By Nicola Rogers
It was a romantic, girl-meets-boy love story that brought me to the Isle of Wight in early 2018. I met my partner around 18 months earlier and, having spent each weekend ferrying across the Solent, the lure of island life eventually drew me to him, rather than him to me.
The Isle of Wight sits between two and five miles away from England’s south coast and spans an area of 150 square miles. Its history feels endless; each stone turned reveals another piece of its past. The island boasts a whole range of evocative avenues to explore, from dinosaur fossils on beaches to the legendary rock performances at the famous music festival.
More than a year on, I am still discovering. There are countless leads to follow and interests to explore.
For a start, the island is fit for a Queen. Tucked away in East Cowes, Osborne House was Queen Victoria’s beloved holiday home. Large rooms are decorated with beautiful paintings and immaculate sculptures that she and her husband Albert exchanged as gifts, and the children’s separate accommodation shows tell-tale signs of a well-loved play area. Family life was high on the agenda at Osborne.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased the estate in 1845 and immediately set to work making plans to transform the three-storey house. The desire to create a special place for the family away from the pressures of mainland public life remained at the forefront of their minds. With the help of Thomas Cubitt, an experienced developer and builder, the couple eventually settled on replacing the house with an entirely new one and so demolished the older buildings in 1848.
Over the coming years, Osborne grew to become their vision. Private bedrooms, large dining areas, accommodation for staff, a play house for the children and even a landing area for the coastguard were all part of the setup.
“It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot” notes Queen Victoria in her diary. The contrast of the yellow sand on her private beach, the sea beyond and the plush green trees surrounding the grounds, reminded Prince Albert of the Bay of Naples. Dozens of yachts now pass by as their sailors enjoy playing in Solent waters, flitting between mainland and island or challenging themselves to complete the island’s circumference in a day.
And many do. Whether on land looking out, or at sea looking in, the Isle of Wight never fails to impress with its changing landscapes and stunning scenery. The south west boasts the dramatic coastlines of Brighstone and Freshwater Bay, and their colours and patterns can be enjoyed from sea or from the rolling hills of the Tennyson Downs. Walking up the hills is worth the effort, for eventually the shape of the island becomes visible from the top. Yarmouth and Hurst Castle are in the distance on one side and the English Channel appears to stretch forever on the other.
A tall monument stands on the Downs in memory of the most famous poet of the Victorian era, Alfred Tennyson. Much of his inspiration was taken from up here on these very hills as he fell in love with the panoramic sea views. Landscape, scenery and nature were incredibly important to his work. In fact, Tennyson’s love of flowers meant he couldn’t bear for any to be picked from his own grounds at nearby Farringford House, preferring a ‘careless ordered’ garden.
He arrived on the island with his wife, Emily, in 1853 as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert continued to improve Osborne. Just a few years later, the Tennysons are said to have received an unexpected visit from Prince Albert who was in the middle of replacing furniture at Osborne. An amusing anecdote from a journal held at Farringford House tells us that Emily desperately tried to distract the Prince from the toys strewn over the floor as the pair brought up their two young sons.
Tennyson was a loving and devoted father. He would join in games of football, build and destroy forts, blow bubbles and take his sons fossil hunting. That’s not to say he didn’t take his profession seriously though; he did well for a man of his time. His work explored philosophical topics such as death, loss and time, and Queen Victoria most certainly found comfort in his poems after Prince Albert’s death in 1861.
His monument stands at the highest point of the Downs, and many walkers will know what’s coming next. Every Isle of Wight visitor wants a glimpse of the Needles, the iconic chalk stacks that stand so confidently in the sea to mark this beautiful island’s most westerly tip. The jagged edges of the rocks have stood the test of time and the elegantly placed lighthouse completes the scene perfectly. A must-see for any visit to this island.
During my first year of living on the Isle of Wight, I’ve met people who have lived here more than twenty years but are still finding hidden gems. There is so much history to this place, from dinosaur life and piracy to tales of haunted pasts. It’s a fascinating little island and one trip does not do it justice. I’m going to keep exploring while I’m here – I’ve only scratched the surface.
Nicola Rogers lives and works on the Isle of Wight. She promotes the use of sustainable transport on the island and writers freelance. Her works has appeared in Country Life magazine.