Blackgang Chine, on the Isle of Wight, is home to an amusement park that the sea is fast attempting to claim. The cliffs are presently being eroded at a startling rate of around 3.5 meters (11.5 ft) every year – so it’s by no means a gradual process. Imagine the sea swallowing up the very ground beneath your feet!
Since at least as early as 1928 (and probably much earlier), the cliffs here have been collapsing in stages, with heavy spells of rainfall causing chunks of land to fall away. Persistent landslides and general coastal erosion swept away paths in the early 20th century and have now completely destroyed the chine (a coastal gorge or ravine). Owing to all of this, the owners of the amusement park have had to relocate their attractions to safer ground on repeated occasions.
You might be wondering who would own a tourist attraction so precariously located on a ravaged coastline, but the outlook wasn’t always quite as bleak as it seems today. The land itself has been in possession of the Dabell family for over 150 years, when the Isle of Wight was becoming popular with the Victorians. In 1842, Alexander Dabell settled a lease on Blackgang Chine and soon built a gift shop and café at the top of the ravine. The theme park was established in 1843, which apparently makes it Britain’s oldest.
To remain in existence, the amusement park has clearly done pretty well – but, from way back, the forces of nature seem to have had their own ideas about the fate of this popular coastal area. The reason the land has been eaten away so drastically comes down to the underlying geology. The cliffs are made up of clay sandwiched between sandstone, and when rain comes it causes the sandstone to slip away, dragging the clay with it.
Much of the clifftop area on which the amusement park is located has been designated as off-limits to the public. Not far from the most popular attractions in the park is a pathway that leads down to the edge of a crumbling cliff that drops away dramatically into the sea. A sign warns of what lies ahead but cannot fully prepare you for the unpleasant surprises the ground holds for all but the surest of foot.
Lying right at the very edge of the clifftop, half obscured by vegetation, is the remains of a road that once connected the two sides of the ravine. The double yellow lines are about all that is left marking the tarmac that made up the surface of the road.
The wild and desolate landscape still contains secrets from the past. Across the clifftops from the amusement park is an abandoned building rumored to have once been a hotel. But this certainly isn’t the kind of hotel you’d like to stay at. Open the front door and you’ll be confronted by a steep drop – not the sort of sea view most would wish for!
Inside, the rooms are abandoned, with rotting hunks of furniture and broken windows many of whose panes have long since been destroyed by the weather. On close inspection, you realize the bits of twisted metal lying on the floor are old tools and other items that were once part of people’s lives. A vinyl record player, empty gas canister and old chainsaw are just a few of the objects that lie discarded, as if the inhabitants left in a hurry one day and never returned.
Further along the cliff, an abandoned playground also stands precariously close to the cliff edge. In certain weather conditions, this spot is made even eerier by the rusting merry-go-round spinning slowly in the wind. The playground is just one of many attractions that the amusement park has had to abandon or relocate over the years due to the instability of the land. Just imagine seeing the ground begin to crack beneath your feet while waiting for your turn on the roller coaster! That’s a little to white knuckle, even for us!