5 things you can only visit on the Isle of Wight
In this guest blog, Robbie Lane from Isle of Wight Guru offers his advice on five local attractions you won’t find anywhere else.
1. The UK’s oldest theme park
Nearly 200 years ago, Alexander Dabell arrived on the Isle of Wight from Nottingham with great plans to start a lace making factory. This swiftly went out the window when he got the slightly hair-brained idea of creating an attraction in one of the Island’s most isolated and inaccessible spots.
The idea became a reality in the 1840s when a whale died at The Needles and the young entrepreneur decided to put the bones on display to the public. That was the beginnings of Blackgang Chine’s collection of oddities which – over the years – have included a crooked house, dining dinosaurs, a weather wizard and a variety of wonky mirrors. More recently, the dinosaurs have come alive and the underwater creatures have started to sing in unison.
For grown-ups, it offers a mix of nostalgia (since every 11 year old visits on a school trip) and glorious cliff top views along the Island’s south west coastline. The whale skeleton is still on display and the Dabells are still involved in the running of the park. The Isle of Wight’s lace industry hasn’t quite taken off yet.
2. The site of the UK’s biggest ever festival
1970 was a significant year for music festivals in the UK.
In Glastonbury, Michael Eavis had opened his farm in Somerset for his first bash at a festival to a crowd of about 1500 people. Meanwhile, the Isle of Wight was on its third festival with something like 400 times as many people cramming into a spot in the West Wight and causing Bembridge to lift up by several feet (I may have made that bit up).
The exact number varies depending on who you ask, but most reckon that about 600,000 people watched Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Miles Davies, Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull and many others perform at the Isle of Wight Festival. If you look carefully as you drive through Afton you’ll still see the odd hippy trying to find their way home.
3. The UK’s oldest carnival
Take care as you walk down the Isle of Wight’s high streets in summer or you may find you end up accidentally joining a carnival parade. If you’re any good at spinning batons or waving from the top of a trailer pulled by an SUV then you’ll be most welcome.
You’ll find carnivals in most of the larger towns, including Sandown, Shanklin, Newport and Cowes. Some towns are so enthusiastic that they put on two or three carnivals, including children’s processions, illuminated processions and a main event.
The oldest in the UK takes place in Ryde which was one visited by Queen Victoria. History records that she would have enjoyed the visit more if her grandchildren hadn’t spent the whole time nagging her to buy them helium balloons and glo-sticks .
4. The UK’s sunniest beach
After about 30 seconds research you’ll find claims from several holiday spots that theirs is the sunniest. No-one can quite decide what ‘sunniest’ means, so marketing people tend to take a slightly ‘creative’ approach.
Is it the beach with the most hours of at least some sunshine, or is it the beach with the highest average temperature? And what if it varies from one year to the next?
For what it’s worth, Shanklin claims to be the UK’s sunniest beach and it’s certainly true to say that it’s up there. Number nerds like me will be more impressed to know that on average, Shanklin gets 1923 hours of sunshine per year (according to the Met Office) whilst Greenwich in London only manages 1410. Let’s hope some of those 513 extra hours of sunshine turn up during your holiday.
5. The UK’s oldest working phonebox
If you’re passing through Bembridge and happen to have lost your phone, you might like to attempt to make a phone call from the UK’s oldest working phonebox.
Admittedly, such an event doesn’t have the jaw-dropping views of the Needles chairlift, or the rich royal history of a trip to Carisbrooke Castle but when I checked, the ‘entrance price’ was just 60p, and that was for a family ticket. Phonebox fans will be interested to know that it’s a K1 model from 1921.
16 August 2019