Kid’s Day Out

With its 57 miles of stunning coastline, the Isle of Wight’s beaches make for effortless family outings. But when your children want more than traditional bucket-and-spade fun, our guide to the Island’s best activities and attractions will help keep everyone happily entertained, says Anna Pocock

Wherever you find yourself on this diamond-shaped island, you’re never very far away from the water. With the right equipment and some expert guidance, you can learn to surf, perfect your sailing skills, or explore the beautiful coastline in a kayak.

Based on the east coast, by St Helen’s Duver, Tackt-Isle runs beginners’ courses in sailing and windsurfing, daily sessions of kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding, and a multi-activity week for children throughout the season. There’s also some adrenaline-pumping dry activities to choose from, including sand yachting and zorbing, so landlubbers will be as happily occupied as water babies.

UKSA in Cowes has a well-earned reputation for providing industry-accredited sailing courses, but it also offers Fun Days during the school holidays for 8-15 year olds, keeping youngsters busy with dinghy sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, raft building and playing team games.

Wight Waters provides a variety of fun and professional training courses for all ages, including Royal Yachting Association sailing courses and stand-up paddleboard yoga — or book your child into its popular two-hour Splash Sessions on Dunroamin Beach.

Animals and adventures

Inland there’s plenty to occupy your crew — and a particularly memorable way to explore the island’s natural landscape is to take to the trees. Goodleaf Tree Climbing is expert
in recreational tree-climbing and will provide all the equipment and training needed to help you safely scale a 70-foot oak tree in Appley Park, Ryde, with climbing ropes and a safety harness. Tree-top hammocks provide a comfortable pit-stop in the tree canopy, giving climbers the chance to stop and savour the panoramic views across the Solent; after your descent, you can look forward to a reviving slice of Treeclimbers’ Flapjack. Junior climbers might like to hone their skills on an indoor climbing wall, such as that at Tapnell Farm Park in West Wight. This popular venue has recently added an outdoor water park to its facilities, so with animals, adventure activities and now aquatics on site, children will be kept busy the whole day long. Tapnell’s Play Barn, farmyard animal barn and Straw Bale Adventure Barn (featuring the Island’s longest indoor zip wires) are all fully covered, so can still be enjoyed on a rainy day — along with the indoor track for mini go-karts.

For more of a Formula One-style experience, head to Wight Karting in Ryde. With 520 metres of all-weather, floodlit go-kart track, it’s the perfect destination for confirmed petrolheads and can be driven even on rainy days. A variety of kart sizes means children as young as eight can get behind a wheel, and there are dedicated Junior Track Days every Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the school holidays. Protective clothing is provided and drivers receive a lap timesheet so they can chart their progress or challenge friends to an Isle of Wight Grand Prix.

There is plenty for animal lovers on the Island. For a slower-paced mode of travel, saddle up with Sally’s Riding School in Bembridge and ride a pony along the beach. Catering for equestrians of all ages and abilities, including beginners, Sally and her experienced team will provide you with a memorable outing that’s high on many people’s wish-list. Call in advance to check availability and tide times.

At West Wight Alpacas, you can’t ride the resident alpacas and llamas, but you can take them on a guided walk around the farm, while their keeper gives you a potted history of these charming creatures. Elsewhere on the farm, you’ll find pygmy goats, lambs, rare breed sheep, exotic chickens and Oxford and Sandy Back pigs. An on-site shop sells Suri alpaca yarn, hand-knitted garments and llama-themed gifts (guarded by Pixie, the talking parrot), while adjacent cafe The Llama Tree serves excellent wood-fired pizzas and Peruvian coffee.

Amazon World near Arreton is an animal lovers’ paradise that cares for more than 200 species, including flamingos, sloths, anteaters, ocelots and Komodo Dragons, and highlights conservation issues. Daily “Meet the Animal” sessions with the keepers give visitors insights into the animals’ habits, and budding zoologists can book a feeding or grooming Animal Experience to get even closer to the animals. The Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary also offers one-to-one animal experiences with its 97 rescued donkeys and 26 ponies. Choose from grooming sessions, walking a miniature Shetland pony, or working alongside staff to help feed, groom, exercise and clean the sanctuary’s animal residents. While Donkey Experiences should be booked in advance, all visitors are welcome to drop in and meet the donkeys at this
55-acre site in the Wroxall Valley.

Walk on the wild side

For a walk with a difference, follow a treasure hunt or murder mystery quest from Treasure Trails, with 10 Isle of Wight locations to choose from. Each adventure offers fascinating historical or geological insights to the Island that are revealed as you crack the clues — there’s even the chance to win real treasure, by submitting the winning answer online and entering a monthly prize draw.

Benedictine monastery Quarr Abbey, near Ryde, may not offer cash rewards to those exploring its 200-acre grounds, but you might be rewarded with a glimpse of a native red squirrel and other wildlife on its circular woodland trail. Junior visitors can borrow Explorer Kits, which come complete with binoculars, a bug pot and activity cards, to help make the most of the surroundings. There’s a walled garden, orchard and wildflower meadow to explore, as well as resident pigs and chickens to meet.

For those more fascinated by the creatures of yesteryear, a guided fossil hunt on one of the Island’s beaches will prove a memorable treat — and possibly deliver its very own ancient treasure trawl. Start at the Dinosaur Isle museum in Sandown, to see the skeletons and life-size models of the dinosaurs that once roamed the Isle of Wight, then head down to the beach opposite to look for fossilized remains among the Cretaceous rocks on the foreshore. For further fossil hunting, join Martin Simpson from Island Gems for a tour of “Dinosaur Island”.

Rain won’t stop play

To explore the Island in inclement weather, take a ride on a vintage steam train from Havenstreet Station, home of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. During the holidays, look out for seasonally themed outings, such as Santa Specials and Fright Night. Trainspotters of all ages will also enjoy exploring its historic collection of Victorian and Edwardian locomotives and carriages in the new Discovery Centre.

Whatever the weather, Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeguards and volunteers are always on standby, with three RNLI stations on the Isle of Wight. Situated along a walkway across Bembridge beach, Bembridge Lifeboat Station makes a fascinating visit for young and old alike. Built in 2010 to accommodate a Tamar-class lifeboat, visitors can see the RNLI’s lifeboat (when it’s not in active service) and explore the history of sea rescues from Bembridge Ledge.

If your little ones need to work off some energy, let them run, jump, climb and slide to their heart’s content in the Island’s largest soft play centre, JR Zone, near Newport. A five-level play frame features a four-lane slide, ball pit, rope bridges and a netted football area, with separate zones for toddlers and older children, while an on-site cafe and free parking makes this venue as appealing to adults as children.

No longer a place of combat, but a former fortress, home and prison to royalty over the centuries, Carisbrooke Castle is now owned by English Heritage. On a dry day, you can walk around the castle battlements and enjoy views across the Island, but there are plenty of historical artefacts inside the castle and adjoining museum to enthrall if the weather turns. Children can also dress up in authentic costumes and attempt to fire a mini cannon in the gatehouse. Leave enough time to meet the four resident donkeys, traditionally kept to work the 16th-century tread wheel of the castle’s well, but still offering short daily demonstrations.

A short drive from Carisbrooke, Chessell Pottery makes an inviting destination to while away an afternoon painting ceramics — choose from mugs to money boxes. The adjoining café is a cosy spot to repair to, with a delightful garden for when the sun shines. You’ll need to return to collect your pottery once it has been fired — which is the perfect opportunity to sample another
of their delicious, freshly baked cakes.