Our household is blessed with an energetic and imaginative three-year old, so most days involve wild and fantastical games starring elaborate castles, dragons and fairy princesses. Our announcement of a beach holiday to the Isle of Wight was met with squeals of delight and an instant obsession with sandcastles, pirates and (for some unknown reason) starfish. Once the countdown was finally complete (three-year olds are not known for their patience) we set off on our seaside summer escapade.
The holiday starts as soon as you leave the mainland. The island is located just four miles from Portsmouth and visitors can get there by ferry or by hovercraft (one of the world’s last remaining commercial routes). Twenty minutes later and it’s possible to step off the ferry and straight onto the golden sands of Ryde beach, where most people will be happy set up their sun brolly for the rest of the holiday. Ryde Beach has endless golden sands (at low tide the beach reaches almost all the way to end of the pier, a whopping 681 metres away) and lovely calm waters. From Ryde there is a lovely walk along the esplanade towards Appley which includes beaches, pirate ships, playgrounds and a lake with giant swan boats. At the end of the stretch (two and a half miles away) lies Seaview, a charming village with lots of character and plenty of rockpools just waiting to be explored. The Seaview Hotel was our base for the weekend, and we couldn’t have asked for more: a stone’s throw from the beach, delicious food (the restaurant has been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand award for creative, affordable food) and lovely staff.
We were attracted to the island for the jam-packed summer attractions on offer, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. During the school holidays there are plenty of fun adventures on the go, and our weekend happened to coincide with some of the best of them. Saturday 1st July was the Mardi Gras Parade in Ryde, an all-day carnival event. Over 25 schools and organisations took part in the colour-filled and merry procession, with all the floats, music and costumes designed around the theme of ‘Reflections of India.’ Sunday 2nd July saw the famous Round the Island Race take place, with over 1600 boats filling the horizon in a spectacular collage of colour and movement. The race started at 5:30am, so it was a full day of sailing for the boats that reached the end point of Cowes in the early evening.
Later that same day we had the honour of visiting Shipwreck Isle, the pirate festival my daughter had been so excited about! Proudly clutching her plastic pirate sword, she joined plenty of other young pirate scallywags for the festivities on Appley Beach. There were pirate performances from Captain Jack – including real sword fights, a Punch and Judy show, folk bands, food stalls, a bar for the parents and a very festive atmosphere. Our daughter could easily have stayed there for a week, and there wouldn’t have been any complaints from us either.
We were blessed with beautiful sunny skies, but even if the weather does show some British tendencies there are plenty of other attractions for the children (and the adults) to enjoy. To the east of the island lies Sandown Bay, the location of both Dinosaur Isle (an interactive museum displaying the islands impressive geology and fossil collections) and the Isle of Wight Zoo. Shanklin (also in Sandown Bay) is a popular site for water sports, and also has a children’s play area with three miniature golf courses. Ventnor (further to the south) has a main esplanade with buzzing pubs and cafes. It is built on the highest part of the island with steep slopes and great views out over the sea, as well as beautiful botanic gardens. One of the highlights of our trip was the drive from Ventnor to Needles viewpoint to the west of the island, with stunning coastal views along the way. The Needles is a distinctive landmark of chalk stacks rising out of the sea, and the boat ride to see them, combined with the chairlift ride down to the beach and the multi-coloured sand cliffs was enough to keep our whole family enthralled.
Those visiting during the October holidays can look forward to some Halloween fun with plenty of activities scheduled. Wizard Week at the Steam Railway takes place in Havenstreet and involves steam train rides, dressing up as wizards and witches, a woodland walk, birds of prey shows and a Halloween treasure hunt. There is also Halloween Fun at Ventnor Botanic Gardens (highlights include pumpkin carving and ghost walks) and the Isle of Fright at Carisbrooke Castle (children will be entertained with arts and crafts, ghost tours and a Halloween costume competition).
It’s always good to have an excuse to return to a favourite holiday spot, and our young pirate wanting to build her next sandcastle and enjoy her next swordfight is just one of many.