diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 21, 2015

IoW postcard: Blackgang Chine

Britain's oldest theme park sits at the southern point of the Isle of Wight, somewhat precariously, on the edge of a crumbly clay cliff. It's been here since the 1840s, when the island first became a holiday destination, and is still run by descendants of the same family. The scenic ravine which gives the area its name has long since disappeared over the edge, as have a number of the older attractions therein. But there's plenty left to enjoy on a family day out, at this low-key fantastical and delightfully quirky pleasure ground.

There can't be many theme parks where you enter between the legs of a giant fibreglass pirate. Getting any further costs the best part of twenty quid, not helped if you turn up on the first day of peak season prices, but for that you can come back any day for the next week (which if you're holidaying here is a bargain). I had two hours between buses, which required a dash around to sample the majority of the site including most of its weirder corners. [10 photos]

I last visited Blackgang Chine in the early 1970s as part of a family summer holiday, and for some reason my abiding memory is of the Crooked House and a hall of mirrors. There was no sign of the latter, but the Crooked House is still there, overlooking the clifftop close to the park entrance. You walk in expecting mechanically shaking walls and floors but oh no, Blackgang isn't like that. Instead this is an exercise in oblique carpentry, with walls and narrow passageways at non-orthogonal angles, and scenes from the rhyme "There was a crooked man" incorporated in tableaux along the way. The crooked man sleeps under a seventies brown duvet, cooks breakfast in a depressingly retro kitchen and watches the test card on his ancient TV set with an IoW-shaped aerial. Most of the children larking through in the wrong direction must have wondered what the hell the point was, but those who 'got' it might well be bringing their kids here in thirty years time.

Down a twisty track is the Smugglers Cave, a tale of derring do and shipwreck on the rocks below, and a licorice allsort cottage, and the home of the Weather Wizard who (no, sorry, I'm on a tight schedule). The Triassic Club is gobsmackingly not what you expect, spoilers, as an animatronic dino-butler ushers you through to a hungry smoking-jacketed allosaurus accompanied by an ostrich on the piano. I walked out having to pinch myself that this actually happened. Rumpus Mansion is similarly semi-mechanical, as various spirits and goblins almost run riot at the press of a button, while in the Valley of the Dodos a colony of big extinct birds gyrate to the BeeGees hit Staying Alive. And yet today's kids seemed much happier elsewhere, clambering over anything they could climb on, or running amok in Cowboy Town, a facsimile Wild West main street laid out beneath towering cliffs which may one day erase it.

It's not all old stuff. One of the latest attractions is Restricted Area 5, a lengthy boardwalk down the cliff face where scout packs can come face to face with giant moving dinosaurs, including a T-Rex that had one small visitor fleeing in terror. It's brilliantly done, including witty takes on warning signs and a section where you'll likely get wet. The park's recently bowed to modern tastes and introduced a rollercoaster called Cliffhanger, whose 35mph curves I spun round twice, but which is also portable should the land nearby ever crumble. I also braved the water slides, where you climb into a dinghy and speed down a bumpy chute, but so did several five year-olds so it's nothing to be especially proud of. But the centre-less hedge maze I had pretty much to myself, and as for Nurseryland (which brings various seminal rhymes 'to life') not one target audience visitor could be seen. Alas Old Mother Hubbard and The House That Jack Built aren't the crowdpleasers they once were, if ever.

As part of the park's unstated ambition to inform, educate and entertain, the sheds containing World of Timber are just as exciting as you might expect. Rather better is an indoor exhibit based on the BBC's Coast, in which Dick Strawbridge tells the tale of repeated local cliff falls, and invites you to stand on a shaking platform to experience the same. Nextdoor the Wight Experience offers a 15 minute cinematic overview of the island (not ideal if there are only 14 minutes left before your bus goes). But if you want to see the model village you really are too late, because that toppled over in the great collapse of 1994. Indeed there are several old paths at Blackgang Chine that have had to be fenced off because they end in slumped clay cliffs. There's a particularly good view of the collapse from the edge of the Water Gardens, an extensive gouged-out splurge of Lower Greensand with the remainder of the island's cliffs strung out behind. Best visit soon.
by bus: 6

IoW postcard: Godshill Model Village
A few miles inland, in the picture postcard village of Godshill, is the Isle of Wight's modelmaking hotspot. A minor model village exists in the gardens round the back of The Old Smithy, centred around a giant map of the island edged by a shallow blue channel. They like their giant maps in Wight, indeed I remember wandering around a similar but larger one back when I was but small. But the Smithy's is merely the aperitif, for across the lane lies the proper Godshill Model Village, and this is both main meal and dessert rolled into one. The top of the gardens is the oldest, dating back to the early Fifties, and based on the seaside streets of nearby Shanklin. From the parish church down to the shore, past a complete hotel and high street, the buildings are enlivened by the most wonderful array of characters each with a charm of their own. From punks to nuns and morris dancers to bandsmen, each has been lovingly created with a spark that'll make you smile... look, a streaker on the football pitch, and why are there dinosaurs on the train, and isn't that Santa atop the 1:10 scale wind turbine? [11 photos]

Lower down the focus switches to Godshill itself, with the model medieval church atop on a mound in front of the real thing. The owners have taken this approach to its logical extreme, and the model of Godshill village contains a model of the model village itself, within which can just be seen a model of the model village in the model village. The other thing that sets this place apart are the trees, sculpted to appropriately scaled dimensions, and at this time of year beautifully arrayed across a spectrum of vibrant greens. Nobody said the place had to be a perfect representation of anything so there are bright Montgolfier balloons hanging in several corners, just because. But it's the variety of mini-people that tips Godshill from good to great, of a quality you'd flock to in London were they displayed as "art". Both humorous and photogenic, there's so much here for the model village aficionado to adore.
by train: Shanklin, then by bus: 2, 3

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this month?
28 Jan – 23 Apr (10am-4.30pm)
Sussex Modernism
The sixth annual exhibition at Two Temple Place focuses on radical art/writing in Sussex, and is damned excellent.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Feb17  Jan17
Dec16 Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards