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We’d left it late to book a seaside staycation this summer – too late, in fact. Every cottage and campsite in England seemed fully booked. At one point, I’m sure I heard Siri snigger when we submitted our preferred dates. Fortunately, our 10-year-old daughter refused to accept defeat. “I will find us a holiday,” Cara vowed.
She even devoted her sacred daily iPad time to the quest.
More incredibly still, she struck lucky.
She found not only a last-minute cancellation but one just five minutes from where she would have stayed on this year’s school trip, had a global pandemic not scuppered it.
Cara 1, coronavirus 0.
So a plan was hatched: we’d give her the week of fun she had missed out on.
Sadly we couldn’t quite find room in the car for her 29 lively classmates.
Her big brother, Connor, 11, had done the school trip for real last year and was only too pleased to help pick the must-dos.
First up was the crossing on the WightLink ferry, standing on deck as we sailed towards Fishbourne.
Our home for the week was further down the coast at Shanklin, with its long sandy beach and charming Old Village of thatched pubs and cosy tea rooms.
Cara’s lucky find was a luxury three-bedroomed lodge in Parkdean’s Lower Hyde holiday park.
With two pools, an arcade, a restaurant and daily entertainment – all run within new covid-safe guidelines – there was plenty to keep us occupied without even leaving the site.
But in between the bingo and two-penny machines, we had sights to see.
One of the beauties of the Isle of Wight is that it has an abundance of days out for all ages, and all well within an hour’s drive.
There are also the excellent Southern Vectis buses, which offer scenic open air tours across the island – a must for top-deck thrill seekers who enjoy dodging overhanging tree branches.
Our first stop, Carisbrooke Castle, was the perfect place to get our bearings.
This towering fortress dates back to the 12th century, and as my husband and I walked around the ancient battlements pretending we were Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen we could see for miles in all directions.
Perhaps Carisbrooke’s most famous resident was Charles I, who was imprisoned here before his execution.
We learned one escape effort was thwarted by getting his head stuck in the bars, and another after being snitched on by so-called pals – all deeply relatable issues to our children.
There was history of a different type to discover at Blackgang Chine, the UK’s oldest theme park.
Some say it’s so old that the previously unknown species of dinosaur recently unearthed on the island may have enjoyed a candy floss or two at its grand opening.
I’m only joking. The park actually first opened in 1843, and it celebrated its 175th anniversary with a hilarious animatronic attraction called Dodo Valley.
Connor and Cara loved pushing buttons to get the creaky old birds to spring back to life and raucously shriek “dodo! dodo!” to a backdrop of classic disco tunes.
Comparisons to kicking-out time at Mummy’s Book Club may have been made by certain members of our party.
Obviously Blackgang Chine isn’t Disneyland but it’s all the better for it.
Yes, there are a couple of thrill rides, including the Cliffhanger roller coaster which feels like it’s flinging its riders perilously towards the sea.
However, much of the fun comes from firing up the imagination, with such timeless pleasures as a hall of mirrors, dinosaur safari and pirate ships armed with water cannons for soaking any parent daring to suggest it’s home time.
It’s well worth getting a joint ticket to Blackgang’s sister park, Robin Hill, which includes unlimited seven-day return admission to both.
The latter has woodland trails festooned with fairylights, netted walkways strung high in the treetops for red squirrel spotting, and a magical Japanese water garden.
Just be prepared for your holiday to go rapidly downhill here – there’s a huge toboggan run carved out of the hillside.
No trip to the Isle of Wight would be complete without seeing its most famous landmark, The Needles.
Sensibly, someone decided to open an amusement park right next door, so it was easy to persuade our kids that three stacks of chalk poking out of the sea were a must-see on the final day of anyone’s holiday.
It helped too that there was a spectacular chairlift to take them down to the beach for a better look.
Afterwards, we stopped off at Tapnell Farm Park, which boasts a new aqua park, adorable animals, zip wires, go-karts, crazy golf and the best burgers on the island at its sister restaurant, The Cow.
We relished every bit of it.
There was even time to squeeze in a sunset stroll among the palms of Ventnor Botanical Gardens, a stunning oasis of tranquility.
It was like holidaying in the tropics, minus the 14-day quarantine.
Then it was back to Lower Hyde for one last game of bingo where I’m pleased to report Cara’s luck rubbed off me.
Okay, so the novelty car air freshener was technically a consolation prize.
But as I said to Cara as I unleashed it for the drive home, “A win is a win.”
A week in a Signature Grove lodge at Parkdean Lower Hyde starts from £429. WightLink ferry crossing costs from £49.50 return for a car. For tourist information see visitisleofwight.co.uk. Due to Covid-19, attractions are operating at reduced admission numbers and some require advance booking, so check ahead.
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