My jaw dropped a little last night with the news that Seaview Wildlife Encounter had closed.
The news wasn't that it was due to close in a few months' time after several farewell events, but that it had closed. Where was the buildup to allow me to get used to the idea that one of the Isle of Wight's most popular attractions was to close? I nearly choked on my Sunday night Earl Grey.
The news, appeared on their Facebook page:
Dear FB friends.... It is with great sadness and regret that the family have decided after 44 years of being open to the public that an extremely difficult decision has been made to close the park. This is due to many internal and external factors - the seasonal nature of the business combined with intense legislation and regulation that we believe will only increase in the future. We hope that you will understand that it is time now for the family to bow out gently and to thank all of our wonderful visitors for their support over the years.
Since then, the owners gave a bit more detail about some of the challenges of running an attraction which have persuaded them to call it day.
The Facebook comment kicked off an outpouring of grief and kind comments which you'd normally associate with the passing of a monarch. Well over a thousand comments appeared within hours. I half expected to see news coverage of flowers being left outside the park with lingering closeups of moving messages for Dippy the Penguin.
"By far the best attraction on the Island" said one mourner. "Nothing compares with it" said another, who was presumably listening to Sinead O'Connor at the time.
"It was the most amazing place for our wedding last year" said another, conjuring up images of a bride walking down the aisle in front of a parade of geese.
Such strong feelings are not all that surprising. Seaview Wildlife Encounter has consistently ranked towards the top of Trip Advisor's list of Isle of Wight attractions, currently at number "3 out of 158 attractions" (behind Osborne House and Monkey Haven). The park's most famous penguin has more than 5000 likes - well over 10 times as many as this site has...
We certainly enjoyed our visit there, and I'm not exactly the world's biggest animal fan. It was not hugely expensive (about £10), it was clean and the staff seemed to know what they were talking about. I was a particular fan of the penguin feeding.
The Isle of Wight can certainly cope with one attraction closing (or two if you also include Coleman's Farm which closed recently). There are three other good sized animal attractions in Isle of Wight Zoo, Amazon World and Monkey Haven, plus there are about ten other places where you can see animals. And there have been some attractions opening in recent years (such as Tapnell Farm) or improving (such as Robin Hill or Blackgang Chine)
But it's still a sad day when something that is so popular closes down. Don't worry Dippy, we won't forget you.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog