diamond geezer

 Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Gadabout: COWES (IoW)

It's probably best not to live in Cowes unless you like boats. The town is divided in two by a river, faces the busy waterway of the Solent, and holds the world's biggest regatta every August. Let me tell you seven things about the place.

1) Cowes proper is on the west side of the estuary. To the east is East Cowes. The population is split roughly 60/40. East Cowes has the big Waitrose, while Cowes has the M&S Food Hall.
2) Connecting the two is the Cowes Floating Bridge. It isn't a bridge, it's a chain ferry, which scuttles back and forth across the Medina all day, linking the ends of two rather ordinary streets. Pedestrians pay £1.50 return to climb up on top, so get the best views of all the river traffic trying to nip through before the ferry arrives. Car drivers pay £2.60 single, avoiding an 11 mile trip by road. [3 photos]
3) East Cowes has the better beach, and the Classic Boat Museum, but the 'town centre' is pretty much dead. Local businesses say the final nail in the coffin has been the unreliable service provided by the new Floating Bridge, whose year-long teething problems (especially at low tide) have yet to be solved.

4) The Isle of Wight ferry isn't brown, and doesn't steam. Red and white catamarans whisk foot passengers from West Cowes to Southampton for £26 return, while red and white vehicle ferries operate (more slowly) out of East Cowes for £18.
5) Unless you have boating connections, it's quite hard to get close to the river through Cowes, which is lined by boatyard after boatyard. Only to the north of the High Street is a seafront promenade possible, where you can watch yachts and every kind of floating plaything feeding out into the Solent.

6) Cowes Castle, guarding the mouth of the estuary, was built for Henry VIII and is now home to the Royal Yacht Squadron. 22 brass cannons point out towards the Solent from the seawall on the promenade, and are used during Cowes Week to start the racing. "Warning, Starting Cannon May Fire At Any Time" is one of Britain's more unusual health and safety messages.
7) To feed the waterborne hordes, Cowes has a unusually dense concentration of restaurants and hostelries. One of the Tandoori restaurants distinguishes itself by featuring a photo of Richard Branson in the window, although it's not clear whether this aids custom or hinders it. I stuck to £6 fish and chips guzzled on a bench watching the big money float by.

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