For a truly retro/vintage seaside activity experience on the Isle of Wight there are four towns that top the bill and these are Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor. All of these grew as seaside resorts from Victorian times, had another boom in the post war 50s and are still popular with holiday makers and day trippers today.
Each of these had a pier, but now sadly only Ryde and Sandown piers survive and Sandown is the only one that has amusements on it. Ventnor pier caught fire in 1985, causing considerable damage and repair was not considered practical, with the whole structure demolished in 1993. Shanklin Pier was badly damaged in the storm of 1987 and it too was later demolished.
Ryde and its Sands
Ryde pier is now a ferry terminal with trains (quirky old underground rolling stock no less) running down to the top, but once it boasted a theatre and bar on the end. It is almost half a mile long, second only in length to Southend Pier, and was recently rebuilt and refurbished – it is possible to buy items made from the old timbers in shops around the town. An exhibition in the basement of the Royal Victoria Arcade in Ryde’s Union Street brings the old pier back to life.
Ryde does however still have a wealth of traditional seaside activities along the esplanade eastwards from the pier such as Peter Pan’s Playground where you can have a go at Captain Hook’s Crazy Golf, traditional fairground rides, a helter skelter and trampolines. Further along the esplanade is Ryde’s large boating lake full of swans, including large swan pedalos.
Just near to the pier are the newer attractions of Planet Ice (rink) and Ryde Superbowl (bowling) that are great for kids, especially on rainy days. And there is, of course, absolutely miles of beach at Ryde with the sands stretching along from the pier to Appley Beach in the east with cafes and beach shops dotted along the front.
Once upon a time these sands would have hosted donkey rides but the last donkeys retired in the 1970s, but if you would like to visit former seaside donkeys you could try the Donkey Sanctuary at Wroxall where some of them have found a lovely retirement home.
The Bay area – the Island’s Riviera
Sandown and Shanklin are often thought of as sister towns and grouped together as the ‘Bay area’ with Lake joining the two in the middle. You can ‘promenade’ all the way from the Yaverland end of Sandown beach to the westernmost end of Shanklin beachfront if you wish and once upon a time this stretch of sands was marketed as the Island’s Riviera.
Although Shanklin has lost its pier it does still have a large amusements complex ‘Summer Arcade’ on the front that has Jungle Adventure Golf, ten pin bowling, go cart track, loads of coin machines and an indoor kids play area ‘Jungle Jim’s’ along with a café and shop. Next door is a newly refurbished outdoor play area too.
Sandown Pier is a real ‘seaside’ pier that literally groans with amusements with loads of slot machines and games and The Lost World themed crazy golf, a big café/restaurant at the landward end and a snack bar half way down. The head of the pier once had a pavilion, which was demolished in the 1960s and it is now crowned by a small group of fairground style rides.
Don’t forget to visit Sandown Zoo at the Yaverland end of Sandown beach which is in the ruins of a former fort. The zoo boasts a fine collection of big cats, especially tigers, some of which were hand raised by the owners, and there are also many different lemurs and other smaller animals.
Ventnor might have lost its pier but it does still have the pretty cascade waterfall and gardens with winding road around it that falls to the front where the pier entrance would have been that is now crowned by a ‘bandstand’ that hides a water pumping station. It also has the ‘Gaiety’ amusement arcade on the seafront, several cafes and a beach shop. The small haven harbour has a short New England style pier with traditional wet fish shop and takeaway fish and chip bar on it. Next to the pier is the famous ‘Isle of Wight’ paddling pool that has been on the front for over 50 years – although rebuilt several times.
The town above is fast becoming the retro capital of the Island with lots of vintage and antique shops, so make sure you take a look up there too.
For the retro feel deckchairs are a must on the beach and all of these beaches have them for hire, mainly in traditional stripes and some still have the shades for your head attached to the tops. You can also hire windbreaks and some operators offer sun loungers too.
Very few of the original ‘penny’ slot machines survive in the arcades but there is a large collection of old machines at Arreton Old Village where you can ‘buy’ old pennies to use in the machines to play them.