Most adults retain an affinity with theme parks, with a number of such locations dotted across the length and breadth of the UK. Not all theme parks are created equal, however, with this rule best embodied by the iconic Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight. Blackgang Chine just so happens to be the oldest theme park in the UK, having first opened its doors all the way back in 1843.
Located around six miles from Ventnor at the southernmost tip of the Isle of Wight and just below St Catherine’s Down, this is a must-see location for history buffs and young families. In this post, I’ll explore the history of the Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight, while appraising the most popular attractions in the region.
A Glimpse into History of Blackgang Chine
Known as ‘The Land of Imagination’, the Blackgang Chine celebrated its 180th year of operation in 2023, creating a rich and extended history that no other theme park on these shores shares.
The park is named after a now-destroyed chine (or coastal ravine), which existed in the soft Cretaceous cliffs and provided a truly stunning example of beauty.
During the Blackgang Chine’s early years, the area was essentially a steep and gaunt ravine, which overlooked the picturesque Chale Bay. At this time, the area was hidden away and virtually anonymous, only visited by local fishermen and (according to local legend) cutthroat smugglers.
As the Victorian age evolved, however, people continued to enjoy more leisure time and sought to spend this at seaside holiday resorts. Even Queen Victoria brought her court and wealthy associates to the Isle of Wight, eventually settling on a remote holiday home at Osborne.
Around the same time, the UK’s railway network was growing and inching closer towards the south coast, with the Isle of Wight seeing an influx of tourists as a result. This caused Alexander Dabell (the founder of the Blackgang Chine) to seek out ways of monetising this flow of traffic, and he eventually secured a lease for the site in 1842 and completed the construction of the theme park the following year.
The surrounding land was also opened up to the wider public at this time, with a number of accessible pathways constructed down to the ravine and landscaped gardens on the nearby cliffs.
Steps were also built to provide access to the beach from the lower road, ensuring that the Blackgang Chine became part of a much wider and more diverse attraction (I’ll touch more on this later in the piece).
To this day, it continues to rely heavily on its heritage and initial theme of being a general-purpose scenic and curiosity park. This is also borne out by one of the site’s most famous attractions, which is a large whale skeleton that was washed up near the coast of The Needles in 1842 (this remains a showpiece at the Blackgang Chine).
The Top 5 Attractions of the Blackgang Chine Theme Park
As I’ve already touched on, the Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight is surrounded by breathtaking scenery and trails, while various stages of regeneration have also seen other attractions constructed on the site over time, So, here’s my take on the most popular!
- #1. Fairyland: I’ll start with ‘Fairyland’, which is an enchanted archway that‘s located on the Blackgang Chine grounds. Here, you can stroll in truly beautiful surroundings while entering through a toadstool village, before climbing up the spiralling staircase of a gorgeous castle. See if you can spot the fairies or your very own Prince Charming!
- #2. Cowboy Town: Here, you can enjoy your very spaghetti western, from tending to horses in stables to climbing aboard stagecoaches and swaggering through the doors of bustling salons. Choose whether you want to join the Sheriff and round up the outlaws or become a fugitive from the law!
- #3. Pirate Cove: As the name suggests, this attraction is packed full of adventure, as can get stuck into a thrilling sea battle between a pirate ship and a French frigate. This is also home to the Crossbones Adventure play area, where you’ll find crow’s nests, rope netting and an entire network of pirate ships!
- #4. Dinosaur Isle: The Isle of Wight is often referred to as ‘Dinosaur Isle’, thanks to the number of prehistoric bones and skeletons that have been discovered there through the years. You’ll also be able to access the Dinosaur Isle Museum when visiting the Blackgang Chine, which is home to thousands of fascinating artefacts that narrate the story of the world some 245 million years ago.
- #5. Restricted Area 5: While this may sound like a no-go zone, this is actually the park’s newest feature and a futuristic attraction that includes everything from thrilling roller coasters to life-sized dinosaurs. Of particular interest is the Cliffhanger roller coaster, while I’d also recommend the ‘Time Machine’ ride if you’re in the market for truly unique experiences.
Natural Beauty and Scenic Views
The Blackgang Chine is accessible on foot via the Coastal Footpath, which is rough, and undulating but a prime example of untamed wilderness.
This offers access to a stunning hike up Gore Cliff, which sits directly between the iconic Blackgang Chine and the neighbouring St. Catherine’s Point.
From here, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Chine and St. Catherine’s Lighthouse, while coastal grassland and terrain around the site is packed full of colourful birds, butterflies and late summer flowers.
Then there’s Blackgang Viewpoint, which is considered part of the Compton Chine to Steephill Cove Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI). The site has been afforded this status because of its unique geology, flora and geomorphology, while it also offers some spectacular views of the park and its surrounding environment.
Events, Shows & Activities of the Park
The Land of Imagination Live show just concluded at the end of August, but ‘Sunset Sessions’ are scheduled to run from Sunday, 2nd September.
The latter is an adult-only party hosted on the often sun-kissed clifftops by the Blackgang Chine, with this year’s iteration featuring renowned DJ David Pearce.
There’s also an upcoming Halloween festival and celebration of the macabre scheduled for the Blackgang Chine this year, with this scheduled to take place between October 23rd and November 3rd. This occurs during the autumn half-term, so it’s the ideal festival for young families looking for an enjoyable getaway.
After this comes the hotly anticipated ‘Terror Island’ event, which starts on October 27th and runs for a week until November 4th. This is the biggest attraction on the whole of the south coast, while it’s packed full of nerve-jangling scares and shadowy creatures.
Dining and Refreshments
In terms of dining at the Blackgang Chine, the Chine Café is perhaps the best option. This is just a stone’s throw from our admissions and gift shop, while it’s the biggest on-site restaurant and one that serves everything from home-cooked meals and sandwiches to salads and even lunch packs.
If you want something a little more filling or upmarket, I’d recommend booking a table at a Cantina. Located deep in the heart of Cowboy Town, this western-themed restaurant and takeaway is perfect for family diners, while its menu relies heavily on juicy burgers, Mexican delicacies (such as gut-busting burritos) and cheese-drenched nachos.
Another kid-friendly restaurant is ‘iScream’, with this creatively-named desert bar home to an array of tasty and sweet treats. Sourcing local produce and the island’s delicious soft scoop ice cream, it’s perfect for an afternoon snack and or coffee break!
The Chine is open daily between 10 and 4.30 pm, and there are different ticket prices and discounts currently on offer.
For example, the ‘Joint Park Admission’ ticket for one person is currently available for £40 instead of £55. You can also currently buy a Group Park Saver for up to four people, with this ideal for families and offering up to seven day’s access for a discounted price of £108 (reduced from £122).
Then there’s the general admission Blackgang Chine admission price of £30 (for adults), which offers a £5 discount on the typical price for guests.
In terms of local accommodations, Wight Mouse Inn is less than 3 kilometres away in Ventnor and renowned as a beautiful, 18th-century pub. The Enchanted Manor is another popular option, with this quaint and serene location featuring numerous suites and a picturesque garden.
The Royal and Wellington Hotels are also available and located close by, with these destinations offering more contemporary accommodation and significant amenities.
Insider Tips for an Unforgettable Visit to Blackgang Chine
Now is certainly a good time to visit the Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight, with the location offering discounts across a range of ticket types and set to host its popular Sunset Sessions.
The same principle applies to accommodation too, as prices should begin to fall as the summer holidays draw to a close at the beginning of September.
Regardless of when you visit the Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight, I’d recommend making more than one trip. Many of the current offers provide discounted prices over a period of seven days or more, so you can plan an itinerary that enables you to sample a higher number of attractions.
I’d also recommend turning up at the opening time of 10 a.m., as this enables you to access the rides freely and minimises the need to queue. Make sure that you wear hiking boots and bring refreshments, as there may be a considerable amount of walking when visiting the Blackgang Chine and the location is deceptively steep!
If you have the time, be sure to get a photo in Nurseryland too, as this will provide a wonderful snapshot of your visit and create a memory you’ll never forget!
Ultimately, few locations anywhere in the world can match the unique charm and appeal of the Blackgang Chine, while this location is central to the popularity and innate natural beauty of the Isle of Wight.
After all, if you answer the question “Where is blackgang chine?”, you’ll find it situated on the island’s picturesque coastline, sandwiched between the towering Gore Cliff and St. Catherine’s Point.
This alone makes it stand out for its presence and alluring beauty, while the owners of the Blackgang Chine have created a fun-packed adventure park in the middle of this stunning and largely untouched slice of wilderness.
So, I’d strongly recommend you to book a trip or two to the Chine as part of your Isle of Wight stay, as this enables you to create your own unique adventure and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What are Blackgang Chine’s opening hours and prices?
The opening hours and entry prices vary by season so it’s recommended to look at the official website for the most up-to-date information.
2. Is Blackgang Chine suitable for all age groups?
Yes, Blackgang Chine is suitable for visitors of all ages, ranging from young children to adults, so there is something for everyone to enjoy.
3. Am I able to bring food and drinks inside?
Food and drinks from outside are not allowed inside the park, but there are food options available on-site.
4. Are there any discounts or special offers available?
Blackgang Chine sometimes has discounts and special promotions, especially for online bookings. Keep an eye on their website for the latest deals.
5. Is Blackgang Chine wheelchair accessible?
The park is located on a clifftop so it offers limited wheelchair accessibility. Some areas may be challenging to access for people with mobility issues.
6. Can I buy souvenirs at Blackgang Chine?
Yes, you can find a wide range of souvenirs, including toys, clothes, and unique mementoes in the park’s gift shops.