Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Second Year

My husband and I have been married for two years and to celebrate our anniversary we booked a three-day break. The hotel we decided on was Elmers Court Hotel, part of the Macdonald Hotels and Resorts chain. We have previously stayed at another of theirs called Botley Park, which is near to Southampton and thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. The main Elmers Court Hotel building is an impressive manor house dating from the 1800’s and boasts a fine restaurant, Tudor bar, family restaurant and comfortable grounds with views over the Solent and has two pools plus other gym equipment that I am sure would have been great fun if only I hadn’t been too lazy to use it. Staff were accommodating, efficient and friendly as we had expected and the room we stayed in was spacious and comfortable. Ducks quacked and waddled throughout the grounds, ensuring that they were noticed just in case a treat fell their way. The whole resort exuded an air of calm and sitting on the terrace outside of the Tudor bar on our first night, we took full advantage of this and happily shared a chilled bottle of sparkling wine. The second night we dined in the restaurant and were served three fantastic courses, this was on top of the plate of appetisers with ‘pre-dinner drinks’, and finished the night off with some more chilled wine on the terrace.

We visited the Isle of Wight, the ferry terminal to The Wight Link being only a one minute drive from the car park of the hotel (it really was; we timed it being the saddo’s that we are). Unfortunately the only connection available for the journey across to the Isle of Wight was at 6.45am and this meant I had to drag my normally lazy body out of bed at 5.30am to be ready in time. The ferry was relatively empty on the crossing over and there were not many cars on the road on the Isle by the time our wheels touched down upon them. The bonus was that we were able to park in a free car park that probably would have been bursting to capacity later in the day and trundle to a view point at Tennyson's Monument. It was so quiet that we could hear the sheep bleating in a distant field and luckily no-one was around to witness my continual complaining as I tackled the ascent to the top of the hill. The view was beautiful, albeit slightly hazy, but in all honesty I was simply glad to be able to rest from the gruelling uphill climb. It wasn’t really very steep, just really really early and at such an hour, I would normally have been lazing with breakfast and a trashy magazine.

From Tennyson’s Monument we drove to a car park near St. Catherine’s Oratory and trundled through a field of cows, yet another uphill climb. St.Catherine’s Oratory stood on top of the hill, surrounded by cows and calves, the Oratory striking a surprising resemblance to a rocket. Being rather a wimp I persuaded my husband that we did not need to study the structure at close proximity, in truth I didn’t fancy wading through the herd in case they felt we were a threat to their young, charged us and made me scream.

Following this we stopped at Appuldurcombe House and marvelled at the exquisite English Baroque facade that remains of this grand country house. It is hard to believe that there are only three rooms structurally intact behind this impressive, extensively ornamental shell. The rooms themselves having been subject to restoration work. Appuldurcombe had been abandoned in 1909 and was occupied during both the World Wars, falling foul to a nearby land-mine in 1943 which added to its decaying state and led towards the remains as they appear today. Being able to visit the house early was a bonus, throughout our visit we only encountered one other person, leaving before a school visit was due.

Then there was Carisbrooke Castle with its fortified gatehouse and history of housing a Royal prisoner. Charles I was held at Carisbrooke for some time after his defeat by Parliament, Carisbrooke being the last of his ‘prisons’ before leaving for Whitehall and his execution. With many other historical connections, which are interesting, the thing that interested me the most at this castle had to be the Carisbrooke Donkeys. Such a shame that they were not in accessible stroking distance. Carisbrooke was busier than Appuldurcombe, there were numerous groups of school children of varying ages and, if a peaceful visit is favoured, it would be prudent to arrive early or off-peak for we were unable to walk the entirety of the Wall-Walk due to the groups occupying a vast majority, un-movingly but this did not impair our visit to this fine castle.

Next came the Osborne estate with its Italianate design and extensive grounds. The house, as it appears today, created for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was constructed primarily as a seaside family home. Queen Victoria used the house for some fifty plus years and the planting in the grounds were designed by Prince Albert. The house is truly magnificent with sumptuous furniture, ornate ceilings and works of art. I do enjoy walking around historic buildings but felt the experience was somewhat marred by the presence of an overwhelming number of visitors and would love to return one day, in a less busy season, to be able to appreciate the true beauty of the house without being jostled, herded or slowed to a deathly pace. The grounds offered more room to breathe and we walked some twenty minutes to the Swiss Cottage that was built for Queen Victoria’s children. It was here that the children would spend their time while the Queen entertained at the main house and also here that they stored their own collections. The Cottage had a housekeeper and apparently the children also came to the Swiss Cottage to learn how to keep a house. When the children's collections grew too large for the Swiss Cottage another building was erected for them, the Swiss Museum. They also had their own mini play-fort with a drawbridge, I know that my own son would love to have such a play-thing although our back garden is a tiny bit smaller than the Osborne Estate so, regrettably, not an option.

We returned from the Isle of Wight to our hotel and spent our last night dining, drinking wine and relaxing. I would definitely recommend the Isle of Wight to anyone who has not been, it has a lot to offer, even if only to see Osborne and the other historical sites but it would be a crime not to appreciate the Isle’s coastal beauty and natural attraction.

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