When I go on holiday, I’m usually a stickler about doing my research. I buy a guidebook and read stuff online, and any day trips are carefully planned. However, this time I was all tired out from planning the umpteen million things I needed to pack to keep my kids happy. So when we decided to go to the beach, I said, “I heard Shanklin’s good”, and blithely chose a Shanklin car park on my sat nav.
So I’m not sure what other people’s sat navs are like, but mine loves going off the beaten track. I have troves of holiday photos of roads that end abruptly in the middle of a field of sheep or that require me to ford a small stream. I therefore should not have been surprised when my blithely chosen car park did get me near the beach. It was just a quick abseil down a massive cliff to get there.
So we tried again and figured out that we wanted the Shanklin Esplanade. This is the bit where you can actually get to a beach without mountaineering equipment.
Our second mistake was deciding we’d turn up at the beach “just in time for lunch”. There were loads of car parks on the Esplanade plus parking along the road, but every single last spot was full. It was an exceptionally nice day, but this was still on an off-season weekday so I wasn’t expecting the busyness. We wasted quite a bit of time driving up and down, stalking pedestrians who might be returning to their car, in the effort to find a spot. We finally gave up on parking on the Esplanade and drove back up the hill, where after a bit more stalking we found a spot. It was a parallel parking sort of one so it’s a good thing my husband was driving. I’m so bad at parallel parking we’d probably still be there, going back and forth, trying to get closer to the kerb.
TOP TIP: Either go early to nab a parking spot or plan to drop your family and beach kit on the beach while the unlucky driver parks the car wherever he or she can.
So we piled all of our stuff out of the car at the top of the hill. And we really brought a lot of stuff. A tent, sand toys, swim kits & towels, a very large changing bag packed to the brim with things I’m sure I couldn’t have managed without … It’s a good thing we have a big pushchair with all-terrain wheels.
However we had foolishly retired the double-buggy extra seat, thinking 4-year-old could now manage without. Not very long after leaving the car and really quite some way from the restaurant we wanted for lunch, my big boy started doing some of his very best whingeing. First it was just “my little feet are tired” and “I’m hungry”. But then he uttered the phrase that strikes fear into my heart: “I need the toilet”.
I learned something on this day. I will go a long way to avoid a public toileting accident. Ever since my son in younger years made a trail across the church hall which the vicar then cleaned up. I guess I was traumatised. So as soon as he uttered these words, I scooped him up and began carrying him as fast as I could to the nearest toilet. However, it seemed everywhere that looked like it might have a toilet either didn’t or required you to queue up with the customers and get a key. So I ended up carrying him (along with the overstuffed changing bag) about half-a-mile all the way to restaurant, sweating and puffing while my son whinged about his bladder and the haphazard way I was carrying him.
TOP TIP: Later in the day, I learned that there were public toilets RIGHT F__ING NEXT TO where my son had first announced his toilet emergency. Near the entrance of the Esplanade near Pirates Cove Mini Golf, which looks awesome, btw. In fact, I’ve later realised that my son often says he wants a wee when he sees a public toilet sign, so that’s probably all it was in the first place.
Lunch at The Waterfront Inn
Chosen via an extremely brief and careless Google search, mainly based on its location, I was happy with my lunch there. To be honest, after our mad dash for the loo, the most important part of my lunch was the beautiful cold pint of cider.
But the atmosphere was great. There was terraced outdoor seating at the front of the restaurant looking out towards the beach, and most of it was in the shade. You have to order at the bar, but there were still plenty of smiling and helpful staff about to get highchairs, advise where to park the buggy, etc.
I ordered the seared tuna with salsa verde and husband had mussels in a Thai-flavoured sauce. There was a lot of variety on the kids menu. Older boy had lasagne with garlic bread and youngest had fish and chips. The kids food was very good quality (I stole a lot of it), and they ate as much as they usually do when the food in unobjectionable (i.e. not a whole helluva lot). Husband seemed to enjoy his mussels too. My only complaint is that my seared tuna was fully cooked through. I thought seared tuna meant it was a bit raw in the middle. But it was still perfectly edible and I cleaned my plate.
And now to the actual beach…
The beach is all sandy and beautiful and there were plenty of places to “cop a squat“, as they say in Pretty Woman.
Now, those of you, dear readers, who grew up in England may be no strangers to pitching a tent on the beach. I suppose the weather here often necessitates that sort of thing. But I had never before had a tent on a beach. I grew up in the USA where I’ve never seen that done. But, boy am I converted. We had shade, a place to hide our stuff where it wouldn’t get blown away, and best of all a place to change without seeking out a changing room. I am never going to the beach without a tent again. So worth carrying THAT down the hill.
So we pitched our tent and we all changed into our swim kits INSIDE THE TENT. Okay, I’ll stop going on about it.
It’s simply a brilliant beach. The English Channel water is really freeze your arse off cold though. And if you can handle the cold, be sure you wear some aqua shoes because even though the beach is sandy, it’s very rocky once you’re inside the water. But other than that it’s clean, sandy, spacious and scenic.
It was my youngest son’s first time at the seaside. He hurtled himself towards the water yelling “Sea! Sea! Sea!”. While my oldest dug himself a hole full of water to make a nice safe paddling pool. Good times.
I reckon if you’re visiting the Isle of Wight during beach sort of weather, Shanklin Beach is a must-see.
4 out of 5 shells (I had to penalise them one for the parking fiasco, even though it was mostly my fault)