Cowes is host to one of the world’s biggest sailing events – consider a move to this famous Isle of Wight town.
Words Lesley Gillilan
At the northernmost point of the island, this Solent harbour town is famous for August’s Cowes Week, one of the world’s oldest, most prestigious, sailing
regattas. And Cowes lives up to its reputation: with marinas, yacht clubs and chandleries, boating is part of its DNA. Its Medina Estuary shipyards have built every kind of vessel from speedboats to hovercraft to military destroyers. In summer, you can hardly move for yachties in Seafarer deck shoes and Musto Gore-Tex.
There are a lot of sailors here, agrees local resident Anne McDine, but that’s not the only reason people move to Cowes. Location is key. At the closest point to the mainland, Cowes offers the all-important Solent views, plus green spaces, local beaches and good schools. And if you know where to look, it’s not as expensive as its reputation might suggest.
The charm of the Old Town contrasts with its industrial quays on the Medina. For a quick change of scene, hop on the Floating Bridge chain ferry that crosses the river to East Cowes and English Heritage’s Osborne estate (Queen Victoria’s seaside palace). The views, Prince Albert said, are reminiscent of the Bay of Naples.
Anne grew up in Gurnard, on the west of Cowes. After a few years in London, she returned in 1996. Now manager of Cowes’ estate agency Megan Baker, she has seen a lot of changes since. A place that used to feel a little desolate out of season is now a vibrant town, teeming with boutiques and bars and busy all year round. ‘Cowes has a lovely atmosphere,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.’
WHERE TO BUY
For large detached houses at the top of the market, explore Egypt Esplanade, Queen’s Road or The Parade – anywhere on the water’s edge that offers moorings, Solent views or both. The Old Town offers some charming but pricey character properties, alongside blocks of modern apartments. For family houses, head for the riverside streets (around Pelham Road or York Street) on the more industrial west side of Cowes; or cross the river to East Cowes – the latter lacks the glamour of its nautical neighbour but offers cheaper homes and is closer to Ryde. For a quiet life, go for Gurnard, a seaside village suburb, a mile or so west of Cowes’ centre.
Although prime properties can fetch millionaire prices, there are homes to suit all pockets here: from £120-170,000 for a period two-up-two-down in, Tennyson Road, say, up to £1.175m for a detached with seven bedrooms and Solent views. In the centre of Cowes, family-size Victorian townhouses or prime-site flats range from £450-800,000; smaller homes can sell for £250-300,000. In East Cowes, you can pay as little as £250,000 for a four-bed period home.
Sailing and watersports are the big draws but there is also a golf course, tennis courts, beaches, and family-friendly green spaces (Northwood Park or the creeks and woodlands on the Hamstead Heritage Coast). Cyclists can take the old railway track along the banks of the Medina to Newport. Night life focuses on lively pubs (The Anchor in Cowes, The Lifeboat in East Cowes); and for eating out head to The Basque Kitchen (thebasquekitchen.co.uk
), The Coast Bar (thecoastbar.co.uk
) or, in Gurnard, The Little Gloster (thelittlegloster.com
). In Cowes Week, there is a Gin Festival, and in October the Isle of Wight Literary Festival. See visitisleofwight.co.uk
For locals who regularly commute to Southampton, the Red Jet high-speed passenger ferry from Cowes to the city takes about 25 minutes. From East Cowes, Red Funnel runs a vehicle ferry service to Southampton, which takes an hour (redfunnel.co.uk
). The drive to Ryde, where there is a Wightlink Fast Cat passenger service to Portsmouth, takes half an hour (wightlink.co.uk
). There’s also the 10-minute hovercraft service from Ryde to Portsmouth
). The nearest airport is Southampton International.
The local secondary is Cowes Enterprise College, an academy rated by Ofsted as Good.
As host to one of the biggest events on the yachting calendar, Cowes is a busy tourist spot, particularly in summer. Many locals find Cowes Week an event to be endured rather than enjoyed, but this is when you make time, perhaps, to explore other, quieter corners of this beautiful island – and it is only a week.
Cowes’ first boutique hotel opened last year, making use of a Grade II-listed, seaside townhouse that has been renovated to offer 14 elegant guests rooms (choose from Cosy, Comfy or Spacious) as well as a seafood restaurant (The Oyster Store). There are king-size half tester beds in blue and pebble-white rooms with roll-top tubs and sea views, wicker chairs on a walled sun terrace and, such luxury, a heated outdoor pool. Doubles from around £145 per night.
For more coastal living inspiration, head to our Move To section or pick up a copy of the magazine.
CAN YOU AFFORD IT?
East Cowes: £215,327
Isle of Wight: £300,775
Average house prices: [July 2021]. Source: RightMove