The Woodstock of Europe: Isle of Wight Attracts Thousands of Sail Boats, Musicians & Garlic Lovers

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How Garlic Flew on the Wings of War

A watercolor of the famed harbor by artist Liz Sydenham

Artist Liz Sydenham captures scenes of the life on the Isle. Here, a yacht in the harbor of Yarmouth.


  by André Gayot   Garlic is not usually associated with England. However, the small Isle of Wight, a sentinel of Great Britain off its southeastern coast in the English Channel, produces a surprising amount of the fragrant bulbs. One would think the Romans introduced garlic to their former 1st century colony, but it was not them. In fact, it was much much later and due to an unbelievable combination of circumstances.
A variety of types of garlic grown on the Isle of Wight

A variety of types of garlic grown on the Isle of Wight

When World War II was at its height, from 1942 to 1945, crews of torpedo boats of the Free French Fleet were stationed on the Isle of Wight. When ashore, they drank and ate at the Painter’s Arm inn whose owner was also a farmer. As expected from the French, they judged the British pub grub to be bland and tasteless, complaining about it regularly to the landlord Bill Spidy. They suggested to him that a hint of garlic would spruce up the fare, but alas, garlic was nowhere to be found on the island. And in the furor and thunder of the war, who would worry about such things?   Meanwhile, the RAF was flying French Résistance secret agents on small Lysander planes to German-occupied France, and Bill Spidy had a pilot friend in the RAF: Officer Bridger. All the pieces were in place for the plot to unwind. On October 27, 1942, the night was clear enough to fly at low altitude without any guidance to Clermont-Ferrand, a city tucked at the foot of the Central France Mountains where résistance fighters were hiding. That night, Officer Bridger landed safely in the fields and dropped his passengers off with their equipment and armament. Despite the danger, he took the time to wait for a local farmer to fetch him a bag of garlic he had asked for. Bridger and the bag of garlic flew safely back to the Isle of Wight, where it was planted by Spidy. Owing to its mild climate, garlic grew well on the island.   The Isle of Wight’s annual festival of garlic, held in mid-August, celebrates the stunning wartime feat and the progress of British cuisine, bringing together more than 20,000 garlic lovers. The “Garlic Farm” attracts visitors and customers year round.   The trend toward good food started under the auspices of the Royal Air Force, the Free French Fleet and the ingenuity of a Wight’s innkeeper continues. The new British cuisine flourishes. Chefs are in love with the local and fresh produce that some, like The Taverners restaurant, grow in their own vegetable gardens. They also favor lighter, traditional English dishes. From royal luxury to prosaic B&B’s and camping, a palette of accommodations can respond to all tastes and wallets.   A map of the UK pinpointing the location of the Isle of Wight