As previously mentioned on this blog, I spent four happy summers working at Robin Hill Country Park. It was around the time that Bestival was starting and it was certainly one of the best two temporary jobs I had. The other contender was doing the washing up for Queens of the Stone Age but that's less relevant for this blog.
I can still give the safety talk for the Toboggan Run and am happy to rattle it out to friends and family on special occasions.
And so, every return to Robin Hill with my own children has a strong feeling of nostalgia. Many of the rides I operated are still there - Colossus and the Toboggan Run being the main ones. I also operated the Time Machine which has had a rebrand to a 4D Cinema. The ice cream hut is still there where I fell in love with mint choc chip.
Many other things have changed though - almost entirely for the better. The two rides for younger children have been replaced by the Cows Express. In my day, one of the rides was called Jumping Jets and the other was octopus themed (please comment below if you can remember the name of it).
One of the mazes disappeared around the end of my time at Robin Hill and a tonne weight which you could lift with pulleys also went. However, the jungle themed playground wasn't there and that whole section of the park was much quieter.
On our most recent visit it was the Sky High Festival and the park was open until 10pm. When I worked there, we always went home at 5pm or 6pm and special events were rare - besides Bestival and a Pink Floyd Tribute act.
Nowadays, Robin Hill hosts regular evening events and has lighting throughout the whole park. Covid-19 has thrown a spanner into the works for most big events, but the Sky High Night Glow was able to go ahead with everyone having a square of grass to sit on.
Before the balloons attempted take off, we bounced our way through the bouncy nets and walked through the woods and gardens which are much prettier and more interesting than they used to be. The children were less interested in the flowers but my mother enjoyed them. I made the mistake of taking the four year old on the left hand bouncy nets which go in a circular route. She decided she really didn't like it whilst inside a narrow bouncy tunnel which caused a worse tailback than a horsebox on the A303. I should have started with the right hand side bouncy net which is one big bouncy circle which is easier to escape.
After a couple of hours exploring the park we took our seats for the balloons. We had waited for the forecast before booking our tickets and so were enjoying a summer evening. There is food available but we brought our own to avoid queueing (and paying) for it.
As became obvious, ballooning requires practically zero wind to avoid the risk of crashing into the English Channel or onto the roof of M&S. At one moment, the ballooning compere told us that they were 'waiting for this wind to die down' despite the tops of the trees being statue still. We were told that a mass launch was 'amber' rather than 'green' so it could go either way.
I think I'm right in saying that this was the second balloon festival at Robin Hill and they hadn't managed a mass launch during the first one. If you don't get to see a mass launch, you do at least get to see a 'night glow' where the balloons sit on the ground and blast their flames in time with music. For those with long memories, it's a ballooning version of Waltzing Waters (rest in peace).
For a long time, it was touch and go whether we would see any balloons taking off. Mrs Guru was in need of a cup of tea and the children's bedtime was approaching.
However, after much tension-building and a fair amount of discussion about the history of ballooning the mass launch finally began. Balloons drifted over our heads and set off into the summer's evening. In all, seven or eight balloons took off and later landed in a farmer's field (hopefully).
A few days later we came back to use the free returns within seven days offer. This has changed since my day so that you can only visit after 1pm but it's still a good reason to visit at the start of your holiday rather than the end. We tried out disc golf which replaced the pitch and putt a few years ago. It was good fun, even if holes eight and nine had disappeared (presumably to make space for the balloons). Child one nearly got clobbered with a frisbee but thankfully it sailed past her left ear.
Robin Hill is certainly not the cheapest attraction on the Isle of Wight - we paid about £22 each which is about twice the price of Tapnell Farm Park. However, we felt like we got three days out for our money including the balloon festival, the first jaunt round the park and the return visit.
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