I’ve spent three years at university in York, and 90% of people had one of three reactions when I told them I was from the Isle of Wight: a) “my grandparents live there!” b) “I went there on holiday once as a kid!” or c) “where’s that?”
Shamefully, this makes the Island sound very uncool. But fear not! I have devised a list of ten fun things to do on the Isle of Wight in the summer holidays, all of which should be good fun, whether as a family, a group of friends or a romantic outing. As such, I endeavour to partake in these ten activities before I move to London in September and, at the end, I will report back on how these places stood up to my expectations.
10. Blackgang Chine
This one is best for families or nostalgic young adults with willing friends. I have such good memories from years ago of running around Cowboy Town shooting my brother with a cap gun, getting disorientated in the Crooked House, climbing all over every species of dinosaur, getting soaked on the Water Force slides and playing real life Snakes and Ladders on huge slides. The extra-exciting thing is that Blackgang Chine has been ever-changing for the past decade or so – whether that’s good or bad, due to the many landslides afflicting the area – but that means I have the perilous Cliff Hanger rollercoaster to try (speeds reaching 35mph…!) and the whole place is likely to look completely different to how it did years ago.
Adults will get the most from it by watching how joyful the place makes their young’uns (and by admiring the magnificent cliff views, of course) and those my age can put aside any thoughts of being ‘cool’ for a day and run around without inhibition – it may be our last chance before we’re forced to grow up, after all!
9. A Picnic And Scenic Drive
My personal favourite viewpoint on the Island (although there are so many that I may well change my mind again tomorrow!) is found on the Ventnor Coastal Path between Steephill Cove and the Spyglass Inn. The spot I’m thinking of is perfect for picnicking and looking out to the sea unobstructed, with rolling hills to your back. There is a car park from which you can take a lovely walk, and the end of the path leads to the Spyglass Inn which has a ‘ye olde’ feel and a beautiful deck for looking out to sea on a sunny day.
Although walking on such a lovely path is essential to do on the Island, a scenic drive gives a different perspective on a place and there are so many nooks and crannies here that, if you have a spare afternoon, it can be a lovely way to acquaint yourself with the place and see it for the whole that is the sum of its parts. There are many pretty country roads connecting together between the main ones, and Military Road in particular is often cited as the best, running adjacent to the south-west coast in a long, free-feeling way.
My favourite (though blustery) picnic spot is found by following signs to Ventnor Golf Club on Steephill Down Road, then driving up a hill and finding a car park; I know that’s vague but I’m hoping I can find it again myself! A summer afternoon spent in this way should be lovely, tranquil- and cheap.
8. Amazon World
Located fairly centrally (between Newport and Sandown), Amazon World is my favourite of the Isle of Wight’s many animal sanctuaries (although the Owl and Monkey Haven was very close behind…) They have the widest range of species (around 200!) plus a brilliant environment in which you walk through the inside enclosures, encountering their authentic climates. Last time I was there (several years ago) I fell in love with an absolutely adorable anteater, but I was also awed by the squirrel monkeys, sloths, meerkats, penguins and dwarf crocodiles, to name just a few.
7. Osborne House
It’s always nice to have one historical place of interest to visit and keep our brains going over the summer. The one I have chosen as best, prettiest and most interesting on the Island is Osborne House – Queen Victoria’s “seaside palace”. As well as seeing history in Victoria and Albert’s private rooms (including a very short double bed!) and the Royal Apartments, I always loved seeing Swiss Cottage, the royal children’s own little area in which they were taught household management. There are also magnificent grounds and views over the Solent, with a newly opened private beach that Victoria and family used, just a pleasant 20 minute walk from the house.
With horse and carriage rides to the house and even Punch & Judy shows on during the summer, there are few better ways to spend a relaxed, diverse and yet educational day out.
6. Beaches – of course!
There are just so many to choose from. One of my favourites is Appley- it looks incredible with tide both in and out, and it goes out so far that you can walk out quite a long way. The beach is nice and long so even though it’s extremely popular it rarely gets too crowded, and there is a grassy area with trees running along its length for those who need shade like me! Appley Beach Café is easily accessible from the beach and Derek Sandy, the Island’s reggae superstar, plays there every Monday night during the summer months; Peter Pan’s Funfair & Amusements just along the esplanade could keep kids occupied for a while too.
I must also mention Sandown beach, which is also a big one with glorious sand, and is surrounded by novelties such as the pier, the crazy golf and the Sandown Zoo. My favourite pebble beach is at Gurnard – if you walk along the path behind the sailing club then there is a hidden beach area which is quiet as well as beautiful.
5. Robin Hill
Robin Hill Is more accessible to adults without children than Blackgang Chine – everyone can enjoy the toboggan (£1 a go but well worth it, there’s nothing else like it on the Island!), the time machine simulator ride, the swinging ship Colossus and just the beautiful grounds that the trail leads round. There are peacocks gathered in some areas, ducks strolling near the lakes and one spectacular viewpoint halfway round.
Some people will think of Robin Hill as “the Bestival place”, but for me it’s the scene of many happy memories with both family and friends and it’s always worth a revisit.
4. The Needles
The most exciting thing about going to Alum Bay is the chairlift down to the beach – get it in slight winds and it might feel a whole lot risky than it really is! Needless to say, there are spectacular views, especially over The Needles Rocks and Lighthouse. The Alum Bay glass making is fascinating to watch and being able to fill your own glass or plastic shape with sand is great fun. There are also all sorts of smaller attractions to complete the park, including a new 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea 4D cinema experience that has garnered my curiosity…
3. Cowes Week Fireworks
Cowes Week is one of the Island’s most active weeks of the year- it’s certainly Cowes’ busiest. However, for the non-yachties amongst us, it’s the last night of Cowes Week that’s the big one: always featuring a huge firework display, which is usually preceded by a Red Arrows display, the atmosphere on and around Cowes esplanade is always a joyous one. Since I’ve passed the age of 18 it is now a longer night for me than it ever was before – last year, the marina held some great makeshift pubs and bars to go with music on stage – but whatever you do, as long as you’re in Cowes you’re bound to have a good time.
2. Surfing and Camping at Compton Bay
The only thing on the list I’ve never yet experienced myself, but surfing (or other extreme sports) and then camping (whether just to make a fire for dinner or staying overnight) is hugely popular, and Compton is the place favoured by many, particularly young Islanders.
I kept Compton separate from the main beach section because of its uniqueness and the specific activities many undertake there. It is the place to go to surf (not that I’ve dared yet, although my dad thinks I ought to try for the sake of this challenge!) and you can even allegedly see dinosaur footprints on the rocks at low tide.
1. Festivals and Events
Obviously the Isle of Wight Festival is finished for another eleven months, but there are plenty of smaller scale events going on to showcase both local and world-class talent (although, of course, lots of our local talent is world-class!) To name just a few: this very weekend (19th-21st July) is both the Rhythmtree World Music Festival and Newport Jazz Weekend, of which I’ll be at the latter reviewing lots of gigs for Yoppul. I wish they were on different weekends though because they both sound fantastic. There’s also a charity gig featuring three Island bands at the West Wight Sports Centre on Saturday.
A new addition to the Island scene this year is Jack Up The 80s, featuring 80s bands (Heaven 17), tribute bands (Bootleg Blondie) and… The Hoosiers! On the site of the Garlic Festival (another fun weekend), this sounds like a great new festival that is nice and cheap too, even including a fun fair and lots of fun 80s attractions.
Later on is the Ventnor Fringe, Ventnor’s “answer to the Edinburgh Fringe” for those for whom Scotland is just too far away; we don’t need them! There is all sorts going on, including the debut of a new, abridged production of Hamlet, lots of comedy and music and The Isle of Wight Film Festival. This is on the 14th-18th August.
For those who need something bigger to hold their attention, you only need to wait until Bestival in September, at the aforementioned Robin Hill (the fields got destroyed in the heavy rain a couple of years ago!)
There are lots more attractions and events I could list but you get the gist – there’s lots to do on the Isle of Wight! Let me know if you get up to anything here over the summer, and I’ll tell you how I got on in September.