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THE ISLE OF WIGHT
General description of the Island.
FEW places in England afford a combination of scenery superior to the Isle of Wight; and there is not one at an equal distance from the metropolis that excels it in point of natural beauty. The placid waters which flow on its northern side, and the majestic ocean which rolls in grandeur on its southern, with the delightful variety of cliffs, downs, hills, and valleys, interspersed with elegant residences and some neat towns, render it an object of great attraction.
Its increasing celebrity as a watering place, within the last few years, has made it the resort of those, who love to combine the beauties of creation with the elegancies of life and the retirement of the country.
The Island is situated in the southern part of the county of Hampshire. Its shape has been described
as that of an irregular ellipsis; though, if the simile may be allowed, it much more resembles the form of a turbot. In its extent it measures twenty-two miles from east to west, and thirteen from north to south. It is about sixty miles in circumference, and contains 125,000 acres of land. On its northern side runs a channel denominated the Solent Sea, which separates it from the main land, and varies in breadth from two to five miles.
The coast of the Island is very diversified. The land adjacent to the Solent slopes beautifully down to the waters, decked with castles, mansions, and villas; and the little busy towns look with a smiling aspect on the vessels or the fleets which are anchored near them. The woods, the creeks, and the bays, which skirt this part of the coast, give it a soft and imposing aspect. The southern part, or what is termed the back of the Island, is the most picturesque. The coast here is a contrast to the opposite side; cliffs, chines, rocks, and caves, form the more sublime and rugged scenery, the boldness of which delights the visitor, but fills the shipwrecked mariner with terror and anguish.
The Island has three rivers; the Medina, the Yar, and the Wootton: in addition to which a fine broad stream flows near the town of Brading at the time of high water. The Medina, anciently called the Mede, is the principal river. It rises near the bottom of St. Catharine's Down, flowing directly northward: after pursuing its meandering course through a beautiful tract of country, it widens just opposite Cowes, forming a fine spacious harbour; from whence its waters roll onward, till they are lost in the Solent. This river divides the Island into two hundreds, called the East. and West Medina. These hundreds contain thirty parishes, and before the passing of the Reform Bill,
DESCRIPTION OF THE ISLAND.
three Borough towns, Newport, Newtown, and Yarmouth, each returning two members to parliament: Yarmouth and Newtown were then disfranchised, and Newport only retained the distinction of returning two members. The whole Island, designated the County of the Isle of Wight," returns one also.
The Island is very generally cultivated: it has but few spots of heath land; the principal was Parkhurst Forest, which has recently been enclosed. The farms are of a moderate size, taking their progression from a rent of one hundred pounds per annum to upwards of five hundred pounds. The average rent of land on the south side of the Island is fifteen shillings an acre; in the north eleven shillings, including foul soil. Estates are estimated at twenty-eight years' purchase.
Its agriculture consists chiefly of wheat, barley, oats, pease, and beans. The best land is supposed to be in the parish of Arreton. The average crop of wheat is about twenty-four bushels an acre on the south side, and eighteen on the north; making the medium produce twenty-one bushels an acre. Oats yield from twenty-five to thirty-five bushels, and barley about thirty. The Island produces from seven to twelve times more than its consumption, so that the exports are considerable. Peas and beans yield from twenty-four to thirty-two bushels an acre; and potatoes from sixty to eighty sacks.
The green crops which cover the fields are mostly turnips, clover, vetches, rye, grass, and trefoil; buckwheat is occasionally found in small quantities. The pasture and meadow land produce from one to two tons of hay per acre.
The cattle farms consist principally of sheep, cows, and horses. Oxen are not so common, and but few are employed in ploughing the land. The cows are mostly the Devon breed; there are some
Alderney cows, which are in high repute, owing to the richness of the cream they yield. The horses are a fine large black breed. The hogs are large and tall, marked with black spots, and have very deep sides and the bacon is superior. The cheese manufactured in the Island is singular for its insipidity and hardness; but the butter is celebrated for its flavour.
The number of sheep fed on the downs of the Island is computed at 40,000. The breed in general use is the Devonshire. It has, however, recently received an improvement, by the introduction of the Leicestershire breed. In one year the London market has been supplied with five thousand lambs.
The air of the Island is salubrious, and highly favourable to vegetation. Its central parts are subjected to frequent rains; the high range of hills attracting the vapours, and in the winter covering its valleys with clouds; but the soil is fertile, and the scenery, when enlivened by a summer's sun, is an exhibition of softened grandeur and ineffable beauty.
The Island is moderately furnished with game. Hares, rabbits, partridges, pheasants, woodcocks, &c. and a few deer, are found in its celebrated parks and woods.
A variety of wild fowl visit its shores; and the lofty rocks in the vicinity of the Needles and Freshwater are the resort of many species of aquatic birds the most interesting are the razor-bill and parrot-bill puffin. In the latter part of the summer they are very numerous, when many parties of pleasure visit that neighbourhood in small vessels to partake of the diversion of puffin shooting; though the sport is mere amusement, as the flesh of the bird is uncongenial to the taste.
The waters of the Solent abound with fish of different kinds; and in the sands are taken the sand-eel or
DESCRIPTION OF THE ISLAND.
launce. The crustacæ are very numerous on the southern shores. On a particular part of the coast crabs are so plentiful, that an adjacent village, has, from this circumstance, obtained the name of Crab Niton; and the visitor in his excursions is often regaled at the various inns with a dish of fine lobsters; these are sometimes caught so large as to weigh upwards of six pounds. The Isle of Wight cockles have a celebrity of considerable extent; and there are several fine beds of oysters.
The shores of the Island do not present so great a diversity of shells as some other coasts: yet the conchologist will obtain many fine specimens by examining the rocks at low water, particularly in the neighbourhood of St. Helens. The admirers of the minute shells may collect them in great abundance in the vicinity of Shanklin; they are found, by the recess of the tide, on the patches of sand between the rocks, and appear like a white scum composed of very small fragments of shells; this being carefully taken up, dried, and examined with a glass, the shells will be apparent.
The principal woods lie between East Cowes and St. Helens. It is affirmed, that during the time of Charles II. there was a continuity of trees for many leagues, and so thickly were they planted, that a squirrel might have run upon the tops of them from Gurnet to Carisbrook, a distance of about five miles. The wood which now adorns the Island is neither very plentiful nor very large; the demand made for it during the war, and its proximity to Portsmouth dock-yard, very much diminished the number of its fine spreading trees. The oaks which grow in it are rather small; but the soil seems favourable to the elm, which rises with great majesty and luxuriance.
In its botanical character the Island may justly be called the Garden of England. Its shrubs look