up the castle. i usually love an english herritage site, but in this case, the ticket price just wasn't indicative of the experience. if you're tossing up between the two options, i would definitely opt for osborne house over the castle, unless the donkeys are in. then always choose the donkeys.

we also didn't consider the bus timetable, and found ourselves with a bit of a wait. thankfully the cabs are cheap on the isle of wight, and before we knew it, were were checking into our garden-view room in one holyrood b&b for the night. with the heater on and the electrical devices on charge, we chatted with the owner about dinner recommendations before heading back out to local restaurant the bargeman's rest for a cheeky bottle and a hot meal, then hurrying home in the chilly night and crawling under the heavy blankets for a solid night's sleep. 

we were shattered, and all we'd really done was two of the hundreds of possible things to see and do on that island! our itinerary for the following day was similarly busy - if not more so, so eternal thanks to our hosts visit isle of wight and visit england for preparing such an action-packed itinerary for us. i can't wait to show you what we got up to the following day... clue: it includes llamas. 

..until then, enjoy your st. george's day weekend; get out and have an adventure!

*post written in collaboration with @visitengland's #celebrateengland and #stgeorge campaigns, but all adventures are my own*

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