As the UK’s oldest theme park gears up for its 175th birthday celebrations, our writer enjoys the timeless and gentle appeal of its themed lands
Blackgang Chine, Isle of Wight
In a nutshell
The UK’s oldest theme park, which opened its gates in 1843, only five years after Queen Victoria had been crowned. Its imaginatively-themed “lands” and spectacular location – on the side of a steep coastal ravine (or “chine”, now destroyed) – quickly made it one of the Isle of Wight’s favourite attractions. A programme of special events is planned to mark the park’s 175th anniversary this summer, including a Wild West Week (26 May-3 June) and a Big Birthday Bash (Mondays and Wednesdays from 23 July -29 August) with music and fireworks.
The park’s first attraction was the skeleton of a whale that had washed up on the beach just off the Needles in 1844 – and which is still on display today.
Best thing about it
I have fond childhood memories of running around Blackgang Chine’s Cowboy Town and firing a cap gun in the 1970s. Though it has expanded since then, (the Underwater Kingdom and animatronic dinosaurs of Restricted Area 5 are two of the latest additions) much of it was just as I remembered – in a good way. There’s only a handful of (gentle) rides and slides and just one tame rollercoaster, but this means less time spent queuing and more time for children to let their imaginations run wild in the themed lands.
View over Blackgang Chine and the Isle of Wight coastline. Photograph: Education Images/UIG/Getty Images
What about lunch?
The Chine Cafe near the park entrance serves hot meals, such as fish and chips, burgers and pizzas, and children’s packed lunches. In Cowboy Town, La Cantina has a short take-away menu of burgers, hotdogs and burritos, and there are ice-cream and drink stalls dotted around the park.
Exit through the gift shop?
Not only do you exit through the gift shop, you have to enter through it, too. Even on a quiet day this can mean being held captive in the shop for 15 minutes while you queue for admission … and it feels much longer than that with a child at your elbow pestering you for toys and sweets before you’ve even made it through the turnstiles.
Photograph: Jason Swain
Value for money
Even though it was unseasonably cold and foggy, we easily managed to fill a day at Blackgang Chine. Admission is £20 for both adults and children off-peak, and £22 peak; under-fours go free. Tickets include free entry to the park for the following seven days after your first visit.
From 10am to 5pm, or 6pm in the school summer holidays. The park closes between November and mid March, with special evening openings on selected dates in October for the Blackgang by Night illuminations.
Blackgang Chine is six miles from Ventnor on the south coast of the island. Car parking is free. It’s served by bus from Newport and Ventnor.
This is not the place to come for theme park thrills (children over 10 might find it a bit tame) and parts of it feel old-fashioned (I have a suspicion the room sets in the Crooked House haven’t changed since I visited in 1976) but if you’re looking for a gentle family day out in beautiful surroundings, Blackgang will win you over. We loved it. 8/10