The days were starting to lengthen and the temperature creeping upwards when we headed off on our travels for a spring trip around the Isle of Wight in a vintage VW camper van. I can’t tell you how excited the kids were to be spending nights in our own little camper van for the week.
We started our travels in Portsmouth where we caught the Wightlink ferry over to Fishbourne on the Isle of Wight. The journey was much faster than I remembered, 45 minutes, and we had no sooner set off, settled down to a snack and drink, watching the sailboats drift past, than it was time to get back down to the car ready to drive off.
The Isle of Wight is like a lovely, nostalgic step back in time. It’s a warm embrace from an old friend, a slice of cake with a pot of tea, playing outside with newfound friends and a favourite knit jumper pulled over shoulders. It has the feel of uncomplicated timelessness and although there’s plenty going on across the island it feels much quieter and calmer than the mainland UK.
We started off our travels at Isle of Wight Campers where we met our vintage camper for the week, a beautiful duck-egg blue van called Zebby. A lesson in how to look after her and some of her quirks and we were off, bouncing through the countryside lanes and over to our campsite home at Appuldurcombe Holiday Park where we pitched up.
Isle of Wight Campers had supplied us with a tent to pitch next to Zebby which was really useful to store all of our gear in, particularly when we were off exploring.
There wasn’t much time left in the day once we’d got settled at the Park so we headed off to dinner at The Piano Cafe in Freshwater Bay. We had the most amazing meal here, the table creaked under dishes of mezze from falafel bites with caramalised onions to garlic crostinis with various dips and with live music filling the air at exactly the right level, it was the perfect start to our holiday.
Zebby was a snug fit for five, with the two oldest kids up top, us on the double bed below and the littlest in the hammock bed over the front driver and passenger seat. It was still a bit chilly in April when we visited and the smallest ended up in bed with us which at least kept us all warmer.
In the morning we made up a quick breakfast in Zebby, boiled water for tea, spread jam on toast, bowls of cereals being passed around. Our days always started in this way, relaxed, full of chatter with the kids desperate to run to the playground and hang out with their newly-made friends before we headed off.
One of our best activities we did on our week was fossil hunting on the beach at Sandown with Dinosaur Isle. We headed across the sand with Dr Martin Munt, the attraction’s curator as he explained how we could look out for fossilised wood, different stones and if we were very lucky dinosaur bones. The sun shone beautifully and it felt wonderful to be in the soft air of early spring, searching through the stones, eyes scanning the wet sand.
We were incredibly lucky, our group found four dinosaur bones and my oldest two kids were lucky enough to find two of them. Tiny, blackened honeycombed like pieces of dinosaurs. It was incredible to hold them, something over 100 million years old. Such an amazing experience and prized possessions of the children now.
We also wandered across the beach with Martin pointing out various ancient fossils and even dinosaur footprints that have fallen from the cliffs above due to erosion.
The beaches around the Isle of Wight really are beautiful. We visited a few, skimming stones at Freshwater Bay, wandering past gorgeous candy coloured beach huts at Ventnor and strolling along the Esplanade at Shanklin. The children were in their element here, clutching brightly coloured buckets and spades and playing in the sand. By far my favourite beach though is that at Osborne House.
Osborne House was Queen Victoria and Albert’s country retreat which is now open for the public to explore and you can wander through the long hallways as if an intruder creeping past and in to rooms that feel as though the Royal residents have just stepped out. There’s something eerily hypnotic about Osborne, it has an air of melancholy that is addictive. Seeing Albert’s study, left as it was when he died and Victoria’s bedroom with the very bed she died on was very moving.
But it’s the beach at Osborne that just calls to me. I could almost imagine her children splashing about in the sea here as they learnt to swim. Queen Victoria’s ‘bathing machine’ – a mobile changing room – sits just back from the sand, ready to roll forwards into the clear water. A little shelter called “The Queen’s Alcove” waits for visitors to sit a while and contemplate, listening to the rhythmic roll in and out of the waves. This little secluded beach is up there with some of my favourites in the world.
If history is your thing – and it is most definitely mine – then the Isle of Wight really delivers. Carisbrooke Castle sits inland and holds many secrets. Charles I was imprisoned here and you can see the room he attempted to escape from before being caught and eventually taken off to London to be executed. Despite its dark history it is a great place to explore and there’s plenty here to enjoy including, as the children did, playing on the bowling green, constructed for Charles I’s own enjoyment.
The whole castle is great to wander around with children, there are battlements to explore, a moat you can go into and lots of hidden hallways and windows to keep imaginations ticking over.
After all this exploration we headed to The Cow Co for some burgers and milkshakes which was the perfect spot to chill out in. The kids spent time drawing while we watched the sun set over the hills to the sea beyond. The food here was wonderful with plenty of veggie options alongside their traditional meat menu and it’s got such a cool vibe.
Travelling around in Zebby was such a great experience. We felt like minor celebrities watching people stop to see us drive past and there was nothing like hearing the purr of the engine as she rumbled in to action. It was fun spotting the other VW vans that we passed – not lots but a fair few when you’re looking for them – and giving a wave as we crossed paths.
We spent a fun day at Robin Hill, an amusement park which embraces the countryside so you can walk paths around meadows of bluebells. It’s a fun place to get outside and do something very child focused whilst still having beautiful surroundings.
We also visited the legendary Blackgang Chine, a much more traditional theme park which has been a stalwart on the Isle of Wight for decades. We loved walking through the dinosaur park and our favourite area was Cowboy Town which is so much fun and really well set up.
There’s plenty going on at Blackgang Chine to keep you and the kids occupied for a good full day.
One of our favourite things to do was walking alpacas at West Wight Alpacas. This was so much fun, leading these beautiful creatures around the fields, learning more about their manner and what they are used for. It was such a different activity but one that all the kids adored.
We couldn’t resist trying the wood fired pizzas at the Llama Tree, based here at West Wight Alpacas either. The garlic bread with pesto and melted mozzarella was delicious and we loved all the pizzas too, the kids digging in before running off to play on the swings next to the restaurant.
Since we’re an animal loving family we also couldn’t resist Monkey Haven which rescues primates, owls and more creatures to give them a new life. We loved this animal park which is the perfect place to spend an afternoon, the children dashing about to complete the trail and stamp the little books they were given.
This island really is all about quality family time, coming together to explore, enjoy and find something you will love. It’s a beautiful place and our spring trip around the Isle of Wight in a vintage VW camper van was so much fun, something so different and a fantastic way to explore the multitude of places and activities on offer here. We can’t wait to return.
Check out our film of our adventures on the Isle of Wight here.
We were guests of Visit Isle of Wight for the purposes of this review but all opinions are our own