Sunday, 19 August 2007
Obviously a big mistake to invite guesses where the pictures of the signs were taken. It means either the 'test' was too hard, no one could be bothered to reply or (most likely) no one read it!
In fact, the pictures were taken at Blackgang Chine, on the Isle of Wight, which we visited for a couple of days last week.
Blackgang was one of earliest theme parks but is wonderfully understated in a very English way.
The signs were on a) a whale skeleton which is on display and b) next to a family of fibre glass bears in the Frontierland area of the chine.
I've been visiting Blackgang since I was a very small child and it has changed a lot over the years, not least because bits of it keep falling into the sea. It was orginally a steep-sided valley that ran down the the sea on the southern coast of the island. Visitors came to wonder at its natural beauty and walk down the steep steps and winding path to the beach.
Gradually it added 'attractions' - the whale skeleton (washed up on a nearby beach), displays about smuggling and wrecks etc. Among the highlights when I first went in the early 1960s (that dates me!) were a water garden, a gnomes' village and a hall of mirrors. Not so interesting was the display of different types of chimney pot. The best thing, of course, was when you went at night and the whole place was lit up with strings of coloured lights..
Now it's more modern - there's a small roller-coaster, a big water slide etc - but the water garden is still there, perched on the very edge of the cliff which suggests that next time we go, it might not be. Also, some of the gnomes remain, as does the collection of chimney pots and the hall of mirrors.
Parts of the park are split up into themed areas - Frontierland (a cowboy town with fibreglass bears, horses, cowboys etc), Jungleland (fibreglass animals), dinosaurland (fibreglass . . . you get the picture).
What's amazing is that considering how 'tame' it is, the place is really popular - and always has been. When I was at university, during the summer holidays I worked as a bus conductor on the island and the main route I worked on was from the pier at Ryde (where the passenger ferry arrives) to Blackgang. It was an easy route for me because the bus would fill up with people heading for Blackgang and there'd be no room for any more passengers I'd take the first lot of fares and then it would be non-stop to Blackgang with no room for any new passengers.
For me, Mrs DW and our two teenaged girls, visiting Blackgang is mainly about nostalgia. But for the two 10 year olds it's still exciting and fun. This time, like many other parents, we let the boys buy cap guns to play with in the cowboy town. Dozens of kids running around firing cap guns, shrieking because of their 'wounds', the smell of the caps (nice - it brought back childhood memories) mingling with the stink of chips and burgers being cooked in the café - all in a hot, humid and airless atmosphere because this part of the park in wedged in between the rising cliffs aon one side and woodland on the other. Not my favourite part of Blackgang (as a grown up).
An added bonus this time was the weekly 'performance' by the local Western living history group. I (mercifully) was dragged past their stall by one of the boys but Mrs DW was not so lucky - she was 'captured' and was treated to a full explanation of cowboy life. She said it was 'interesting', but I'm not sure about grown men dressing as cowboys!
They had a drawing (guns not crayons) contest among themselves before letting the youngsters have a go. For the record, the DW child who took part was runner-up in his duel - Boot Hill for him, then.