Geography: The Isle of Wight is almost the smallest county in the country (after Rutland). It measures 23 miles from east to west, and 131
from north to south, giving a total area (including inland water) of 94,146 acres, or 147 square miles. The Island is divided into two boroughs - Medina & South Wight, with Newport as the all-Island capital, although Ryde is the largest town.
Derivation of name: The Romans called the Island Vectis. In the Anglo-Saxon chronicle it is Wihte ealond, Wihtland or Wiht, followed by further variations of the spelling in the middle ages, such as Wicht, Wict, Whyht, Wyght and Wight.
The derivation cannot be established with certainty but the name is probably of British origin and may be connected with the Welsh gwaith (work) the
Latin Vectis (lever) which share a common root. It has been suggested that
Wight could mean what has been raised i.e. above the sea.
Rivers: The Island's three main rivers are the Medina, the East Yar and the West Yar. All the three flow north and drain into the Solent or Spithead. West Wight is, in fact, almost an Island in its own right, since the West Yar rises only a few hundred metres inland from Freshwater bay.
Location & height: The exact centre of the Island is at Shide Corner, on the south-eastern outskirts of Newport. Latitude - 50° 41" north, Longitude - 1° 18" west. The highest point is St. Boniface Down at Ventnor, which is 240 metres (787 feet) high, although generally speaking the highest ground
extends from Culver Cliff to Tennyson Down above the Needles, as an east-west alignment of chalk downs which straddle the Island.
Roads & footpaths: There is a total of 477 miles of roads on the Island, an almost as many miles of footpaths & bridleways made up of 1,400 separate public rights of way, including a number of officially designated long distance trails.
Climate: One million people spend their holidays on the Isle of Wight each year. South Wight in particular is blessed with an almost sub-tropical climate, and Sandown & Shanklin regularly top the British sunshine league.
Population: The Island's resident population is around 120,000 - 68,000 in Medina Borough and 52,000 in South Wight. Yet, it is said that if the entire population of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, they would all fit into the Isle of Wight - but only just! Southern Vectis would be able to increase their service level!
Motto & coat of arms: The Island's motto is All this beauty is of God the arms or crest depicts a horse and seahorse symbolising agriculture and the maritime which have supported and conditioned Island life in so many ways. Royal associations are represented by a castle on a shield, and the insular nature of the Island is suggested by waves of the sea lapping the base of the arms.
Dialect & vocabulary: Owing to its geographical isolation, the Island's local dialect was once particularly rich. with its own vocabulary. But easier communications, beginning with the Victorian railways, caused it to gradually disappear. Nevertheless, Caulkheads (born on the Island - technically 3rd generation or better!) welcome the Grockles (visitors), and Overners (residents not born on the Island).
Red Squirrels: Red Squirrels find the environment especially to their liking, the Island being almost the last bastion for them in the south of England. It is popularly supposed that grey squirrels drive out the red variety. But greys tend rather to move into Red territory which - for reasons yet understood - the red squirrels have already vacated. Nevertheless, the Solent forms a protective barrier enabling the red variety to flourish.
Geology - coloured sands: Geologically the Island can claim a virtually unique characteristic in the coloured sands of Alum Bay. Caused by various minerals in the sands, the strata are nowhere as diversely tinted as at Alum Bay. Moreover, their perpendicular nature bestows a compactness on the feature not found elsewhere - with the exception of Whitecliff Bay in the east of the Island, which forms the opposite end of the formation.
Dinosaurs: Parts of northern North America, Australia, China & the Isle of Wight all exhibit examples of the Wessex Formation from the lower cretaceous period, but the Island yields the world's best preserved and most varied dinosaur fauna for this phase. Brook in the west and Yaverland in the east exhibit fossil remains which are not represented as well elsewhere.
Newtown, the rotten borough: In the hamlet of Newtown, on the coast between Yarmouth & Cowes, there is a classic example of a Rotten Borough. Once a flourishing port, it sent two members to parliament until the Reform Act of 1832 stripped it of its right. All that remains of Newtown's former status is the Town Hall, now a property of the National Trust
Lord of the Island: The lordship of the Isle of Wight originated with the grant of the Island to William FitzOsbern by William the Conqueror. The last hereditary lord of the Island was in fact a lady - Countess Isabella de Fortibus, who
succeeded to the lordship on the death of her brother in 1262. Having been widowed in 1261, she became the wealthiest non-royal lady in the kingdom. Isabella lived in
style at Carisbrooke, guarding intact all her rights and privileges as feudal overlord of the Island, until in 1293, having no surviving heirs, she sold the Island on her death bed to Edward I for 6,000 marks.
Parkhurst & the Poor Law: The Island has a rather unfortunate claim to fame in that it was the first place in Britain in which the Poor law system was tried. The experiment began in the House of Industry at Parkhurst which was erected in 1770, and succeeded by a later building in 1887. Today, of course, Parkhurst is renowned for different reasons (as a famous high security prison)!
Unique species of butterfly: Amidst the enormous variety of wildlife, the Island can truly claim its own unique species in the Glanville Fritillary butterfly.
Reddish-orange in colour, it lives along the southern edges of the Island, feeding on the common plant Ribwort Planting and has black caterpillars with spiky hairs which can be seen in May. Attempts to introduce the species elsewhere have failed, ensuring the butterfly remains an Island speciality.
Catherine's Oratory: The Pepperpot on St. Catherine's Down on the southern tip of the Island, is an ancient example of a lighthouse technology. Dating from about 1320, it was erected by Walter de Godeton as an act of penance for plundering wine from the wreck of St. Marie of Bayonne in Chale Bay. Fires were lit in the tower to warn shipping away from the dangerous shore below, and to this day the Oratory serves as a seamark. Click to view pictures / diagrams.
Celebrities: Some artists, celebrities & entertainers who have connections with the island: Sheila Hancock, comedienne and actress; Ian Bannen, actor; Brian McDermott, actor; Tony Meehan, Shadows guitarist; Cephas Howard, Temperance Seven; Jeremy Irons, Craig Douglas, Mark King
(world renowned bass player) Roland & Phil Gould, actor; Cliff Michelmore, television personality; Lonnie Donegan, David Icke, erstwhile television sports presenter; Snowy White, pop singer; and three of the members of the pop group Level 42, Mark King, Phil and Boon Gould.
Celebrity Visitors: And finally a few famous visitor celebrities: Bob Dylan, John & Yoko Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, & finally if not of their own choosing, the Kray brothers!
Chines: Chine is the local name for a feature where a stream has cut through solid rock. The Island has many examples on its south-eastern & south-western shores. Chines appear very different. Some, especially on the
south-western shores are barren, while others (for example Shanklin Chine) are rich with exotic vegetation in the unique microclimate. List of chines:- Shanklin, Luccombe, Blackgang, Walpen, Whale, Shepherd's, Cowleaze, Barnes, Marsh, Chilton, Compton - there are other minor chines.
Six to Eight Wonders: The Island used to boast six wonders; however I have recently heard of an additional two!
Needles you cannot thread
Freshwater you cannot drink
Cowes you cannot milk
Newport you cannot bottle
Lake you can walk through and stay dry
Ryde where you walk! and two newer wonders...
Newtown which is old
Winkle street where there are no winkles
Place names: For a glossary of place names, click here.