The tide has turned

Queen Vic­to­ria’s pri­vate beach on the Isle of Wight is back in fash­ion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - ROBERT BE­VAN

THE pub­lic os­ten­ta­tion of Brighton’s Royal Pavilion may have suited the rak­ery of the Re­gency pe­riod, but Queen Vic­to­ria was not amused by the lack of pri­vacy at Eng­land’s sea­side palace.

Af­ter one par­tic­u­larly tu­mul­tuous out­ing, she recorded her out­rage in her di­ary: ‘‘We were mobbed by all the shop-boys in the town who ran and looked un­der my bon­net, treat­ing us just as they do the band when it goes to the Parade!’’

Enough was enough. In 1851, the royal fam­ily de­camped to the pri­vacy of the Isle of Wight, build­ing Os­borne House as its sum­mer home, a huge Ital­ianate man­sion with a view down a wooded val­ley to the English Chan­nel.

By royal train and the royal yacht Al­berta, it was a gen­tle three-hour, door-to-door steam from Buck House to Vic­to­ria’s ‘‘paradise’’, a place to which she re­treated for longer and longer pe­ri­ods af­ter Prince Al­bert’s death. The em­press of In­dia lived on, dressed in widow’s weeds, with her sen­ti­men­tal paint­ings and ret­inue of sub­con­ti­nen­tal ser­vants, un­til her death in 1901.

The house has changed lit­tle since and is a time cap­sule of 19th-cen­tury aris­to­cratic life. The de­sign of Mel­bourne’s Gov­ern­ment House is one of many struc­tures in­flu­enced by its ar­chi­tec­ture. How­ever, in­stead of the tsar and the crowned heads of Europe de­scend­ing, it is now vis­ited by 250,000 day-trip­pers an­nu­ally. Un­til this year, though, the queen’s pri­vate beach was off lim­its, ex­cept to those who hired the self-cater­ing Pavilion Cottage on the 138ha es­tate.

Al­bert be­lieved that sea bathing was ben­e­fi­cial to health and a bathing ma­chine was in­stalled at Os­borne’s beach so that Vic­to­ria could en­joy the wa­ters. And so she did — she bathed in her hat — un­til she put her head un­der the waves and thought she would drown. Com­plete with chang­ing room, toi­let and cur­tained veran­dah to al­low a mod­est dip, the ma­chine ran on wheels down 146m-long rails into the sea, but served as a hen house on a neigh­bour­ing es­tate be­fore be­ing re­stored and re­turned to the beach.

A dec­o­ra­tive stone al­cove on the beach­front where Vic­to­ria or some of the nine royal chil­dren would sketch or write let­ters has also been re­stored. The view, with bob­bing yacht masts count­ing the breeze like metronomes, ap­par­ently re­minded the roy­als of the Bay of Naples.

‘‘It is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine a prettier spot,’’ she wrote to Lord Mel­bourne in 1845. ‘‘We can walk about any­where by our­selves with­out be­ing fol­lowed or mobbed, which . . . is de­light­ful.’’

The chil­dren came down from the house with their gov­erness, Lady Lyt­tel­ton, to col­lect seashells and learn to swim in a float­ing sea pool de­vised by Al­bert. The

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