There is something so deliciously Enid Blyton about going on holiday to an island….you just know it’s going to be full of adventures.
We have just got back from the most glorious week on the Isle of Wight. I know we were exceptionally lucky with the weather, but honestly…. it is the most charming island. There is a lot to do and see, fabulous sandy beaches and endless cream teas.
We stayed in Shanklin on the southern part of the island, but nowhere is very far from anywhere else as the island is roughly 150 square miles with 57 miles of coastline. It is only a couple of miles off the coast of England and it is oozing ‘englishness’. May is a pretty month everywhere in the UK and the island was laden with fresh flora and fauna. Gentle hedgerows form a patchwork across the island with wild flowers and cottage gardens at every twist in the road. The beaches are heaped with golden sands against a back drop of chalky cliffs and seaside houses stacked along steep lanes. The little seaside towns sprinkled along the coastline are classically british with tearooms and tea gardens and bric-a-brac shops full of ice cream pastel coloured sovenirs. Scones and jam a-plenty…..it’s heaven.
You can wander along coastal pathways, wending your way up and down, through woodland and chines that almost make you believe in fairies.
The island has plenty of history too….
Osborne House is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the island. This elegant Italianate villa was built by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria as their getaway and private family home. Despite it’s grandness it is filled with spirit of family life.
Born in 1819 and Queen of not just the British Isles but an astonishing empire - Victoria ruled through times of great change and progress. Everything about this house is elegant and pretty. Victorian style can sometimes be heavy and over powering but this house is bright and comfortable with a sort of Laura Ashley feel. The house is filled with artefacts from around the empire and reflects her genuine interest in other countries and cultures.
The house was also rapidly filled with children - 9 in total and the nursery was wonderfully representative of this growing family - I have no idea how she got through that, but they were a lucky mix of boys and girls and they all spent an enormous amount of time here at Osborne
The house is of course fit for a Queen too and many of the rooms are regal in style, but they are still very pretty too with cheerful colours set amidst white backgrounds with gold accents.
Family photographs are everywhere and of course this was a new and exciting invention early in Victoria’s reign. They are the first british royal family that we actually have real images of and they are a wonderful insight into life at Osborne.
Victoria and Albert’s desks stood side by side. You cannot help but be charmed by this. It was interesting to me to discover that the house was turned over to the public almost immediately after the Queen’s death here in 1901. It seems that the new King was not prepared to manage the upkeep of the house and none of the other siblings could afford it and so it was turned into a museum in all it’s original splendour.
Victoria and Albert’s presence is everywhere and everywhere is absolutely beautiful. The gardens are fantastic.
The little Swiss Cottage in the grounds of the house was designed by Prince Albert for the children. Here they learnt to grow vegetables, cook and they even curated a little museum.
The Queen would stop by the cottage to see what the children were up to and perhaps stay for tea. The informality must have been a welcome respite from court life.
It is a breathtaking place with beautiful grounds that lead down to the sea and the royal family’s own private beach. It is easy to spend a whole day there soaking up the atmposhere.
The Island offers all sorts of other things to do including some interesting coastline. The needles are on the western end close to Alum Bay and are outcrops of chalk that stand about 30m tall.
A lookout post and light house are now a National Trust site that is lovely to visit. Not only are there spectacular views but there is an old Battery there with lots of information which gives an insight into how it was used.
It’s an interesting extra and the National Trust tea rooms are always welcome after a cliff top walk.
Another landmark on the island is Carisbrooke Castle. This is well worth a visit - steeped in history - it was an Elizabethan fortress which withstood an attempted French siege and saw off the Spanish Armada. It was a here that King Charles 1 was imprisoned during the civil war before his execution and Princess Beatrice (Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter) used it as a summer residence in Edwardian times.
The newly restored Edwardian garden has been designed by Chris Beardshaw to be in keeping with architectural form of the castle.
We had another splendid day on the other side of the island visiting the home of one of our most famous poets.
Farringford is the island home of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892) who penned amongst other things ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘The Lady of Shalott’. This house is a relatively new tourist attraction being only the second season it has been open to the public. It has many original features and artefacts that belonged to the family and a real victorian vibe drifts through the house. Like everyone, Tennyson, despite his fame and fortune, had many ups and downs in his life, dramas and difficulties, but the overriding impression of the man is one of a gentle family figure who was happiest at home.
The walled garden is currently being replanted in spectacular style and the grounds surrounding the house, sweep down towards views of Freshwater bay. I don’t know what you would call this, but I loved this little garden plant shelf … what a great idea.
It was a lovely few days and as always I have come home full of ideas and inspiration for needlework projects.
I particularly loved the motif on the wall paper in the nursery at Osborne. Perhaps it will make an interesting embroidery project……