A visitors’ gem in our own back yard

Cheryl was lucky enough to sit next to 1980s pop star Sinitta, pictured here at a previous event   Picture: PA

CHERYL GIBBS: An embarrassing moment at a celebrity shindig with Sinitta

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The Isle of Wight is always there. By that I mean, as someone who was born in Portsmouth and lived in the city all my life, I’m always aware of the island being there but have never given it much thought.

I never consider crossing the water to visit the place that is so close yet mostly feels so far and distant.

Many times when I’m walking along Southsea seafront or driving along the esplanade I glance over to the island and remember a visit when I was at secondary school.

It was a geography field trip and as I remember not a particularly pleasant one.

I just recall doing lots of walking up many steep hills, examining many rivers and being taught about coastal erosion.

As a 14-year-old this most certainly wasn’t the most thrilling day of my life and on that occasion I was actually missing the classroom.

Fast forward 16 years and I found myself back on the Island after my dad suggested we visit for the day with my two daughters.

I wondered what this island, the one that didn’t particularly impress me when I was a teenager, would have to offer a three and five-year-old.

Turns out, quite a lot actually.

First there was excitement when they boarded the hovercraft for the very first time.

The glee on their faces mirrored the time they were queuing for the rides at Paultons Park. So the day got off to a good start.

Then came another first, a train journey.

My daughters had never been on a train before so enjoyed our trip on the Island Line between Ryde and Sandown. I think the rickety journey, which sometimes actually did feel like a ride at Paultons Park, added to the excitement.

After a short walk we arrived at Sandown beach, one of the most stunning I have ever been to. Before I knew it shoes had been flung off and feet and hands were deep in sand. They would have spent all day here if they could, but after dusting off the sand we made our way towards Isle of Wight Zoo. Well, only after we had stopped at a small but beautiful café to have a bite to eat.

The zoo is smaller than the huge Marwell we are used to, but perfect for the little ones and they enjoyed seeing the big cats, meerkats and monkeys, among others.

But to be honest they were more excited by the stamp trail and finding the stamps to fill up their booklet given to them on arrival.

What a great idea. As they say, time flies when you’re having fun, and it really did. Before we knew it we had to make our way back to the station to catch our train.

A perfect day and I won’t be waiting 16 years for my next visit.