Travelling alone with a child, it can often be random encounters with other people that are the most magical moments of a trip. This was the case last summer, when seven-year-old Joe and I went to the Isle of Wight. It’s a place we know well, and one that can be counted on for child-friendly attractions, whether it be dinosaur museums, Carisbrooke Castle, fossil hunting and feeding red squirrels, or simply enjoying some of the great beaches and walks. Yet every time we go back we make new discoveries.
Among our finds last summer were The Landslip, a coastal woodland walk next to the Smugglers’ Tea Rooms at Upper Bonchurch, between Shanklin and Ventnor. Joe loved scuttling down the ‘Devil’s Chimney’, a steep, narrow stone gorge where smugglers used to stash spoils from local shipwrecks. It leads to beautiful woodland and beyond, to the unspoilt Monks Bay. You can also continue along the coast to Horseshoe and Wheelers Bay and then Ventnor.
On the way back we took a different path through the woods and stumbled across the tiny old Norman church of St Boniface, nestled in an idyllic spot. Charles I is said to have visited its churchyard while being held at Carisbrooke Castle before his trial. The area was once a great literary hangout too, with Charles Dickens staying up the road at the beautiful setting of Winterbourne House, where he wrote David Copperfield and entertained Thackeray, Tennyson and Swinburne (it’s now a hotel but is unsuitable for kids under 11).
Another superb beach day was spent at Steephill Cove, beneath Ventnor’s Botanical Gardens - themselves a great spot for a picnic away from sand, with a small playground. There’s no direct access to the beach by road – you park by the Gardens and walk down. This pretty little bay has lots of rockpools at low tide, so it’s the perfect place for crabbing and shrimping. It was wonderful watching Joe get his first opportunity to swim in the sea safely.
Steephill Cove has a selection of fine-looking houses to rent, and there’s food on hand at The Boathouse restaurant, where staff catch and cook lobster and crab daily. It’s small, so booking is advisable. Wheelers Crab Shed also sells pasties to eat on the beach, or there’s a decent café with delicious homemade cakes and ice creams.
But most memorable of all was our visitor to St Catherine’s Lighthouse at Niton. Here we found ourselves sharing the last tour of the day with a local woman and her young grandson. Although the tour was perhaps a tad long for the boys, our guide was extremely informative and captured all our imaginations with his tales of shipwrecks and ghosts. The highlight was the climb (94 steps) up to the lantern room, to examine the lens and gaze out across the sea where it beams its guiding light. As we walked back up the steep lane toward the car, we learned that the little boy’s dad had recently died. As he slipped his hand in mine as we said goodbye, I felt incredibly moved, and when his grandmother told me they were very happy to have shared the tour with us, I was happy to let her know that the feeling was mutual.
Read more about family holidays on the Isle of Wight, including places to stay and eat and great things to do with kids.