We spent the first week of the Easter holidays on the Isle of Wight, in a little cottage next to the beach and the Crab and Lobster Inn (so all the essentials). We stayed in the same place last summer - the girls wanted to go back to sleep in 'their' bunkbeds and play in 'their' hammock. It's our third year on the IoW and it's just the perfect place for family holiday in the UK. Here's why.
It's such an easy drive. Motorway all the way to Southampton and then hop onto a ferry. Not like going to Cornwall, when you drive for hours and hours to get to Cornwall and then drive for another two hours to get to where you're staying. And the boat! Feels like you're travelling across the Channel to Brittany, except you can take masses of dogs into the lounge, which also has awesome retro 70s fabric on the seats. The crossing isn't cheap if you have a car, so once you're there, you're staying on the island, as the cost makes it unfeasible to pop backwards and forwards to visit the New Forest or Lulworth Cove, as I'd fondly imagined we might do the first time we went.
We stay in Bembridge on the east coast. It's perfect. Beaches within an easy walk, loads of accommodation, lovely little cafes, a local farm-type shop, a fishmonger, baker, butcher, and amazing crab sandwiches and seafood aboard the floating Best Dressed Crab in Bembridge harbour. The latter is a working small port so it doesn't have a pretty harbour with cafes and shops, but there's plenty of the latter up the road in the village. We find Bembridge to be sleepy and quaint with very little obvious tourism, which is exactly what we want. And best of all, dogs are allowed on all the local beaches, off the lead, all year round (beaches in the south and east typically don't allow this).
We stay in a lovely little cottage less than a minute away from Forelands Beach. It's called Nonsuch Cottage and can be booked via Wight Coast Holidays. Tell Toby and Roger that Alice sent you :-) Three bedrooms (one has bunk beds that sleep six), sea views from the back, two bathrooms, a lovely sheltered garden with a pizza oven and outdoor chill-out area, and a big kitchen diner with bifolds opening onto the deck. Oh and dogs are welcome. Basically our house but next to the sea and with nicer weather!
There's so much to do om the Isle of Wight. Beaches of every possible kind, small animal farms, a donkey sanctuary, a model village, a zoo, theme parks, massive adventure playgrounds, crazy golf, a dinosaur museum, a monkey haven, boat and fishing trips, a trampoline park, soft play, National Trust type houses and parks, pony riding, and beautiful forests and countryside. Just as a starting point! And it's all within easy reach in the car.
This year we went for a pony ride with Sally's Riding School (based in Bembridge near Forelands Beach in low season, and St Helen's in high season), which was absolutely wonderful. I want to have lessons now!
We also treated the girls to a trip to Tapley Farm, which seems to have been designed by someone who has visited all the small animal farms out there and combined all the best bits into one lovely facility. You can do the usual cuddling of small animals and admiring of pigs and donkeys, but can also wander happily around the wallaby enclosure with wallabies roaming around freely at your feet. And they have an indoor play area with a zipwire, small go-karts for little ones, adult size go-karts for parents, hay bales and tunnels, an outdoor trampoline, a big soft play area with an overlooking café, an undercover picnic area, and a café with loads of high chairs, microwave and so on. Good stuff.
We're a wild beach family at heart though, and despite the myriad of entertainment options available on the IoW, we happily spend the week doing nothing more than visiting a different beach every day, crabbing, messing around in rockpools, building castles and dams, and eating crab sandwiches and ice creams from a nearby café or beach shack.
Our favourite beaches are Bembridge Lane End (the lifeboat beach), Forelands (also Bembridge) with the amazing Beach Hut that sells gorgeous Mediterranean sea food, St Helen's Duver (the next beach along up the coast) which has lovely rockpools and sand, Priory Bay (a lovely, sandy, near-deserted scoop of a bay backing onto woodland that can be accessed by walking along the beach from St Helen's and round the corner), and Steephill Cove.
The latter is in the south of the island just past Ventnor, and all the land is privately owned by the same family who have been fishing from the cove for over five hundred years (!), effectively making the beach private too. But they open it up every day, allow dogs on leads, and have a coffee place, a restaurant, a crab shack, and a lovely café. You can only access Steephill via a winding path down to the beach from the road. We park at the Botanical Gardens (you have to pay for parking at the till in the shop) or on the road when there's a space, and walk down.
Our favourite thing to do though is always fish, chips and prosecco on the beach at sundown, followed by a driftwood bonfire to toast marshmallows on. Bliss. Then making our way home in the pitch dark with the aid of torches, way after bedtime, laden down with happy, sandy daughters and dogs.
I'd love to buy one of these ramshackle little beach huts on Forelands Beach, but one came up for sale last year for £40k, so will have to give it a miss, crikey.
So that's why we love the Isle of Wight - we're planning to go back again later this yer (maybe camping, this time!) as one trip a year just isn't enough. Have I persuaded you?