Near East Cowes is Osborne House, the summer home of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their nine children. It was magnificent, more a palace than a house. They bought the property, tore down the existing house, and designed and built this house as a retreat from royal residences and their associated duties. This was to be their place, stamped with their character and tastes. Queen Victoria died here in 1901.
We were able to see most of the ground floor, with its formal rooms, maze of hallways filled with paintings and sculptures, and a large chandelier worthy of Dale Chihuly.
I liked the basement where we saw portions of the servants’ area including pantry, a room where table dressers designed bouquets for the dining tables upstairs, and a room to create seating arrangements and plan/execute all of the details required to put on a royal dinner, whether small or banquet size.
On the upper floors we saw the nursery, Queen Victoria’s bedroom and changing room, Prince Albert’s private room, left just as it was when he died at age 41, and their joint office. Queen Victoria painted and she also spun wool: we saw her paintings and spinning wheel. I like to think these pastimes were her own form of physical meditations.
The final section of the house we saw was a wing that Queen Victoria added for her daughter Beatrice, who raised her own children at Osborne House. The wing included a grand dining room for banquets on the ground floor. This was the most ornate room in the whole house. It was surprising to us that nothing was roped off in the room – you could get as close as you desired.
It was while my sister was inspecting the tableware closely, that she suddenly sneezed, losing her gum in the process. We both looked in horror at the table – where was that gum? Surreptitiously we looked under the edge of the plates, in the goblets, and even in the flower arrangement. Nothing.
Beginning to panic, we looked on the floor. There it was! On the rich wool carpet! Thank God neither of us had stepped on it. Still having not invited scrutiny from the guard, she calmly picked it up with a tissue, and we quickly walked out the door to an outside patio overlooking a formal garden.
At this point we doubled over in laughter – the kind we used to try to suppress in church when we were not supposed to be giggling. The more we tried to stifle it, the more we laughed until tears ran down our cheeks. Talk about making memories!
After breaking for lunch at the Osborne Café, we visited the part of the estate that fascinated me the most – the private beach. The Queen’s children apparently went there every day with the Governess to play and swim. Prince Albert and the Queen often went down to join them.
It was a 1.2 km walk through massive lawns, fields and along a wooded path. The view through the trees at the end revealed a changing tent, a Punch and Judy Puppet Theatre (we missed the last performance), an ice cream parlor, and of course, the sea.
Many families were enjoying the beach and splashing in the water. As we approached it, one old guy teased us that we’d have to wear our wool bathing costumes to get in. Apparently not – several kids splashed around naked. I was pretty sure the water was no warmer than Lake Michigan in summer, a popular destination for us when we needed to cool off as kids. It looked so inviting, so I took off my shoes and socks, and carefully made my way over the many pebbles on the beach. Yup – as cold as Lake Michigan. I only waded around for a bit.
Of course, I did some beach combing. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to find some pottery shards from the time of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert? While a particular shell type kept fooling me, alas, I found none, though the sea glass was more plentiful than at other beaches on the island.
My sister and I made many more fine memories on the Isle of Wight, just as the Beatles suggested in their song, When I’m 64, which was the impetus for our visit. And to prove that at least one Beatle actually did spent time here, I have evidence from a poster in the flat where we stayed.
Nancy is heading back home at the end of our time on the Isle of Wight, and I’m going to Brighton by myself. But I’ll be laughing about The Gum Incident every time I think of it, and wishing she was still with me.
See other essays about this trip to England:
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