The small town of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight is famous for being one of the sunniest spots in Britain. But today is late December and so far the sun has failed to rear its golden head, while the temperature has barely crept above freezing. And yet in spite of that, my three children have stormed the beach and ditched the wellies and are paddling in the beautiful but Baltic-climate briny sea.
Instead of spending New Year at home this year, we’ve gone all Boden, packed our wellies and headed to the coast for a week. But my plan to hole up in a picture-perfect cottage, read books and drink Rioja has been thwarted by three young beasts who want to spend every waking hour on the beach, whatever the weather.
So, engulfed in hats, gloves and industrial-strength Parkas, we wander down to Ventnor’s famed promenade. As we snake past huge Victorian villas, dusty old tea-shops and weather-bowed palm trees, it becomes obvious that if this quiet little town was a stick of rock, it would have ‘quaint’ written all the way through it.
While the kids are busy flinging pebbles into the flinty-grey surf, I sit on the beach and ponder on how serene it is despite all its chilly blusteriness. Seaside resorts in winter are cold, quiet and often desolate, and the twirly teacups are never open. Yet they have a calmness that cities rarely see.
After flying kites and building sandcastle-cum-slagheaps on the beach, we take a swift stroll along the prom to the Spyglass Inn, a vast beachside pub with great views across the English Channel, for rejuvenating Bloody Marys and bottles of Fanta.
By day three, I’m fully ensconced in a slower pace of life and have even found myself discreetly peeking into estate agents’ windows. Festivals aside, this small island off the south coast is known for its clutch of seaside resorts, which even in winter have plenty to offer. We have a day-trip to Ryde for a walk on the island’s longest pier, drive past a (closed) Blackgang Chine, and attempt to spot the Needles lighthouse through the fog from a car-park on the cliff. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a seaside holiday as much.
As we mull over a cup of coffee on the ferry home, it seems that Ventnor’s charm has affected us all. There is a definite shift in our perspective – suddenly city living doesn’t feel like the be all and end all, and we start to seriously think about a life by the sea.
Now, two years on, it seems that it wasn’t just the sea air talking. We’ve sold our London home and – though we decided island life is a step too far – have bought a family house in Brighton.
Read more about family holidays on the Isle of Wight, including our hand-picked recommendations for family-friendly places to stay and eat and the best things to do with kids.