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.
I only have vague memories of Harcourt Sands Holiday Park whilst growing up on the Isle of Wight. I remember messing around on a playground there during a birthday party, and I discovered evidence whilst clearing out that I spent a day there as part of a Boys’ Brigade weekend in the mid 90s.
I’ll admit these are not heartwarming anecdotes of a bygone day but there’s a lot of affection for the site in Puckpool which now lies derelict and feels like an enormous waste of a prime seaside location.
Some of the videos and comments on YouTube offer the kind of affection you might expect following the death of a beloved aunt ("The memories with everyone will never be forgotten") as well as tales of people meeting their spouses in Whites.
According to various sources online it was two sites - St Clare and Puckpool – before merging in the 1990s and shutting in 2006.
According to the uploader, this film shows it a couple of years before closure in around 2004. Just look at all those smiling faces...
A year after closure came the fire which left the main entertainment area looking pretty sorry for itself.
Since then, various videos have appeared showing the whole site in its abandoned state. I'm a sucker for these videos, which make an empty site look like a sequel to the Blair Witch Project.
A few years later a plan emerged to turn the site into '128 residential dwellings, alongside a tourism proposal that would comprise either a 63 bed hotel or 15 holiday units'.
The recent news was that the developer had given up on that plan. At the time of writing, 2.8 acres of the site is up for sale for £350,000 with plans for a hotel.
One article quoted a local councillor who said that 'I would like to see housing there, as it would be a nice spot to live, and by just being empty it is affecting all the businesses in Ryde' and that 'I think the days of holiday camps are gone'.
Personally I have been hoping it might become a holiday park once again since most holiday parks have moved on a long way since the days of knobbly knee competitions and damp caravans.
Modern parks have a mix of posh lodges and cheap caravans as well as loads to do onsite. Hotels are great if you're a loved up couple but for families with young children a decent holiday park is ideal.
Holiday parks offer self catering accommodation so you don't have to ask the hotel to cook you chicken nuggets at 4.15pm and you get access to an indoor swimming pool in case it rains all week.
And holiday parks are big business too. The company which owns Butlins and Haven made £160m profit recently. In 2015 Parkdean Resorts merged with Park Resorts (owner of four Isle of Wight parks) to create a "£1bn company" (The Guardian). The big parks regularly invest in upgrades which must help the local economy too.
I'd be delighted if a big holiday park company decided to buy up the Harcourt Sands site. Haven - for example - has no presence on the Isle of Wight, many of their sites are right by the sea and they are still opening new parks (Thornwick Bay in Yorkshire opened in 2016).
Sure, there's probably more money in housing but is anyone on YouTube going to make heartfelt tribute videos about a housing estate?
My mother has come to realise that if she wants to join her grandchildren on days out then she will need to visit a few places she doesn't like all that much.
Growing up we kept a safe distance from the arcades and fudge boxes of the Needles Pleasure Park. That wasn't difficult as it's not the sort of place you drive past by mistake.
Nowadays we have to find days out which provide child friendly entertainment.
A day clambering through undergrowth to reach a hidden beach isn't going to cut it with a four year old who has been promised a hook-a-duck prize during the breakfast time negotiations.
So my dutiful mother joined us at The Needles with a grin which was as plastic as her raincoat. The weather had turned foul so I feared it was not going to end well. I imagined myself as a bookmaker taking bets on which member of the party would cry first.
You pay a fiver to park, and then pay for the rides you want to do. Anyone hoping to park nearby and walk will need a good set of walking boots as the whole place is surrounded by unfriendly double yellow lines.
We started with the minigolf, which was my highlight this time. I hadn't played the course before but it has been greatly improved over the winter. There are only 12 holes but they have a good range of interesting layouts and a nicely done dinosaur theme (very similar to the Jurassic Bay course in Shanklin).
If you get the bundle of tickets at The Needles, the minigolf costs £3 each, which is about half the price of the Shanklin course for two thirds of the holes. I'll leave it to someone else to produce a Cost Per Hole (CPH) table of the Isle of Wight's many mini golf courses.
We also did a couple of the tame children's rides and I was relieved to find I didn't feel sick after the teacups (unlike last time).
My daughter won some more plastic tat from the hook-a-duck which I will discreetly throw in the bin in a few weeks' time. I followed this by predictably failing at a game which involves throwing 10cm wide hoops over a 9cm wide lighthouse from half a mile away. Thankfully they realise the whole thing is impossible so you still get a prize for achieving nothing (much like some university degrees nowadays...zing!)
My wife then spent our retirement fund on chutney and fudge whilst I was watching men in shorts giving a glass making demonstration.
If you've not been before it's the sort of thing where one demonstration stops and another immediately starts. They make the vases in front of you and then you exit through the gift shop and buy a fancy souvenir.
As I sat there, a flurry of questions poured into my mind.
At first I wondered, does the shop get a backlog of a thousand vases in the winter when the park only gets a handful of visitors all day? Or do the men in shorts just sit there waiting for someone to come in before they start making their vases?
Or do they make the vases in silence and then start the talk half way through if someone walks in? What if everyone left half way through - would they just stop mid sentence, smash the half-finished vase on the floor and look at each other with a frowny expression? Would the sound of the men in shorts even exist if there was no one there to hear it?
At this point I felt it best to leave the glass blowing talk.
On this occasion we skipped the famous chairlift and the sand modelling souvenir thing which everyone does (as I've said before, selling sand to visitors on an Island of sandy beaches is an impressive piece of marketing). We also skipped the boat trip around the lighthouse which we enjoyed last time.
In fact, I'm not even sure that we saw the needles on our trip to the needles. It was a foggy day and I didn't get much time to look up with the younger child acting if she was being held hostage by making a run for it at every opportunity.
As we retreated for the car I briefly admired my rain soaked family.
My mother had got her latte in the cafe, my wife got her holiday shopping done and my children were still alive and hadn't embarrassed us in public or smashed anything in the glass shop.
I considered that a job well done.
I don't like buses very much.
I can see the planet saving potential and I've enjoyed the open top ones in summer but a pair of vintage Bedfords don't make my heart beat faster.
So it was a little odd to find myself in the Isle of Wight Bus Museum recently, climbing on-board a selection of old vehicles.
The first reason was because it was pouring with rain and we felt we had to do something. Before children we'd have cleared out the attic or fallen asleep on the sofa but now it's easier to do something than nothing.
The second reason was because it was free, which is my favourite four letter word.
Thankfully it was pretty interesting, and we were certainly made to feel welcome. A cheery volunteer gave us a talk as we arrived which was short enough that I didn't start tapping my feet and coughing (I rather suspect he tailored his talk when he gathered that he wasn't meeting a fellow enthusiast).
We then spent about half an hour looking at the collection of buses, and another half hour in the children's room colouring in pictures of buses (obviously). Thankfully there was a grandparent on hand for some role play games on-board the buses, so I didn't have to.
I enjoyed looking at the old tourism adverts and boards from the 70s and 80s advertising trips to Blackgang Chine and Godshill.
The museum is also involved in the Beer and Buses Weekend in October which is another unusually good value event. Hundreds of men and women (although mostly men to be honest) tour the Island on vintage buses, stopping off to drink real ale in village pubs. In 2017 you just paid for a programme and then the bus rides were free.
My bus fandom hasn't quite grown enough to join in with that in October, but give it another couple of years and I'll be boarding a 1960s Bedford and enjoying a pint of Parson's Eyepatch.
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