It’s easy to forget the simple joys of watching your children play on the beach. Of filthy little feet washed clean by the waves; of pebbles piled high into an impenetrable fortress, softened only with a seaweed decoration; and of the tiring effects of a gentle sea breeze so that when baths have been bathed and bedtime arrives it takes but moments for sleepy eyes to close.
So exhausted in fact did the Knapman clan become on our beach-based Isle of Wight adventure that they would nod off not only as soon as they snuggled into bed, but also every time we undertook a car journey that lasted more than four minutes.
In fairness to the two under-fives in the back, the over-35 in the front passenger seat of our BMW X3 didn’t fare much better, which made most journeys rather quiet. Just me and the satisfying growl of BMW’s 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine for company.
This is all rather different to the last time the Knapmans explored the Isle of Wight when, pre-children, we had joined a friendly contingent of Lotus Seven and Caterham owners to partake in an annual weekend of island exploration known as Wight Blat.
The vehicle on that occasion was about as far from our gadget-laden X3 as you can get, being small, light, noisy and in the case of the R500 we had commandeered for a drive across the A3055 Military Road, even without a windscreen.
Memories of that experience come flooding back as I point the nose of the BMW Snoozebox on to the same stretch of road and ease the speed up to a steady 50mph. Despite being February it’s a beautifully clear day, just like it had been in the Caterham all those years ago, and ahead of us stretch miles of open, chalky coastline that marks out the south of the island from the more low-lying pastures to the north.
In the opposite direction a few hard-worked motorbikes serve as a reminder that this is not only a scenic road, but also one that has a reputation for being a satisfying drive, although the surface is so worn that it’s actually pretty choppy in places. Realising as much I switch BMW’s adaptive dynamics mode from Sport to Comfort, which provides a little more give in the suspension. To say the X3 breezes over the bumpy surfaces would be an exaggeration, but it’s certainly a very competent all-rounder, and the interior of the latest model is as crisp and modern as parts of the island are old and charming.
Our journey west along the 12-mile Military Road leads us to Freshwater Bay and then the National Trust car park at Totland, where we abandon the car for a short but definitely sharp climb to Tennyson Down. From here, bathing in the unseasonably warm sunshine, we manage a moment of gazing out in all directions before the inevitable charging around of children begins.
Until recently this monument was the best place on the island to remember the work of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate who used to walk this land. However, the refurbishment and recent opening of his old property, Farringford House, presents further opportunities to explore the life and work of one of Britain’s most popular poets – although I must admit I can’t bring myself to inflict the children on the beautifully restored property.
Instead we descend back to the BMW Slumberbus and head inland towards Carisbrooke Castle near the capital of Newport. This incredible English Heritage-owned site is where Charles I was detained prior to his execution in London, as well as where Queen Beatrice, youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, once lived (Queen Victoria herself moved to Osbourne House near Cowes following the death of Prince Albert in 1861).
Although not geared up for children in the same way as the island’s big attractions of Blackgang Chine or Robin Hill Country Park, Carisbrooke still offers plenty for families to explore, whether it’s watching a donkey steadily plodding in the giant 16th century treadmill to raise a bucket of water from the 37-metre deep well, exploring the castle battlements, or climbing to the top of the keep and enjoying the far-reaching views.
In the castle’s museum meanwhile is an exhibition dedicated to the achievements of Isle of Wight residents. On the automotive front this includes engineer and inventor John Ackroyd, who designed and built Thrust 2, the jet-propelled vehicle in which Richard Noble blasted his way to 633mph to become the World Land Speed Record Holder in 1983.
Our BMW Zzz is not quite that fast, although any roomy 4x4 that can leap from 0-62mph in less than six seconds is still not to be sniffed at. This time it lulls us over to the bustling village of Bembridge to see what the fishmonger has to offer. The answer turns out to be a beautiful brill, which we roast on the bone and serve with fennel, smoked garlic (from the island’s Garlic Farm) and what at 6.30am the next day feels like it might have been too much wine.
Still, it’s nothing that caffeine and the healing power of the sea breeze can’t fix, and within a couple of hours we are back in the BMW Snore-ster and heading south along the coast to Sandown and our museum for the day, Dinosaur Isle.
While no Jurassic Park, there’s easily enough of interest here for a morning’s entertainment, with an amazing array of fossils, an animatronic Eotyrannus (transformed from what was once a Dennis-Nedry-eating Dilophosaurus) and an impressive lifesize Iguanodon. All would have roamed this land more than 100 million years ago, which in turn helps make the Isle of Wight one of Europe’s richest destinations for fossil hunters.
The only disappointment of our trip is that we are too early in the year to enjoy the Isle of Wight’s 175 years of family adventures celebration, linked to the same anniversary of the aforementioned amusement park, Blackgang Chine. Central to this is be a series of events and activities based around We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, supported by the team behind the 2016 television adaptation of Michael Rosen’s adventure book.
Having opened at Easter, it encourages visitors to explore parts of the landscape that bear (get it?) a close resemblance to scenes from the book, where they will be firmly encouraged to swishy swashy through the grass and, yes, squelch squerch through the mud, as well as perhaps even meet the bear.
For now, however, our Isle of Wight adventure ends with BMW’s latest Snoozing Utility Vehicle providing a soothing backdrop as I wind three tired but happy passengers back towards the ferry in East Cowes. Before long we’ll be on the mainland, heading up the motorway back to our daily routines of school and work, but revived by the sea air and bursting with happy memories. How reassuring to know that such a tonic is but a short ferry ride away.
BMW X3 xDrive30d M Sport
ENGINE 2,993cc six-cylinder diesel
TOP SPEED 149mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 5.8sec
FUEL ECONOMY 48.7mpg (EU Combined)
*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 17/04/2018 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront. Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change. Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.