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A must-see attraction on the Isle of Wight
Osborne House & Gardens (Isle of Wight)
Member Name: AbsintheFairy
Osborne House & Gardens (Isle of Wight)
Advantages: Lots to see and do, very interesting
When I decided to go to the Isle of Wight during the summer of 2012, I knew I would have to go to Osborne House. Famous as the holiday home of Queen Victoria and her family during the nineteenth century, there is a wealth of history here, and I was really looking forward to my visit. An additional bonus was that Osborne House is owned by English Heritage: I am an EH member so I got in for free.
*Location and Access*
Osborne House is located at the north of the Isle of Wight, near East Cowes; its beach looks out towards the Solent and the Hampshire coast. The house is currently closed, reopening at the weekend from the end of February and during the week from the summer.
For those arriving by car, free parking is available near the house and car ferries can be taken from the mainland. For those using public transport, Southern Vectis services 4 (from Ryde and East Cowes) and 5 (from Newport and East Cowes) stop at the house. Ryde and Yarmouth can be reached via hovercraft (Ryde only) or ferry.
*A Brief Summary*
Queen Victoria fell in love with the Isle of Wight when she visited it as a child. She bought Osborne House and employed master builder Thomas Cubitt to demolish the old house and construct new wings and a new pavilion. Victoria lived here for several months of the year with Prince Albert and their seven children.
The house itself is grand and opulent, with a classically designed Grand Corridor, portraits of European royal connections and a celebration of Victoria's role as Empress of India in the form of the beautifully decorated Durbar Room, recalling Indian style and symbolism. However, family photographs and the private nurseries show that the grand house was also a happy home. The extensive gardens comprise Italianate formal gardens, a Swiss Cottage, a museum and a miniature fort and barracks, as well as Queen Victoria's private beach.
It was an easy matter to make my way to the entrance once I got off the bus, even if it was rather annoying having to walk through the car park. The admission centre is purpose-built and was bright and clean. I had a quick lunch in the pleasant café, and looked around at the information panels, all full of pictures and information about the house.
The house itself is a short walk from the admissions centre. I thought it looked stunning and very grand, with its imposing structure and tall turrets. I followed the well-signposted route around the house: there was a lot to see and it took me a good hour and a half.
The house was extremely grand and magnificent, full of art, ceramics and furniture. However, what stood out for me were the human touches: the photographs of the royal family, the little chairs and toys in the nursery, the lift installed for Victoria when she became too frail to climb the stairs (operated by hand by some unlucky servants). I also enjoyed looking at Victoria's family tree, displayed on the walls of her private apartments and showing how she tried to develop relations with Europe by marrying off her children to various royal figures. The bed in which Victoria died in 1901 is also on display.
After I'd left the house, I headed down the path to Swiss Cottage. As the name suggests, this was a little cottage built in the Swiss style and intended as a tool for the education of the princes and princesses. It was quite sweet to see their little wheelbarrows all together. Prince Albert was passionate about the education of his children, and encouraged them to develop interests in science, culture and nature. The collections in the small museum, comprising artefacts from all over the world, testify to this. Sometimes the children 'kept house' in the cottage, which had facilities of its own: it seemed very cosy and removed from the formality of the big house.
Near the cottage was the miniature army barracks and fort in which the children used to play. I thought it looked like great fun!
2012 saw the opening of Queen Victoria's private beach to the public. The beach is a twenty minute or so walk from the house, and is a small, contained area which I'm sure would have been very pleasant to spend time in. Queen Victoria's bathing house, a strange contraption designed to preserve her modesty when bathing, is on display here. I had a nice time buying an ice cream and looking out over the water while keeping one eye on the Punch and Judy show in the background, trying not to make this noticeable because I'm an adult and I'm supposed to be too old for this (even though I'm definitely not!).
I'm not really a 'garden' person but even I can see that the gardens here are pretty impressive. I thought there was a good mix of formal gardens and wilder, more natural space and there was plenty of space to walk around outside. Indeed, unless you have a mobility problem and choose to take the shuttle bus, you will need to do quite a lot of walking because of the distances between the house, Swiss Cottage and beach.
Just before I left I popped into the gift shop, which was located in the admissions centre on the way out.
I spent almost a whole day at Osborne House and had a great time. A visit here is certainly expensive, but there is a lot to do and see both indoors and outdoors. In my opinion Osborne House is a must-see place if you are visiting the Isle of Wight, particularly if you are interested in history.
There are toilets at the admission centre, the main house and the Swiss Cottage. There is also a gift shop at the admission centre. Dogs are not permitted except for assistance dogs.
Food is available at four places:
Terrace Restaurant - this is a high-end restaurant serving gourmet food via waiter service
Admissions Centre Café - this sells light snacks and drinks
Beach Café - this small café sells drinks and light refreshments including ice cream
Swiss Cottage Kiosk - this sells snacks and cold drinks
There is also a picnic area.
Disabled toilets are available at the admission centre and the main house, and it is possible to hire a wheelchair. Wheelchair access is normally possible to the first floor of the house via a lift. Assistance dogs are welcomed and there is a shuttle bus running between the house, Swiss Cottage and beach for those who find walking difficult.
English Heritage Members: Free
Child (5-15 years) £7.80
Family (2 adults and up to 3 children) £33.80
For more information about Osborne House, see the website:
Summary: Lovely day out on the Isle of Wight