Saturday, 2 November 2013

Three Go To The Island

The only time I had ever been to the Isle of Wight was in 1989. It was a Bank Holiday Monday. It was closed. I'm not kidding. My (then) boyfriend and I had popped across from Portsmouth as foot passengers for the day but when we arrived, there was barely any public transport available and everything in sight was shut. We ended up on some kind of community minibus to Blackgang Chine (sort of theme park and the only thing that was open). It wasn't quite what I'd expected so when my aunt and uncle in Southampton suggested a day trip, I jumped at the chance to create some better memories of the place! 

The Red Funnel ferry whizzed the three of us and the car from Southampton, across The Solent, over to East Cowes in just under an hour. It was nice and calm but the sun had yet to make an appearance. 

On arrival, we headed straight for The Garlic Farm which had been highly recommended by Cathy, amongst others. WOW! If you get the chance, go there. I could have spent longer, particularly in the tasting room. I learnt some interesting stuff - did you know, for example, that you can only grow garlic on a plot of land for one year in every seven? No? Nor did I. Even though when it's growing, it looks a bit like onion or spring onion, it's not part of the onion family, it's an allium. 

The tasting room was fantastic. There were three huge stations each with 8 or 10 different products and a massive bowl of crackers to try them with. I won't list all the products - you can see them on the website, but my absolute favourites were: Onion Marmalade with Garlic, Roasted Garlic Jam, Garlic Mayonnaise with Mint, Olive Oil with Garlic, Creamy Garlic Horseradish and Toasted Garlic Mayo. I managed to resist buying all of them - just! The shop itself is a garlic-lover's dream, as you can imagine. Along with all the jams, marmalades, oils and relishes, they of course sell garlic - seven or eight different varieties both to eat and to plant. Having no garden, I had to stick with the eating varieties but that's fine by me. I got my first sight of elephant garlic, which can grow to the size of a melon. They're so large, you buy them by the clove, not the bulb. Here are the three I bought, next to a standard clove I already had at home:

I'd like to go back there in the summer sometime to see more actual growing going on but to be honest, I can test and shop for garlic in any weather! 

Reeking rather pungently of the "stinking rose", we headed down to Ventnor. My aunt and uncle had tried to go there once before but the steep hills leading down to the seafront proved too much for their motorhome, leading to them beat a hasty backwards retreat. It was actually the final day of the season so things had started to shut down but that just served to add to the rather nostalgic, slightly old-fashioned air of the place. There were very few people around but those who were braving the threatening storm clouds and the rather nippy wind, were being stoically British about it:

We wandered along the seafront, Bev stopped to buy some obligatory rock, then we decided it must be time for lunch. Rather unexpectedly, we found a tapas bar! The Met offered a great range of tapas, lovely atmosphere, great surroundings and was like being back in Madrid yet with a view of a very English beach! So replete with stuffed pimientos, caramelised onion tortilla, cumin couscous with roasted vegetables, potatoes in allioli and mixed olives, sundried tomatoes, capers and (more) garlic, we left Ventnor to carry on closing down for the winter and headed up the east coast through Shanklin and Sandown, and up towards Ryde for our final destination.

I'm not always the biggest fan of English Heritage/National Trust properties but I had always heard that Queen Victoria's island residence, Osborne House, was worth a visit. My aunt and uncle are English Heritage members so entered for free whereas I paid the (rather steep) £13.40 entrance fee. A little disappointingly, no photos are allowed inside the building (I have to say I do object to that when you've paid to get in) but I'm not sure I would have taken too many photos even if it was allowed. It's a huge house - most of the ground floor is made up of the classic sort of "state" rooms - high-ceilinged, lots of red and gold, velvet curtains, heavy furniture and shelves and cabinets stuffed with plates, vases and other ugly expensive trinkets! The hallways were lined with statues of people in various stages of nakedness (god the Victorians were a confused bunch, weren't they?!) and a few rather disconcerting ones with, for example, the body of a Roman soldier but with Prince Albert's head. I reckon there was a bit of roleplay going on in that (short) marriage! The nursery and children's bedrooms upstairs were quite interesting, if only as a reminder of how many generations of kids were kept entertained with nothing more complicated than a spinning top, solitaire and a ball. 
There was an odd atmosphere in the bedroom where Victoria died, not least because when Albert died, she hung a picture of him (dead) on the headboard above his pillow and slept next to that image for the next 60-odd years. 
The highlight was downstairs in the servants' area - I wish there had been more of the kitchen area open but the table dressers' section was very interesting. The huge red book containing an example of just one meal for all the people in the house, from Queen Victoria through the Royal Children and down to "Sick Persons" was fascinating. Mind you, I'm not sure mutton stew would have been very tempting if I'd been one of the latter group and, as a vegetarian, I'd have starved! 
We exited into the neatly kept gardens, down a sweeping stone staircase and back towards the café for a warming cup of tea and a cake.

And then it was all over. We headed back to the ferry and were back in Southampton in time for dinner. It was a lovely relaxing day out and I'd definitely like to go back for a longer and better look around, perhaps in the spring. By then, I'll need some more garlic anyway! 

All my pictures from the day can be seen HERE