To celebrate T’s first term at school, we decided to book a cheap UK holiday to make sure we were able to relax after what was inevitably going to be a busy couple of weeks. With this, we decided on the Isle of Wight.
Apart from visiting back in our school days when Sharon visited with family and me visiting as part of a school trip (does anyone remember Camp Beaumont?) we’d never visited the Isle of Wight so we thought we’d take advantage of the bargain we found and pay the island a visit. It also meant that T was able to experience his first trip on a ferry!
Being October, the weather wasn’t always on our side, but we managed to grab a couple of nice days before donning our wellies, jumpers, and raincoats! Here’s what we got up to during our week:
Arriving at the Isle of Wight on the Saturday, we spent most of our day travelling – which was a lot easier than we had expected. The journey from Brighton to Southampton was shorter than expected, despite travelling on the first day of half term (for most people) during what is usually a busier time, and the ferry was quicker than we had assumed, meaning we arrived hours before our check-in time!
As mentioned, it was T’s first journey on a ferry, which meant the holiday started off with a bang. Red Funnel had kindly paid for our travel to and from the Isle of Wight (we’ve written more about our trip here), meaning we were able to treat ourselves whilst on board. The weather wasn’t great, which meant we weren’t able to take any photos with our GoPro, however that didn’t stop us having a quick nose outside and then exploring the food on board.
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[AD – Press Tickets] We’re finally off on our holidays and on T’s first trip on a ferry! 🚢 . I cannot describe the look on his face when the @redfunnelferry horn sounded as the ferry came into dock, and then when we finally drove on. It was magic. He couldn’t quite get his head around how all the cars parked alongside us were all going to get on. . When we finally parked, he had fun exploring the decks and eventually picking our seats and what to eat. Of course he chose a window seat. Despite the choppy weather, we had a lovely journey and we’re suitabily impressed with the menu, which had plenty of variety and was reasonably priced. . The whole experience was so easy, a pleasure in fact, especially as we’ve never done it as a family or visited the final destination. It’s started our holiday off beautifully.
Once we docked, we decided to go straight to the local supermarket and do our food shop so that once we were checked in we could lock the door, close the curtains and relax for the evening.
For this holiday, we booked a gorgeous lodge at Woodside Bay Lodge Retreat, located in Wootton Bridge. The island itself is pretty small – most journeys took between 15-30 minutes – meaning, unlike holidays to the West Country, we didn’t really have to worry too much about the location of our accommodation as we were going to be driving to excursions regardless. That being said, we came up trumps as it was absolutely stunning.
As it was our first time on the island as tourists, we decided to go head first and visit one of the island’s main attractions; The Needles, which is one of their most famous landmarks. As well as the main attraction, there’s also a cute little fun fair at the location, shops, a scenic walk, and boat trips – all of which is not too dissimilar to Lands End in Cornwall.
The weather was gorgeous hat day, so we took full advantage and took ourselves out on a boat tour as well as took a ride on the chair lift, which takes visitors to the beach and back again. Despite the fact that I’ve been snowboarding, these made me a little anxious, however Sharon and T – who were thankfully in the chair in front of me – loved them.
As it was another gorgeous day, we decided to take T to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway (we will ALWAYS look for a steam railway when we visit somewhere new!), which now ranks in our top 5 (yes, we’ve been to that many) railways as we had such a lovely day. Like most steam railways, the main station was like a time capsule of old signs and decorations, but because it was the week of Halloween it had been decorated accordingly and there were lots of things to see and do during our visit.
The route itself is relatively short, but we still made sure we visited each station and had a browse around the local area (including a pub during one stop!) in between journeys. The main station though was where we spent most of our time towards the end of the day as it’s here where the main museum is, as well as a decent cafe and gift shop, and play park. There was also a Falconry (the Isle of Wight loves a Falconry!) where we caught the last show of the day!
By Tuesday the weather was starting to turn, so we made the most of it before it changed too much and visit Monkey Haven (and Falconry!), which was a small Monkey Sanctuary just down the road from where we were staying.
Although it’s relatively small, as well as undergoing an expansion, we surprisingly spent the whole day here looking at all the animals and birds, as well as taking part in an activity trail and attending a number of feeding talks. There was also two decent play areas and a nice cafe – which is where we spent the remainder of our day!
Hitting the half way mark on Wednesday, we took ourselves to the Isle of Wight’s main farm (are you even a parent if you don’t visit a farm at least once whilst on holiday?) Tapnell Farm. This was a gorgeous farm set on top of rolling hills – which offered stunning views – making it one of our favourite excursions during the week.
As well as the main farm, which was spread across a number of indoor and outdoor areas; featuring a number of familiar animals such as pigs, cows, sheep, and small animals and rodents, as well as not-so-familiar animals such as wallabies and meerkats, there was also a ton of activities to do at no extra cost.
During our visit, T scaled a large climbing wall, played in a generously sized hay barn, rode on go-karts, and jumped on trampolines and bouncing pillows, and that’s not even all of it. It was such a great day out!
Sadly, the good weather was short-lived and by Thursday we were hit with wind and drizzle, but it didn’t matter as we had packed for all weather! Thankfully, we hadn’t planned much other than to visit Ventnor – one of the many seaside towns on the island – and go to a pub that had been recommended to us for lunch, so that’s what we did.
Arriving before the pub had even opened gave us a chance to explore and have a walk around the town – once we climbed a few massive hills! Sadly, a lot of the shops were either closed for the winter or had later opening times, but once everything was open we were able to do some shopping. After fully exploring, we then made our way back down the mountain and spent the afternoon in a cozy pub.
Once we’d devoured lunch, we then squeezed in a few smaller excursions onto the end of our day; the Donkey Sanctuary and the Garlic Farm, which were surprisingly good despite being freebies to enter!
The Donkey Sanctuary was first on our list and, as mentioned, was free to enter (although donations were welcome). Here is where we saw the islands resident donkeys (and a few horses and ponies!) which came in the dozens. The majority of the donkeys had been rescued or adopted, therefore each tenant came with their own (sometimes harrowing) backstory and health issues.
As well as the main barn areas, there was also a nice woodland trail, a cafe and a charity shop where proceeds go back to the sanctuary.
Next was the Garlic farm, which was probably our most random excursion, but still an enjoyable one nonetheless! As the name reads, the garlic farm is where the island’s garlic is produced, and my goodness is a wonderful garlic. We definitely came away with a few bulbs!
As well as learning about the history and different varieties (that you can also taste!) there’s also a farm tour, a large cafe & restaurant, as well as smaller cafe, and a large shop – which sells a mountain of garlic-related produce, from oils, chutneys and vodkas! There’s also a small play area and other walks that surround the farm, although by this time it had started to rain and was getting dark.
On Friday, we visited Isle of Wight’s Zoo in the morning, and then Shanklin Chine in the afternoon seeing as they were nearby to each other. We decided to save what we thought would be the island’s main attraction for Friday seeing as it was our last day, however very quickly into our day we sort of regretted it – which was a real shame.
Isle of Wight Zoo is located in Sandown, one of the island’s busier seaside towns, and is based in an old fort. It had looked really interesting on the website, and reviews online were mostly positive, but as soon as we arrived and paid for parking we became increasingly disappointed. After paying near to £40 for the three of us – although this did allow us to come and go throughout the day and then re-enter on a different day for £1 – we were able to tour the zoo in around an hour/90 minutes, which was disappointing to say the least for the price of entry.
Zoo or Sanctuary?
Deciding to make the most of it, we attended a few feeding talks to extend our visit as well as take part in their halloween trail, however it was difficult to remove the sour taste. It was basically a pretty poor zoo. The zoo itself is very run down, apart from their Tiger enclosures, which are currently being refurbished after welcoming some new residents rescued from a Spanish circus (this is where I think the majority of their money is going!). I think if the ‘Zoo’ was renamed to a ‘Sanctuary’ – which connects more to most of the resident’s history – I wouldn’t have begrudged paying the price that we did to get in as sanctuary’s often feel more like a charity, and this zoo definitely had this kind of feel to it. With a zoo you expect a more “manicured” experience, however I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the remaining residents who were often in tired looking enclosures. It’s also not very accessible for those that struggle with mobility.
Staff are really knowledgable and friendly, and clearly love what they do, and there’s a brand new Tiger-themed play park, and a pleasant education centre with reptiles and activities to do, but sadly this doesn’t make up for what’s really a worn (and expensive!) attraction – which is a real shame. Part of me wanted to give the zoo the benefit of the doubt and recommend it so that more people visit, which in turn brings more money into the zoo, but from speaking to residents old and new, the way the zoo is now is apparently an improvement (!) which doesn’t make me exactly want to recommend it. That being said, T still enjoyed it, but I think if he was a little older I’m not sure the feeling would remain.
After leaving the zoo, we wanted to try and make the day (and our last day) fun, so we drove further into Sandown – briefly exploring the area – and visit Shanklin Chine at the other end of the town.
Shanklin Chine is an old coastal ravine set in deep woodland, with waterfalls and walks to explore, as well as a rich history. Although relatively small in size, it was a really nice way to end the day – even if it did hammer it down at the end.
In no time our week had come to an end and we were on the ferry (thank you again to Red Funnel for supplying us with tickets!) and sailing back to the mainland. The journey home was a little bit different to our journey out as the weather had worsened, resulting in some delay and a turbulence, however it was still a pleasant experience.
Despite having minimal experience or information about the Isle of Wight we still had a wonderful time whilst we were there. There were a few things we didn’t get round to doing – which we are now being chastised about – but all in all we’re glad we did what we did so we could experience what was on the island. We’re so glad we chose it as our destination for T’s first holiday after his first school term – the break was absolutely needed.
Obviously visiting the Isle of Wight in October means some shops and attractions are either closed or only open certain days or times, but it didn’t stop us having fun and I would recommend visiting if you’re in need of a cheap holiday with the family. Brighton to Southampton is only two hours away, and the ferry is around an hour to and from the island. The locals are incredibly friendly, and it’s actually a very beautiful place to visit – even on a bad day.