Sandown, Isle of Wight – Travel Review
By Dom Picksley
Talk of Sandown normally conjures up images of thoroughbred horses hurtling down a track or jumping fences at the Esher-based racecourse, but there was barely any equine activity in sight as we enjoyed a week at the ‘other’ Sandown, on the Isle of Wight.
One of the most popular seaside resorts on the island, which is nestled off the coast of Hampshire across the Solent – so close that on a clear day, you can easily see landmarks such as the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth – Sandown, on the east coast, is a typical bucket-and-spade affair, with the obligatory pier thrown in for good measure, with deckchair hire in abundance on the long stretch of golden sand, along with surfboards, paddleboards and pedalos.
Once a thriving and upmarket destination for those seeking a bit of sun and leisure time, the crumbling remains of previously luxurious art deco hotels along the promenade paints a sad reminder of times when people would flock here in their thousands, but such are the ravages of time and the recent effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, that tourist numbers are now merely in their hundreds.
But that is no bad thing if you don’t want to be packed in like sardines along the beach, with ample room to enjoy a bit of self-distanced freedom, and in Sandown itself and the surrounding areas, there is also plenty to do if sitting on the sand all day is not your thing.
What you need is a good base to start from and we had that with a fabulous four-bedroom abode, one of many good, family-sized houses in Sykes Cottages’ repertoire. Although we were actually in the large neighbouring village of Lake, we were literally a stone’s throw from Sandown, but with the added pleasure of marvellous views of the sea and cliffs overlooking Luccombe Bay in the distance.
With a bedroom each for my children to call their own for the week, which always goes down a treat, as well as two other large bedrooms, one en suite, along with ample living quarters downstairs, that included a comfy lounge, sun-baked conservatory and a snug – complete with piano that we were entertained with by my son, who taught himself how to play the Looney Tunes theme tune. There was also a generous-sized kitchen and dining area, plus ample off-street parking which is always a bonus, we certainly got the feeling that we would be very comfortable in our temporary home for the week.
From here, we could take a two-minute stroll to the coastal path and either choose to head down into Sandown itself and enjoy the sights and sounds there, or venture south towards the charming town of Shanklin, which we did one evening to play crazy golf on the sea front, although we got a proper soaking on the way back… the week of our holiday saw a record amount of rain fall on the island, with some paths and roads being washed away such was the ferocity of the stuff falling from the heavens.
It did stay dry enough for my children to enjoy the Skynets at Sandham Gardens, a recently built attraction at the northern end of Sandown, where children and adults alike can bounce away on huge nets suspended off the ground, throw huge soft balls at each other and zoom down various slides to their hearts’ content.
Visitors to the Gardens can also go go-karting, play crazy golf or just play in the kids playground, all in view of the coastal waters, and when the sun beats down, it’s a lovely place to spend a couple of hours, which is in stark contrast to the serene action at Sandown Bowls Club, which is an oasis of calm alongside this children’s haven.
The great thing about the Isle of Wight is that everywhere on the island seems to be nearby and Robin Hill Country Park (the sister park of Blackgang Chine) was about a 20-minute drive away, and this is a must-visit destination if you have children. From treetop canopy walkways, to adventure parks, with an exhilarating toboggan run, more bouncy nets to traverse and a 4D cinema, this is a wonderful day out.
And it’s even better when Brainiac Live are there, which they were during our week on the island. For a few extra quid, we were thrilled by the touring show, which is described as ‘the Science Museum meets Top Gear’, with explosions and rocket chairs wowing the youngsters and their parents. There’s nothing better than a few bangs, sparks galore and smoke to make kids happy.
We also paid a visit to the 12th-century Carisbrooke Castle, again a short drive from Sandown. An imposing fortress with great views of the island, this was where King Charles I was imprisoned in the middle of the 17th century, months before his execution, and much of it still looks like it did when he was held here.
The aforementioned Shanklin was a popular spot for us, especially the old town, with thatch-roofed houses, pubs and shops lending a quintessential Olde English air to the place, while the 200-year-old visitor attraction of Shanklin Chine conjured up images of elven kingdoms of Tolkien, with its dramatic waterfall and tree-lined paths carved through a stunning gorge.
For such a small island, there’s so much to see and do, so much history at your fingertips, so many places to explore that a return visit has already been pencilled in.
Seven-night stays at 5 The Mall priced between £659 and £2,600 – book with sykescottages.co.uk.
Two-hour session tickets for the Skynets: Adults £13.50, Children £13.50 (age 5+), £7 (age 3-4).
Robin Hill Country Park tickets: £23.50 per person.
Carisbrooke Castle tickets: Adults £12.50, children (5-17) £7.50.
Top image © Visit Isle of Wight