Hastings Battleaxe explores the Isle of Wight – Part 1

Well, what a fantastic break on the Isle of Wight.  Weather was fabulous, we had the most brilliant little house in East Cowes, and saw so many interesting places and things.  If you like quirky, quiet and slightly old-fashioned, then this is the place for you….  This is the first of two (long) posts about our trip.

First glimpse out of the window….
First evening..


G & T’s on the balcony

Our house was modern, right on the Medina River, tucked in between the Floating Bridge Chain Ferry that crosses to Cowes proper, and the Red Funnel terminus for ferries to Southampton. Sounds hellishly noisy but in fact it wasn’t – the Chain Ferry rattled and clanked but oddly it did not disturb us at all – it was quite a comforting noise. And, of course, the house had excellent double-glazing.  The upstairs sitting room had huge glass doors and a big sunny balcony overlooking the river – the parade of boat traffic was endlessly interesting, and the sunsets were spectacular.
Big ships coming from Southampton have to make a turn at the mouth of the Medina when heading out to sea – we saw some truly enormous cruise and container ships.


We arrived on the island on the Yarmouth ferry. It was a pleasant, pretty journey. We had heard from a bloke who was staying in our hotel in Lymington (of which more another time) that he had ‘gutted Yarmouth in two minutes’ but we spent several hours there.  Sure, it is a small place, but with a pretty harbour, a funny wooden pier, lovely old houses and some nice shops, including a good deli and some nice art galleries – best was the excellent Yarmouth Gallery.

Arriving in Yarmouth – there is the pier

     Our base in East Cowes was extremely convenient. A very large Waitrose 90 seconds walk away, a lovely little Italian restaurant and the Co-Op 60 seconds away, plus a chippie, an Indian and a few junk shops. What more could a  Battleaxe want! Needless to say, the cooker did not get used all week.
It is also full of historical interest, even though much of the Victorian centre has been demolished to make way for yet more Red Funnel marshalling car parks.
A few yards from our place the former Trinity Wharf was Queen Victoria’s private landing stage for visits to Osborne House, just up the road. It was nice to imagine not just the Queen, but the likes of the Kaiser, Gladstone, Palmerston, Disraeli and the royal families of Europe outside our house…  The Queen’s funeral procession also passed on its way to the mainland in 1901.

Queen Victoria’s coffin arrives at Trinity Wharf

The Tsar and his family visited King Edward VII at East Cowes in 1909. When we walked up to Osborne we found a brand new memorial to the Romanovs – dedicated in July this year to mark the 100th anniversary of their deaths. There were numbers of wreaths laid round it and the Imperial Russian flag was flying. Very strange.  Here is a link.  Picture of the unveiling – with Russian Orthodox priests and nuns, from the internet.

      Just past the ferry dock is the impressive Columbine Hangar, built in 1936 by Saunders Roe.

      This hanger saw the design, development and manufacture of flying boats, including this one, the largest ever made, the Princess, first flown in 1952.

     Later, the hovercraft was also born in this hangar and most intriguing of all, the Black Knight Space Rocket, which was tested near the Needles – see later, before being shipped to Australia for firing.
Our first full day on the island we visited the Needles, basing ourselves at the uber-tacky Needles Park. However, to see Alum Bay and its famous coloured sands,, you have to brave the tackiness and go down on the chairlift.

    As I had a deprived childhood I had to endure still further tackiness to make the obligatory bottle full of layers of coloured sand. Philosopher bought a ready-made one but then dropped it….

Finishing my sand bottle – putting the sand in is only a tiny bit of the job.

We had a good walk out to the Needles and the Old Battery, built in the 1860s, and in use until 1945. It is very interesting, National Trust, with an excellent 1940s style tea room and of course fabulous views of the Needles and the Solent. Then we walked up to the equally interesting New Battery, where they tested the rockets. Battleaxe recommends.

Needles from the Old Battery

Next day, we walked up to Osborne House. I had expected it to be a bit of a non-event but in fact it was stunning. It was gloriously sunny, and Prince Albert’s Italian gardens are just amazing. What a talented man he must have been. The park is also full of the most wonderful old trees, many planted by Albert himself. He would be astonished to see them now.

     The estate is much bigger than I thought, and we walked absolutely miles doing the whole thing – the Swiss Cottage, the beach, and of course the house. Some of it was a bit over-manicured but it was interesting to see the bed she died in, and her rooms.

Queen Vicotria’s bed, where she died

     We particularly liked the Durbar Room, and the display of paintings of Indian people by Rudolph Swoboda, commissioned by Queen Victoria. We saw a few of these at the National Gallery a few years ago (here is the link), but Osborne has the whole collection. Battleaxe thoroughly recommends Osborne.

The Durbar Room

      That’s enough for this post, I think! A couple of sunsets to finish. Next time I’ll continue….



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