Why you should visit the Isle of Wight this summer
Some friends of ours recently told us that they take a spontaneous approach to their Isle of Wight holidays. Every morning they leap in the car and start to drive, with no real plan in mind. After 20 or 30 minutes they arrive at a beach and spend the day exploring.
With two children I would find such an approach slightly terrifying. What if we get lost? What if there isn’t a playground? What if we can't find Mini Milks?
Thankfully, the Isle of Wight is one of the few places in the UK where you could get away with such a relaxed approach to holidaymaking. From the centre of the Island you are never more than half an hour from the sea, and you'll find family friendly bays, beaches and coves scattered all over.
Yes, I'm sure there are English counties with higher mountains, bigger lakes and more extreme theme parks than the Isle of Wight, but the Island offers so much in such a small area. It really does deserve its 'England in miniature' reputation.
There are seaside towns like Shanklin and Ryde which are bustling in summer, with chips and mini golf on the esplanade and sandy beaches which are perfect for paddling with little ones. But there are also unspoilt stretches of coast in West Wight where you can fall off a surfboard, kayak into smugglers’ caves or walk along a coastal path. There are also wide open beaches like Bembridge which are good for walking the dog or searching for crabs (though perhaps not at the same time). We like the contrast between the Victorian resort of Ventnor in the South and the view from Cowes in the North of tankers and cruise ships in The Solent.
The Island also hosts a series of colourful festivals in the summer. The big ones are Cowes Week and the Isle of Wight Festival, but there's also a celebration of our pungent love of Garlic which takes place in Newchurch and an arty ‘fringe festival’ in Ventnor.
You can join map clenchers on a walking festival or bottom wigglers at a cycling festival. You can watch 1500 yachts racing around the Island, or see the parade at the country's oldest carnival in Ryde.
Then there's the history which brings a lot of visitors to the Island. The busiest attractions are Osborne House and Carisbrooke Castle but there are several others worth a visit including a 700 year old lighthouse called The Pepperpot, the working monastery of Quarr Abbey or the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.
Or if you want real history, join a fossil hunting tour along the coastline which the Natural History Museum said was the dinosaur capital of Britain.
For parents who fear their children would run into the sea during a fossil hunting tour, there are several family friendly attractions. Blackgang Chine is the UK’s oldest theme park and you'll struggle to find one with better views. This year they're unveiling their underwater kingdom (which coincidentally is what the entire park nearly became when there was a massive landslide in the mid-90s).
There are plenty of animal attractions, such as Isle of Wight Zoo, Tapnell Farm Park and Monkey Haven or you can be a little more adventurous and try horse riding lessons along the beach or searching for red squirrels in Parkhurst Forest.
Personally, I would recommend doing a little bit of planning each day to make the most of your time on the Island, but you can be confident you'll find something special whichever direction you head in.
Robbie Lane runs Isle of Wight Guru