Sandown and Bembridge are not the only places to fly to on the Isle of Wight… if you’re in a helicopter
24 March 2023
There’s finally some heat in the sun, and with signs of spring popping up thick and fast, it feels as though we can at last start thinking about the 2023 flying season.
Like all aviators in the south of England, my thoughts naturally turn to the Isle of Wight the minute there’s a ‘CAVOK’ forecast. I may live about as far inland as it’s possible to get, but from where I am, only around 40 minutes in the air stand between me and the sea.
I’m doubtless preaching to the converted when I say ‘whatever your aircraft of choice, the Isle of Wight is quite simply the perfect day trip by air’. There’s no traffic to get stuck in nor ferries to faff about with.
There’s a relaxed, holiday atmosphere to look forward to once you’re there. And you can eat seafood by the actual sea!
Of course, there may be a limit to how many times you want to make the pilgrimage down to the seaside stalwarts of Sandown and Bembridge in one year.
Sandown itself has a less than impressive choice of lunch venues if you make the trek down to the beach from the airfield (and to be honest, Dan’s pizzas are so great that I’ve stopped bothering with the seafront eateries altogether).
And there’s only so much harassment by wasps one can take at the Beach Hut near Bembridge.
Sandown and Bembridge are great little airfields, but they’re close together and only allow you to explore a small corner of the Isle of Wight, if you’re only there for the day. But with a helicopter at your disposal, other Isle of Wight opportunities present themselves.
One I greatly enjoyed discovering, pre-covid, was The Hut. This can be found on the opposite side of the island to Sandown and Bembridge, at Colwell Bay, near Freshwater. Not only does it have its name written on the roof (it’s almost as if they did it especially for helicopter visitors…), but it’s also a stone’s throw from The Needles for a scenic post-lunch flypast.
You’d be forgiven for looking at Google Earth and wondering ‘where are you meant to land?’ The Hut’s helipad is off site at a nearby manor house, and as I discovered when I flew there in an R66 with ICE Helicopters from Elstree, the landing site is all part of the fun.
I’d never flown a turbine helicopter before that day, nor anything with HeliSAS autopilot technology, so the trip down to the Isle of Wight was already full of novelty for me. It also felt something of a novelty to turn west instead of east on crossing the Solent, and to look out for a stately home, rather than an airfield.
That stately home was Afton Manor, and it’s a handsome building to approach. There was loads of room to land (making it fly-out friendly), though the grass had just been cut and you can imagine the maelstrom of cuttings the downwash created as we arrived.
I wasn’t expecting the ride awaiting us after we shut down: a vintage, open-backed Land Rover 101! Given that we’d squeezed five of us into the R66, this fully restored 1970s military vehicle was the perfect mode of transport for the 10-minute journey across to The Hut.
The landing fee was a modest £10 charity donation (I don’t know whether it’s increased in price since then).
The spot The Hut occupies in Colwell Bay is charming, flanked by colourful beach huts. It really is right next to the sea, and there’s a delightful dining terrace where you can lap up the seaside atmosphere.
Even on a Monday it was surprisingly busy, and it felt as though we’d left day-to-day life behind for a bit.
The Hut serves the kind of food you wish you could get in the Sandown/Bembridge corner of the Isle of Wight. Some of us began with oysters, and several of us ordered delicious poke bowls with sushi rice, raw tuna and avocado.
We were brought beautiful homemade bread to start, and could even have ordered sashimi – if we’d felt that way inclined.
With its impeccable branding and sophisticated menu, The Hut wouldn’t have felt out of place in London, and it was all somewhat more upmarket than you’d find at the seafront in Sandown!
The only downside to having flown in was that we weren’t able to enjoy The Hut’s enticing wine list as well – the perfect accompaniment to its plentiful fresh local fish.
After this feast we piled back into the 101 and were conveyed back to the R66. We’d planned another stop that day – Knoll House Hotel in Dorset – so we didn’t have time to linger too long over lunch. But on departing Afton Manor, we couldn’t resist routing via The Needles for one last Isle of Wight photo op.
I’d flown over The Needles before, of course, but you definitely enjoy a better view courtesy of the incredible visibility you get in a helicopter versus an aeroplane, with no wings or propellers in the way.
I’ve checked, and sadly I don’t think you’re allowed to land on the helipad on the top of that lighthouse! But we did a nice low orbit, which felt like the next best thing. A couple of little sailing boats were bobbing about for the perfect picture, and having nailed the Instagram shot, it was off to Knoll House.
The Hut is only open from April to October, so it’s very much a summer-only option for lucky PPL(H) holders. If you’re one of the many aviators who enjoys a spot of seafaring as well, you can also arrive by boat – mind you, you won’t get the bird’s-eye view of The Needles…