DAY OUT: East Cowes, Isle of Wight

Osborne House LR

By Tim Saunders

A taxidermist’s delight can be found at The Gazelle Museum, Osborne House – Queen Victoria’s holiday home - on the Isle of Wight. There is an array of stuffed birds; some truly massive like the Great Bustard and the eagle and other smaller specimens such as grouse and a woodpecker. “It’s so cruel,” says Harriett (11), carefully looking at the barn owl and finding similarities in its face with her little rabbit Sorbet. There’s a stuffed wolf, shot by royalty and a crocodile. While this type of hobby is not to everyone’s liking it does introduce us to these creatures and allows us to look at them up close, which would be difficult even if you did see them in the wild. It’s not just about wild animals though there are insects, brightly coloured butterflies and many other artefacts from all over the world, including India, Africa and America. There is even some tin from Cornwall. This museum showcases the wonders of the world. If the children were more patient, Caroline and I could spend a number of hours here but after just over half an hour we are dragged off.

The Swiss Cottage was the royal children’s playhouse; a very grand space; home to a stunning model greengrocer’s shop that was used to teach the children about products. It must have taken craftsmen an age to build and it is the archetypical nineteenth century shop with boxes of apricots and bags of coffee. A real labour of love that must have brought hours of delight.

Nearby there is a play area where the children play on the swings and the seesaw. The weather is temperamental and it starts to rain but this doesn’t dampen our spirits as we head for the beach; Queen Victoria’s private beach. It’s a 15 minute stroll and soon the trees give way to a wonderful view of the Solent with some boats bobbing up and down. I am actually able to lie down and shut my eyes for a few minutes while the children search for shells and Henry (6) makes friends with another Henry, who he discovers is eight years old. “Can we paddle?” they ask. “Yes, as long as you stay in the shallow water at the edge,” we say. Five minutes into this Harriett is wading out to sea to catch a stray shoe. “It’s from Clarks,” she reveals with no appreciation that she shouldn’t have soaked her trousers because we’re trying to keep them all warm. We are on the island all day and do not have any changes of clothes. The ears don’t seem to be working and Heidi and Henry follow suit, which is really unhelpful. Then the heavens well and truly open. A downpour like no other, so we really shouldn’t have worried. Harriett takes her time to put her shoes on and we all dart for a nearby tree. It’s about a half a mile trek back to Osborne House itself along a beautiful tree-lined path. Thankfully the summer heat is still very much present so the continuous downpour isn’t as awful as it could be but nevertheless we are all completely drenched. At least we’ve brought our lightweight Jack Wolfskin coats, which do keep us dry. As we approach Osborne House the rain stops and it doesn’t rain again for the rest of our time here, giving us all chance to dry off.

As you would expect, Osborne House is a supremely elegant property full of exquisite décor and furnishings. What I am not prepared for though is the dining room. With its ornately and intricately decorated walls and ceiling it is something altogether different and an amazing example of nineteenth century design. What an experience it must have been to dine here. “The extension and this room were built in a year,” reveals one of the helpful English Heritage volunteers. Goodness, Queen Victoria obviously didn’t have to deal with our architect who has taken three months to simply understand our staircase! “And of course labour was cheap and readily available,” he adds. Henry’s little legs seem to cope pretty well, too, there’s little lifting required. It certainly helps that we have taken his football and there are some lovely wide, open spaces for the children to enjoy a quick game.

The day goes all too quickly.

We travel with our car from Portsmouth to Fishbourne with WightLink. The journey is fairly quick and the good design of the ferry keeps us entertained throughout. Firstly, we sit in the viewing area to see the Solent ahead of us and munch on our snacks. We then visit the various decks for some fresh air and more sea views. Before we know it, we arrive and the drive from Fishbourne to Cowes is only about 15 minutes. When we leave Osborne House and get back to the car there is an almighty downpour. “Thank goodness we brought the car,” says Caroline. The return journey goes just as smoothly, making a lovely day out and creating a fabulous memory for all of us.

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