I only have vague memories of Harcourt Sands Holiday Park whilst growing up on the Isle of Wight. I remember messing around on a playground there during a birthday party, and I discovered evidence whilst clearing out that I spent a day there as part of a Boys’ Brigade weekend in the mid 90s.
I’ll admit these are not heartwarming anecdotes of a bygone day but there’s a lot of affection for the site in Puckpool which now lies derelict and feels like an enormous waste of a prime seaside location.
Some of the videos and comments on YouTube offer the kind of affection you might expect following the death of a beloved aunt ("The memories with everyone will never be forgotten") as well as tales of people meeting their spouses in Whites.
According to various sources online it was two sites - St Clare and Puckpool – before merging in the 1990s and shutting in 2006.
According to the uploader, this film shows it a couple of years before closure in around 2004. Just look at all those smiling faces...
A year after closure came the fire which left the main entertainment area looking pretty sorry for itself.
Since then, various videos have appeared showing the whole site in its abandoned state. I'm a sucker for these videos, which make an empty site look like a sequel to the Blair Witch Project.
A few years later a plan emerged to turn the site into '128 residential dwellings, alongside a tourism proposal that would comprise either a 63 bed hotel or 15 holiday units'.
The recent news was that the developer had given up on that plan. At the time of writing, 2.8 acres of the site is up for sale for £350,000 with plans for a hotel.
One article quoted a local councillor who said that 'I would like to see housing there, as it would be a nice spot to live, and by just being empty it is affecting all the businesses in Ryde' and that 'I think the days of holiday camps are gone'.
Personally I have been hoping it might become a holiday park once again since most holiday parks have moved on a long way since the days of knobbly knee competitions and damp caravans.
Modern parks have a mix of posh lodges and cheap caravans as well as loads to do onsite. Hotels are great if you're a loved up couple but for families with young children a decent holiday park is ideal.
Holiday parks offer self catering accommodation so you don't have to ask the hotel to cook you chicken nuggets at 4.15pm and you get access to an indoor swimming pool in case it rains all week.
And holiday parks are big business too. The company which owns Butlins and Haven made £160m profit recently. In 2015 Parkdean Resorts merged with Park Resorts (owner of four Isle of Wight parks) to create a "£1bn company" (The Guardian). The big parks regularly invest in upgrades which must help the local economy too.
I'd be delighted if a big holiday park company decided to buy up the Harcourt Sands site. Haven - for example - has no presence on the Isle of Wight, many of their sites are right by the sea and they are still opening new parks (Thornwick Bay in Yorkshire opened in 2016).
Sure, there's probably more money in housing but is anyone on YouTube going to make heartfelt tribute videos about a housing estate?
My mother has come to realise that if she wants to join her grandchildren on days out then she will need to visit a few places she doesn't like all that much.
Growing up we kept a safe distance from the arcades and fudge boxes of the Needles Pleasure Park. That wasn't difficult as it's not the sort of place you drive past by mistake.
Nowadays we have to find days out which provide child friendly entertainment.
A day clambering through undergrowth to reach a hidden beach isn't going to cut it with a four year old who has been promised a hook-a-duck prize during the breakfast time negotiations.
So my dutiful mother joined us at The Needles with a grin which was as plastic as her raincoat. The weather had turned foul so I feared it was not going to end well. I imagined myself as a bookmaker taking bets on which member of the party would cry first.
You pay a fiver to park, and then pay for the rides you want to do. Anyone hoping to park nearby and walk will need a good set of walking boots as the whole place is surrounded by unfriendly double yellow lines.
We started with the minigolf, which was my highlight this time. I hadn't played the course before but it has been greatly improved over the winter. There are only 12 holes but they have a good range of interesting layouts and a nicely done dinosaur theme (very similar to the Jurassic Bay course in Shanklin).
If you get the bundle of tickets at The Needles, the minigolf costs £3 each, which is about half the price of the Shanklin course for two thirds of the holes. I'll leave it to someone else to produce a Cost Per Hole (CPH) table of the Isle of Wight's many mini golf courses.
We also did a couple of the tame children's rides and I was relieved to find I didn't feel sick after the teacups (unlike last time).
My daughter won some more plastic tat from the hook-a-duck which I will discreetly throw in the bin in a few weeks' time. I followed this by predictably failing at a game which involves throwing 10cm wide hoops over a 9cm wide lighthouse from half a mile away. Thankfully they realise the whole thing is impossible so you still get a prize for achieving nothing (much like some university degrees nowadays...zing!)
My wife then spent our retirement fund on chutney and fudge whilst I was watching men in shorts giving a glass making demonstration.
If you've not been before it's the sort of thing where one demonstration stops and another immediately starts. They make the vases in front of you and then you exit through the gift shop and buy a fancy souvenir.
As I sat there, a flurry of questions poured into my mind.
At first I wondered, does the shop get a backlog of a thousand vases in the winter when the park only gets a handful of visitors all day? Or do the men in shorts just sit there waiting for someone to come in before they start making their vases?
Or do they make the vases in silence and then start the talk half way through if someone walks in? What if everyone left half way through - would they just stop mid sentence, smash the half-finished vase on the floor and look at each other with a frowny expression? Would the sound of the men in shorts even exist if there was no one there to hear it?
At this point I felt it best to leave the glass blowing talk.
On this occasion we skipped the famous chairlift and the sand modelling souvenir thing which everyone does (as I've said before, selling sand to visitors on an Island of sandy beaches is an impressive piece of marketing). We also skipped the boat trip around the lighthouse which we enjoyed last time.
In fact, I'm not even sure that we saw the needles on our trip to the needles. It was a foggy day and I didn't get much time to look up with the younger child acting if she was being held hostage by making a run for it at every opportunity.
As we retreated for the car I briefly admired my rain soaked family.
My mother had got her latte in the cafe, my wife got her holiday shopping done and my children were still alive and hadn't embarrassed us in public or smashed anything in the glass shop.
I considered that a job well done.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog