There are frequent stories and campaigns about Isle of Wight ferry fares, but this website likes to make much of the fact that there are also many many ways to keep the price down (see our guide to discounts for ferry travel, the beginners guide to Isle of Wight ferry travel or the new ferry guide for caravans).
One of the top tips we routinely rattle out is the importance of booking early, since the ferry companies appear to operate somewhat like a budget airline which increase the price as the ferry fills up. Early bookers get good prices, last minute travellers pay more, apparently.
We decided to put it to the test by checking ferry prices over six months for a busy crossing. We only looked at one journey, so it isn’t watertight stuff which will be published in the Lancet and peer reviewed, but it is just about interesting enough for a blog.
We looked at a visit to the Isle of Wight at October half term 2015, with crossings on Saturday lunchtimes (October 24th and 31st 2015) as close to noon as was available.
I must admit, I was expecting a greater shift in the prices over six months. Red Funnel’s increased by just £4.50 whilst Wightlink’s increased by £28.
I can’t be completely sure that the April prices were the all time low prices (new batches of Isle of Wight ferry tickets aren’t released routinely at pre-announced dates, unlike train tickets) but I was expecting a bigger range over six months.
There was much more variation in the price depending on the time of day you travelled – early morning and late evening remained at a reasonable price even a few days before travelling.
Another significant factor was whether there were any discount codes available. The best time to buy would have been before the end of September, when the price on Red Funnel was £85, which is £53 cheaper than the Wightlink peak price. Wightlink didn’t have any discount codes over that period (as far as we know) but they do have them sometimes.
Another factor to consider is that popular crossings became full near to the day, meaning that we would have had to change our plans a bit.
The question for Isle of Wight visitors is whether you should book early and avoid a possible price rise, or whether it is better to hold on for a discount code and hope the price hasn’t gone up in the meantime.
This small study suggests you’d be better to wait for a discount code to appear (we put them on our discount page), but it’s a bit of a gamble really. We don’t get advance notice of discount codes, they just appear sometimes.
It is also worth bearing in mind that there are many other discounts and deals which are available and which would have brought the price down. For example:
Don't forgot you can keep up to date with new deals on Isle of Wight via our Facebook page
I'm not sure if my wife or my two year old was more excited upon arrival at the Blackgang Chine car park. Like most mainlanders my wife visited the Isle of Wight on a residential school trip and has retained fond if somewhat inaccurate memories (she is still convinced there was a disco on the Isle of Wight ferry for example).
The fake parking booth attendant has gone at Blackgang Chine but the charm is still there. There are still bits for young children such as Nurseryland and Fairyland as well as bits for slightly older children, such as the cowboys (always my favourite) and the dinosaurs which have recently been upgraded so that they now move and roar. The rides are fairly tame by mainland standards, but will appeal to pre-teenagers.
The maze looks lower every year and the cost of a burger goes in the opposite direction, but I did spend the entire day grinning like a maniac simply because the park still has all the character and quirkiness that I'd remembered.
There are also bits which are just a bit weird, which are clearly designed to encourage parents to look at each other with bemusement. The Weather Wizard and the dinosaurs in dinner jackets are particularly creepy.
I usually recommend Blackgang for 3-10 year olds and I think I'd still stick to that, although perhaps 3 1/2 might be better. Our daughter got in free (under 4s are free at the time of writing) but she spent much of the day explaining which bits of the park she didn't want to see. For the record, Humpty Dumpty was too much for her (he does have a bit of a creepy expression) and she certainly didn't want to see any dinosaurs.
Thankfully the situation was saved when she thought Snow White was a character from Frozen. My wife stood strategically to block her view of the witch and she soon cheered up.
The additions to Cowboyland are OK - we were expecting the new indoor play to be bigger than a small train and a sandpit - but generally the park was looking a lot smarter than I was expecting. There wasn't much sign of the peeling paint and overflowing bins that you start to notice when the innocence of youth wears off. It was clean and tidy, everything was nicely trimmed back and it all looked pretty well maintained.
The staff still seemed to be smiling despite this being late in the season. I worked in a similar park once and by September my fake grin was starting to droop a little.
The big question I now find myself asking is whether Blackgang Chine is worth the money. A few years ago Blackgang and the sister park at Robin Hill leapt up in price by about £3 per person for peak visits, which generally means school holidays. An on-peak visit to Blackgang Chine cost £18.50 in 2015 for a 4-60 year old and there are rarely discounts beyond the usual family ticket (£69 for 4 on peak) or a combined ticket with Robin Hill.
For comparison, Chessington World of Adventures is about £36 to £47 (2015, standard tickets) but they frequently offer 2 for 1 deals when you buy a pack of cereal from Tesco or a ream of paper in WH Smiths. So, if you are organised enough you can get in for about the same price as Blackgang Chine (which doesn't tend to do 2 for 1 type offers).
We also visited a park called Twinlakes in the East Midlands recently which was about £17 each and was a fair bit bigger than Blackgang.
However, what most parks lack is a stunning setting. Rather than just filling up a big field in Melton Mowbray, Blackgang Chine hangs on a cliff edge with beautiful views to gawp at. Its paths are ridiculously steep in places (just about OK for pushchairs, too steep for wheelchairs in places) and it all feels like it is crammed on top of each other which only adds to the charm.
I don't think it is just me getting old and becoming the sort of person who expects a Mars Bar to cost 25p but personally I think it is about £3 too expensive on peak.
But I do still love Blackgang Chine and I'm sure my daughter will once she has decided she isn't scared of Humpty Dumpty.
New attractions don't come along all that often on the Isle of Wight, so we were intrigued to see Tapnell Farm which has recently opened near Freshwater in the sleepy West Wight. The site has been used for accommodation for some time (the eco lodges are in our 20 quirky places to stay whilst Tapnell Manor is in our guide to accommodation for groups) but the site is being developed with a cafe, play barn and jumping pillow and more new stuff to come.
Considering it was opened in a bit of a hurry for the summer season, the whole thing seems remarkably well organised. There are clear signposts so you don't end up driving down a dirt track or into a milking shed and the branding and café look utterly (udderly?) professional and slick.
Out the front there are some funky lifesize cows which have been decorated by local businesses (Isle of Wight Garlic, Isle of Wight Festival, Bestival etc). Alas, you can’t clamber all over them as we used to at Blackgang Chine, but you can be fairly sure that they have already been photographed and uploaded to Twitfacegram a zillion times in the last few weeks.
If you can manage the stairs, head for the mezzanine at the cafe for stonking views covering about 270 degrees, including the site of the 1970 Pop Festival (the one where Hendrix played which gets bigger and louder with every retelling). We didn’t eat, but my latte was top notch.
By the time we visited towards the end of the season, the majority of the farm’s cows had been ‘sent to Northamptonshire’.
I was reassured to hear that this isn’t a euphemism to avoid difficult conversations with children, but was an actual relocation of the herd. As a result, there weren’t all that many animals to see, but I would guess that might change in future as my experience is that younger children are easily impressed by animals. It doesn’t need to be a herd of wildebeest or a family of giraffes. A dog licking itself or a goat eating some grass in a field seems to be enough entertainment for my daughter to consider it a good day out.
We also killed a fair amount of time in the playbarn and the jumping pillow, both of which are good for younger children. There are also plans afoot for outdoorsy things at the site, such as zorbing which involves rolling down a hill in a giant hamster wheel and trying not to be sick.
All in all, it’s a pretty slick operation that is well worth popping into if you are in the West Wight, although it is clearly still at the growing stage. There is no entry fee as such, you just pay for the play barn and bouncing pillow (£3 - £5 when we visited) and then they hope you’ll buying a jar of posh chutney for grandma in the shop or a burger in the café.
The hedges in the car park are only twigs at the moment, but I’ll be intrigued to see what else they’ve put on the site next year once the hedges are up to my knees.
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