In my day, the Christmas holidays flew by in what felt like a 20 minute blur of frantically opening a stocking, singing a couple of carols and then being forced to do a walk around the pretty part of Carisbrooke after a huge lunch. As far as I remember, I was putting my school uniform on whilst still digesting the turkey and was bundled back to school on Boxing Day.
Perhaps my mind is playing tricks on me.
Nowadays, the Christmas school holidays seem to last as long as a Premier League football manager – or just under three weeks to be precise.
After about 25 minutes of filling time with board games and CBeebies, we decided a change of scene was needed and booked a last minute break at Woodside Coastal Retreat at Wootton Bridge.
As it was winter prices we could afford to upgrade to a sea view and a hot tub, which made the whole thing a lot more appealing.
There are two adjacent lodge parks at Wootton Bridge called Woodside Bay Lodge Retreat and Woodside Coastal Retreat. They are both run by a company called Darwin Escapes which has about 20 lodge parks around the UK. This is an Isle of Wight website so let’s not worry about those other mainland ones. Suffice to say, the Isle of Wight ones are superior to all of them, even the ones I haven’t visited.
For those with a long memory, the parks sit on the spot (roughly) where Bob Dylan headlined the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival to a crowd of 150,000 including John Lennon and various other stars of the day.
I'd have called the sites Bob and Dylan to avoid confusion, but I have now got a good understanding of the pros and cons of the similarly named parks. If you haven’t already lost interest, please do a drumroll in your head and I'll give a summary.
Woodside Coastal Retreat was built first and is the smaller park. It is right by the beach and some of the lodges called Carisbrooke View and Osborne View are so close to the water that you could probably go fishing from your veranda (although that’s not an invitation to do so). Several of the lodges have hot tubs.
Pretty much all of the lodges on Woodside Coastal Retreat have at least a bit of a sea view, as the site is on a slope.
The downside of Woodside Coastal Retreat is that a) it doesn’t have any facilities and b) it is a couple of years older than the other park.
Meanwhile, Woodside Bay Lodge Retreat was built second and is significantly bigger. It’s got about 120 lodges compared to about 35 at Woodside Coastal Retreat.
The good things about Woodside Bay Lodge Retreat are that the accommodation is slightly newer and fancier and that it has got its own restaurant, gym and spa so someone can stick cucumbers on your eyes, or something like that.
The downside is that the majority of the lodges at Woodside Bay Lodge Retreat don’t have any sea view as the site is surrounded by woodland. Towards the entrance of the park you do get a distant sea view, but you’d only have the cheek to call it a “stunning sea view” if you were an estate agent who was desperate to reach your monthly sales target so you could keep up with the repayment fees on your Audi.
Woodside Bay Lodge Retreat also has two rather quirky treehouses with hot tubs, which are next to the woodland path.
The two resorts are linked by a woodland walk which runs alongside the beach. It is only five minutes between the two parks, so I would only be swayed by the facilities if you plan to use either the gym or the restaurant regularly. Although if you are the kind of person who complains about having to walk to the gym then uses a treadmill for half an hour, then I’m afraid we can’t be friends.
Both sites have a nice feel to them, as they are on steep slopes with decent views rather than just being a load of lodges lined up in a field. They’re also nicely maintained with plenty of plants and trees.
So really, the main thing to decide is whether you want a sea view (Woodside Coastal Retreat) or newer accommodation (Woodside Bay Lodge Retreat).
We went for Woodside Coastal Retreat. The lodges with the word ‘View’ in the title were all booked, but we booked into a Carisbrooke Premier with a hot tub. During the summer months you pay a considerable premium for a hot tub, but during winter it wasn’t so bad (when I looked in August, the same accommodation seemed to be up to £700 extra for a hot tub whilst it was more like £200 extra in January).
If you can get one of the ‘View’ properties, I would pay the extra particularly during the quieter season. I looked rather enviously at residents of the row of lodges in front of ours.
Considering this was the ‘older’ park, I was impressed with the accommodation. There was the odd sign of wear, such as a random hole in the verandah table and some of the carpet was a bit worn but everything else was very good. There were a couple of board games, but only half a Monopoly board. Perhaps someone had thrown the other half in the sea after landing on a hotel on Park Lane.
Issues such as our frying pan being damaged were sorted out quicker than you might reasonably expect an ambulance to arrive in a rural area.
We had three good sized bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dressing area so that we could look our best for the other park residents and an open plan kitchen/diner/lounge. I much prefer ‘lodges’ to ‘caravans’ as they are generally about twice as wide and have proper sized beds rather skinny mattresses.
My dream of looking at the sea whilst sat in my hot tub didn’t quite come true, as the hot tub is sunk into the ground but I enjoyed the novelty of being able to break wind without anyone realising.
Of course, the challenge on an Isle of Wight holiday during January is finding stuff to do as there’s an assumption that the whole Island shuts down on the 1st of November. There is some truth to that, but there is still enough to keep a family entertained for a week.
Our days out included:
There were also plenty of other wintery things which we didn’t do, including the cinema, swimming pools, several animal attractions and so on. On one occasion we had a close up view of one of the Isle of Wight’s famous red squirrels whilst at Woodside Coastal Retreat, although I’m not sure I can count that as an attraction.
There are certainly downsides to a winter holiday on the Isle of Wight – the coldness, the dark evenings which mean you can’t admire the view whilst you eat dinner in a seaside restaurant and so on. But there are also plus sides, including considerably cheaper accommodation, cheaper ferries, quieter roads and some free on-street parking. If you’re a dog owner (which I’m not) then you’ve also got the advantage of being able to walk on all the beaches which you can’t do in summer.
We were pretty lucky with the weather. It only rained for half an hour all week and we had a few minutes of sunshine here and there. Most of the time it was greyer than the Manchester United away kit of 1996 but it wasn’t quite as cold as I expected.
It was certainly better than trying to fill three weeks watching CBeebies.
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