I'm not sure if my wife or my two year old was more excited upon arrival at the Blackgang Chine car park. Like most mainlanders my wife visited the Isle of Wight on a residential school trip and has retained fond if somewhat inaccurate memories (she is still convinced there was a disco on the Isle of Wight ferry for example).
The fake parking booth attendant has gone at Blackgang Chine but the charm is still there. There are still bits for young children such as Nurseryland and Fairyland as well as bits for slightly older children, such as the cowboys (always my favourite) and the dinosaurs which have recently been upgraded so that they now move and roar. The rides are fairly tame by mainland standards, but will appeal to pre-teenagers.
The maze looks lower every year and the cost of a burger goes in the opposite direction, but I did spend the entire day grinning like a maniac simply because the park still has all the character and quirkiness that I'd remembered.
There are also bits which are just a bit weird, which are clearly designed to encourage parents to look at each other with bemusement. The Weather Wizard and the dinosaurs in dinner jackets are particularly creepy.
I usually recommend Blackgang for 3-10 year olds and I think I'd still stick to that, although perhaps 3 1/2 might be better. Our daughter got in free (under 4s are free at the time of writing) but she spent much of the day explaining which bits of the park she didn't want to see. For the record, Humpty Dumpty was too much for her (he does have a bit of a creepy expression) and she certainly didn't want to see any dinosaurs.
Thankfully the situation was saved when she thought Snow White was a character from Frozen. My wife stood strategically to block her view of the witch and she soon cheered up.
The additions to Cowboyland are OK - we were expecting the new indoor play to be bigger than a small train and a sandpit - but generally the park was looking a lot smarter than I was expecting. There wasn't much sign of the peeling paint and overflowing bins that you start to notice when the innocence of youth wears off. It was clean and tidy, everything was nicely trimmed back and it all looked pretty well maintained.
The staff still seemed to be smiling despite this being late in the season. I worked in a similar park once and by September my fake grin was starting to droop a little.
The big question I now find myself asking is whether Blackgang Chine is worth the money. A few years ago Blackgang and the sister park at Robin Hill leapt up in price by about £3 per person for peak visits, which generally means school holidays. An on-peak visit to Blackgang Chine cost £18.50 in 2015 for a 4-60 year old and there are rarely discounts beyond the usual family ticket (£69 for 4 on peak) or a combined ticket with Robin Hill.
For comparison, Chessington World of Adventures is about £36 to £47 (2015, standard tickets) but they frequently offer 2 for 1 deals when you buy a pack of cereal from Tesco or a ream of paper in WH Smiths. So, if you are organised enough you can get in for about the same price as Blackgang Chine (which doesn't tend to do 2 for 1 type offers).
We also visited a park called Twinlakes in the East Midlands recently which was about £17 each and was a fair bit bigger than Blackgang.
However, what most parks lack is a stunning setting. Rather than just filling up a big field in Melton Mowbray, Blackgang Chine hangs on a cliff edge with beautiful views to gawp at. Its paths are ridiculously steep in places (just about OK for pushchairs, too steep for wheelchairs in places) and it all feels like it is crammed on top of each other which only adds to the charm.
I don't think it is just me getting old and becoming the sort of person who expects a Mars Bar to cost 25p but personally I think it is about £3 too expensive on peak.
But I do still love Blackgang Chine and I'm sure my daughter will once she has decided she isn't scared of Humpty Dumpty.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog