One of the silver linings of the grim and worrying time of the last few months has been the discovery that my children don't mind woodland walks. I assumed they'd complain endlessly like I did as a child whenever I wasn't staring at a screen or kicking a ball but they just plod along in wellies and only start to whine when they get tired or hungry.
On previous wet days we would have headed for the clinkety-clankety arcade machines in Shanklin or the glorious comfort and extortionately priced popcorn of the cinema but we're now one of those irritating families who puts on raincoats and look like they're enjoying themselves outdoors.
With this newfound enthusiasm we headed for Parkhurst Forest on a wet day in search of red squirrels.
After an argument about whether a summer dress was appropriate clothing for a walk in the rain we headed left out of the main car park as you face the forest (just off Forest Road) and discovered a board with a suggestion of where to walk.
Like the mindless lemmings that we are, we followed the map through a wiggly bit of forest before emerging at a larger track.
Well, that's not quite true. The first time we tried to follow the map we took a left turn down a small track which wasn't the right one at all. The left turn you want is actually by a bench, so keep an eye out for that if you attempt to follow the same route.
After about 20 minutes of walking we arrived at the red squirrel hide. I reckon you could have done it in half that time if you didn't take a wrong turn like we did and if you walked at a good pace. We wandered along at a slow pace partly due to the children having small legs and partly because there were people in front of us and we were trying to keep our distance.
We had the hide to ourselves, so we sat and waited...
So did we spot a family of red squirrels feasting on nuts mere metres from our enraptured faces? Did we see them playing gleefully in the forest as shards of light shone through the canopies above?
No, of course we didn't. The youngest child lost interest after 30 seconds and started walking off so we gave up and went back to the car.
But did we fill an hour on a wet day without resorting to another hour of telly? Yes, we did and I'm sure we'll come back again for the same reason on another day.
People are overrated aren’t they? They’re always blathering on about this and that when really you’d rather just have a quiet sit down and a chance to listen to the waves lapping on the shore.
Sometimes you need a beach without loads of people. Sandown, Shanklin, Ryde, Ventnor and Colwell are unlikely to offer you that unless it’s 3am on a wet Wednesday in November.
Here are some of our favourite spots for avoiding people on an Isle of Wight beach holiday. Apologies in advance if this page leads to a mass influx of visitors to previously quiet locations but I think that's unlikely.
If you've got your own favourites, please share them in the comments.
1. Chilton Chine, South West Wight
To be fair, most of the Isle of Wight’s South West coast is as empty as it is beautiful. However, some beaches are easier to access than others.
Chilton Chine has a small car park next door to Isle of Wight Pearl on the Military Road. You clamber down a few steps and then you’ve got a pleasant stretch of beach which is sort-of-sandy and sort-of-stony. If you look carefully, you might discover an enormous dinosaur bone and become world famous. Or more likely, you won’t.
Whale Chine on the same coastline used to be a favourite of ours before the steps disappeared and the council were forced to block it off and put up enormous red signs saying things like “DANGER OF DEATH”. I do wonder whether the phrase "danger of death" helps the Island’s tourist industry, but I’ll let that one go.
2. Gurnard’s hidden beach, North Wight
Gurnard and Cowes beach both get pretty busy on a sunny day, but we usually head for the ‘hidden’ beach in Gurnard which is quieter although not completely empty. Take the footpath round the back of Gurnard’s sailing club and you get to a rocky and sandy-ish beach. You can park quite nearby with this one, which is a bonus.
I did swim there on our last visit but the tranquillity and peace was destroyed when I stood on a jagged rock under the water.
3. Far end of Compton Bay, West Wight
The Hanover Point end of Compton Bay is not a good choice for avoiding people on a busy day. The car park overflows, the ice cream van has a queue like Primark after lockdown ended and there’s an awkward back and forth as you work out whose turn it is to use the steps.
However, if you love that stretch of beach and want to avoid people as much as possible then it is much quieter at the far end. Park at the Compton Farm car park, walk through a field and climb down the steep steps with the gorgeous views down the coastline. The steps are a bit hairy if you’re also carrying three bodyboards, a windbreak and a picnic bag.
4. Binnel Bay, South Wight
Most of the South Wight’s beaches are quiet, apart from Ventnor and Steephill Cove.
Binnel Bay is a rocky beach which we’ve had to ourselves before.
When I say that it's rocky, I don't mean it has that tiny shingle which you can sink into. I mean that it has massive great rocks which will poke you in the bottom. Top tip: find a rock with a similar indent to your buttocks for maximum comfort.
Click on the image below and you can have a look around, although this is a bit further along from the bit we have visited.
5. Orchard Bay, South Wight
Orchard Bay in the South Wight gained a bit of local attention about 20 years ago when it turned out it was the landing spot for a massive drug smuggling operation.
For a while, you couldn't access it because the steps had given way. Thankfully, the St Lawrence Community Association and the landowners worked hard to get the steps re-opened. Three cheers for nice people doing a nice thing!
Here's a virtual tour thing from On The Wight:
6. Woodside Bay, North East Wight
Woodside Bay is hard to access unless you're staying at Woodside Coastal Retreat and Woodside Bay Lodge Retreat. The bay gets used by residents at the holiday parks but it's a long stretch of beach so it isn't terribly busy.
It's shingly with the occasional patch of sand(ish) and is a bit too stony and seaweedy for swimming. However, it's facing the right way for sunsets. My mother told me 'it has a Robinson Crusoe quality about it' but I didn't see a single cannibal when I was there.
It's also right by the spot where Bob Dylan headlined the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival.
7. Watcombe Bay
Now, this one’s a bit specialist but if you’ve got a kayak and know what you're doing, you can make your way round from Freshwater Bay to Watcombe Bay.
The only other way to access it is by abseiling down from the cliffs so you aren't likely to find many other visitors there.
We visited as part of a trip out with Isle of Wight Adventure Activities so there's a chance that a whole school party will turn up just as you get settled in. There are also some caves which you can explore but I'd caution against doing that unless you are with a guide. Otherwise you'll probably end up as part of a cautionary tale used by the RNLI when they train their coastguards.
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