The Isle of Wight is home to Cowes Week, the longest-running annual sailing regatta in the world, and where the first ever hovercrafts were built. But it wasn’t it’s maritime heritage that brought us to this isle in the English Channel. We had come to visit one of its famous homes, Osborne House, the private residence and retreat of Queen Victoria.
It is just a short vehicular ferry ride across The Solent, the strait that separates the Isle of Wight from mainland England, and the small country roads make for a picturesque journey to Osborne House.
Osborne House was home to Queen Victoria for 50 years and where she passed away in 1901, at the age of 81, having reigned for 63 years. At the time, she was the longest reigning British monarch and was only surpassed by the present Queen in 2015. Today, Osborne House is under the care of English Heritage.
The house is set in large private grounds, and it’s some minutes walk, after passing through the main gate and via the obligatory gift shop, that you finally reach the house. Although the house is built in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo, this is not initially obvious from the main entry. It is on the opposite side of the house, looking out across beautiful sculptured gardens and beyond to the sea, that the beauty of the architecture can be most appreciated.
Inside, the house is grand and furnished in the typical style of 19th century royalty excesses. Visitors can join a guided tour or roam at their leisure within the house, it’s gardens and down to what was Queen Victoria’s private beach. There is a small shuttle bus available to take you down to the beach and return, avoiding a reasonably lengthy walk, mostly uphill on the return.
At the time of our visit the movie Victoria and Abdul, starring Dame Judi Dench, was soon to be released. Much of the movie was filmed at Osborne House and many of the costumes worn by “Victoria” and “Abdul” were on display when we visited. Occasionally the grounds play host to picnic-style concerts on the lawn.
While on the Isle of Wight we also visited Carisbrooke Castle, a historic motte-and-bailey castle where Charles the 1st was once imprisoned. Parts of the castle date back to the 12th century and it has a stunning gateway tower entrance. The climb, or should I say clamber, up the stairs to the top of the castle walls is not for the faint hearted, but it does deliver spectacular views across the countryside.
We concluded our stay on the Isle with a visit to The Needles, a row of three distinctive stacks of chalk that rise about 30m out of the sea off the coast. One of the best advantage points to see the Needles is from the beach, accessed via a short chairlift ride. From the beach the wonderful coloured sands are clearly visible but unfortunately no longer accessible to tourists amid safety concerns over the ever crumbling cliffs.
It is not often that the Isle of Wight is included on itineraries of England, but with its royal connections it was a fitting destination on the Travel Team’s exclusive UK Royal Tour that I hosted in the northern hemisphere summer of 2017.