Discovering the cultural side of the Isle of Wight

By | Category: Travel destinations

The Needles

The Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England, is known for its outdoor sports such as yachting, boating, walking and cycling but it also has cultural attractions.

The Isle of Wight has a Literary Heroes Trail. Freshwater Bay and Brook where Tennyson lived is said to be one of the most beautiful parts of the island with wonderful sea views and great places to walk. The setting for DH Lawrence’s novel The Trespassers, Lawrence took a holiday in Freshwater in 1909. Nearby is the Tennyson monument, the Celtic Cross.

At the far Western point, the Needles -a row of three chalk stacks – can be seen rising out of the sea. The Needles lighthouse stands at the outer, western end of the formation, which takes its name from a fourth needle-shaped pillar called Lot’s Wife that collapsed in a storm in the eighteenth century. On the headland are two gun batteries, the remains of an experimental rocket testing station and coastguard cottages which are now owned by the National Trust.


Farringford – home of Tennyson

Farringford, the Gothic home of Alfred, Lord Tennyson has recently re-opened after a five year restoration. Decorated in the style of the late nineteenth century, it reflects Tennyson’s taste and interests. The grounds have also been returned to their original state, complete with a walled kitchen garden.

A friend of Tennyson’s, pioneering Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, bought two cottages nearby linking them together with a then fashionable Gothic style central tower. She renamed her home Dimbola Lodge, adapting a ‘glazed fowl house’ as her studio. She created almost all her photographs here as well as establishing a literary and artistic salon in which to entertain many of her fellow contemporaries.

Dimbola is now a museum and gallery dedicated to her life and work. This includes a display of vintage cameras, a Victorian dressing up room, and a space for changing exhibitions. Opening at the National Portrait Gallery in London on 1 March and running until 20 May is an exhibition of her work together with three other artists  which is called “Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography.” An additional accolade, as part of her Patron’s Trail, the Duchess of Cambridge will be selecting photographs from the exhibition.

Locations on the trail include the sailing village of Seaview where author Enid Blyton was a regular visitor, and the traditional seaside resort of Ventor, where Charles Dickens rented Winterbourne in Bonchurch.

Osborne House – home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Queen Victoria has been in the news recently with a Netflix series on television, and the film Victoria & Abdul – about her life in her later years – is currently playing in local cinemas. Osborne House, bought in 1845 as a place where her family could escape from court life, has been used as a location for the film. It is also where she spent time with Abdul.

A prolific diarist for most of her life, Queen Victoria was inspired by her stays at Osborne House and many believe that it was her favourite home. It was here that the illustrator and nonsense rhyme writer, Edward Lear, visited the monarch to teach her drawing.

Osborne House, now part of English Heritage, was remodeled internally by the queen and her husband, Prince Albert, in Italianate style. They  expanded it over their years of ownership. The rooms are filled with furniture and works of art reflecting the couple’s taste, and are much more austere and grand than I would have expected for a family home. However, what is particularly nice is being able to visit the children’s rooms, and walking through the gardens and grounds to their private beach. Fortunately there are mini buses to transport anyone who doesn’t want to walk the 1.2km to the water’s edge.

part of the interior of Osborne House

In 1876 Queen Victoria was created Empress of India and, with this new interest, extended the house with the addition of the Durbar Wing that was influenced by Indian décor, and artefacts. After Queen Victoria’s death part of the building was converted into a convalescent home and it was here, for example, that poet Robert Graves and A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, met and became friends.

An especial reason to visit Osborne House this year is that, in May, the walled garden will bloom with a ‘battlefield to butterflies’ installation to commemorate the staff of Britain’s parks, gardens and grounds who died in WWI. Wildflowers, including poppies and cornflowers will blossom among barbed wire.

Activities on the island are very family-oriented. At Tapnell Farm Park, overlooking the site of the first Isle of Wight Music Festival, a former dairy farm has been converted into an all-weather attraction. With lots of indoor and outdoor activities, I was particularly attracted to the animals that could be played with, and seen in a less restricted way than in a zoo. Wallabies took food, supplied by their keeper, from my hand, and meerkats – animals I had previously only associated with a television advertisement – came up, at a distance, to see what I was doing.

For me, Cowes and the Isle of Wight have always been associated with sailing. Home to international yacht racing since the early 1800s the Royal Yacht Squadron originally organised a regatta at which the then King George IV presented a cup. From then on Cowes Week has taken place traditionally in the first week of August, ending with a firework display. Cowes Week is as much important for the sailing as it is for the social scene.

For many, the Isle of Wight means yachting and, in particular, Cowes Week in August

For first time visitors, it’s worth noting that Cowes is split in two by the River Medina. Fortunately, a chain ferry, known as the Cowes floating bridge links the two, saving a long drive.

Liking my creature comforts, I stayed in the heart of Cowes Old Town at North House, a Grade 2 listed townhouse that has been converted into a stylish boutique hotel but camping, caravan parks and luxury five star accommodation is available as are traditional B&B’s.

With around 70 miles of coastline I only had time to visit a small portion of the island.  I concentrated on the cultural heritage of the island but millions of holidaymakers over the years have enjoyed traditional seaside holidays.

A bonus for those not wishing to join the traffic which – in the height of summer  can be very busy – is that the public transport is frequent and easily accessible to get to wherever I would want to visit.

There are a number of ways to travel to the Isle of Wight.  Wightlink operate car ferry crossings from Portsmouth to Fishbourne and Lymington to Yarmouth, and a foot passenger service from Portsmouth to Ryde.  Red Funnel operate a car ferry crossing from Southampton to East Cowes, and a foot passenger service from Southampton to Cowes and Hovertravel operate a foot passenger service from Southsea to Ryde. 

Read more about Natasha’s vist to the Isle of Wight by going to




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