Michael McCarthy: A special hat-trick on a special island

Nature Notebook: The countryside is as unspoiled as Dorset must have been 30 years ago

Share
Related Topics

Funny how you can live all your life without going somewhere fairly significant which is quite close. I am old enough to remember the Isle of Wight festivals, not the least the amazing 1970 one which featured Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Leonard Cohen, but I am ashamed to say I only read about them, and until last week I had never set foot on the Isle of Wight.

It was with a certain heightened sense of anticipation, therefore, that I crossed the Solent on the high-speed ferry from Southampton and stepped ashore in Cowes. I was on the island to pursue the Glanville fritillary, below, the island's special butterfly which is found nowhere else in Britain, as part of our Great British Butterfly Hunt, and I found it, but I ended up finding a lot more than that.

For a start I discovered a place whose beauty, especially in its western side, away from the holiday beaches of Shanklin and Sandown, took me aback: the countryside is lush, green and as unspoiled as Dorset must have been 30 years ago. The short-cropped downland in particular is exquisite: I stood on Bonchurch Down above Ventnor and watched Adonis blue butterflies flutter about my feet, their wings of an electric blue so brilliant that they outshone the sunlit sea 500 feet below.

With the guidance of Robin Curtis, the Glanville fritillary expert, I saw 14 different butterfly species, including four that were completely new to me (the Glanville, the green hairstreak, the small blue and the large skipper), with a significant bonus. For the island doesn't only have its own special insect, it has its own special mammal, the red squirrel, now virtually gone from southern England, and its own special reptile, the wall lizard, found in Britain only here.

We saw the red squirrel in a nature reserve in Newtown, and the wall lizard, a conspicuous bright green, basking lazily on the wall of a Ventnor car park. Three out of three – or as my football-loving 12-year-old son has taken to saying – back of the net! (The exclamation mark is unfortunately obligatory).

A Victorian timewarp

I was also fascinated by the preponderance of Victorian architecture – Wight seems to be a Victorian island as much as Cardiff is a Victorian city (notably, Osborne House). Apart from trendy Cowes, which has some Art Deco and some post-modernist stuff, the only major architectural development since Victoria's day seems to be the bungalow, which is thick on the ground. It all adds to the feeling of being in a timewarp once the Solent is crossed, of being in an earlier, calmer England – the England of the red squirrel, perhaps.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions