I LOVE an early start when I’m off on holiday. Normally, I can't stay in bed long enough, but there's something special about setting off bright and early for a week away. Especially when you've got a ferry to catch.

And then there's the traffic – or lack of it. An almost deserted A34 at 6am got us to Southampton in plenty of time to catch our Red Funnel ferry.

And what a pleasant crossing it was, too. Once we realised the car and roof box would (just) make it under the height restriction, it was, ahem, plain sailing. Full English breakfast on the boat, children entranced by the adventure of it all, and no choppy waters which might have prompted my eggs and bacon to make a reappearance.

Within an hour, we were docking at Cowes – and our early start looked like a masterstroke. A beautiful day lay ahead of us with a whole island to explore.

My wife Vikki enjoyed holidays here as a girl, but it was my first time. First stop was Carisbrooke Castle, not far from the island’s main town, Newport, and once ‘home’ – well, prison – to Charles I, the king who was later beheaded after losing the English Civil War.

First, a warning: if you’re visiting with a young daughter or granddaughter who’s into princesses (which will be most of them under the age of eight), stay alert in the castle shop. I don’t know how we managed to fob off our daughter Grace, nearly three, with a finger puppet and a badge when she had her eye on the full pink princess costume. Call me tight if you like, but this was Day One of the holiday, and there were budgets to be kept within.

Once you’re past the merchandising, there’s plenty to see and do. Great old Saxon ruins, interesting exhibits inside, and some beautiful grounds.

Best of all, you can watch a donkey go round a giant wheel (hamster-style) to show how the castle’s inhabitants used to get water from the well in Ye Olde Days.

After stopping off at Newport for a week’s worth of food and booze, it was off to our resort in Colwell Bay, near Yarmouth, on the west coast of the island.We checked in and then it was straight to the beach – just a five-minute walk away from our bungalow. Shoes off, trouser legs rolled up, and into the sea we paddled.

The weather was so nice the next morning that it had to be another beach day. Picnic was packed (even though you can guarantee that your sandwiches will be full of sand by the time you get to eat them), windbreak was found and buckets and spades were rounded up.

Colwell Bay is a lovely beach, although you have to watch out because the tide comes in a long way. Even in early May, ours weren’t the only children running around like mad things. And there are great rock pools to explore.

The island is full of beautiful beaches – Ventnor, Shanklin, Sandown, the list goes on – so you won’t be far from some glorious sands wherever you stay on the island.

When the weather is not so good, there’s plenty to do on the Isle of Wight. And one absolutely essential destination is Blackgang Chine Fantasy Park, in Chale.

After chortling your way through the hall of mirrors, there are a series of different ‘worlds’ you can visit – including the Wild West, Fairyland, Dinousaur World, and a giant bug walk – a great adventure playground for the kids and loads more.

A big chunk of the clifftop park had fallen into the sea since Vikki’s last visit (that’s Mother Nature for you), but that didn’t mean there was any shortage of things to do. Far from it. We were there for hours and the time didn’t drag one bit.

Unfortunately, the children were too small to go on the roller coaster, but we promised to bring Grace back when she reaches the minimum height requirement. However, I think her one-year-old brother Barney’s lasting memory of the day will be the rubbish bins which belch when you drop litter into them.

Not as impressive, but fun nevertheless, was the Needles Park at Alum Bay. Highlight was the chairlift – a 250-metre ride from the top of the park to the beach, giving you spectacular views – but there were also carousels, sideshows, games, crazy golf and other rides. It’s free to get in (but you pay for parking) and you pay for the attractions you use.

While there, I’d recommend a boat trip to get a proper glimpse of the Needles Rocks. Although they no longer look like needles (the tallest one fell into the sea many years ago – are you noticing a pattern here?), they’re still a spectacular sight.

And if you travel with Peter Lemonius on his Needles Pleasure Cruises, you might get a lick from his ship-mate – the original salty sea dog (an extremely friendly pooch complete with its own lifejacket).

Another great day out was our trip to the Flamingo Park at Seaview.

Grace loved the flamingos (because they’re pink), Barney loved, well, everything. There are ducks wandering around the park and you get free bags of food to feed them with – which means you make instant pals with our feathered friends.

You’re not supposed to feed the wallabies though, but nobody told them that. We had a minor panic when a couple of the cuddly marsupials stole half a bag of duck food and started eating it, but the keepers didn’t seem to think that it’d do them too much harm.

Best bit was feeding time for the pelicans and penguins – if you’re lucky, you might get to throw them a fish.

Another really charming attraction in the impossibly quaint village of Godshill is the Isle of White Model Village. It’s an incredibly detailed, sprawling and humorous scene of Godshill life – in miniature. It’s quite a sight.

All this activity will give you an appetite – and what better cure for the munchies is there than a cream tea? Courtyard Cafe, based at the Chessell Pottery Barns, near Calbourne, did a particularly fine one, with proper clotted cream.

The ice cream is particularly good on the island too, thanks to the Minghella family’s concoctions. Name sound familiar? Yes, they are related to the late Oscar-winning film director (and occasional Inspector Morse director) Anthony Minghella.

I heartily recommend the tiramisu flavour.

As for seasfood, we enjoyed a pint of delicious prawns in Yarmouth, after a bracing walk up the wooden pier (paid for by public donations). The donors’ names are printed on the walkway – including the Booth family, from Oxford. If you know them, tell them it’s still there.

So much to do, so little time. Our week just flew by. But we’ll return.


Island View Holidays’ Colwell Bay self-catering bungalow. And it had a hot tub in its own private garden.


Didn’t you hear what I just said? It had a hot tub! But even if if didn't (and not all of them do), it had just about everything you could need – washing machine, dishwasher, fridge, freezer, central heating, TV, DVD player, bath, shower – to make it a home from home.


Ideal. We were only 300 yards from a lovely sandy beach.


Above average. There was a tennis court, a cracking indoor heated swimming pool (which the children turned their noses up at in favour of the hot tub, above), and a small children’s play area.


Funny you should ask that. The Ford Anglia Owners’ club were having their annual jolly there. There were so may old cars, I felt like an extra from Life on Mars.


Prices range from £300-£730 per week, depending on the time of year. They’ve also got holiday homes at other locations around the island, including Rookley Park, Freshwater Bay and St Helens.


Go to the website (see attached link), or call 01983 721606. And ask for one with a hot tub.