The Isle of Wight’s very own celebrity penguin is to launch this year’s Isle of Wight Walking Festival on Saturday 7 May.
Dippy the Penguin, star of Seaview Wildlife Encounter who thinks he’s a human and attracted over 4000 friends on Facebook, will cut a ribbon to mark the start of the festival. It runs from 7 to 22 May 2011 and features over 300 guided walks for all ages and abilities.
As part of the launch day celebrations at Seaview Wildlife Encounter, two guided walks will take place around the park with the official launch at 12 noon. The family-friendly walks – one at 9.45am and the other at 1.45pm – will take visitors around the park stopping off to learn about the wildlife at the attraction.
Children are encouraged to dress as penguins to mark the occasion and judges will select their favourite fancy dress outfit after the second guided walk at approximately 4pm.
For more seasoned walkers, the launch day also offers a number of more challenging walks, taking in the Island’s stunning scenery. The Twenty Mile Leg Stretcher starts from the Yarmouth ferry terminal at 9am and takes hikers on a fairly strenuous walk which is the ideal warm up for the Walk the Wight which takes place on Saturday 15 May in aid of the Earl Mountbatten Hospice.
The Isle of Wight Walking Festival is a firm favourite with both residents and visitors alike. Now in its thirteenth year, the festival offers walkers the chance to explore the Island’s areas of outstanding natural beauty, heritage coastline and over 500 miles of well-maintained and signposted footpaths.
There are plenty of walks to inspire children too, with story walks, a tiger trail as well as walk for little princesses near Carisbrooke Castle.
As well as firm favourites such as the speed-dating walk which has resulted in three weddings so far and ghost walks, new for 2011 is Eye Love Site. This is a walk around the Island’s coastal path for blind or partially sighted people. All money raised from the walk will go towards a stem cell research project being undertaken at Southampton Hospital which may help people to regain their sight in the future.
The Isle of Wight Walking Festival is made possible by volunteer walk leaders donating their time to share their favourite walks. Over the 16-day festival, walks cover all corners of the Island and many schedule stops at pubs and cafes, helping the local economy.
Cllr George Brown, Isle of Wight Council Cabinet Member responsible for leisure and tourism, said: “Since it began in 1999, the festival has helped us to promote the Isle of Wight as one of the best walking regions in the country.
“The programme has been put together to ensure there are walks suitable for everyone, from short level routes accessible for wheel chair users and pushchairs to longer more challenging routes for the experienced rambler. Most of the walks are free and all provide a great opportunity to discover the Island in the best possible way – on foot!”
For a full list of walks featured in this year’s festival visit www.isleofwightwalkingfestival.co.uk.