WEEKEND BREAK: Isle of Wight

Kite flying lr
Harriett and Henry Saunders flying a kite on the beach at Shanklin

By Tim Saunders

A weekend on the Isle of Wight gives the opportunity of discovering some wonderful litter free beaches.

We sail from Portsmouth to Fishbourne with Wightlink. Arriving by car at the port near Gunwharf Quays it’s a matter of showing our home printed boarding pass and then queuing. Once on board the ferry we go outside to wave goodbye to Portsmouth and watch the white foam of the waves behind. It’s a bit wetter than usual on deck due to the heavy rain and we venture inside for the children to go to the play area complete with slide and climbing area. They thoroughly enjoy this. The boat seems new and up-to-date with plenty of comfortable seating. It’s a surprisingly quick crossing taking around 30 minutes. The sun is shining when we disembark and drive to Cowes.

We’re able to find a side road to park with no time restriction and then saunter off towards the town. Soon the children discover a park and demand to play in it. They’ve been ever so good. So how can we decline? Henry spots a policeman, who says, “Good morning.” And Henry (3) becomes shy, for a change. After a while we all agree to head towards town. There is an array of independent and charity shops. Caroline and Heidi (6) stop to watch two street entertainers while Harriett (8), Henry and I window shop. We make our way to the water’s edge to see the start of the world famous Cowes Week regatta, which we later learn is postponed due to bad weather. Apparently visibility is very poor and there are strong winds. Hard to believe when our crossing was fine. The heavens have opened and everyone is ducking for cover, apart from us. Despite this we do glimpse some action on the water.

After our picnic in the car we make our way to Sandown to the AA 2 star Wight Bay Hotel, with its imposing and historic roadside frontage. There is ample parking for guests. An open mind is always important when staying in any hotel, no matter what the rating. Up the front steps and inside and we are greeted by an extremely helpful and friendly receptionist. That cannot be said of many hotels we have stayed in including some four star ones. We are informed that breakfast is between 730am and 9am and that check out is 1030am. It’s almost bang on the 3pm check in and Henry desperately needs the toilet, as only he can. Key in hand we dash up the stairs to our en-suite family room and Henry can now uncross his legs.

The room has two single beds and one double; Henry shares with Heidi, despite his insistence on the double bed. The room, which has a new carpet, is comfortable and clean with a sea view. There’s a good supply of hot water, too. So often we have stayed in so-called luxury establishments where the hot water runs out.

Time to explore Sandown. Leaving the car at the hotel without a worry we head down the road where there are various shops and further on, the seaside. What a joy. Here we can rest and have some fun. We’ve brought a bucket, spade and kite. So while Henry is busy building sandcastles we un-wrap the kite and find that it’s very easy to fly. So often these can be complicated to operate but this is very child friendly and perfect for daddy, too. The fairly strong sea breeze makes it soar high and for a long time. We all enjoy having a go.

After a meal we retire to the hotel where there is entertainment in the bar from Tony, a singer and guitarist, who plays well-known hits. It’s great.

A restful night’s sleep follows and in the morning there is a self-service breakfast in the dining room; cereal or cooked. We chat to other guests as we queue.

This is a very down to earth hotel with friendly staff who talk to you. After saying our goodbyes we head for Shanklin because Harriett needs some new shoes and the hotel receptionist helpfully points us in this direction.

Shanklin boasts another wonderful sandy beach with no litter in sight. Here we find ourselves back to building sandcastles and flying our kite. However, we also do a spot of paddling and Harriett finds some sea snails that she rescues and then puts back in the sea.

Our return crossing to Portsmouth with Wightlink is prompt and the little ones discover the cinema, which is showing Sing, a computer animated film. They watch it for the duration of the trip.

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