Our days out are very much determined by the weather. If it rains we've got a list of favourites, including the yellow-ticket-spewing-machines at the arcade in Shanklin and the indoor play area at Tapnell Farm Park.
I'm yet to write a guide for one of those odd days where it is shorts and sandals weather one minute and then raining the next.
Our day in the West Wight was one of those.
We started off at the Compton Bay car park, before quickly abandoning any beach plans when we saw there wasn't any sand and there was a rapidly rising tide. Compton is probably my favourite beach but it is at its best at a low tide with the evening sun reflecting off the pools of water. I'm getting emotional just thinking about it.
We carried on to plan B which was Freshwater Bay. Fun fact: The clifftop up and down road between the two has featured on Top Gear and in a dreary horror movie starring Calista Flockhart.
We spent about an hour choosing stones, watching kayakers and stopping the younger one from falling over before getting back in the car and heading into Freshwater.
Mrs Guru, who understands Instagram, suggested we try the Freshwater Coffee House. It's one of those trendy places with deliberately eclectic furniture and friendly things written on chalkboards.
Thankfully, this was an establishment which had dealt with the strains of drinking coffee with children in tow. I helped myself to their decent selection of toys and books in the hope that they would provide an effective enough distraction for me to down my latte.
The staff were friendly and clearly owned the place, unlike the grunting teenager you might get in some chain. Mrs Guru was impressed with the eco-friendly individual hand towels and I was impressed with the coffee.
After a high-speed coffee we were on our way to our next stop - Fort Victoria.
There aren't many Isle of Wight attractions we haven't visited in the last five years, but Fort Victoria was an omission.
It's an odd selection of small museums and the like, housed in an impressive Victorian battery. The cannons are still there, pointing aggressively towards Hampshire.
We found time for the Model Railway exhibition which is in a metal building alongside the Fort, and the Archaeology Discovery Centre.
Both filled about 45 minutes, which wasn't bad for their £4ish entry fee. We do tend to speed round attractions, so you could happily drag it out if you want. You can also borrow an archaeology kit from the Centre if you want, which you can use to dig up the nearby beach.
The model railway provided a little spotter sheet which kept my 5 year old companion entertained.
The Underwater Archaeology Museum was a little bit bigger and was a bit more hands-on with things like a morse code thing to prod and some sand to dig into. At times I thought she might realise it was educational, but thankfully she didn't twig.
Fort Victoria also has its own little stoney beach, which is a nice spot for a picnic. It's not going to win a place in our beach awards as it's really just a stoney little patch, but we enjoyed digging through the stones.
My conclusion is that we're making significant strides in our ability to cram a lot in, despite having two children. At one stage it felt like an achievement if we got everyone dressed and in the car. Once the younger one drops her nap, there'll be no stopping us...
Most of our Isle of Wight souvenirs either contain multicoloured sand or include a photograph of the church in Godshill. For once, Mr Guru allowed me to explore some other options and set me free in a local Farm Shop.
On this occasion, I went for Brownrigg’s Farm Shop in Godshill, which was well stocked with dozens of local products. Sure, it isn’t as cheap as a trip round Lidl, but we’re increasingly keen on local souvenirs which can be consumed rather than those which gather dust.
Whilst Mr Guru waited in the car with the children, I did a mini supermarket sweep, checking off some of the products which I’d been trying to track down. I emerged with a modestly sized bag of goodies, hid the receipt and offered consolation that another family in there seemed to be carrying out a weekly shop.
I decided to purchase the Mermaid Gin and Fever-Tree tonic gift tube because a) I loved the packaging and b) I felt a G&T might be appreciated at the end of the day.
Here’s the blurb from the website:
Mermaid Gin “is a hand-made, small-batch gin using 10 botanicals that are meticulously sourced for quality and carefully blended to create a smooth, fresh and complex flavour profile. Locally foraged rock samphire and elderflower, fresh citrus zest from Sicilian lemons and Grains of Paradise are complemented by Boadicea hops grown in the local botanical gardens at Ventnor, English coriander from Sussex, orris root, angelica root, liquorish root, and juniper”
I don’t particularly like liquorice (can’t get away from the thought of Allsorts) or coriander but I do like Gin.
Included in the gift pack is a 50cl bottle of Mermaid Gin, a 200ml bottle of Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water and two Fever-Tree wooden stirrers. You can order the gift pack online directly from the Isle of Wight distillery, but it is also available at various Island shops.
The gift tube itself is beautifully designed and the bottles inside are well packaged to prevent any accidents during the journey home (that’s if you haven’t given in to temptation before then).
It cost about £8 and made enough for a couple of drinks. I rather got into the tasting, despite not being a gin expert. The juniper and coriander were certainly noticeable, as was the liquorice. There was also a slight peppery flavour and the elderflower flavour grew as I finished off the glass.
Mr Guru meanwhile just about managed to offer “very nice, tastes like gin”.
We rather enjoyed our first sample of gin from The Isle of Wight Distillery and are looking forward to sampling more of their range in the future. If you’re interested, the Mermaid Gin people also run The Mermaid Bar at the Wishing Well, which is nearish to Ryde. We’ve not been yet, but we’re hoping to pop in sometime now that we’ve got a taste for it!
In the days when the news is mostly Brexit, Donald Trump and Miscellaneous Misery, it's perhaps not surprising that the Great Isle of Wight Fudge Scandal has gone unnoticed.
Well folks, it's time to change all that. I'm going to peel away the cellophane wrapper covering up this minor scandal and reveal it to the world.
If it helps, we can call it Fudgegate.
Let's imagine that you are approaching the end of an Isle of Wight holiday and have just realised that you need to buy something for grandma. She bought you a lovely ashtray from Lanzarote so it's only fair that you get her some tat in return (a tat for tat arrangement, if you will).
You end up in a gift shop, most likely in Shanklin, Sandown, Ryde or Alum Bay and decide grandma would like some fudge. She lost her final tooth when you bought her toffee once, so fudge is the best option.
The box has a postcard of Godshill on the front, which she will love, so you happily pay through the nose.
But here's the minor scandal.
Take a careful look at the box and you'll almost certainly find it wasn't made on the Isle of Wight. It will more likely say something vague about coming from the UK and have an address in Devon or Dundee or anywhere apart from the Isle of Wight. You could probably buy the same fudge from any shop in any town.
I guess in a way this minor scandal doesn't matter two hoots. Most stuff is made in China now so we should be grateful that this is even made in the UK.
But in my mind there's a difference between plastic souvenir rubbish (which you assume comes from China via a vast warehouse in Northampton) and souvenir food, which you sort of hope might be vaguely reflective of the local area.
So I'd like to invite you to look for some more authentic Isle of Wight souvenirs for grandma.
Next time, try a farm shop and you'll find dozens of locally produced foodie things, many of which also won't raise grandma's risk of developing type 2 diabetes (though admittedly they might not be entirely healthy).
We had a successful shopping trip at Brownriggs Farm Shop in Godshill. My mother recommends Briddlesford Lodge Farm Shop nearish to Wootton/Newport. Some of the Coop stores stock a small range of local food.
I'm sure there are many others, and it isn't really fair of me to just highlight the ones we happened to pass.
In a decent farm shop you'll find Isle of Wight beer, gin, vodka, biscuits, cheeses by the bucketload, posh tomato ketchup and so on. There's even a locally made fudge shop in Cowes, which is ideal for Grandma.
There's also Isle of Wight coffee and chocolate, which admittedly weren't grown on the Island but still have a local link, somehow.
Over the next few weeks we'll be trying out a few of them - for research purposes of course.
Join the campaign, save grandma's teeth and leave the foreign fudge on the shelf.
It takes many years for a human being to realise that walking is actually quite pleasant. I made so much fuss on scenic family walks as a child that I'm surprised my mother still talks to me.
Once you're a parent, you soon forget this and get irked when your children plead for a lift after a few metres.
We decided to try out a Treasure Trail on the Isle of Wight as a means of tricking the children into walking. We'd had some success with a similar thing on the mainland so this seemed like it was worth a go on a grey day.
At the time of writing there are eight to choose from, covering quite a few of the prettier parts of the Island. Unsurprisingly, no one has bothered to create one exploring the industrial estates.
Our first treasure trail was covering Cowes. It was one which claimed to be OK for pushchairs, although it did say it wasn't suitable for wheelchairs. There turned out to about 30 steps but you could find a detour with a bit of initiative or a map.
This one was a Murder Mystery, with a long list of suspects. Each clue led you to a local landmark which would include enough information to eliminate one of the suspects.
We glossed over the murderous side of things for the benefit of our young children and turned it into a mobile version of Guess Who?
Over a couple of hours we wandered through Northwood Park, and along the High Street and Esplanade. I've always liked Cowes and enjoyed the whole thing a lot more than I was expecting. I noticed things about the town I'd ignored before and the level of challenge was varied enough for us all to have something to do.
Around lunchtime the one year old in our party made it quite clear that she had had enough and we postponed our investigations. Frantic searching for lunch began, despite it still being a bit early for elevenses.
However, we were hooked in by that point and a couple of hours later we were back on the beat for the last few clues.
Two days later we embarked on another treasure hunt, this time around Godshill. This one was a lot shorter and more compact but we still enjoyed it thoroughly. I've concluded the village could do with a little less traffic and a little more pavement (anyone fancy a one way system?) but once again we managed to do a significant amount of plodding considering we were a party of all ages.
From that point on there was no stopping us. Ventnor came next, despite the instructions saying that it wasn't suitable for pushchairs. Again, we found a couple of detours to avoid the steps and my buttocks got a thoroughly good workout as I heaved the pushchair up Ventnor's hilly streets. I can only assume that the residents of Ventnor all have backsides of steel.
Finally we attempted Yarmouth, which was shown off in glorious sunshine on a route which followed the estuary, seafront, castle and pier. The town centre is small and can be driven through in about seven seconds, but with clues to find and our travelling circus the whole thing filled two or three hours.
My personal favourite of them all was probably Ventnor, since it had non-stop sea views and a playground at the halfway point which provided another few minutes of entertainment. Yarmouth was in second place, but they were all good time-fillers. Our five year old managed to contribute throughout, whilst the nearly two year old demanded food and drinks from onboard her chariot.
My next plan is to contact the Treasure Trail people and suggest Carisbrooke village as a good location for a hunt. After all, it's got a significant castle, a priory, a cemetery with beautiful views (Mountjoy), an ancient church, three fords and my mother's house.
You have to pay for Treasure Trails - £6.99 at the time of writing so it's not one for our free days out guide. However, I don't think that's bad value for a couple of hours entertainment for a group of people. If you're look for a free alternative, try out our Isle Spy game, which is a similar bit of timewasting around the Isle of Wight's roads.
The Cowes Week fireworks have evaded me in recent years but I was determined that 2018 was finally going to be our year. For once, I was hopeful that house moves, newborn children or thunderstorms wouldn’t stop us.
And so, when my mother realised she couldn’t fulfil her unpaid role as chief babysitter I resorted to leaving Mrs Guru at home and taking daughter number one to her first ever fireworks display.
We found somewhere to park in Gurnard and started the pleasant walk along the esplanade towards Cowes. The sun was dropping and within a few minutes the Red Arrows were overhead, swirling and drawing love hearts in the sky.
My five-year-old companion was overwhelmed and announced that this was the ‘greatest day of her life, apart from Legoland’ (upon further questioning it turns out that the birth of her sister isn’t even in the top three).
Obviously this all sounds idyllic but I should point out that in the 200 metres we had walked so far, I had developed a blister, my thermos of warm milk had emptied itself in my rucksack and my daughter had required an emergency toilet stop in the woods.
Nonetheless, we limped on towards our fireworks viewing point on the green in Cowes.
A large crowd was gathered but it’s a big open space so it certainly didn’t feel crowded. Motorhome owners lined the streets on the esplanade, parents drank wine whilst their children threw stones in the Solent and a coffee shop did its best night of trade all year.
My daughter enquired if the fireworks would be starting any minute now, to which I replied that we had an hour and a half to fill. It turns out watching yachts gracefully sailing against a sunlit sky isn’t enough for a child so we filled the time with i-spy, choosing attractive pebbles and holding our breath in the public toilets.
There was the usual selection of carnival tat on sale, including Disney themed helium balloons and giant glow sticks.
At one point a girl who looked to be about 3 or 4 ran towards us pulling a pink helium dolphin. She did a couple of Red Arrows inspired loops of us before attempting to continue her route. Unfortunately, the dolphin lodged in my groin, her string snapped and the dolphin floated off in slow motion towards the helium graveyard in the sky. The crowd around me gasped as this mini tragedy was revealed.
I looked towards her mother who had presumably purchased the balloon in an attempt to postpone a past-your-bedtime tantrum (I mean, why else would you?). I felt the blame could go either way so I offered my most aghast expression, the sort face which you would normally expect from an emotional X-Factor contestant.
Thankfully she didn’t appear to be blaming me and we snuck off before she changed her mind.
The light faded and the fireworks began. My companion was even more excited than I that we had actually made it. She even offered a detailed commentary for others in the crowd who weren’t sure which colours were on display.
And we nearly, very nearly, got to the end of the display before she once again announced: “Daddy, I need the toilet…”
It's always heartening to see new stuff appearing on the Isle of Wight. Sure, we've had some painful losses in recent years (RIP Seaview Wildlife Encounter, Waltzing Waters, Bestival and Coleman's Farm).
But we've also been treated to new stuff, such as Tapnell Farm Park, Eklectica and Fairweather Festival.
This summer there's a good choice of new stuff to try out. Here's a selection that we've heard about - feel free to comment at the bottom if you know of others.
1. Jungle shenanigans at Robin Hill
Robin Hill is going for a jungley theme this summer, with a load of colourful treetop nets which were being built last time we visited.
This will undoubtedly lead to copywriters punning about 'going wild' and having a 'roarsome time'.
I shall avoid the obvious and come up with something a bit cleverer.
Er, "let's Flamin-go to Robin Hill"?
There will also be 'Jungle Fever' events on Tuesday and Thursday with 'the biggest fire balls you've ever seen' and 'life sized animal puppets'. I'd like to see the risk assessment form for that one.
They've also got this massive water slide which looks like it's been constructed by a weekend Dad who was desperate to impress his kids.
"Hey kids, I bet Mum's new boyfriend doesn't have one of these in his garden does he?"
Visitors to European cities will have seen these multi-seater bicycles being powered by beered-up British stag dos. The aim is to drink as much as you can without falling off your seat and then hoping someone will find the EHIC card in your wallet and take you to the nearest A&E.
Thankfully, the Isle of Wight takes a more civilised approach to such things.
According to the official blurb you can 'Choose from a range of themed rides: from Afternoon Tea to Fitness, Networking to Litter Picking, or our Original Tour which takes in the sights and sea views of Ryde and the Solent.'
3. Osborne Horse Trials
I take great comfort in the fact that Nick Skelton won a showjumping Olympic gold at the age of 58.
That gives me at least another couple of decades before I need to start training for my Olympic medal. Until then I'll just watch the new horsey eventing at Osborne.
4. Tapnell Farm
Tapnell Farm Park seems to add something new every time I turn my back.
For 2018 they've extended the go kart track and added some outdoor sledges. The indoor bits have also had a move around to make space for new bits and bobs.
And for anyone who knows what an FN-59 is, there's a new Comic book shop/cafe which has turned up in Newport.
Well why not?
One of my first jobs was stacking shelves at Sainsburys on the Isle of Wight for £3.06 an hour. We were called the 'Milk and Cookie Crew' because we weren't old enough or responsible enough to work on the checkouts. I planned a 10 minute toilet break into my two hour shift just to avoid the customers.
Still, it was worth giving up all my spare time for the weekly pay of £24.
One of my most familiar discussions with customers was where they could find the gravy which managers moved around the store like a mischievous elf on a shelf (end plinth, aisle 12 usually).
I was reminded of this at Tapnell Farm Park which we visited for the first time in a year recently. Like most Wightophiles, we were bursting with excitement a couple of years ago when we heard a new attraction was coming and have been returning sporadically ever since.
On our return, the hay bale slides had shifted across the play barn, the Tiny Tapnell bit for toddlers had moved to another building and a gift shop had appeared next to a new toddler area.
At Tapnell, I'm confident that this hasn't been done to confuse us but is to make space for new stuff. The go kart track has got bigger and better, there are dry sledges and a few other little additions.
On this trip my mother went off to get coffee, which often results in her spending 20 minutes getting to know the person serving her. This is a useful gift in life, unless there is a queue of people behind you.
Usually she returns to say that the person who brewed her coffee used to work with the grandson of someone she worked with in the 1990s.
On this occasion she returned with the news that the park had recently had its busiest ever day. The details became a little sketchy at this point with either 600 people or 6000 cars visiting in one day.
I fear the detail of the conversation wouldn't stand up to cross examination in court, but it's certainly heartening to see a high quality attraction growing each year and seemingly being rewarded with a full car park.
It isn't as vast as some similar attractions on the mainland but it's clean, well organised and priced about right in my opinion (around £10). It also has a realistic view of the UK climate, so there's a good mix of indoor and outdoor stuff.
It's also recently been added to a bus route, which will hopefully bring a bigger crowd through the doors over the summer.
We'll certainly be back, and hopefully there'll be even more new stuff for the owners to find space for.
We've teamed up with Hampshire's Top Attractions to give away a bundle of family tickets to three of the Isle of Wight's best-known attractions.
The prize needs to be used during the 2018 season and includes:
To enter, you just need to like the relevant post on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram page and tag someone else who loves summer on the Isle of Wight.
The competition ends at 11.59pm on Sunday 8th July 2018. The winner will be selected at random and announced on Monday 9th July 2018. The prize needs to be used during 2018. There is no cash alternative.
The competition is running across our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts but there is only one bundle available.
*Yes, we know that the Isle of Wight isn't in Hampshire. Stop complaining and enter the competition.
I couldn't make it to the Isle of Wight Festival this year due to a couple of lovely friends rudely inviting me to their lovely mainland wedding.
This was a distressing situation.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the Festival over the years, even in 2017 when I was accompanied by a child who was much keener on Milkshake Live Party Party than checking out some indie band I'd read about in Melody Maker (kids, ask your parents).
Guessing the headliners has become one of my favourite annual traditions, up there with singing Auld Lang Syne, tossing pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and forgetting my brother's birthday.
I've had mixed success with my predictions in previous years but I've got a new theory which will almost certainly succeed.
There are certain artists which have appeared several times at the Isle of Wight Festival. Starsailor have been there so often that they are rumoured to permanently live in the Premier Inn at Seaclose Park as it's a convenient commute. Suzanne Vega has also appeared regularly, as has Iggy Pop. By my count, they've appeared 13 times between them.
After about 7 seconds of Googling you'll discover that they are all managed by Solo, of which John Giddings is Managing Director. I'm not sure if they have always been managed by Solo, but they are now.
If you then take a look at the roster of other Solo Music Agency artists you'll see that nearly all of them have appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival at some point.
Here's a nearly complete list:
This makes a lot of sense.
If Pharrell Williams' contact number is on your Filofax or fruit-based device then you're going to ask him to play at your festival.
Another cat amongst the pigeons is that big-player Live Nation is now a majority owner in Solo. I must admit I don't know if that increases the chance of a Live Nation artist appearing but it is presumably a foot in the door. Live Nation acts include Beyonce, Barbara Streisand, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Shakira and U2.
So, when it comes to predicting the Isle of Wight Festival lineup for 2019 we can conclude that:
I'll admit that leaves us with a pretty hefty list, but I'll be surprised if we haven't at least picked out one of the headliners for 2019.
But then again, I thought we'd vote to stay in the EU and that Gareth Gates would win Pop Idol in 2002.
If you're interested in Isle of Wight Festival 2019, tickets are on sale already.
*Guaranteed to be wrong, obviously
If I was forced to guess, I'd say that we've been to about 80% of the Isle of Wight's attractions by now.
I'm not exactly sure under which scenario I'd be pressured to make such an estimate, but there you go. Most of the ones we haven't been to are basically shops and I try to avoid taking my small children anywhere with a "breakages must be paid for" sign.
Monkey Haven has been an omission from our collection. I prefer tigers and dinosaurs to monkeys and owls but the Haven won a major award last year and the reviews are very good.
The monkeys and owls are obviously well looked after with their own play equipment which is in a better state than some council parks.
Much like Isle of Wight Zoo, there's a game where you collect stamps as you tour the park and solve a few riddles. Robin Hill recently did something similar with letters hidden around the park and Mottistone Gardens has a flowerpot people trail which transforms it from an attraction for your grandma into something that will fill time with a toddler.
Simple things like this go down well with our five year old, whose excitement goes up another gear when she realises there may be a prize at the end.
At Monkey Haven it was trickier than most, so I was able to earn a few dad points by offering solutions.
The whole place is clearly a labour of love with no signs of flakey paint or grubby playgrounds. In fact, there are two small play areas for different age groups which shows an unusually good awareness that 3 year olds and 9 year olds don't want the same thing.
We spent about 90 minutes there, including a picnic stop, although we do have a reputation with relatives for touring attractions at a rapid pace. If you're looking to fill a bit more time then I'd go for Robin Hill (which costs about twice as much) or Tapnell Farm Park (which costs about the same).
If you've got a couple of hours to spare and a child to entertain, I'd certainly give Monkey Haven a visit.
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