Cowes Week - it's not just about racing!

by malabar

Action on the water, there's plenty at Cowes, but there's also lots going on shoreside. Activities include Samba and Salsa bands, clog dancing and Punch and Judy - and it's all included free

Cowes Week has been happening since 1826, so it’s no surprise that the organisers have got the hang of it!

Cowes Week, on the Isle of Wight, always the first week of August, is basically, but not entirely, about yacht racing. Competitors, multicoloured sails flying, jostle for position at the starting line; crowds line the quayside listening to the commentary over loudspeakers, waiting for cannons to signal the start of the next race. There is a huge sigh if a false start causes mayhem – but the yachting is only part of the free entertainment.

What to do

Anyone visiting Cowes Week can look forward to daily street entertainment. From 1pm until 4, in different parts of Cowes High Street, you can find music, children’s entertainers like Randini who also makes adults laugh, Salsa bands, free Salsa lessons, clog dancers and Samba bands: it's all free, and aimed at creating a festival atmosphere.

At Cowes Parade, overlooking the Solent, there are also ‘spectator boats,’ which, for a small fee, will take you on a pleasant voyage round the harbour - you’re out there on the water, and part of the action! Indeed, at Cowes Parade you have the chance to mingle with people you’ve seen on television, sometimes even ‘royals;’ -  people who’ve made history! Be sure to pick up a flier about all the activities from any of the local shops. Why miss anything?

Not so free, but hugely entertaining for young adults, or the young at heart, is the nightly party at the Yacht Haven. You can wander there during the day, with bands practising and bars available and yacht crews everywhere, but you pay to get in when the real action starts.

Don’t miss out on East Cowes, a short trip across on the chain ferry (free to foot passengers). The initial view is not so good, dominated by factories and ferry parking facilities, but persevere, turn left, and in a few hundred yards you’ll find the East Cowes Esplanade. The view is terrific, the Solent in all its glory, yachts of all variety coming and going and views of The Royal Yacht Squadron. The esplanade has a wide grass verge and beyond that a small woodland path, great for walking dogs and kids. There is also a children’s paddling pool, strictly for little folk, and a café alongside.On a sunny day you have the ideal holiday treat – a cup of tea and a bun, or an ice cream, and far fewer people - all this while relaxing and watching another group of competitors doing their stuff on the water. 

One mile up York Avenue is Osborne House, from where Queen Victoria ruled the country after the death of her beloved Prince Albert. Osborne House can easily take up a whole day, what with a tour of the house, sight of accumulated royal presents and then a walk in the gardens. Visit the Swiss chalet, perhaps walk down to the beach at Osborne Bay to see the bathing machine. Entry: £10.90 adults; 5.50 children. Tel:0870 333 1181

Old Road was the road that the Queen and Prince Albert travelled in a horse drawn carriage up to Osborne, after disembarking at East Cowes from the mainland. Maresfield Road, at the bottom, is named for the field where extra mares were stabled ready to assist with what was quite a steep cart track in those days. Queen Victoria, folk will tell you, was very involved with the community. You may well be treading in her footsteps.

Where to stay

The New Holmwood Hotel, 63 Queen's Road, Cowes, now part of the Best Western group, has an outstanding location facing on to the Solent and then to the mainland, and is just a short walk into Cowes. Although part of a chain, and thoroughly modern, the Holmwood retains a lot of the elegance of the past. One could easily imagine Noel Coward amongst the guests. Room rate, per night, £100.00.

The best bed and breakfast I know is The Moorings at East Cowes. 3 Cambridge Road. The Moorings is virtually on the sea front and guests have the use of a spacious and comfortable ‘sea-farer’s cabin’ overlooking the Solent. Famous cruise liners, as well as the yachting fraternity, pass daily in front of the picture windows. On fireworks night, it’s the place to be!  Sue and Colin delight in pleasing their guests, sourcing local fresh produce for a breakfast to see you through the day. Room rate is £75 per night, including breakfast.

The Waverley Park campsite at 51, Old Road, East Cowes, is also just a short walk to the chain ferry. There is a large bar, with restaurant and terrace, and a swimming pool. It is so convenient for Cowes Week that it tends to get overcrowded. For availability tel: 01983 293452. Your campervan with 2 people is around £20 per night. Email:

Eating out is no problem, Cowes is stuffed with restaurants.There is everything from the excellent menu at The New Holmwood, at around £20 to the now famous Corries Cabin in the High Street, whose fish and chips are rivalled only by those of Samel's at East Cowes,  Samel's also have burgers and pizzas, and will deliver free in the local area. Tel: 01983 292818,

Newport, the main town on the island, is just a short hop away from Cowes, with buses every 10 minutes or so. Shops and supermarkets include Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's, Morrison's and Lidl's, so self-caterers are well looked after. 

How to get there

You get there by ferry, unless like some participants, you have your own helicopter. Failing that, Red Funnel, tel: 0844 844 9988 runs fast foot passenger ferries from Southampton to Cowes and a car ferry to East Cowes. Wightlink tel: 0871 376 1000 have regular car ferries from Portsmouth to Fishbourne and also Lymington to Yarmouth. Hovertravel operate the hovercraft from Southsea to Ryde, tel: 0239281 1000.

There is, of course, a lot more to this lovely island, but Cowes Week is a highlight. Living on the Isle of Wight,  I see a lot of Cowes Weeks, and enjoy every one!


I'm far younger than my birth certificate. Happily married. Spend time in USA, and Europe. I've been published both in the UK and the USA, where I lived for some years.  Because I was involved with boats, as a business as well as a hobby, I wrote mostly boating stuff, and made the national press in America.  I tried to write novels, but failed.  Worked 20 years for British Airways, where at one point I was tied up by masked gunmen in a night raid on the cashiers.  I'm a person things happen to, but, on the whole, I like it!  . Happy to be a lotus eater, or a camper. Always happy writing!

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