The Island’s tourism organisation Visit Isle of Wight never misses a trick. Going large in its inaugural year it capitalised on the enduring popularity of ‘terrible lizards’ with a Walking with Dinosaurs tie-in, based around interactive augmented reality meteorites. This was followed up with a Transformers: Age of Extinction time trail designed to get visitors hot-footing around the Island, searching out castles, Roman artefacts and smugglers coves.
It goes without saying that this autumn’s Victoria and Abdul, filmed mostly at Osborne House, will be the next hook for VIOW to use to lure visitors to the Sunniest Place in Britain™. The newly-launched heritage trail links the monarch’s home in East Cowes with Dimbola to the west, plus Shanklin and Ventnor including other appropriate landmarks along the way.
There’s a lot to be said for a themed holiday. It can take the stress out of planning your own itinerary and may help you discover places off the beaten track. Admittedly the V&A trail incorporates a lot of Island favourites but there are a few curve balls too, like Egypt Point and the Prince Consort. Being Ryde residents we think perhaps the Royal Victoria Arcade is equally relevant as the privately-owned erstwhile Royal Victoria Yacht Club but then, hey, if we’re that bothered we could always do our own trail. So here’s one we’ve curated just for you.
One sunny Saturday in the tail-end of an unexpected clement October, we decided to have ourselves an adventure. Not quite of the historical calibre of Explore Victoria’s Island but, hey, that’s already been done so why reinvent the wheel?
Our trail is, like those of Visit Isle of Wight, a journey back in time. We walked to Ryde esplanade and, waiting for us at the station was our time machine. Never mind the IW Steam Railway with its 1960s engines, the true heritage railway is Island Line with its pre-war rolling stock. We hopped on the underground train which jiggled us southwards, past Pig Leg Lane and stopping at Brading to give us time to enjoy the mannequins at the station. This is the sort of glorious whimsy that people love about the Isle of Wight – and quite rightly too. Well done, Brading!
Through Sandown, with its views across Sandown Levels, to Lake (where there is no water) and then finally Shanklin; the end of the line. Alighting at the station we went straight to Tumblers.
It would be impudent to suggest that Tumblers was part of this heritage experience, but it kind of is. In any mainland city, this prominent cafe would have been patronised by sockless beardy hipsters, drawn in by the bare floorboards, chalkboard menu and with-it hard surfaces. On view at the counter were boxes of Kellogg’s variety pack cereals: but this ain’t no achingly hip Cereal Killer cafe. Tumblers’ plastic sauce bottles and adjectiveless menu are far from trendily ironic. The old school wipe-clean tablecloths and laminated menus are part of the cafe’s charm; if the list of dishes was presented on a clipboard with a few artisan sausages thrown in, they could probably double their prices.
The place was jammed; even the seats outside under the veranda in the weak midday sun were occupied. And it’s no surprise. Families, couples, mixed groups, bunches of chaps, pensioners – all were here. Tumblers is a lively venue: we were serenaded by a chap having a loud and animated one-side conversation into his mobile, general chit-chat and a squawking child, with George Harrison accompanying the scene via the radio warbling his 1971 hit My Sweet Lord, plus a buzzer from fruit machines next door. Yes, there are amusements – Cat had never noticed before. Matt patiently explained that was how the place got its name. Of course!
Hash brown breakfast £6
Bubble and squeak extra £1
Scrambled eggs on toast £3
Mushrooms extra £1
Orange juice £1.20
Cat ordered our breakfasts at the counter. Unlike a certain venue in Cowes, Tumblers has a comprehensive list of brekkie items that can be included or excluded from your breakfast as frequently as your heart (doctor) desires. Matt wanted the ‘Hash Brown’ breakfast but without beans. It’s always cheeky to ask for a meat-for-pulses substitution but the lady at Tumblers was happy to offer a swapsie for bacon. Top marks! Matt also had extra bubble and squeak – a rare but popular addition to any breakfast. Notably, there was no brown bread toast option; it’s the canonical thick-sliced white here all the way. If you want artisanal sourdough to mop up your yolk you’d better keep going south to Cantina.
The breakfast was overall a very good one. A big, properly-cooked tomato sat in the middle – no sloppy tinned version here. The mushrooms were fresh and perfectly sautéed, better than the usual boiled or deep-fried offerings. The sausage, by contrast, was a weak and bland specimen, but Matt was happy with his extra bacon, with the edges properly crisped and golden. And best of all, the breakfast came with a drink included, and the cup of tea Matt got was strong, feisty and steaming hot from a metal pot. Just the sort of tea you wistfully long for in some other places when you’re offered a plastic cup with a grey teabag bobbing in the UHT milk.
Cat ordered a pick-n-mix breakfast of scrambled eggs, mushrooms and that same doorstep toast. Her mushrooms were plentiful and possibly cooked in butter; moist and salty. The egg itself? Fluffy, not too crumbly, but not sloppy either. It met with Cat’s approval. She washed it down with chilled orange juice rather than filter coffee. The roast-bean revolution hasn’t made it to Tumblers; if you want barista-created double espresso continental-style, again you know where to go.
Despite the busyness of the venue, the tables were promptly cleared and our meals were delivered in a timely way. The food at Tumblers is mostly of superior quality without in any way leaving behind its humble origins. Similarly, the venue itself is free from artifice and pretension. We first went there in 2012 and little has changed. And, in a way, that’s why we rate this place. Although jackets, burgers and even salad are available, it’s all about the cooked breakfast and the team has it down to a fine art.
The Island has many little pockets of delight such as Tumblers; we strive to celebrate them, and introduce them to a fresh audience – just like Visit Isle of Wight but without the budget!
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.