I have a bad habit of not emptying out my coat pockets. On the first day of winter, I will often pull a coat of the cupboard, feel an odd shape and say "Oh, that's where my sunglasses went!".
If you're returning from an Isle of Wight holiday with children then I guarantee you'll find these find these five things in your pockets:
1. Yellow tickets from Shanklin's Summer Arcade
If the weather isn't living up to those Isle of Wight pictures you saw on Instagram then you'll find the crowds gathered in Shanklin's Summer Arcade. For a single pound you can enjoy up to three minutes of fun, throwing balls at a clown's face or playing a giant keyboard.
You'll be rewarded amply with a splurge of yellow tickets which can be exchanged for an array of wonderful plastic souvenirs. Within a few minutes you'll find that collecting yellow tickets has become more important to you than eating or breathing.
We collected more than 600 yellow tickets over three visits recently and exchanged them for, er, two squishy balls.
Still, I enjoyed playing the giant Space Invaders game and Mrs Guru enjoyed wasting £5 on the grabber machines. She likes to explain how they are rigged and then goes ahead and plays them anyway. Good times.
By my guesstimate, I'd say that the two yellow tickets left in my pocket are worth as much as two thirds of a penny. I'll be clinging on to them for my next visit.
2. A crumpled Map of Blackgang Chine
The first time I took my oldest daughter to Blackgang Chine, she was scared of everything. She was probably three, but she only really enjoyed the swings and the talking bins. Thankfully, Blackgang Chine is free for under fours.
Regardless, she spent the next month showing friends and relatives her map of Blackgang Chine. The map became so worn that I had to repair it with Sellotape.
"That's the Cowboyland that I didn't like...and that's the Princess Castle that I didn't like...and that's the Dinosaurland that I didn't like" she told my mother, repeatedly.
One day, I will collect every Blackgang Chine map ever produced and ask if they'll display them at the Museum of Island History.
3. Unused Supersaver Tickets from Alum Bay
I love a day out to The Needles and Alum Bay. The views are smashing and there's something for most ages, including a carousel for little ones, a chairlift for slightly older ones and a box of fudge or a nice sit down for great-grandads. It's free to get in, apart from the cost of parking (£6 in 2022). The National Trust's Old Battery is excellent if you want to avoid the school trips and funfair.
I also admire a business model which sells tiny containers of sand on an Island full of sandy beaches. That really is up there with selling ice in Antarctica.
The Supersaver Tickets are something else I always get sucked into. Each ride and attraction requires a few £1 tokens, but if you buy a book of 12 then you only pay £9. We always end up with two or three leftovers and then lose them before our next visit.
When we visited The Needles three weeks ago, I asked a member of staff at the small Co-op in Freshwater if they would accept them as a form of payment. He just looked a bit confused.
4. A priceless fossil/a worthless stone
Thankfully we are past the days of the children insisting on bringing a bucket full of shells and stones back from the beach. Mrs Guru would usually allow them to fill up the bucket to "keep the peace" and then I would discreetly put them back on the beach a couple of days later once they had forgotten. I feared that Freshwater Bay would run out of stones if every visitor took home a bucketful.
Nowadays, we tend to pick up something which looks kind of like a fossil and then hold onto it just in case we've discovered a new species. There's no logic to this, as it just sits in the boot of my car for six months whereas if we'd left it behind then a geologist might have found it and placed it in a museum.
However hard you try, you will end up with sand in your pockets after an Isle of Wight holiday.
You'll also find it in your car's footwell (up to your ankles), in your suitcase, in your roofbox and between your toes. Remarkably, you'll find sand everywhere even if you don't step onto a sandy beach. No one knows how this happens.
A couple of years ago, Shane Ritchie did a programme for Channel 5 where he stayed at Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park.
For about 24 hours, the number of visitors to this website went through the roof. We began calling it The Shane Ritchie Effect. If we operated on a larger scale (rather than out of my shed) then we'd have referred to 'TSRE' in team meetings and made it the focus of an annual conference held at the O2 Arena.
This week we think we saw a similar sensation which we are calling The Kate Humble Effect.
In a recent episode of Coastal Britain, Kate Humble went for a wander round the West Wight. She stood in front of some waves in Freshwater Bay, poked at some stuff on Chilton Chine and read the names on Yarmouth Pier. It was a lovely programme which I would recommend to Isle of Wight fans.
The bulk of the programme was spent admiring The Needles and Alum Bay, which is often the case with Isle of Wight themed programmes. Kate showed boundless enthusiasm for the history hidden within the cliffs and took a boat ride out round the chalk stacks.
Four days later we found ourselves in a colossal queue heading for The Needles. Rumour spread that it was tailing back to Bembridge. People in the bus behind us gave up and walked for the last half a mile. Local residents came out from their houses to hand out cups of soup and blankets. Thankfully, the blitz spirit got us through it.
I exaggerate slightly, but it did take us about 35 minutes to get to the ticket office which seemed a long time since Isle of Wight schools hadn't broken up for Easter. The children had eaten all of their lunch by the time we arrived, which wasn't exactly the plan.
Of course, it's possible that it was nothing to do with Kate Humble. It may just be that it was a sunny day and we arrived at peak time. I may be forced to eat humble pie (Ed: was this whole blog written so that you could include that pun?).
Once we made it inside, we rode the carousel, took home two large pieces of plastic from the hook-a-duck and drove some small cars around a dinosaur themed track.
We then walked down to the beach and pottered about beneath the multicoloured cliffs. The boat trip and chairlift are both good fun, but our children aren't quite the right age so we steered clear.
The strangest thing I saw was a visitor who had brought along a ladle and a spaghetti strainer so he could vandalise the precious cliffs by writing his name. He then crossed the utensils like he was holding two guns in a gangster movie and posed for a photograph. I set my eye-rolling setting to maximum, but I don't think he even noticed me.
I did enjoy another moment when a member of staff bellowed into a loud hailer to tell a small child to "GET OFF THE CLIFFS". The sound of his booming voice echoed across Alum Bay and the child quickly climbed down. I rather suspect that the member of staff enjoys this part of his job. I certainly would.
If you enjoy people watching, head for the halfway point between the lower steps and the upper steps. If the wind is blowing the right way you can savour the sound of a succession of chairlift riders swearing when they realise that it's a lot higher than they were expecting. I swiftly covered my children's ears and told them to walk at a brisk pace back to the car.
"Daddy, what's a @#!&?" asked my youngest daughter.
"Ask Mummy" I replied.
It used to be relatively simple to say whether or not it was worth buying an annual pass (or 'Frequent Visitor Pass') for Blackgang Chine or Robin Hill. You'd look at the price to get in, and see how many times you need to visit to get your money back.
It's more complex now as the entry price varies throughout the year and you get freebies thrown in. To figure it out, you need complex formulas and a team of the country's best mathematicians.
They aren't available, so I'll have a go.
A brief summary
If you plan to visit either park during two different school holidays then an annual pass is worth paying for. If you mostly visit off peak or just want to visit during one school holiday then it may not be worth it.
Here's my working for the full marks
An annual pass for either Robin Hill or Blackgang Chine is now £50 per person. That's the price for anyone who is four or older.
A joint pass for both parks is £90 in 2022.
So, a family of four would pay £360, which is not a small chunk of change.
The park owners sweeten the deal slightly with food and drink vouchers but it's not a mega bonus and will probably only pay for a one-off trip to the ice cream hut. You get a £5 food and drink voucher each for a pass for one park or £10 each with a joint pass.
Meanwhile, tickets during the main school holidays are £28 for Robin Hill or £30 for Blackgang Chine. A joint day ticket is £50. That's the online price, it's more expensive if you just turn up and pay.
So, if a family of four visited both parks at Easter they'd pay £200. If they returned in August they'd pay another £200. There doesn't seem to be a 'family ticket' discount. That's a total of £400. In this scenario, an annual pass is worth buying.
Let's look at some scenarios where it's a bit less clear.
How about if you want to visit one park at Easter and the other in August? In that scenario, you'd pay £112 to visit Robin Hill and then £120 to visit Blackgang Chine.
That's a total of £232 so £128 less than annual passes for both parks, although you're missing out on £40 of food and drink vouchers.
The good news is that you can return within 7 days so you could squeeze in two or three visits during a week and hopefully get to the point where the kids feel they've done everything and won't beg you to return later in the year.
And what if you mostly visit outside of school holidays? A joint ticket for a family of four would be £160, so you would need to visit three times, at least seven days apart before you start saving money.
Finally, what about if you just want to visit Robin Hill throughout the year? A family of four would pay £200 for annual passes and get £20 of free food and drink.
You'd need to visit twice during peak times (i.e. school holidays) or three times outside of school holidays before you are saving money. Again, it needs to be at least seven days apart.
One option worth a brief mention is to alternate between passes each year. At current prices you would pay £200 for a pass for four people each year and could visit repeatedly until you were sick of the sight of dodos or toboggans. You would then swap over for the next year.
Without special events, I would say that a visit to Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill once a year is sufficient for us. That's particularly true of Blackgang Chine, where there's a bit less space to run around and explore. Climbing on a dinosaur is great fun the first time, but it offers diminishing returns.
The thing which makes the annual passes appealing is the events throughout the year.
If you want to go to the balloon festival at Robin Hill in May and then watch a summer show in their amphitheatre in August then you might as well get an annual pass (£200 for 4 people, with £20 of free food and drinks) rather than buying day tickets (total of £224).
If you're paying £200 then you might consider paying another £160 to get Blackgang entry. A single visit during school holidays would be £120 for a family of four, so it's only an extra £40 to come back whenever you want. Plus, you get an extra £20 food and drink voucher, so you're only really paying about £20 to have the option of another visit later in the year.
See our guide to getting the best value from Robin Hill and Blackgang Chine. It's a little bit old now, but most of it is still accurate.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog