The Ark & Gurnard | Isle of Wight
This review is written by me, the human keeper of Little Rea because her focus would be entirely on the beach, which was thirty seconds from the front door (and she did spend the entire month digging on it so that is all she would rave on about). I also think her paws are three times the size from when she arrived because she has the entire Isle of Wight sand-population within them – or up her nose.
To get to the Isle of Wight, we travelled on the Red Funnel Ferry from Southampton to East Cowes, which was a little pricey (our return ticket cost £122 in total). But... the crossing was extremely dog-friendly and Rea was allowed on an allocated deck for dogs, and even in the cafe, which meant I could grab a snack after our six hour drive from Norfolk. Although the cost was more than we had anticipated, Red Funnel provided a fully dog-friendly service, as well as good facilities.
On landing, Sat Nav didn't just decide to throw a spanner in the works: it threw in an entire blooming toolbox by telling me to get back on the Ferry. For about fifteen minutes, I went round in circles and cut-up quite a few locals as I muttered several expletives (and no doubt had a few muttered back at me). I ended up jutting back-end out in some kind of traffic jam until a kind lady jumped out of her car and explained to me that we had to cross the River Medina to get to Gurnard (or take a long way around of about thirty minutes). It was no wonder I felt like we were in a traffic jam as I was already in the chain-ferry queue so decided to stick with it.
With a few deep breaths, I took Betty (the Mini), Rea and myself, down onto the ferry and paid £2.60 to cross a river that would take us finally to The Ark. It's quite a quirky little ferry and at £2.60, is probably the most expensive water-crossing of my lifetime, so I turned the engine off and enjoyed every one of the two minutes I was on it for. That's around £1.30 a minute's worth of adventure pleasure to grab, right?
Driving down to the cottage, we could immediately see the sea rolling its waves in the distance, and felt like we were going to fall off the edge of the world and into the blueness of its drift. Breathtaking is overused, but it made me want to stop the car and do a little happy inhibited 'wow' dance in the middle of the road – I didn't of course – it was a bloody steep hill and I didn't know how well Betty's handbrake could hold both her and all our worldly belongings in the back. I did a little happy wiggle in my seat instead, and Rea rose from her nonchalant slumber because she could smell that salt as if someone had wafted a sausage under nose.
Then we saw The Ark and fell in love. We didn't need to go in to know that we were in love ... no ... we admit we can be superficial like that!
Obviously, we had to go in at some point, otherwise the neighbours might have wondered about us if we kept pressing our noses up against the window.
Firstly, there were no doggy rules. None. No mention of what they can and can't do within the cottage. It's one of the very few times we've had this on our travels. Rea and I were a bit chuffed about this and did another little happy wiggle together. It didn't last long because we both knew what we wanted ... the beach!
After dumping all our bags, we were immediately running down to the sea (I say running, but we all know I don't do that sort of thing so it was more like being pulled by the little one who could smell the sea air).
Here's the thing ... Gurnard beach isn't the most beautiful of beaches; we have spent many hours on silver sands made almost from icing sugar, and paddled in waters so calm and blue that I've felt like I've taken the little one to the Caribbean, but from our moment of landing at Gurnard, we felt at home, peaceful, and as if all of our worries had been lifted from us. Beauty isn't always visual and the tranquillity of Gurnard Beach - the gentle laps of the Solent on the rocky shore, and the little sailing boats tacking on the skyline – offered us something that we were grateful to receive. For someone who loves words, I don't think I can find the right ones to describe how that little beach, full of pebbles, rocks, seaweed and sea-glass, brought happiness to Rea and I.
After watching the sunset on the Solent, we thought it was time to explore our new home for the month. We booked The Ark through Home & Away (we have used this app more than Airbnb for some reason), and spent a lot of time communicating with Kate, who owns the property. I can't recommend Kate highly enough. She worked with me on the extended dates we needed and answered all my questions (and you know I'd have loads!). Kate also provided me with lots of doggy information so we could explore as much as possible, and offered lots of suggestions.
The Ark is at the top of Shore Road, a steep sloping road that leads down to the beach. Don't let the slope panic you: it lasts about twenty seconds, and I can do it several times in a day so that means anyone can!
It's a one bedroom beautifully restored property that has views of the sea from every window but one. I lost many hours staring at those views! From the bedroom, from the lounge, from the breakfast table, and even from the loo. Yes! If you leave the loo door open, you have a loo with a view! I won't take that rhyme any further, but you get the drift...
It's a quirky little cottage, on different levels with varying slopes and places to bump heads if you are taller than me (which most people are). Kate has cleverly invented ways to prevent the head-banging from happening, which all adds to the creative and inspired way The Ark is designed and decorated. Everything you need is right there too. The kitchen is kitted out perfectly for cooking, the bed was stylishly covered – and comfortable, and all I can say about the shower is wow; it was hot, powerful, and lots of room to move. Everything just worked perfectly.
I can't keep gushing about The Ark because it will get boring but there are a few more things we need to add.
From a doggy perspective, Rea fell in love with it too. There is a small decked garden at the rear of the property (more views and a sun-trap), which Rea wouldn't use for her wees or poos. This meant that she was walked more than usual, and usually on the beach. How could she possibly not like it! I have a feeling that she sussed out this trick immediately and refused to even use the patch of grass just outside the driveway for the same reason! (Of which, the driveway is rather narrow and even I struggled with Betty so I just parked across it most of the time).
Rea also loved it because of the lack of rules. This meant she had free movement within the cottage and could enjoy it just as much as me. The Ark is light, airy, relaxing, and full of happiness. I am a firm believer that dogs enjoy these things as much as we do and I know Rea was extremely happy in this little place.
The location of the cottage is perfect for so many things. Most mornings, we would walk to the beach in Cowes, and then back. When the tide was out, we would walk towards Thorness (this part of the beach is dog-friendly all year round). On days where we needed more adventure, we were only ever around thirty to forty minutes from most things. I never once felt like I was driving for ages.
At the end of the Shore Road slope there is a dog-friendly cafe (The Watersedge) that has a thriving trade and can get quite busy. We were allowed to sit both inside and out, and Rea was given fresh water with a treat (I won't begin to mention the tummy tickles because she was literally throwing herself at everyone for these). It doesn't just sell coffee and ice-creams – it has a fairly extensive menu, and even does gluten free bread for a much needed bacon sandwich.
A short distance up the road into the village is Gurnard Press – a wonderful artisan cafe where dogs are welcomed with homemade organic grain-free biscuits and fresh water. It's a gorgeous little place to people watch, grab some homemade cakes, or have a cream tea.
Slightly further up is The Portland Inn, another dog-friendly venue with good food. And again, just around the corner is the Woodvale, and the Little Gloster - both dog-friendly and serving lovely food.
To top all this perfection and loveliness, The Ark is looked after by a wonderful lady called Maria, who lives locally. Maria popped by the morning after our arrival to make sure everything was okay, and we knew how to work everything (because we all know that Rea is so talented with her typing paws that she can operate cookers and TVs too). We bumped into each other quite a bit on the beach and chatted while we searched for sea-glass, and when I wasn't feeling particularly well, Maria kindly walked Little Rea for me and even bought me some chocolate milkshake to ease my sore throat (my excuse for downing so much of it recently). Having Maria close by (but not intrusively so), was a gift for me as a solo traveller. It meant that there was always a friendly face to say good morning too, as well as knowing that if I needed anything, she was there to call on. Between Kate and Maria, The Ark felt like one of the friendliest places we have ever stayed.
I was so lucky to have a month in this cottage as I don't think a week is long enough. I lost hours and days just sitting on the beach staring at the view, and enjoying everything the little village had to offer. By the end of the month, I felt like I belonged and was even giving people directions when asked.
I'm not sure there is much more I can say about this perfect little place, except that if I had the money and it was for sale, I would buy it! I can't think of anything better than sitting on the beach late at night with the little fluffy one happily digging, while I watch the gorgeous sunsets over the Solent.
The Ark is one of our favourite places we have stayed in! I can't thank Kate or Maria enough for such a wonderful month.
*NB - this was written during off-peak season so restrictions will apply to some of Gurnard beach during the usual summer months.
Also, keep a look out for our "One Woman and her Dog | Isle of Wight" blog to come, which will cover all the places and dog-friendly adventures we had.
Thank you for always sharing our adventures with us; in Little Rea's words - we LOVE YOU!