Splash splosh around the Isle of Wight

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

con­tained all the var­i­ous land­scapes of the well-known chil­dren’s book We’re Go­ing on a Bear Hunt, en­cour­ag­ing them to strike a deal with Walker Books and team up with the Na­tional Trust to create an in­spi­ra­tional leaflet high­light­ing places on the is­land where you can recre­ate scenes from the book. (Spoiler alert: this does not in­volve hunt­ing down real bears!) The lo­ca­tions are free to visit and make beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral play­grounds: New­town Creek for walk­ing through mud, Fresh­wa­ter Bay for search­ing in caves, Borth­wood Copse for stum­bling through for­est.

That the Isle of Wight con­tains so many vary­ing land­scapes within a rel­a­tively short dis­tance of each other (you can drive from the sail­ing town of Cowes in the north to the Vic­to­rian re­sort of Vent­nor in the south in fewer than 40 min­utes) is what makes the is­land the ideal lo­ca­tion for a fam­ily hol­i­day with small chil­dren. No cries of “are we there yet”, no ac­ci­den­tal naps in the car at 5pm, no time to get bored.

On a fos­sil walk at Brook Chine, run by vol­un­teers from Di­nosaur Ex­pe­di­tions (read: crazily knowl­edge­able en­thu­si­asts), we found a piece of di­nosaur bone to take home with us (and no doubt my son will de­mand to take it school to wow the teach­ers). We also found well-pre­served casts of di­nosaur foot­prints just ly­ing in the sand along­side boul­ders and peb­bles for any­one in the know to mar­vel at. The rock along this piece of coast­line is 125mil­lion years old and is full of pre­his­toric fos­sils. Dur­ing our twohour walk we also col­lected fos­silised sponge, mus­sel shells and an­cient tim­ber. My older two were en­thralled, my two-year-old fol­lowed be­hind, paus­ing in­ter­mit­tently to dig in the sand and oc­ca­sion­ally de­liv­er­ing up stones for our ex­pert to ex­am­ine.

We have been com­ing to the Isle of Wight for the past three years. The ferry cross­ing gives the chil­dren the sense that they are go­ing on hol­i­day, but is not long enough for any­one to get sick. We have dis­cov­ered an ex­cep­tional cot­tage to rent right on the beach at Steep­hill Cove, aptly named Beach­side Cot­tage. In front is the Beach Shack, where my hus­band and I drink cof­fee while the chil­dren en­gage in cas­tle com­pe­ti­tions on the sand below.

When we are not hunt­ing for bears Wightlink (wight link.co.uk) sails from Lyming­ton to Yar­mouth or Portsmouth to Fish­bourne. Red Fun­nel (red fun­nel.co.uk) sails be­tween Southamp­ton and Cowes. or bones, we are pur­su­ing Enid Bly­ton-style child­hood ac­tiv­i­ties: rock­pool­ing for crabs, pad­dling and ex­plor­ing. The chil­dren run from the house to the beach and back again and it all feels in­cred­i­bly safe, like a piece of the 20th cen­tury has been pre­served un­changed. After din­ner we open a bot­tle of red as the chil­dren run back to the beach to de­jewel their en­emy’s cas­tle.

Much as I would like these ac­tiv­i­ties to keep the chil­dren en­ter­tained through­out an en­tire hol­i­day, there is still the de­mand for out­ings. And the is­land de­liv­ers hand­somely on this front, too. The Isle of Wight con­tains Bri­tain’s old­est amuse­ment park, Black­gang Chine, which this year cel­e­brates its 175th birth­day. It is a won­der­land for imag­i­na­tive play; in the space of three hours my chil­dren be­come cow­boys, pi­rates, princesses Beach­side Cot­tage, Steep­hill Cove; sleeps six, from £901 a week (mul­berry cot­tages.com) The Na­tional and fairies as they ex­plore the dif­fer­ent worlds within the park, a much more en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ence then go­ing on ride after ride in a mod­ern theme park. The same peo­ple run Robin Hill park, a large, land­scaped area scat­tered with lakes, play­grounds, treetop walks and grassy ar­eas to run around and pic­nic on.

Days can be spent at Tap­nell Farm Park, which has an enor­mous in­door hay barn to roll around in as well as a tra­di­tional soft play area, and you can join staff as they feed wallabies, goats and pigs, or pet rab­bits, guinea pigs and baby chicks. If you want to stay, they have got some great glamp­ing tents, lodges and huts with un­in­ter­rupted views across the downs. Other out­ings with an an­i­mal theme in­clude trips to Ama­zon World for anteaters and tapirs, Mon­key Haven for pri­mates, Isle of Wight Zoo for big cats, a donkey sanc­tu­ary and an al­paca farm. A nice al­ter­na­tive is the Model Vil­lage in God­shill.

On our visit to the Nee­dles, the fa­mous chalk stacks on the west of the is­land, my six-year-old holds my hand on the chair­lift down from Alum Bay cliffs to the sand below as I con­fess to find­ing the sheer drop a lit­tle fright­en­ing. “We’re not scared,” she chants, the bear hunt ob­vi­ously still on her mind. Trust (nationaltrust. org.uk) is run­ning of­fi­cial Bear Hunt week­ends on July 14-15 and Septem­ber 8-9 at St He­lens Du­ver with ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing wild art, mini-beast ad­ven­tures, but­ter­fly catch­ing and bird spot­ting.

Vis­i­tors can down­load a bear hunt leaflet for a self-guided tour of the is­land at visi­tisleof wight.co.uk.

The Isle of Wight has wildlife parks, below; and lots of beaches, left

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