The Isle of Wight is an excellent option for a family break. There is entertainment for the whole family here: castles and beaches, pubs and farm shops, spas and steam trains
“Now that I’ve discovered the Isle of Wight, I don’t want to holiday anywhere else,” I babbled as my husband and I traipsed along a coastal path, a dizzying 100 feet above the stunning Solent. It was a glorious day. The summer sun danced atop the tanzanite sea, today calm and speckled with dinghies and yachts. The polar-white chalk cliff terrified and enthralled me with its vast, sheer drop. The ancient Needles and well documented tales of shipwrecks and stormy seas delighted my imagination. Even my young son, who skipped ahead and rummaged for ripe blackberries amongst the brambles, was enchanted by this diamond shaped Island.
Several ferry companies travel between the South coast and the Island. Expect to pay in the region of £100 for a return journey by car. Our journey from Southampton to East Cowes was unwind time. Once the car was parked below board, we sat on the top deck and ate ice-creams, enjoying the feel of the wind and sun on our faces. (Red Funnel; 0844 844 9988, www.redfunnel.co.uk)
Where to stay
Choosing our accommodation was a challenging task. My type of hotel - an elegant place where I would, pre-baby, have lolled serenely about the spa in a sumptuous white robe - had stern anti-children policies. Those that didn’t - and I viewed dozens and dozens of hotel websites - showed mostly dreary looking establishments with faded facades and chintzy rooms. Perhaps for this reason - and on its own merits - I was delighted by our charming hotel, The Lake Hotel (Shore Road, Lower Bonchurch, PO38 1RF) in Bonchurch.
The Lake Hotel is a family run B&B set in a lush, two acre garden. The house, originally built around 1820, has a welcoming, country house atmosphere, with several stylish lounges and 20 comfortable rooms. The Lake Hotel sits snugly between the impressive St Boniface Down and the seaside. The coast is nearby; a 5 minute walk there, albeit a puffy, uphill slog on the return journey.
The hosts gave us a warm, yet unfussy welcome, and a delicious breakfast every morning. The Lake Hotel was a good choice for our little family. Our child was made to feel welcome, and the large gardens afforded plenty of space for him to roam and play.
Family fun on the Isle of Wight
Apart from Bonchurch with its charming pond and several pubs, The Lake Hotel is well placed to visit Ventnor, its nearest town. Ventnor is delightful: the seafront nestles at the foot of a steep cliff and provides an array of fun family diversions: pubs, splash pools, cafés, and a sandy beach with safe swimming. The Ventnor Haven is a quaint port, home to many a fishing vessel and the launch point for pleasure cruises and fishing trips.
This imposing castle is one of the most recognised landmarks on the island. Its well preserved grounds and buildings provide a tangible sense of life in the Castle in times gone by. Its most famous resident was probably Charles I, who was imprisoned there prior to his execution in 1649. Visitors are able to ramble over the fine bowling green which was specially prepared for the royal captive, and stand at the point on the stony ramparts where he attempted an escape. The place is soaked in atmosphere and history. Carisbrooke Castle is appealing to children: apart from evocative stories of knights and kings, it contains enormous green spaces and is home to the thriving Carisbrooke Donkeys. The view from the elevated keep is simply spectacular: miles and miles of lush countryside. Entry is free for English Heritage members. Adults pay £7 each, Children £3.50 and under 5s may go in for free (English Heritage; www.english-heritage.org.uk 01983522107).
Within eye line of the iconic Needles, this fun park provides some rides, carousels, a viewpoint, and a chairlift down to the beach (The Needles Park; www.theneedles.co.uk 08717200022).
The Needles Old Battery
This National Trust attraction is perched on a rocky precipice high above the Needles. It is a must visit attraction for anyone interested in military and naval history. Unless you are travelling on the Needles Breezer, an open-top tour bus that thunders around the dramatic sites of West Wight, you will need to come prepared to park your car and enjoy a brisk, 20 minute cliff-top walk in order to access the Old Battery. (Needles Breezer, Open-top Tour; Southern Vectis, 08712002233, email@example.com). The Old Battery, built in 1862, was used during both world wars. My toddler was fascinated by the ancient spiral staircase which descends down to a dark and lengthy underground tunnel. This winds its way to a bright view point which provides stunning views of the Needles and out to sea. Whilst at the Old Battery, you can enjoy fresh tea and home-made cake in the unusual tearoom, which is tucked into the top of a watch-tower, with dazzling views in all directions (The Needles Old Battery and New Battery; National Trust, West Wight Down, Alum Bay, Isle of Wight, PO39 OJH, www.nationaltrust.org.uk).
The island is crammed with promising eateries: pubs, bistros, and cafes, as well as a glut of farm shops, where you can stock up on local and organic produce to rustle up a picnic to be enjoyed in a grassy field or a sandy beach. The following two pubs are my particular favourites, as they combined excellent food with child-friendly facilities.
The Spyglass Inn, Ventnor
Perched on a mound of rocks in the crook of Ventnor cove, the Spyglass Inn is a suntrap where you can enjoy a real ale and freshly caught fish and chips, whilst the salty, sea breeze billows across the choppy, cerulean water (Esplanade, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 1JX; + 44 (0)1983 855 338; www.thespyglass.com).
The Fighting Cocks, Arreton
The Fighting Cocks is conveniently located on the road between Newport and Shanklin. The food is scrumptious, and the pub provides two giant, well equipped garden playgrounds (Hale Common, Arreton, Isle of Wight, PO30 3AR; 01983 865254).