Feeling nostalgic, Clyde Macfarlane explores why the Isle of Wight is a great place for a family break.
When Jimi Hendrix played the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, there were probably hundreds of pensioners who had chosen that August weekend for a quiet getaway and an ice cream on the beach.
Surprised as they may have been to see the streets of Ryde and Cowes hit by a 3-day wave of hippy revellers, the Island’s reputation as Southern England’s ultimate retreat was simply being flaunted to the maximum. There’s something for everyone here; culture, beaches, great food – there’s even a monkey sanctuary. As somebody who loved the Island as a child and is looking to re-ignite that love as a newly qualified dad, selling the Isle of Wight as the perfect escape with the kids is an easy task.
Firstly, let’s start with the ferry. In the weeks leading up to an exotic holiday, “what film you gonna watch on the plane?” will likely be the most frequent question on your child’s lips. Similarly, the prospect of 45 minutes on the self-contained playground that is the Wightlink ferry used to make me nauseous with excitement. For an easy day away from the kids, my parents could’ve sent my brothers and I back and forth across the Solent while they enjoyed a few drinks in one of the Island’s many cool bars.
The beaches on the Isle of Wight rival Cornwall’s as some of the best in the UK. Unlike Cornwall, the summer months see large numbers of tourists congregating at random hotspots, leaving miles of unspoiled coastline open to the more intrepid families. It’s not rocket science; buy a good map, and explore the yellow bits where the land meets the sea. Last August Bank Holiday we found a beach (only present at low tide, to be fair) with literally nobody else on it. I won’t tell you where that one is, because we’re planning on going again this year. A couple of tips, though: heading anti-clockwise from Wightlink’s ports in Fishbourne or Yarmouth, Colwell Bay has a classic English seaside feel about it. Lush vegetation tumbles down to the water, and a lengthy promenade has several cafes and snack shacks. It’s usually pretty sheltered, making for a pancake-flat expanse of sea to swim off into.
As you round the needles, the wild southwest edge of the Island’s diamond shape boasts over 10 miles of crashing surf that draws surfers from across the country. For the kids, surf lessons are available near Compton Bay. My personal view is that a cheap body board provides enough entertainment. There’s also an excellent choice of campsites along this stretch, with a big draw to this side of the Island being having the open ocean to look out to as opposed to Portsmouth, Southampton and a large power station in the New Forest. The southern tip of the Island is home to Blackgang Chine, the UK’s oldest theme park. It’s a mad world of cowboys, dinosaurs and pirates; one whisper that this may be on the agenda and the kids will press-gang you into going. Lucky for you, it’s relatively cheap and, much like the Isle of Wight in general, really easy fun.
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