I recently had a wonderful and happy weekend on the Isle of Wight with my cousin. We took the bus on Saturday morning to Osborne House, owned by English Heritage, the holiday home of Queen Victoria, which later became her reclusive home following the death of her husband Prince Albert.
The house is in grounds planted with many specimen trees sought by Prince Albert and makes for a very pleasant walk along the drive to the front of the house, which is painted a pale ochre yellow, I wonder if it was that colour in Victoria’s day? It looks cream in the photos but was quite a strong colour in reality, and one wall was covered in Daddy Long Legs (Crane fly). They must have been attracted by the colour, thinking there was pollen to be had.
Prince Albert was involved in the Italianate design of Osborne House, as well as the gardens which include terraces at the rear of the house, facing the Solent. As I walked around the corner of the house to the Upper Terrace I was knocked back in horror by the strong dark colour of the formal bedding set in geometric patterns. This is one garden where I can honestly say that I did not like the planting in this area. Each bed was formed of concentrated rings of different planting, framed with tightly packed Coleus (horrid – Coleus overload), with dark leaved Dahlias, and in the centre were very dark purple Perilla (which I particularly disliked in such large amounts) with the only redeeming feature being the Sunflowers still, surprisingly, in full flower.
We are lead to believe that the planting on the Upper Terrace is in keeping with the type of planting that Prince Albert and Queen Victoria would have had in their time. Queen Victoria wrote in her journals of plants such as roses, stocks, heliotrope, jasmine and orange blossom.
It was a relief to look beyond the Upper Terrace to the Lower Terrace. Here it was much kinder on the eye, especially with the grounds beyond sweeping down to the Solent with Portsmouth and Southampton on the other side of the water. It is with no surprise that Queen Victoria loved Osborne, the view is spectacular. I don’t expect, however, there were as many little sailing boats during her time. It was somewhat hazy, and later in the day the sun broke through.
We walked down the hill towards Queen Victoria’s Private Beach. She loved to bathe and the children spent many happy hours playing on the beach. In July 2012, the beach was opened to the public and here you can see her Bathing Machine. Prince Albert, a man with very strong beliefs, thought that bathing in the sea was very healthy and had the bathing machine installed 1846 so that Queen Victoria could partake in the healthy experience. The machine ran on tracks down into the sea, so that she could emerge from it straight into the sea.
As I stood looking out to the sea I tried to imagine all the Royal children running up and down on the beach, collecting pebbles and shells and swimming. I could almost hear their laughter and chattering, just like any modern child having fun on the beach.
Down here, also is a cafe, selling drinks, ice-creams and cakes, always good news as far as I am concerned. What would Queen Victoria and her family have made of a cafe on their private beach. I expect, though, that they may have sat on the grass with a picnic once in a while.
We ran out of time and sadly didn’t get to visit the Walled Garden, which I have been to before. If you get the chance to take a trip to the Isle of Wight, either by ferry, hovercraft or catamaran, of all places to visit may I suggest that you find time to visit Osborne House. Give yourself about an hour to walk around the house, which is fascinating, but also make sure you have time to go to the beach.