Let's have a round of applause for the knitting enthusiasts who have decorated the post box in Carisbrooke High Street.
We were so impressed as we drove past that we did a 180 at the mini roundabout at the bottom of Cedar Hill, causing much irritation to the other cars.
If you want to see it for yourself, it is outside the Co-op in the high street. There's a car park opposite.
I'm not sure who is behind this masterpiece or how long it has been there. Feel free to comment below if you can offer further insight.
Freshwater Bay has been in my top five Isle of Wight beaches for a long time.
Over the years I've had many memorable visits, including pizza on the beach with Mrs Guru and a kayaking trip to Watcombe Bay with Isle of Wight Adventure Activities. Back in the day, we had a school field trip to the beach, which was one of the advantages of an Isle of Wight education.
We recently had relatives staying in Freshwater Bay and so managed a couple of visits over a weekend.
Freshwater Bay is really three different beaches, which is perhaps why I like it so much. A great big slab of sand is nice on the right day but there's a Famous Five quality about somewhere you can explore.
The first visit was on a baking hot day when the water was flat as a pancake.
My brother had set up at the furthest point possible on the left hand side as you face the sea and I began trudging across the stones. Walking along here is far from easy and I made this point clear to my brother when I finally reached him.
After a few seconds, I conceded that it was a beautiful spot and we began clambering on the exposed rock bed.
It was low tide, so we were able to get round to the smugglers' caves and the beach which is hidden round the corner.
This part of the beach is really appealing on the right day but it's worth noting that it can be dangerous so it's best to visit with someone who knows what they are doing. The tides rise quickly over the flat rock bed and you really wouldn't want to be stranded with the waves crashing into the caves. For that reason, a lot of people visit it on a still day with a paddle board or a kayak.
I wore wetsuit boots which made it relatively easy whilst my brother tentatively walked in bare feet and didn't make it as far as the beach. I resisted giving him a lecture about bringing the right footwear to the beach as I felt the spiky rocks had punished him enough.
Our second visit to Freshwater Bay that weekend was to the section round to the right which is really good at a low tide. On our most recent visit we found that it was much less windy than the main beach which was getting a real battering and didn't look at all appealing.
We wandered round to find the rock pools, a miniscule amount of sand and lots of spiky rocks. We had a quick swim but you'll need something on your feet for this one or you'll end up swearing like a chef.
The only section of Freshwater Bay that we didn't visit on this occasion was the main chunk of beach in front of you as you sit on the Esplanade. This section is probably best for a swim as it's least rocky but it's the least interesting from an exploring point of view.
The other advantage of this bit from my point of view is that dogs aren't allowed on this bit in the summer. Apologies to dog lovers but it's nice to know that your picnic isn't about to be stolen if you don't have a dog of your own.
My brother had a notable birthday this year so I rewarded him with a mini stag do involving a trip to the Isle of Wight Aqua Park and Football Golf which are both at Tapnell Farm. They run as separate attractions to the farm park and cost about £20 for the Aqua Park or about £6-11 for the golf depending on how many holes you complete.
The Aqua Park was first and we all squeezed into an unflattering buoyancy aid and a colour coded rash vest so the lifeguards could shout at us if they needed to ("no heavy petting red team!")
There were free lockers for putting your car keys in and some outdoor showers for afterwards.
After a safety chat and an explanation that the water is green to make it more natural and eco-friendly ("see if you can spot the dragonflies") we were told to jump into the water or climb in down the steps.
I cautiously eased into the water and tried to disguise my squeals whilst most people confidently bombed into the water.
The park is more like a floating playground with linked things to climb on rather than an obstacle course. For some reason I had assumed it would be a question of doing one lap round but it works much better to have free reign. I'd also like to try a timed challenge if that's an option but a free-for-all means you can miss out bits and repeat others.
There are two tall towers which provide the biggest challenge. Getting up them is easy enough but jumping off requires a bit of courage.
I am not the world's greatest swimmer and would only survive on a sinking ship if I had a pair of goggles and a nose peg in my pocket at the time.
Even so, I decided that the smaller of the two towers was within my range and so I gave it a go early on.
My approach to such things is to get on with it rather than to spend too long thinking about it or waiting for a crowd to gather. As a result, none of my party saw me leap gracefully into the water. Indeed, none of them even noticed I had gone anywhere. Thankfully, I survived and there was a lifeguard nearby if I hadn't.
I emerged from the water and carried on round the park, but concluded that the taller tower was too much for me.
The course has a good mix of things to fall off. There are a few narrow walkways, one of which requires a foot on either side so you do the splits towards the middle. I also enjoyed the figure of eight slide which has a high risk of dumping you in the water at the end.
I initially thought that I was brilliant at balancing as I seemed to be falling in the water a lot less than most other people. I even got across the three giant boulders without falling off.
However, it turns out that I had a major advantage as I was wearing my wetsuit boots. Most people have bare feet as you can't wear trainers but the course is very slippery when wet (Bon Jovi reference not intended). Bare feet isn't a problem and probably makes the course more entertaining - you'll just fall in a bit more.
After 40 minutes of trying everything out, I decided it was time for me to climb the tallest tower. I didn't plan to jump off but thought I might talk myself into it at the top.
I had a brief internal argument where my brain was quite convinced that it was too high whilst my legs seemed quite keen to give it a go regardless. The legs won the argument and I found myself falling towards the water. I hit the water with such force that my fingers were yanked off my nose and I inhaled a couple of dragonflies.
Nonetheless, I survived which left me with a feeling of achievement. Also, my 10 year old niece jumped off about 11 times so I felt somewhat obliged.
If you're a little less confident, it is very easy to miss these big sections out. You will certainly fall in the water a few times at the aqua park but it's easy to avoid the more daunting bits.
After we had dried off, we headed for football golf which only opened recently. On a nice day this would offer nice views but it was foggy, windy and damp so not really perfect golfing weather. By the end we were probably wetter than we had been at the aqua park.
Nonetheless, we enjoyed our round of 18 holes. The shorter course was obviously a fair bit easier whilst the longer course gave the chance to hoof it more. It took the two of us just over an hour to complete 18 holes.
I doubt football golf is the kind of thing that you will return to every week with a coach to work on how you swing your leg. However, it is good fun as a one off for a fake stag do. There are also smaller balls and a different par for children, which should help reduce arguments and tantrums.
If I only had time or budget for one of the two activities then I'd go for the Aqua Park but both provided plenty of entertainment and I would have enjoyed the golf more if I wasn't battling a gale.
And for the record, I beat the birthday boy at football golf by two shots. That may be the first time I've beaten him at any 'sport' in the last 15 years.
There are a handful of places where you can do some decent rockpooling on the Isle of Wight but Bembridge is our current favourite. That makes it sounds like we search for crabs on a weekly basis, which is not quite the case. However, we have found rockpooling to be an enjoyable occasional activity if you want to fill time at a beach when it isn't as sunny as you were hoping.
Other good options for rockpooling are Steephill Cove and Freshwater Bay (the section of beach round to the right as you face the sea rather than the main beach). If you have had success at others, please do comment below. Bembridge is a popular dogs-off-leads beach which is a bit irksome for those of us who limit ourselves to hamsters, but it is good news if you're looking for somewhere you can entertain children and pets at the same time.
The key - of course - is reading the tide tables. On this occasion, we arrived about an hour before low tide which was ideal as the rocks became more exposed whilst we were there.
We spent a good amount of time saying things like "there's one! Oh, actually it's just a pebble" before we hit a lucky streak. After an hour, we had five crabs. I wouldn't say they were huge but they were alive, at least.
Another family seemed to be having more success and were hauling in crabs the size of dinner plates (I may be exaggerating). We questioned them on the secret of their success and they revealed that they were using ham, whereas we were just using a net and a bucket load of enthusiasm. Our four year splashing in the water in her wellies also didn't help.
We briefly thought that the largest crab had eaten the smallest one but thankfully it turned out to be a false alarm.
At this point, my mother announced that we would have a crab race as we almost had enough for one crab each.
As we prepared to empty the bucket of crabs onto the sand it emerged that none of us actually knew how to race crabs, which caused some discussion and debate. Should we put them sideways or straight on? How would they knew which direction to scuttle? Would they mind being out of the water for a few minutes?
In the end we drew a circle in the sand with the edges of the circle touching the water. The crabs were placed into the middle and the winner was the first to reach the edge of the circle in any direction.
After a slow start, the crab assigned to child one scuttled to victory and returned to the water. For the record, my crab came second and Mrs Guru's crab buried itself in the sand and was never seen again.
I had been wanting to revisit the beach at Blackgang for a long time.
Not because of its reputation as an unofficial beach for those who like to let it all hang out, but because I hadn't visited for many many years.
It was an occasional beach we visited with my father, who felt a beach with more than three people on it was a bit too crowded.
In the last decade, a trip to Blackgang has been off the cards as it really isn't a beach for young children. We've made it to Blackgang Chine theme park of course, but that's not quite the same.
On a grey morning we found ourselves with a couple of hours of freedom and decided this was the moment to finally give it a go. And so we headed for the Old Blackgang Road Car Park which is a rarity as it is free.
Getting to the car park was an adventure in itself. The road down is just wide enough for a car and it certainly isn't wide enough for my car and an Audi SUV which was wider than an ambulance. I was willing to risk a few scrapes to my 8 year old car but the owner of the 70 plate Audi was less cavalier and so began reversing back to the car park.
When we finally parked up we were all alone apart from a couple of joggers who soon vanished.
The next adventure was finding the correct route down. This is where our troubles began.
Perhaps I lack common sense but there didn't seem to be one obvious path. Instead there were several footpath junctions with a dark wooded path on one side and a darker wooded path on the other.
My logic was to follow the path most worn but that led to a couple of dead ends and required a bit of clambering over fallen trees. Without walking boots we'd have fallen over more easily than an Italian winger looking for a penalty in stoppage time.
The most precarious section was a well worn path which is perhaps 50cm wide and had a significant drop on one side. This would have created newfound levels of parental stress so this is one for the grown ups. You might be able to avoid these perils by taking the alternative route out of the left hand gate in the car park.
I'm pretty sure we didn't use the official path, if there is one, but we eventually emerged on a beach.
Although it had been a few years, I couldn't help feeling that this wasn't the beach I was after.
This beach was beautiful and was similar to Binnel Bay which is not surprising as it's not far away. There were whopping great boulders to climb on and cormorants which sit on the rocks in the sea.
After climbing over some rocks to our right I became more convinced that the beach we actually wanted was round the corner. The orange coloured tiny pieces of shingle were the giveaway.
My phone signal returned and revealed that we had indeed taken the wrong path and were at Watershoot Bay, just round from St Catherine's Lighthouse.
And so we retraced our steps back up the hill and then found an alternative route down to the beach we had intended to visit.
Finally, we reached Blackgang Beach and I just about resisted kissing the shingle. It had only been an extra 20 minutes of clambering so that might have been a bit much.
To add a little bit of confusion, this beach is marked as Rocken End Beach but it is the one we always referred to as Blackgang Beach.
I took a moment to admire the view, after the initial disappointment of seeing that there was no-one taking advantage of the beach's unofficial reputation. It's a fantastic bit of coastline if you like crashing waves and solitude.
We then began to climb up, which was a half walk, half scramble. Despite being summer it was very muddy so I wouldn't attempt it in winter. You can expect to fall over at least once and it will take about 20 minutes.
I can't exactly offer exact directions to avoid my calamity but I would head out the left hand gate in the car park and then once you get onto the footpath keep on the right rather than veering left.
We had muddy legs and we were pleased to see the car when we finally reached the top. But on the plus side, we had seen two beaches for the price of one.
A summertime evening trip to Compton Bay is high on my priority list each year. Of course, I’d like it to be a weekly event but there aren’t many occasions where there is a helpful collision of sunshine, tides, availability of friends and availability of childcare.
As we were without the children I took the opportunity to head for the Compton Farm end of the beach which requires a longer walk and steeper steps. It is far less accessible than the Hanover Point end of the beach but it is worth the effort as you get to enjoy a) fewer rocks b) better views from the top and c) fewer people, unless it is excellent surfing conditions.
I would like to thank the National Trust for maintaining the steps, as I assume it is them that keeps them open despite the challenges of cliff movements. Some other Isle of Wight beaches have lost accessibility in recent years which is a real shame, although understandable at places such as Whale Chine. It must be dispiriting to spend months planning and constructing a set of complicated steps, only to return a week later and find they have relocated themselves to the foot of the cliffs.
We were alone on the beach apart from a group using Compton Bay as a backdrop for an Instagram photoshoot.
I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way - this really was an intense Instagram photoshoot over three hours rather than a quick pouty selfie with a filter.
You could hardly blame them as it was the sort of evening where you couldn’t take a bad photo with the sunshine bouncing off the sea and the sky slowly changing colour.
The ongoing photoshoot included multiple retakes with two Fortnum and Mason’s picnic baskets which were repeatedly carried up and down the same stretch of beach as the sun reflected off the sea behind. I thought best to keep out of the way so the photo wasn’t ruined by the sight of me in the background in an unforgiving wetsuit or my bright orange Sainsbury’s carrier bag.
There was lots of thoughtful staring into the distance whilst a man with a DSLR said positive things about the lighting and lay down on the sand. The finale was a run and a skip towards the sea in swimsuits which was repeated eight times without the water getting above anyone’s ankles (in fairness, I spent more time squeezing into my wetsuit than I spent in the water).
Our evening was somewhat less photogenic as we realised we didn’t have enough cups to share out a bottle of non-alcoholic Prosecco. We resorted to drinking out of whatever bottle-shaped things we could find in our bags to toast my brother’s birthday.
I will save Instagram the image of my brother’s silhouetted figure sipping from a Tommee Tippee baby bottle against the sunset of Compton Bay and leave the photoshoots to the experts.
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