Sunday, 23 November 2008

A dedication to my Island bolthole

The Isle of Wight has long held a special appeal for me. Ever since the mid 1980s, when I helped a couple of friends move away from my home town in London to start a new life in Ryde, it has served as a kind of sanctuary for me whenever I want to escape for a few days from the pressures of work and everyday life. Maybe it is the psychological impact of crossing water that instills in one a sense of liberation, but being on the Island relaxes me in a way that I don't quite achieve whenever I stop at the South Coast.

Back in those days I would travel across on my own, or with my late friend and drinking partner. More recently I have married and become the father of two children, and thus most of my visitations now are family affairs.

As a family, the Isle of Wight became our regular holiday destination about ten years ago. We enjoy staying in holiday parks in a chalet or a caravan, often on a cheap Sun holiday but also at times on a private booking whenever we are given to venture across in peak time. Now that the kids are a bit older, I even manage to get across on my own once or twice a year for a spot of fishing.

The first park we encountered was Fairway in Sandown. A smallish but well-kept independent site, Fairway has for many years enjoyed the services of talented resident entertainer James Matthewman, who basically takes care of every aspect of the evening's programme, from singing and telling jokes to calling the bingo. The last time we visited the site he was performing an impromptu double act with Bruce Jones, better known to some as Les Battersby from Coronation Street, who himself holidays at the park.

After a couple of years at Fairway we were offered a Sun booking at Thorness Bay, a large Park Resorts site near Cowes. We found we liked Thorness, which boasts some splendid views over the sea and a pleasant coastal walk, and this became our "base" in the few years that followed.

Other parks we have stayed at have included Lower Hyde and Landguard in Shanklin, both Park Resorts although the latter only recently so, and Orchards in Newchurch. Lower Hyde is essentially a smaller version of Thorness. Landguard is smaller still, but classy and with a personal touch. Orchards, independently owned, is a nice, pleasant site but with little for socialites such as us to do in the evenings.

This year, for the first time, we founds ourselves at Whitecliff Bay in Bembridge. The chalet was modest but fit for purpose, and we found that we were very impressed with the site and its facilities, as well as its location at the top of a quite beautiful beach which boasted two lively caf├ęs.

Although we found that we were sad to leave, we didn't as it happens have far to travel because I had booked us an extra four days at Rookley Country Park, which is really the jewel in the crown of Island View Holidays' portfolio of sites. This year I have had the pleasure of staying at Rookley no fewer than three times, and it seems to have edged its way to the top of our list of choices. It has been seriously upgraded and improved since we first visited it a few years back; the newly-built bungalows are actually superior to the much-heralded executive villas at Center Parcs, where we spent a few days back in March, and it boasts two superb fishing lakes. When a two-bit occasional angler such as myself can land a 20lb carp on what is essentially Woolworth's tackle, you know you are in a good place.

Some of my friends think we are unadventurous, even cheapskates, for spending most of our holidays in the modest environs of Vectis. We don't agree. We visit other places, we even have a timeshare on the Algarve, yet when I'm stressed and overworked it's always the Isle of Wight that is calling.

This blog is dedicated to my peaceful and unspoilt bolthole on the opposite side of the Solent. Long may it remain that way.