You will hear a lot of rude things about Sandown at the moment, including a suggestion that it is the Isle of Wight's 'Turd Town'.
We didn't disagree with everything the Turd Towns visitor said but we felt a rebuttal was in order, without brushing over Sandown's obvious issues.
Making a break for Lake
I headed off for Lake at about 6.30 in the morning.
This is a time of day that I once considered to be unpleasant but now quite enjoy. There is an initial reluctance to get out of bed but I could see the early sunshine coming through the window in Carisbrooke which was enough to get me moving.
My plan was to park in Lake, and then walk between Sandown and Shanklin. There's not a lot of parking in Lake, but I managed to find the one unused parking space on the residential roads near to the coastal path and made a swift exit. I always fear that I will get an earful from a local resident, so I moved away from the car with the pace of a cheetah and the sheepishness of a, er, sheep.
Fellow money savers may like to read our guide to cheap and free parking on the Isle of Wight. It's a thrilling read.
Lake itself is - to be honest - quite a dull place but the beach is a real gem. You'll sometimes see it referred to as Dunroamin Beach. It has golden sands and high cliffs but doesn't have the crowds of Sandown or Shanklin because it's not quite so convenient. If you can't park on a residential road then you'll probably end up at the big council pay and display car park which is attached to The Heights.
The main road through Lake used to have a cinema called Screen De Luxe which apparently closed in 2000 with a screening of Gladiator. One of my life's regrets is never visiting Lake's cinema, since Newport or Ryde was always more convenient. I have a memory that it had intervals with a puppet show to encourage you to buy more popcorn (comment below if you can clarify this detail).
Anyway, my plan was to get some good drone photography of Sandown's Pier and then get some footage of the crumbling Ocean Hotel.
The ups of Sandown
The sun was glistening as I walked along the seafront towards the Pier and there was the pleasant scene of deckchairs being unfolded and cafes opening. Deckchair renters were adjusting their bumbags and unfolding their parasols.
I embarked on my mission to make a video which shows Sandown to be a sunny paradise and certainly not a Turd Town. This proved very easy, since Sandown has some of the best sand on the Isle of Wight (Countryfile Magazine named it the UK's best beach in 2019).
Sandown also has the Isle of Wight's last kiss-me-quick style pier. Ryde Pier, Totland Pier and Yarmouth Pier are all very attractive but do they have an Aztec themed minigolf course? Sandown Pier isn't swanky but that's not really the idea of a traditional seaside pier.
There has also been some significant money invested on Sandown seafront in recent years. There's a new Premier Inn, which was much delayed by expensive 'technical issues'. It has a nice pub-style restaurant attached called Sandown Cliffs where I twice gorged myself on a mixed grill. The Trouville still looks smart and gets good reviews from customers. There seemed to be a notable number of people happily eating their breakfast as I walked past.
At the Yaverland end of Sandown there's also been significant investment in the last decade. Sandham Gardens now has enough to fill half a day including the bouncy nets and the minigolf course which opened about four years ago. There's also the Bandstand which is one of our favourite places for a meal with a sea view.
The elephant on the seafront
The main problem with Sandown at the moment is the row of empty hotels on the seafront. Roofs are letting in a little more daylight than they should, windows are broken and letters are falling off signs.
This feels like a real tragedy when they have prime locations overlooking such a gorgeous stretch of coastline.
The most prominent is The Ocean Hotel.
The Daily Star reports that it opened in 1899 and was visited by Charles Darwin. This would be a terrific nugget of local information if it weren't for the minor detail that Charles Darwin died 17 years earlier in 1882. The same report also says that Lewis Carroll was a visitor. Unfortunately, he had been dead for a year by 1899 so something doesn't quite add up.
On The Wight sheds a little more light on this confusion. It suggests that Lewis Carroll visited 'The King’s Head, the gabled section of Ocean Hotel' which was extended and renamed as the Ocean Hotel in 1899.
If you want to fall into a rabbit warren of local news, take a look at this summary of why the Ocean Hotel got into such a state after closing in 2012.
A change of plan
I spent a little longer than planned farting around with Tony the Drone at Sandown Pier and at the Ocean Hotel.
Time was not my side, so I gave up on my plan to visit Shanklin as well. It seemed likely that the children would be awake by now, so I headed home.
Don't give up on Sandown
It's hard to deny that parts of Sandown seafront are in desperate need of a bulldozer. We have gone beyond a lick of paint and a hanging basket.
But as long as the sun keeps shining and the beach stays sandy, I remain of the opinion that Sandown has something going for it.
If you're convinced, check out our guide to 10 places to stay in Sandown or our guide to hotels with a sea view.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog