Family day out: An Isle of Wight bear hunt
One shiny wet nose… Two big furry ears… Two big goggly eyes… It’s a… day out on an Isle of Wight bear hunt! Last time we visited the island, we were hunting for ferocious creatures (and found a dinosaur).
This time, we had a rather furrier target in our sights. Because if you fancy a bear hunt in the style of the classic children’s book, it turns out the island is the perfect place to start.
The tourist board and the National Trust are running some special bear hunt weekends with family trails, but whenever you visit, there’s a leaflet to download with places to visit mimicking the locations from the story. It was a beautiful day. We weren’t scared. And we had a bear on our side already! So off we went.
The grass on the dunes at St Helen’s Duver, not far from where we were staying in Bembridge, swished gently in the breeze – my daughter strode through, the tallest stems reaching her waist.
Tiny purple flowers dotted the gold and the occasional butterfly flitted past, only mildly alarmed by the swashing. We could hear the crickets which make their homes here too, even if we couldn’t see them. Or perhaps they were grasshoppers.
But over the dunes lay the beach, the sea and the rockpools off Priory Bay at Nodes Point. And even swishy swashing (or the chance of finding a bear) couldn’t compete with that. Clambering from rock to rock, peering at tiny fish and shrimps speeding through the water beneath limpets, I had been congratulating myself for bringing Minnie’s net.
Everyone else was even more organised and had brought bait and lines too, far more successful at tempting out the crabs from their hiding places under the seaweed; little greeny yellow ones, clinging on stubbornly and two much bigger black ones in a clear bucket.
If we didn’t find a crab in the sea, I found one for lunch though… in a baguette at Baywatch on the Beach cafe, right on the beachside.
Who needs a river when you’ve got the sea? Appley, a short walk along the coast from Ryde is one of our favourite beach spots – from here you can look across the Solent back to Portsmouth, the Spinnaker Tower gleaming in the sunshine and a playground just off the sand.
This time, the tide was far far out, the colourful sails of the kitesurfers far out in the distance. Nothing comes between my six-year-old and a paddle though. Clambering over shells and past endless worms of sand (I later discovered they’re lugworm casts), we paddled through tide pools warmed by the sun along the way.
No bears to be seen on the flat open beach, only my daughter frolicking in the surf until we made our way back, concocting stories of the land of the sand worms, us as giants escaping from the sleeping inhabitants as we weaved between the strange coils of sand.
Then a small break from our Isle of Wight bear hunt for a bike ride to Ryde. But no ordinary bike: instead we hopped on board the BoRo Bike which hops along the front from the Pier in Ryde to Puckpool Park via Appley.
Brand new for this summer, with themed rides including pizza parties and sunset or sunrise options, there’s space for 17 including 10 cycling.
Happily, there’s also an electric engine for those occasions when there’s only two of you cycling. Minnie was up front with owner and driver Dominic, in charge of the microphone (‘faster faster!’) and later the bell while my husband and I pedalled for all we were worth. I apologise to the cars which got stuck crawling along behind us!
Heads turned as we cruised along, and by the time we reached the pier, we managed to persuade three more people to join us on board. All that combined pedal power meant we triggered the speed camera on the pier to show 7mph. My legs might not have outrun a bear afterwards, but it was huge fun.
Led on an unexpected adventure down a twisting narrow country lane by our satnav, we emerged unscathed to follow the postcode directions from the National Trust and found our way to Borthwood Copse, parking by the evocatively named ‘hairpin bend’ bus stop.
The woods were all ours. Almost literally. A couple of dog walkers aside, there was no-one but us, a few birds high in the trees and our new bear, going by the name of ‘Birry’.
Perhaps he scared away the red squirrels which live in the trees, the canopy of leaves high ahead and trunks of beech twisted up to the sky. Too early still for the autumn leaves, in spring, it’s a sea of blue, carpeted with bluebells.
But there was one place nearby where we were guaranteed to find another bear: Brading Roman Villa. One of the country’s best preserved Roman sites, it’s a fantastic place to explore with kids – and there’s also currently an activity to collect the bits you need to create a bear puppet as you explore, before decorating it at the tables near the cafe afterwards.
Even without the bears, I was impressed at how family-friendly it was. There’s a trail to follow along the way, mosaics to make, dressing up, the chance to spin huge pictures to match the heads and bodies of Romans and gods, a jigsaw of the mosaic floor (tricky!) and lots of other oppportunities to get hands on.
Coming soon after our visit to Dewa Roman Experience, where we’d built our own model hypocaust, we had the chance to see this form of Roman central heating in reality at the villa too. The bear puppet, meanwhile, was liberally decorated and topped with a feather headdress.
Along the pebbly beach of Freshwater Bay, at the foot of the chalk cliffs, are caves. Once the haunt of smugglers, they might just be the kind to house a bear – at low tide, at least, when the sea pulls back to reveal them.
We had timed our visit when the tide was in, so decided that a bit more splash sploshing in the waves – plus a spot of sandcastle building – would do instead. Birry the bear sat back and sunbathed on the towel as we gazed out across the sand and shingle to the rock formations in the sea.
Further down the coast are The Needles, which we visited last time. In the opposite direction, one of my favourite viewpoints at Hanover Point, where the white cliffs always seem lit up in the sun. But I felt very disinclined to move at all…
Until it was time for lunch. Idly asking Twitter for recommendations, I toyed with the thought of returning to Off The Rails or pizza at West Wight Alpacas before a suggestion of The Waterfront at neighbouring Totland Bay. As I’d also had that recommended on Instagram as one of the most beautiful spots on the island, our decision was made.
Minnie found pizza and chips, I couldn’t resist a bit more crab (in the form of spicy crab cakes) as we gazed out to the sea. Tiny boats bobbed on the water beyond the groynes, and the light turned the sea glorious shades of turquoise and blue.
It’s… time to go home. Back across the beach, back to the car, back to the ferry. We’re definitely coming on this bear hunt again.
Need to know for an Isle of Wight bear hunt
The next official Bear Hunt Adventure Weekend with the National Trust takes place on September 8 and 9. The Bear Hunt-themed Isle of Wight Children’s Literary Festival also takes place on October 20 and 21 at Northwood House.
You can also find Bear Hunt merchandise from the Isle of Wight Tourist Information centre at the Guildhall in Newport (which also houses the Museum of Island History) if you want to guarantee finding a bear, including activity books themed around birds and bugs. There are also Bear Hunt leaflets to pick up, or you can download a printer-friendly version by clicking here which includes the locations we visited and a few more.
To squelch squerch through the mud, head to Newtown Creek for a wander along the boardwalk. And while finding a snowstorm might not rank high on your plans for a day out, you’ll see any clouds coming from Ventnor Downs, the highest point on the island.
If you’re a National Trust member, there’s free parking at many sites we visited in their car parks. Otherwise, it’s worth downloading the pay by phone app (or keeping a stash of change) for the council-run car parks – we used these at St Helen’s Duver, Appley and Freshwater Bay.
PIN FOR LATER: AN ISLE OF WIGHT BEAR HUNT
Disclosure: My visit to the island was courtesy of Wightlink Ferries as well as Willerby Holiday Lodges which arranged our accommodation at Away Resorts Whitecliff Bay. Visit Isle of Wight assisted in setting up some activities which were courtesy of the attractions mentioned; we paid for all restaurant meals, and all decisions to hunt bears are my own. Contains some affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may get a few pennies in return.
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