and pubs. One of the pubs offered a unique service,
On our journey to our next destination we passed the famous Parkhurst prison.
. Parkhurst and Albany were once amongst the few top-security prisons (called "Dispersals" because they dispersed the more troublesome prisoners rather than concentrated them all in one place) in the United Kingdom, but were downgraded in the 1990's. The downgrading of Parkhurst was preceded by a major escape: three prisoners (two murderers and a blackmailer) made their way out of the prison on 3 January 1995 to enjoy four days of freedom before being recaptured. One of them, Keith Rose, is an amateur pilot. During those four days, they were living rough in a shed in a garden in Ryde, having failed to steal a plane from the local airclub. A programme entitled Britain's Island Fortess was made about this prison escape for National Geographic Channel's Breakout documentary series.
Parkhurst enjoyed notoriety as one of the toughest jails in the British Isles. Many notable criminals, including the Richardson brothers, the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, Moors Murderer Ian Brady and the Kray twins, were incarcerated there.
Our next stop was Cowes. West Cowes is located on the west bank of the estuary of the River Medina facing the smaller town of East Cowes on the east bank of the river. The two towns are linked by the Cowes Floating Bridge, a chain ferry.
in 1815. The town gives its name to the world's oldest regular regatta, Cowes Week, which occurs annually in the first week of August. Later on in the summer, powerboat races are held. It is believed that the building of an 80 ton, 60-man vessel called Rat O'Wight on the banks of the river Medina in 1589 for the use of Queen Elizabeth I sowed the seed for Cowes to grow into a world renowned centre of boat-building. However, seafaring for recreation and sport remained the exception rather than the rule until much later. It was not until the reign of keen sailor George IV that the stage was set for the heyday of Cowes as 'The Yachting Capital of the World.' In 1826 the Royal Yacht Squadron organised a three-day regatta for the first time and the next year the king signified his approval of the event by presenting a cup to mark the occasion. Hence the start of Cowes Regatta which soon grew into a four-day event that always ended with a fireworks display.
In earlier centuries the two settlements were much smaller and known as East and West Shamblord or Shamelhorde, the East being the more significant settlement. The Isle of Wight was a target of attempted French invasions, and there were notable incursions. Henrician Castles were built in both settlements in the sixteenth century. The west fort in Cowes still survives to this day, albeit without the original Tudor towers, as Cowes Castle. The fort built in East Cowes is believed to have been similar but was abandoned c1546 and since destroyed.
Walking round the streets of Cowes we were never very far from the sea.
Join me again for IOW Part 4 when we visit the naval dockyard at nearby Portsmouth on the mainland.