It is surely a sign that I've matured into a proper grown up that I now like the idea of spending a Sunday afternoon sitting in a park listening to a brass band with a deckchair and an ice cream.
Had my mother suggested such a thing during my teenage years I'd have declared her an embarrassment and moved in with the neighbours.
Anyway, I recently found the time to explore two public parks which are tucked away somewhat, on the clifftops of Shanklin and Ventnor. Both feature in our guide to free days out on the Isle of Wight.
Both Rylstone Gardens and Ventnor Park are council maintained and have a smattering of things to do with children. Not enough for a day really but enough for a passing visit.
My trip to Rylstone Gardens in Shanklin was an hour too early for the Sunday afternoon concert which is given by groups with names like Vectis Brass Ensemble, or something like that. The whole thing looked pretty pleasant with deck chairs being laid out. As far as I could see it was free, with plenty of opportunities to buy drinks from under a gazebo.
The park also has a cafe which looked suitably twee and a crazy golf course which was not exactly Disneyland-esque but would happily entertain children long enough for parents to have a coffee and a slab of lemon drizzle cake.
Rylstone Gardens also links up nicely with the seafront down some steps so you could park for free and walk down, although I personally wouldn't attempt that with three children, two dogs, six bags and a windbreak.
Ventnor park meanwhile has similarly well kept gardens but instead of crazy golf has a putting green, which to those who aren't sporting experts may look much like a lawn with several red flags and holes.
The bandstand from Ventnor's old pier sits proudly in the park and also hosts performances by the local parpers and tooters.
There's also a refreshments hut which reminded me of a summer job I had at an Island attraction where I set myself the target of selling more ice cream than I ate (it was a close run thing on some rainy days).
Up towards the top of Ventnor Park there is an impressive outdoor gym. I'm not convinced that there is an army of beefy men and toned women in Ventnor who use it every morning but I may be wrong. We were half expecting a swing and slide in the park but thankfully we managed to convince our little one that a rowing machine would make a good see saw and the cross trainer could double up as a swing for a small bottom.
The top of the park links up with a clifftop path which we didn't explore but which presumably leads to Steephill Cove eventually.
There's also a bizarre bus stop type building at the cliff top with half of the seats looking in the wrong direction.
Both parks are well kept with lots of pretty plants and flowery things. Give it another decade and I might just be able to identify a few of them.
This website includes the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary on our guides to free days out, days out for toddlers and animal attractions, but the last time I had visited I was wearing short trousers and holding my mum's hand.
On our return visit nearly a quarter of a century later I was still wearing the shorts, but this time I was holding my daughter's hand, until she rather predictably got bored of walking and raised her arms up towards me.
The Donkey Sanctuary is on the main route from Newport to Ventnor (PO38 3AA) and it is certainly worth a stop en route.
For those that aren't donkey experts, you can expect to meet: big ones, small ones, young ones and old ones (I didn't note down the exact breeds...), most of whom have cutesy names to encourage you to take up adoption - Chip and Pin were my favourites.
There were no hard selling charity muggers though, just a sign up advertising the option of adoption. There also wasn't the usual trick of selling you animal food that they would have bought anyway, so it felt more like a working Sanctuary that just happened to welcome onlookers.
Round the back we found a couple of horses and sheep, who were presumably meant to be part of the Sanctuary rather than just random animals in an adjoining field.
For those wanting to extend their visit and support the little plodders there is a decent looking cafe selling donkey related stuff and a little charity shop selling the usual selection of ten year old celebrity biographies and - bizarrely - a Queen jigsaw puzzle with two pieces missing.
As a free attraction you wouldn't really expect a full day's entertainment but we spent a happy hour plodding around looking at grey animals on a grey day.
I've always advised romantic old fools that they should head to Gurnard for the Isle of Wight's best sunsets. The sun sets nicely over the green beach huts with the mainland straight ahead and pretty little yachts sailing past.
We discovered an alternative recently that may be even nicer though, at Thorness Bay near Porchfield. The beach's main access requires you to navigate your way through Thorness Bay Holiday Park which is one of the few caravan sites on the northern section of the island. This experience was much like finding your way out of a foreign city with my wife making helpful comments such as "didn't we pass that woman watching Coronation Street 10 minutes ago?" and "Isn't this bit one-way?"
After seeing every single caravan on the site three times we found the bumpy path down to the beach. On post trip research it looks like there are other spots where you can walk down, but not much option if you want to drive.
The beach itself is unlikely to be the one they choose to put on the front of the tourism magazines which fill up the racks on the ferry. It's a bit scrubby and can't really decide if it wants to be sandy or stoney. At low tide though it is a gorgeous landscape with farming fields on one side and woodland on the other.
Best of all was the sunset which slowly turned the sky red. At low tide a huge pool appeared away from the sea meaning it was shallow and static enough to reflect back the sunset. I was so overcome with the whole thing that I nearly got down on one knee to propose, until I remembered I was already married.
A few other happy onlookers gawped out to sea along with several fishermen who I assume had suggested taking the kids away to Thorness Bay with a secret plan to spend the whole week holding a fishing rod.
We headed home, only slightly panicked by the sight of a locked gate on our way out. Thankfully we negotiated our way through and began uploading our #nofilter photos to anyone who was interested and many more people who weren't.
I'm not sure if the school parties or the geese make the biggest racket at Seaview Wildlife Encounter which we visited for the first time recently. The park gets very good reviews on Trip Advisor so I thought I should give it a go, as it is featured in our guides to days out for children and our guide to animal attractions.
Entrance is about £10 for adults or free for two and under although there are offers to get in a bit cheaper on our guide to discounts to Isle of Wight days out.
Our two year old was about old enough to point her little finger at the decent selection of animals, of which about 50% are feathery and winged. There are pigs, meerkat, a couple of sheep, goats, wallabies and a few other animals but you get the feeling that the birds consider it their home and the others are merely gatecrashers (our perhaps goatcrashers).
Many years ago the park was Flamingo Land, which was presumably re branded as the owners realised that there are more children's cartoons about penguins and pigs than there are about big pink birds which stand on one leg.
The park feels clean (besides the vast amounts of bird poo) the animals seem content and the staff seem like proper trained zoo keepers rather than sulky teenagers who are there for the summer before they head back to their degree in Postmodernity and Surf Management at the University of East Rutland.
One section, which is a nicely designed artificial stream is like walking through a flapping gauntlet with dozens of ducks, geese and other squawkers screeching at you if they suspect you might be carrying the gift shop bird food. I can't say I enjoyed this bit too much, half expecting one of the ducks to ask for 50p so he could get a bus or offering me a pair of fake Raybans.
I rather suspect that the park was nicely laid out for the more unusual birdy things and then the ducks heard about all the tourists handing out food all day long and just turned up one day. Ducks are renowned for outstaying their welcome.
At one point a duck flew past my daughter and clobbered her with a wing, although she didn't seem too bothered thankfully.
Throughout the day there were talks and feeding times. My in-laws informed me that they were thoughtfully laid out so that you could walk round in a route and hear them all but we somehow ended up taking our own route.
One of the talks that we did catch was the penguin feeding, which was probably the highlight, unless you particularly like car insurance adverts or hopping wallabies. The little penguins swim around in their pool excitedly before us onlookers chucked in loads of fish for them, only slightly put off by the warning that they will also tuck in to your finger if they get half a chance.
We also discovered a decent size kids play area for the under fives which had a couple of playhouses, baby toys, colouring things and so on.
We finished off at the cafe which was nice enough, combined with a gift shop selling the usual holiday tat. Slight warning - if you've got kids with allergies, the Seaview Wildlife Encounter cafe is not good. They were very friendly and I'm sure would happily advise but there is a lazy sign up saying something along the lines of "all food may contain nuts, dairy, fish, wheat, eggs, soy..." etc. For anyone with a serious allergy that's the equivalent of writing "all food may contain rat poison - good luck guys!"
Apart from that, it was very good. You could make it last for a few hours if you went to all the talks and had more interest in birds than me. We went round pretty quickly and it still lasted about two hours.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog
Where to stay
Ferry discount codes
Holiday park discounts
Some of the links on this site are 'affiliate links' meaning we may receive commission from accommodation providers at no cost to the buyer. We are also an Amazon Associate and earn from qualifying products.
However, we maintain full editorial control and only recommend based on merit rather than whether they offer commission.
© COPYRIGHT 2021. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.