Zac and Toby’s excellent adventure

Our little cottage

If, five years ago, you had suggested to me that a farm cottage on the Isle of Wight would be a suitable place to spend a week of my hard-earned holidays, my response would probably have been monosyllabic and unrepeatable in polite company. However, there’s no point denying that my life has changed more than a little since then, so much so that I now look back on the past week and think that’s something I would quite like to do again.

Holidays as a family of four are very different to how they were when it was just Heather and I gallivanting off around the world. In the past we would have pitched up at some random hotel in some random city and spent entire days hurtling around on foot taking in all the sights, visiting museums, sampling the local restaurants and taking in a football match. Now things are somewhat more considered and sedate – or as sedate as a hyperactive two-year old will allow you to be, anyway (i.e. not at all). We don’t go anywhere that doesn’t have convenient car park access. Banks of slot machines have replaced rooms of Picassos and Mirós. Dinners are more likely to be Tesco than tapas. And the only football we get to see is on TV after the boys have gone to sleep.

Isle of Wight ferry

Which is how we came to be in Portsmouth on a Friday, driving on to a ferry in a car loaded to the gunwales with kids’ paraphernalia. The highlights of our outward trip for our elder son, Isaac – all of 33 months – were spotting the small Costa at the ferry terminal and declaring “Daddy, I want a babyccino” and then running excitedly up and down the viewing deck on the ferry peering down at all the cars.

Yes, I know. Compared to some of our previous trips, the level of excitement doesn’t exactly match up to standing on top of the Great Wall of China. Or the Grand Canyon. Or tramping up active volcanoes. But it’s not so bad, really.

Heather had booked us a cottage at Nettlecombe Farm in Whitwell in the south-east of the island, which served as an excellent base for our holiday. Every evening Zac would ask excitedly if we could go on another “big adventure” tomorrow, and every day we would head to a different part of the island in search of some new activity or experience. Nothing too grand or ambitious, but when you’re only two years old everything is a big adventure.

It didn’t matter what. It could have been something as small as trying out his new scooter. Or finding pebbles on the beach in Ventnor. Or playing in the amusement arcades on Sandown Pier (or, as Zac calls them, the “money games”).

Scooter boy
Zac on the beach
Gambling clearly runs in the family
The boys didn't think this was particularly funny either ...

Alternatively, there were big days out like riding the island’s steam railway, or exploring the classic car show on the esplanade at Ryde on a morning where I grossly overestimated the temperature, ventured out in a t-shirt and shorts and ended up so blue that people were mistaking me for Papa Smurf.

Choo choo!
Fire up the Quattro, Raymondo

And then of course there are the staple car-spotting games, which in Zac’s case are the car recognition game – he is now proficient in identifying a BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Ford, Volkswagen, Mini or Renault badge at twenty paces – and his current favourite, the hubcap game, which involves shouting out “hubcap missing!” whenever you spot a car with – you’ve guessed it – a missing hubcap (something he is freakishly good at doing, spotting offending vehicles across a crowded car park or as we whizzed past people’s driveways).

Of course, it wasn’t all about Zac, although sometimes it was all too easy for Toby – being eight months old, relatively immobile and considerably less high maintenance than his brother – to become almost an afterthought at times. But he had his first proper ice cream cone last week (he munched his way through both ice cream and cone), he had a good time peering at the animals at the farm, watching owls skimming just over his head in a show at the Owl and Falconry Centre, and then being mesmerised by colourful, darting fish at Portsmouth’s aquarium on our way home. I think he had a good time.

Toby's first ice cream
Owl on the prowl

For me, the most excitement I had all week was reversing up a one-in-five single-track road to the nearest passing place with the smell of a burning clutch filling my nostrils. (The Isle of Wight isn’t exactly the thrill capital of the UK, being apparently stuck in a protective space-time bubble which means it is permanently 1975.) But that’s not the point. The week afforded me ample opportunity to just forget about work and spend quality time with both boys, whether it was taking Toby to see animals or chasing after an overexcited Zac (pretty much everywhere). And it created a few wonderful pockets of time where I had absolutely nothing that needed doing – giving me a quiet hour in the morning to read a book, say, or an evening where Heather and I could enjoy the luxury of playing Scrabble or watching DVDs.

So while for Zac (and to a lesser extent Toby) a week on the Isle of Wight provided plentiful opportunity for excellent adventures, I was happy to just watch them enjoying themselves and wallow contentedly at the easy pace of life in the slow lane. I’ve racked up my fair share of travel experiences already; I’m happy to watch on vicariously as my sons start to accumulate some of their own. That, in itself, is an adventure of its own.