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.
I was brought up to never pay for parking, even if it meant a three mile walk and an argument with the angry man whose house you had parked outside.
I made a deal with my wife in the first few months of marriage that when we had children I would pay for the closest parking space available to make life a little easier. I still feel nauseous when I hear my pound coins clunking into the machine with only a piddly piece of paper to show for my money.
So I was spitting feathers when I heard that the Isle of Wight Council was hiking prices significantly. According to the Isle of Wight County Press:
From April, the cost of parking in a short stay car park for two to three hours will increase from £3.40 to £4.50 - a whopping £1.10 hike.
An hour's parking is going up by 50% in many car parks (from £1 to £1.50) whilst four hours' parking in long stay car parks is going up by a more modest 17% from £3.40 to £4 (although I certainly didn't get a 17% payrise this year).
This increase is coming a couple of years after several car parks ceased to be free including the big car park at Appley. Prior to that, visitors could be seen asking each other where the pay and display machines were and looking bemused and then punching the air and hugging when a local explained that it was free.
But is £4 for 4 hours actually exorbitant or is it the going rate? After much googling I came up with this table which shows the price of 4 hours parking at the council-run car park closest to the sea during the summer at the 10 of the busiest seaside resorts in England (according to GB Tourism).
So what can we conclude? Well, firstly it's apparent that I'm a bit of a nerd for wasting my time on this.
Also this is clearly only a snapshot. We could have looked at different time limits and some places (like Brighton) have a complex system of zones which makes it cheaper in other car parks further from the sea. Others offer different rates at different times of year.
For what it's worth, the Isle of Wight is still one of the cheapest (*shhh, don't tell the Council*).
I suspect local authorities do the same study and justify a price rise by saying everyone else is doing it. I appreciate that councils have been desperate for cash ever since the economy was ruined by a load of bankers (only one letter out, right? Arf arf). And I'm not one of these people who expects councils to provide social care, playgrounds, toilets and everything else on a budget of £13 a year.
According to On The Wight, Isle of Wight car parks raised £4.2m in 2016/2017 with a total budget of about £150m so it's clearly a big chunk of their income.
I'm certainly no expert on this but I wonder if there's an opportunity to influence behaviour through variable parking prices (crumbs, that was a very dull sentence, isn't this supposed to be a lighthearted blog?).
Bumping up seafront parking charges has always felt like a false economy since the less it costs, the longer you stay - and the aim should be to get seaside visitors to hang around all day.
I spend several seconds staring at the parking price board clutching my pennies and trying to work out the minimum spend I can get away with. Sometimes there are 3 or 4 of us staring upwards in the same direction as if we are waiting for a solar eclipse.
If you aren't rushing back to the car park in Shanklin you are throwing more into the 2p machines, eating more ice creams and hiring more pedalos. You can lose track of time and decide you might as well stay for lunch in a seafront cafe. The traders survive and the council sees the benefit in other taxation.
I'm not saying it should be free, but why not offer a reasonably priced fixed rate which applies whether you stay for an hour or all day? If you're visiting a resort for the first time you might not actually know what there is to do and how long you'll need to stay. And I can't imagine there are many people popping to Shanklin seafront to run a 20 minute errand.
For town centre shopping, I've always thought that councils would see the benefit of offering an hour or two for free, with charges for anyone staying for longer. It's a well worn argument but why would you pay £2 or £3 to visit four shops in the high street when you can park for free at Asda and get everything from there? Or just buy it from Amazon and get it delivered?
Anyway, my plan is to start working on a map of free and cheap car parks on the Isle of Wight. It'll be multicoloured with little flags and a complicated key and a five star rating system.
Or perhaps I need a hobby.
There is probably a better way to express this, but I am currently freezing my bits off on a dreary January day. The thought of digging out my shorts and sandals seems like a distant dream.
Regardless, there's been a flurry of announcements recently about summer festivals for 2018 on the Isle of Wight.
The biggest one will be the Isle of Wight Festival in June which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Of course, it all went a bit quiet from 1971 - 2001 and the venue has changed but it's still an occasion worth celebrating. The headliners (Kasabian, The Killers, Liam Gallagher and Depeche Mode) are - in my opinion - an excellent selection.
Kasabian have appeared a couple of times before (2007 and 2011) and The Killers headlined in 2013 whilst the others are making their first appearance.
My test for gauging a festival line up is to ask my mother if she has heard of the headliners. Her musical taste starts and stops at Cliff Richard whilst her TV viewing is limited to Sunday evenings.
She had heard of one and a half of the headliners, which is pretty good going (she knows who Liam Gallagher is and gave a half to Depeche Mode).
Some mainland friends have inconsiderately decided to get married at the same time, so I now find myself wondering if I could hire a helicopter to get me to at least some of the festival.
Elsewhere, it is great to see the return of Eklectica at Robin Hill in September 2018, which started up when Bestival set sail for Dorset last year. 2017's festival was battered by terrible weather so I'm pleased to see they're giving it another go.
So far, the lineup includes The Fratellis, The Hoosiers, Scouting for Girls and Toploader. Last year's main stage was made up of tribute acts so I personally think it's a step up (let's not forget that the first year of Bestival was considerably smaller than its later peak. Anyone expecting Snoop Dogg or Elton John to appear on the lineup for the first year of a festival is a bit naive in my opinion).
Jack Up The 80s
Another returning festival is Jack Up The 80s in August, which has recently announced T'Pau, Leo Sayer, Toyah, Chesney Hawkes, Jaki Graham and 5ive.
Admittedly Chesney Hawkes is more of a 90s act and 5ive now appear to be Thr33 in the promo photos but it's exciting to see another mid-sized festival with big plans for 2018.
According to organisers, Fairweather Festival will also return in 2018 and will expand to two days at the end of August/start of September. We don't have any lineup details yet but they managed to persuade Professor Green to get on the ferry last year so hopefully it will be pretty decent.
Rhythm Tree festival has also been confirmed for 2018 (July 13-15), although there are no lineup details as far as I can tell.
Ventnor Fringe has confirmed its dates for 2018 (August 7 - 12) and is currently inviting acts to apply.
Our full list of festivals and major events on the Isle of Wight in 2018 can be found here....
As I've explained before, I had a long phase of only visiting one of the Isle of Wight's beaches.
We thought of nothing but Compton Bay and called it 'The Beach' as if there were no other beach on the Island (with apologies to Jane Austen for that plagiarism).
My parents were a bit more ambitious, taking us to any of the beaches that didn't get especially busy, such as Whale Chine or Binnels Bay. But after a while we got in a bit of rut to the extent that we even sat in the same spot on Compton Bay like a churchgoer with a reserved pew. Sometimes I could still see my bottom imprint in the sand from the previous visit.
The adjacent Brook Chine only became a favourite more recently and so we set off for a walk on one of the final evenings of decent sunshine before the nights started getting darker.
There are a couple of things which tend to keep us away from Brook Chine. They'll sound like whinges but they really aren't.
Firstly, it's a designated kitesurfers' beach so swimming does carry the risk of getting your head taken off like a slice of cheddar with one of those fancy cheese cutters. I'm not complaining about that, kitesurfing looks like great fun and I'm all for enthusiasts being given a space to show off/fall off. I'd just rather leave the beach with all my bodyparts attached.
Secondly, Brook is a dog-friendly beach all year round. That's great news for dog owners who have to put up with lots of summertime restrictions elsewhere, but as a non-dog owner I tend to pick the beaches where my picnic won't be licked by an intruder.
Anyway, Brook Chine was looking beautiful on this particular evening with a low tide showing off its rocky bed. Most daytime visitors had gone home and the sun was dropping. I'm not much of a photographer, but even a monkey with a camera could have come up with something decent.
At one point my brother sent me a banal message asking what paint we had used in the hallway, or something similar. I swiftly sent him a photo back of the view and told him to stop interrupting my 'wow moment'. He was rightfully apologetic.
We've had a couple of moments on the Isle of Wight recently where we've ended up discussing why we are all alone.
I don't mean that in a philosophical sense where we were questioning the existence of a higher power. I just wondered how we managed to find such a pretty spot, at such an idyllic time without anyone else having the same idea.
The first was at Compton Bay when we were swimming in the sea at about 7pm on a summer's evening. The daytime visitors had left the beach and were now applying after-sun lotion, and we had a huge stretch of the beach and water to ourselves.
We took the opportunity to behave like six-year olds at a birthday party, by which I mean we jumped around and squealed enthusiastically in the water.
The second time was later in the summer when we walked up to the Tennyson Monument. I'd been attempting to do the same walk for a few years but had either been put off by aggressive looking cows (in the field) or children who wouldn't go to bed (in our house).
Anyway, we parked at the Freshwater Bay car park which is free in the evenings. There was some sort of friendly gathering at the beach which involved singing and a barbecue. I briefly considered blagging myself a hot dog, but remembered that I had eaten pudding 20 minutes earlier so thought better of it.
We started plodding up the hill, and were soon walking backwards to admire the view down towards the beach. As we reached the top, the sun was setting and we had the whole place to ourselves.
Where was everyone else? Was there an England match on that I had forgotten about? And if so, why would anyone want to watch it considering the recent lacklustre performances by a team who have failed to perform at a major tournament since 1996?
Anyway, I digress.
My theory is that there are so many nice spots for an evening on the Isle of Wight that you can quite easily find one for yourself. There isn't just one beach or sunset where you'll find crowds of people.
Or maybe everyone's at home watching a feature on The One Show about the great outdoors? Who knows.
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