Isle of Wight was once home to roy­als, and has many other charms

Vancouver Sun - - TRAVEL - SEAN MALLEN Sean Mallen’s visit to Wind­sor was sub­si­dized by Visit Bri­tain. Re­sources: visi­tisle­ glamp­ingth­ewight­ kens­ing­ton-palace

As we pulled out of the pic­turesque town of Ryde af­ter the ferry from Portsmouth de­liv­ered us to the Isle of Wight, I asked our driver, Sarah Tyler, how the rest of Eng­land viewed the res­i­dents of her hilly, bu­colic is­land.

“Laid-back, back­ward. Sort of coun­try bump­kins, I sup­pose — which is true,” she said cheer­ily, adding that she loves the life­style.

So do many oth­ers. As Tyler steered along a nar­row, wind­ing road into the nearby vil­lage of Seav­iew, she pointed out the en­trances to some mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar wa­ter­front prop­er­ties — many owned by wealthy week­enders.

“DFLs, they’re called. Down from Lon­don,” she ex­plained.

The orig­i­nal DFL, the one who led the way for the rest, was Queen Vic­to­ria. She and her hus­band, Prince Al­bert, fell in love with the Isle of Wight and in 1845 built a royal sea­side re­treat, Os­borne House. They and their nine chil­dren spent as much time as they could in the op­u­lent, yel­low pile with the grand view of The So­lent (the strait separat­ing Wight from the English main­land). Af­ter Al­bert’s early death, the deeply be­reaved Vic­to­ria of­ten re­treated to Os­borne, con­duct­ing the Em­pire’s busi­ness far away from the clat­ter of Lon­don. It is also where she died in 1901 af­ter her long, mo­men­tous reign.

Now Os­borne House is a ma­jor at­trac­tion for the Isle, where it stands as a win­dow on the Vic­to­rian age and more re­cently served as a set for the movie Vic­to­ria & Ab­dul.

Next year marks the 200th an­niver­sary of Vic­to­ria’s birth, an op­por­tu­nity for Bri­tain to high­light the many in­flu­ences that per­sist from the woman who gave her name to an age, a Cana­dian provin­cial cap­i­tal, count­less streets and a mo­ral code.

While the Isle of Wight has a wealth of Vic­to­ri­ana, it has many other charms that make it worth a visit.

Al­fred, Lord Ten­nyson, the poet lau­re­ate, bought Far­ring­ford House as an es­cape from pes­ter­ing fans in Lon­don. It has now been lov­ingly re­stored and you can see the of­fice where he penned his later works and the deep blue din­ing room where he supped with Alice in Won­der­land au­thor Lewis Car­roll and Ital­ian pa­triot Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Among the poet’s friends was the pi­o­neer­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Ju­lia Mar­garet Cameron, who was a vis­ual chron­i­cler of no­table Vic­to­ri­ans. She was a reg­u­lar, long-term guest of the Ten­nysons, lever­ag­ing his con­nec­tions to meet and pho­to­graph celebri­ties. Even­tu­ally, Ten­nyson’s wife, Emily, point­edly sug­gested that Cameron might wish to find her own house on the is­land.

Her home still stands, thanks to the heroic ef­forts of a group of lo­cals who ig­nored carp­ing skep­tics to save it from de­mo­li­tion in the 1990s. It hosts the Dim­bola Mu­seum, where you can see sam­ples of Cameron’s work, in­clud­ing a haunt­ing, evoca­tive photo of the famed ac­tress Ellen Terry and a por­trait of a di­shev­elled Ten­nyson, which the poet de­scribed as “The Dirty Monk.”

The Dim­bola Mu­seum ra­di­ates a quirky charm, as evinced by Brian Hin­ton, the af­fa­ble, self-de­scribed for­mer hip­pie who was one of the lead­ers of the ef­fort to save the house. He showed me the room de­voted to mem­o­ra­bilia from the famed Isle of Wight mu­sic fes­ti­val. Hin­ton was in the crowd of 600,000 peo­ple who swarmed the is­land for the leg­endary 1970 edi­tion — the British Wood­stock — which fea­tured Cana­di­ans Joni Mitchell and Leonard Co­hen along with an ar­ray of iconic per­form­ers in­clud­ing The Doors and Jimi Hen­drix.

The nearby Pi­ano Café claims a Vic­to­rian link, re­put­edly once owned by the Queen’s pi­ano tuner. True or not, it was a fine spot for a lo­cally brewed beer and crab sand­wich for lunch. A more re­cent ar­rival is Glamp­ing the Wight Way, where we overnighte­d in com­fort­ably el­e­gant ac­com­mo­da­tions.

If you wish to ex­plore the Vic­to­rian Age with­out ven­tur­ing quite so far from Lon­don, there is an on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, Vic­to­ria Re­vealed, at Kens­ing­ton Palace — the place where she spent an un­happy, iso­lated child­hood as the shel­tered heir to the throne and where she held her first meet­ing with advisers on the morn­ing she be­came Queen at the ten­der age of 18.

A short train ride out­side Lon­don, Wind­sor Cas­tle is more re­cently famed as the set­ting for the wed­ding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but it is also a key cen­tre of the Vic­to­ria story. She pre­ferred it as her full-time home over Buck­ing­ham Palace and her in­flu­ence per­sists over both the cas­tle and the town.


The beauty of the Isle of Wight has drawn celebrity vis­i­tors since Queen Vic­to­ria used the is­land as a re­treat.

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