They say it's a small world. This morning, over breakfast, this assumption was put to the test. We bumped into Rob, an old work colleague of mine. Small world? Well, I guess. Two people who shared a workplace for a few years ten years ago; never really knew each other but had a few mutual friends; who live only a few miles away from each other now find themselves in the position where they have come to a bed and breakfast on the westerly tip of the Isle of Wight for the right to share in an anecdote that will begin: “There I was having my breakfast and you never guess who I met...” No doubt people will respond by saying things like “No! Amazing! What a small world!” It's a small world alright: Later, while in the gift shop at Osborne House, Jean saw a man who collects the trolleys in the local Morrisons. I comforted myself in the knowledge that my anecdote will be better than hers!
We said our goodbyes and headed off to Osborne House. The young Doris Mankerts recorded the highlights of her visit: “...the wonderful Durbar Room which was prepared in Indian style for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee when she received Indian Potentates in Great State. We saw their addresses of loyalty decorated with many precious stones from Eastern lands. We saw the splendid furniture, sculptures, pictures, glass and china used by Queen Victoria and her family. We noticed the still darkened room where Queen Victoria died. We walked along the pathway to Swiss Cottage, Albert's Barracks and the tool shed. We saw many toys which gave us pictures of the Royal Family at play.”
That's a pretty accurate description even today, except that Victoria's bedroom is no longer darkened.
For me, the highlight was the little museum next to the Swiss Cottage. A fabulous collection of gifts and acquisitions from around the world, a sort-of Royal Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not. There was a five-legged antelope and a piece of wood from George Washington's coffin. A large collection of Ancient Egyptian trinkets and a massive collection of fine mineral specimens from around the world. The entire collection is a little gem.
I really enjoyed Osborne House. It felt like a home, like the people who lived there were happy and the smiles of those of us visiting seemed to reflect that.
From one of the Isle of Wight's star attractions to one of it's emerging attractions, the Garlic Farm. It is rather satisfying in the sense that it is exactly what it says it is. It's focal point is the shop and restaurant and there are no prizes for guessing what its trade centres around. I bought some deliciously pungent smoked garlic and we enjoyed a tub of chocolate, garlic and chilli ice cream.
The twelve-year old Doris stayed in Shanklin. In her journal she included a postcard of Shanklin Old Village and I was pleased to see that apart from traffic, it looks remarkably unchanged. Thatched roofs everywhere and in the postcard picture's foreground a sign pointing to a 'Buffet Bar' shows that even then the place was geared to the tourist. All done in the most dubious taste. Shops full of fudge and rock and trinkets of appalling taste. Whenever I go away, I like to buy an example of the cheapest and tackiest representation of something beautiful. Here in Shanklin Old Village I found the Isle of Wight's nomination; a two quid snow-globe of the Needles. Perfect!
On to the Landslip at Bonchurch. We took a stroll along the Upper Cliff as far as the remarkable Devil's Chimney, a steep footpath which climbs down through a joint in the rock. The Landslip was formed in the early 19th Century as a result of rainwater corrupting faults in the notorious Gault Clay (colloquially known as 'Blue Slipper'.) In 1929, Doris and her school party seemed, from her journal, to have failed to reach Bonchurch on their walk from Ventnor, but recorded her trek through the Upper and Lower landslip, “with its tumbled boulders and overgrown vegetation.”
And travelling on through Ventor we reached St Catherine's Lighthouse. We walked down to the lighthouse in fading light. Doris, in 1929 described St Catherine’s Lighthouse thus:
“On entering the door we saw a plomb-line which was placed there after the landslip of 7 years ago, when the tower moved about 3 inches out of the vertical. We climbed a narrow spiral staircase which brought us to the engine room. The light from the huge lamp above, which normally would have shone inland, was directed into this room whence it was reflected out to sea, thus saving the need for a second lamp. The lamp itself was made from prismatic glass, which reflected light, enabling flashes to be seen every 5 seconds at a distance of 100 miles. The lens weighs three and a half tons and revolves in a bath of 819 lbs of mercury.”
We never got this far as it was closed to the public. As the sun attempted to break through low lying cloud, the whole landscape took on an eerie glow and suddenly became mysterious and romantic.