It is funny how you build up prejudices about places because you associate them with a single person or incident.
When I told my mother we were going to explore East Cowes Esplanade her head turned 360 degrees and she wailed in disapproval. After intense psychotherapy we discovered the cause of this feeling was a grim day out from Southampton when I was a child in the 1980s. They were living on the mainland and had taken a trip without a great deal of research into the weather or a car to explore (websites such as this offering rainy day ideas were clearly not an option...).
So, they spent the day in the rain on a tatty old playground in East Cowes and vowed never to return. She has kept her word in the subsequent decades and decided not to join us on this trip.
Nowadays, East Cowes Esplanade is much improved and is a useful spot if you have time to fill before a Red Funnel car ferry. There's a large paddling pool (certainly not heated but just about bearable) as well as lots of modern play equipment. It is mostly for younger children although there are a couple of climbing areas for older children.
There's also a cafe and toilet block. No idea if the cafe is any good, but it was busy which is a positive sign.
The beach at East Cowes is nothing special. It has an interesting view of a busy stretch of water with ferries coming and going, but it is a bit scrubby and on a bit too much of a slope for beach games. I could imagine sitting there on a summer’s evening with a tin of cheap lager discussing Tarantino films, but that’s about it.
The main problem though was the stench, which I assume was only temporary because of the way the wind was blowing. If it is a frequent thing then I would have expected to see local residents carrying pot pourri pouches or a man selling nose pegs by the side of the road.
Apart from that, it's a nice enough spot. Give it another decade and I'll persuade my mother to return to East Cowes.
If you see a VW carrying a surfboard on the Isle of Wight you can be fairly confident that the driver is a) called Brad and b) heading to Compton Bay.
You will struggle to find a glossy brochure on the ferry which doesn't recommend that beach as place to go for surf.
I would generally say the same and gave the same lazy bit of advice in our guide to the best Isle of Wight beach for...
A few weeks ago though my life changed forever... in Shanklin. Well, not quite, but it is a piece of advice worth passing on.
The surf forecast told me that Compton Bay was flat as a steam rolled pancake for the next week so we gave up on body boarding and decided to have a serene swim in Shanklin which has better facilities for little ones (toilets,
indoor play, amusements, mini golf).
With my bodyboard sat in the garage at home I was more than a little disappointed to see big waves on the beach at Shanklin. There was no sign of Brad or any of his surfing friends either.
And so we had an entertaining swim, trying to avoid being knocked over by the enthusiastic waves and unsure if we should be enjoying ourselves or just be annoyed that we didn't bring the bodyboards.
A friend once told be that when the surf was poor at Compton it was often good at Sandown or Shanklin. I'd sort of ignored his advice as it hadn't seen it for myself.
Anyway, I've now added a link to the Shanklin surf report to our surf forecast page, and next time I'll pack my bodyboard.
The Isle of Wight likes to market itself as a dinosaur destination. I'm not exactly sure that many tourists plan their trips around extinct animals but it does look good on the posters if nothing else.
Some fossil finds look pretty indistinct from stones unless you know what you are looking for but there are some (alleged) dinosaur footprints at Brook Chine which I'd been told by my mother were more dramatic and worth seeking out.
On a glorious sunny day at low tide I headed for the headland where Hanover Point meets Brook Chine, as instructed by my mother. After a fairly long time photographing any vaguely foot shaped rock I decided to phone home for further advice.
"Head for a jaggedy bit, then a flat bit and then there's a big bit missing where someone has taken an angle grinder to one of the fossils" I was told.
An angle grinder! Seriously, why does anyone feel they could possibly get away with stealing a huge fossil embedded in the earth?
Honestly, such thieves (sorry, 'collectors') should be chained to the seabed themselves to replace the attraction they've taken away. Why not knick Stonehenge, or redirect Niagara Falls so that it goes past your window? In fact, if we can start stealing national treasures, why not get the Queen to come and live in your lounge and serve you vol-au-vents?
Anyway, as usual I digress.
My search continued, until I found something much closer to the shore which seemed to resemble a photo I had seen some time ago. I called over some chums I was on the beach with and began the discussion of whether it was a footprint or just a rock that was sort of shaped like a foot.
Half way through the discussion with my sceptical audience, an older gentlemen stopped and started looking at the same rock. I did what my mother would do, and started talking to a complete stranger.
"Is this a dinosaur footprint?" I asked.
"Yes of course, and there are many more on the beach" he replied.
We questioned the evidence, as he was clearly a bit of an enthusiast, to which he replied that it was "accepted knowledge" that these were indeed dinosaur footprints. He also attempted an explanation of how they had formed, which was a little vague and would be even vaguer if I attemped to repeat it.
I then asked him about people stealing such things by taking an angle grinder to a national treasure. He looked a little shifty and asked if I knew who had done it, to which I said I didn't know, before casually saying that he knew someone who had one of these in his private collection.
If I'd been sitting on a chair I'd have fallen off it. After two minutes detective work I had a lead in my search for the thieving culprits. This could be the beginnings of a career in coastal crime detection, or more likely the makings of an ITV daytime police drama called Inspector Cliff Shaw.
I decided not to pin down the elderly gentleman and scream "give me a name!". Instead I made some nice small talk about the weather.
I returned home and showed off my slideshow of 'dinosaur footprints' to my mother.
"Those aren't the dinosaur footprints, those are just rocks that are shaped a bit like feet" she told me confidently.
My excited little face fell. Had I seen the footprints or just a big rock?
Back to the beach then Inspector Shaw.
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