The Isle of Wight’s historical treats

The Isle of Wight’s historical treats

The Isle of Wight is just a short ferry crossing from Southampton. Famous for Cowes Week, the Isle of Wight Festival, Bestival and The Needles, the island is also home to historical attractions, Carisbrooke Castle and Osborne House.

Southampton Airport’s Head of Business Performance, Ian Fry spent a day exploring the island with his family…

A common resident

It might not be apparent at first glance but the two excellent attractions on the Isle of Wight visited by my family (my wife, Kate and boys, Andrew & Jonathan) have an interesting connection. Both Osborne House, the palatial summer home of Queen Victoria, and Carisbrooke Castle, a small but entirely intact 12th century castle, shared a common resident, but it was not Queen Victoria.

All will be revealed if you read on…

Osborne House

After an efficient and smooth sailing from Southampton to Cowes with Red Funnel ferries we were surprised to arrive at the main entrance to Osborne House just minutes after driving off the ferry; it’s that close.

Osborne House, Isle of Wight (c) English Heritage

Osborne House, Isle of Wight (c) English Heritage

After parking up, we entered the Visitor Centre (a wonderful conversion of the former Petty Officers’ Quarters) and joined our group to tour the house.

Knowledgeable and child-friendly guides
We were met at the entrance by our guide, John, who proceeded over the next hour to take us through each room of the ground floor of the house explaining at each point what we were seeing. He was an excellent guide, immensely knowledgeable and very good humoured who engaged well with all the children on the tour (and thus prevented them from getting restless and bored and unintentionally destroying some irreplaceable statue!).

John informed us that 90% of the exhibits were in the house when Queen Victoria had lived there and with the help of photographs taken at the time, the guides were confident that the exhibits were located in the rooms exactly as they were then.

What is truly amazing is that the walls painted to look like marble and the beautifully ornate and painted ceilings are 100% original and have never been redecorated. This might be due in part to Queen Victoria’s “no smoking in the house” policy – well ahead of its time and probably only enforceable because she was, after all, the Queen.

Ornate interiors at Osborne House, (c) English Heritage

During the winter only the ground floor is open so if you visit in the warmer months you will also be able to see the rooms on the other floors.

The extensive grounds complete with private beach with outlooks to Portsmouth, and the Swiss Cottage “playhouse” are available for visitors to explore, but for us on the day we visited it was just too cold to contemplate.

Carisbrooke Castle

After a quick lunch stop we headed off to Carisbrooke Castle atop a hill near Cowes with commanding views all around, just as a castle should have.

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle

The very welcoming English Heritage team gave us a quick overview of where we would find things around the castle on a guide map and then we set off, the boys with wooden swords (recently acquired from the gift shop) in hand.

Carisbrooke Castle and wooden swords

Carisbrooke Castle and wooden swords

Donkeys and hamsters

Scattered around the castle grounds were wooden donkey cut-outs, each with a letter on it which the boys needed to write down to make a code, and it wasn’t long before they had the code deciphered.

Carisbrooke Wooden Donkey

Carisbrooke Wooden Donkey

Why donkeys?

Donkeys were long employed at Carisbrooke to power a large “hamster” wheel to draw buckets of water from the very deep well at the castle, the only source of fresh water when you are besieged and a trip to Tesco is out of the question. We were fortunate enough to see Jill, one of the four current resident donkeys do a few turns of the wheel for us. Jill’s brother Jack is another of the donkeys – get the joke?

After a visit to the museum and a bracing walk around the tops of the castle walls (amazing views), we and the two young knights returned to the reception centre to claim the prize for deciphering the code, chocolate doubloons!

And thus ended a brilliant day on the Isle of Wight as we headed back to Southampton on the ferry late in the afternoon.

The Red Funnel ferry

The Isle of Wight is easy to get to by car

And the person to have lived both at Osborne House and Carisbrooke Castle? It was Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest child who lived at Osborne House as her mother’s companion until her death in 1901 and then at Carisbrooke Castle, in her capacity as Governor of the Isle of Wight until her own death in 1944.

We thoroughly recommend you take in the two attractions we visited on the Isle of Wight.

Getting there

Getting to the Isle of Wight,  Osborne House and Carisbrooke Castle from Southampton Airport is easy. You can hop on the train right outside the airport terminal and catch the Red Funnel ferry over as a foot passenger, or take the car as Ian and his family did (hire cars available at the airport).

For more fun things to do on the Isle of Wight, the official Isle of Wight tourism website is packed with information and top tips.