A Queen´s Retreat

June 28 this year was the 175th anniversary of Queen Victoria´s coronation. Lucky for us, that was the day we decided to go visit her home, Osborne House, on Isle of Wight. We were royally treated, as two of the first 175 guests that day, to a portion of Victoria Sponge! It was a large bit of cake, and we´d just come from a Full English Breakfast, so we shared one slice. It tasted excellent, good enough for Queen Victoria herself.

A model of the estate.
I suppose it was more of a summer/holiday residence for the royal family, but from what I could gather, it was the place where she felt most at home. I got the impression that Victoria didn´t think so much that the British Empire belonged to her, as she belonged to it. She seems to have had the feeling that Osborne House was the one place that was really theirs, hers and Albert´s. A snug little place compared to some of the palaces she inhabited, I´m sure.

The grounds are large, and all open to the public. The estate is tenderly cared for by English Heritage and you could wander around it all day if you wanted, but for us the house, the Swiss Cottage, and the private beach were the most interesting. There were several modes of transport, both a horse-drawn carriage from the gatehouse to the house, and cars going down to the cottage and the beach. We are, however, still fairly young and strong, and walked. The weather was a bit wet in the morning, but cleared up nicely as the day progressed.

Unfortunately, photography inside the house was not allowed, so I have nothing of the interior to show you. The family rooms were actually rather cosy, and seemed comfortable. Victoria and Albert don´t seem to have been the kind of upper-class parents one imagines, keeping their children completely out of sight with their nannies and governesses. I got the impression that they were all rather bourgeois. Or actually, rather modern.

I remember reading about the old Swedish king, Gustav VI Adolf, who married one of Queen Victoria´s granddaughters (and after she passed away, he married one of her great-granddaughters), that he and his wife were the first Swedish royal couple to raise their children by themselves. Relatively by themselves, anyway. It was in her family culture, perhaps. It certainly was not the way Gustav Adolf himself had been brought up. (Must soon do a post on him!)

The room I remember best is the Dunbar room, decorated like a trippy dream of India, a maharadja´s palace. The roof looked like an inverted wedding cake, of the more fantastic kind. You can find a photo of it at the English Heritage website.

The garden immediately behind the house is very beautiful and full of sculptures and fountains. The view is fabulous, and you can see all the way across the Solent to Portsmouth and the Spinnaker Tower (although the tower wouldn´t have been there in Victoria´s day). It´s funny how the Victorians, as modest as they were, still liked to surround themselves with so many sculptures of naked people. It seems contradictory, but perhaps it´s just some version of double-standards that I don´t get.

The Swiss Cottage is a kind of school house, where the royal children (Victoria and Albert had nine children!) learned how to run a household, among other things. The house has collections of stuffed animals, minerals, and other things; it even has a play battlefield! But it wasn´t just bookish study and war play, there was also garden work, and their tiny wheelbarrows are still there, each monogrammed for its particular little owner! And of course there is an excellent café, where one can buy picknick baskets, among other things.

The flowers were gorgeous; the fuchsias looked like they were exploding - I have never seen anything like it. As the weather was quite nice about lunch-time, we got ourselves a basket (a box, actually) and headed off to the beach. There was plenty of space to just hang out, which lots of people did, there was another café (there´s always a café or a tea room), and Victoria´s bathing machine. Yeah, that´s right. A bathing machine.

It´s not actually a machine, it´s just a carriage with a changing room and a ladder. The Queen would put on her bathing suit, which was just another heavy dress in those days, while the carriage would be pushed out into the water and she would have her swim. And then it was drawn back up on the beach again, by horse or donkey. Victoria wasn´t the only one who had one, the were all the rage in the late 19th Century, apparently.

I had to go wet my feet, even though the water is no warmer than a Lapland brook. How anyone can swim across the English channel without freezing to death is a mystery to me.

Talking to friendly girl from Swindon.

There was enough food in the lunchbox for a family of four, but we finished the lot, were introduced to the English sausage roll (very nice), and an almond-tasting cake I couldn´t quite figure out how it was made.

I laughed when I saw this photo. I look like "we are not amused", but my face is not at all representing how I felt. The weather was beautiful, we were having a great time. Seems as if I´m suffering from this fashionable new syndrome, Bitchy Resting Face. If you haven´t heard of it, there is a full explanation here.

There was also a parkbench dedicated to the memory of John Brown, who may or may not have been Victoria´s second husband. I have read that she was buried with a lock of his hair in his hand, and one of Albert´s dressing gowns (I don´t think she was dressed in it, though). I understand the Victorians were very sentimental, and there seem to have been quite a cult of lost love of all kinds.

Before we left, we decided to just have a small peek into the walled garden, but was of course drawn in completely by the amazing colours, smells and general richness of beauty.

I think Osborne House is a wonderful place that one can return to, again and again. There is just so much to see. Admission is a bit hefty, though, and we later discovered that English Heritage has some pretty good offers if you plan on visiting several of their  attractions. National Trust, the other great trustee of the English cultural heritage, has similar offers. Some places you really need more than one day to see properly, most perhaps. We will certainly check that out before we leave, next time.

Well, we finally left Osborne House, walked down to East Cowes, took the floating bridge across the Medina to Cowes, had a curry, and took the bus "home" to Newport. A really great day at a really great place!


  1. i _love_ touring with you :) i almost feel like i've been there with your pictures and descriptions. i've opened the english heritage site and will look at it later.

    "it was the place where she felt most at home."

    i'd love to feel at home there ;)

    1. That´s great! I have plenty more, that I thought I´d ration out during the autumn.