Published: July 6th 2010July 6th 2010
Our Travelling Family
Windstar Bear, Tank Museum Bear, World Cup Lion, Baby Greece Bear, Topkapi Palace Bear, Greece Bear, Santorini Donkey.
Welcome to the last edition of Summer Holiday, and congratulations for making it this far!
Thursday 1 July.
We didn't go to Sainsbury's this morning. Instead, being a partly cloudy day and a little cooler, we tubed into Green Park station and walked across Green Park to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. As usual, the area was crowded with tourists, but we arrived early enough this time to get a good view. Compared with what we remember seeing some years ago, it seemed all a bit short and tame this time. However, the horse guards are always nice to see, with their beautiful black horses. They are not part of the changing of the guard ceremony (which is all about changing the sentries outside Buckingham Palace), but usually walk past at about this time of the morning, returning from their exercise track in Hyde Park. We next popped into St James' Park to feed our furry friends, but could hardly find any. It seems that the squirrels are on their summer holidays as well!
Friday 2 July.
While Karen and Tracey prepared lots of food, David and I took a short tube trip to pick
up our hire car for our 4 day excursion to the Isle of Wight. The hire firm upgraded us from class e to class f, giving us a lovely big Ford Mondeo Ghia, the slightly more upmarket version of the same car that we had last year for our trip around Cornwall with Catherine and Brent. Having a 2 litre turbocharged diesel engine and 6 speed gearbox, it is both powerful and economical, and has loads of leg room and a huge boot. It has all the 'mod cons', like cruise control, climate control, a trip computer, and a digital radio. We left at about 11 am, and reached the South Coast near Portsmouth at about 1.15 pm. This is a trip of only about 135 km, but it took us about an hour just to get clear of London, and we had a short stop for a cup of tea. We ate our lunch at a quiet spot at the end of a lane in Emsworth, just to the east of Portsmouth, looking out over an estuary. We had come to Emsworth to visit my Great Aunt Grace Couch who, at age 93, is the oldest and last family
connection that I have with my English origins on my father's side., having married my father's uncle. She has survived her husband, her younger sister, and even her step-son (another Peter Couch!). Earlier this year she moved from a rest home out in the countryside to her present one in Emsworth, just around the corner from where we had lunch. At 2 pm we called in to see her and made our way up to her room built into the roof of the big 2-storied house. Although this has semi-sloping sides, it is a big, bright room with two dormer windows, separate sleeping and living areas, an ensuite toilet and basin, and a huge walk-in wardrobe that doubles as extra storage space. She prefers this room to the smaller room that she first had on the ground floor. There are 32 residents, with nearly as many more in a second house next door,. Grace has always been a bright, cheerful, and chatty person, and still is. She keeps fairly good general health but, since last year, it was clear that her short term memory has deteriorated more, something that she is well aware of herself. We spent a very nice
Wight Island Ferry.
This ferry was arriving at Portsmouth harbour as we were leaving.
90 minutes with her, over a cup of tea, provided by what seem very pleasant staff members.
We were booked on the 5 pm car ferry from Portsmouth to Fishbourne, on the Isle of Wight, but arrived soon after 4 pm to find that the ferries were running about 45 mins late. David and I went for a walk around Portsmouth Harbour, finding some interesting places for us all to visit on our return on Monday. Having arrived early, we eventually got on to the 4.30 pm ferry, that left at about 5.45 pm. The ferries are not very large but carry cars on 2 or 3 decks. There are 3 of them, varying a bit in design. They run 24 hours a day. The trip across only takes 30 mins and the sea was very calm. We sat outside on the uppermost deck, with a good view of all the activity around us, this stretch of water being quite busy with shipping. We barely had time for another cup of tea and something to eat before we were being called back to the car. The Isle of Wight is a sort of 'squashed diamond' shape, about 25 km
Driving The Isle Of Wight.
Our Ford Mondeo Ghia under a green canopy typical of the eastern half of the island.
from north to south, and 35 km from west to east. The biggest town of Newport is near the centre, with roads radiating out in all directions from there to the coast. Coastal roads allow you to follow the coast most of the way around the island. Two more big towns, Cowes and Ryde are on the north coast, close to the mainland. Fishbourne is about half way between these two towns. Coming off the ferry, we drove clockwise around the coast to Sandown, near the eastern end of the island, where we are staying for 3 nights. What we have seen of the countryside so far is nice and green, and the narrow roads, in places covered by trees arching over them, remind us a lot of Cornwall. Sandown is a typical English seaside town, like something out of a brochure printed 50 years ago, with its broad sandy beach, complete with beach huts and deck chairs for hire, its narrow streets of little shops, and its numerous hotels and outside restaurants overlooking the sea. It is very quiet, and seems to house mainly middle age and older residents and holiday makers! For us it is perfect, with anywhere
Part of the beach and town as seen from the pier.
on the island only a short car ride away. The Whitecliff View B&B, where we are staying, is a typical B&B, with bedrooms upstairs and dining room and lounge on the ground floor. We both have nice big rooms with full ensuites and tea-making facilities. One modern concession is the availablity of Wi-Fi, allowing me to write this edition of Summer Holiday like a diary. After settling in last evening, we all went for a long walk around the town and along the seashore, stopping at a seaside bar & restaurant for supper while sitting outside looking out over the sea. It is now about 7 am and time for showers. We have ordered a full English breakfast for 8 am. Then we will be off to explore the southern and western parts of the island, ending up at The Needles at the far western end of the island.
Saturday 3 July.
We started off yesterday continuing to travel clockwise around the coast, traveling through forested and hilly countryside and numerous picturesque villages, some still with thatch-roofed houses. We stopped a few times for views or short walks. We eventually reached the town of Ventnor in the SE, where
Two building with thatched roofs seen as we drove through a town in the SE of the island.
we had a longer stop at the Ventnor Botanical Gardens. Laid out by patients at a sanitarium for Tb patients that once existed here, these gardens include sections of trees and shrubs from different parts of the World, including a NZ Section. One unexpected delight here was to finally catch a brief view of a native Red Squirrel. Soon after passing St Catherine's Point, the most southern point of the island, and turning north-west along the SW coast, the scenery changed dramatically and quite suddenly. Being open to the prevailing west and south-west winds, this region is almost devoid of trees, and, being flatter, is intensely cultivated. Most of the land was sown in crops, but we also saw herds of cows. For some distance there was no towns of any size. We stopped for a late morning tea on top of a cliff face where hang-gliders and para-gliders (as well as birds) were slope soaring on the up-drafts. Being another bright, sunny, clear day, we got a great view right along the curving coastline to The Needles at the western tip of the island.
The western tip of the Isle Of Wight is famous for two things: the
The South-West Coast.
Few trees but plenty of crops.
rock formation known as The Needles at the most western tip, and the coloured sand at the nearby Alum Bay. To give access to both, a big area has been set out on relatively flat land above Alum Bay. This includes a large parking area, shops and toilet facilities, various games and rides for children, a sand shop, and a ski lift that provides rides down the cliff face to the beach at Alum Bay, where you can view the coloured sand and take boat rides out to The Needles. The sandstone cliffs above Alum Bay vary in colour from very white, through shades of yellow and tan, to dark red and black. This is caused by various chemicals in the sandstone (iron, potassium, etc). When Queen Victoria saw the cliffs, she was so taken by the sight that she wanted them to be made accessible to all. There is still a walking track with steps down to the beach, but the chair lift is much easier! In the sand shop, you can buy one of several different shapes of glass bottles and fill it yourself with layers of different coloured sand from the cliffs. It is then moistened to
Note the base of the chairlift and some of the colour variation in the sandstone cliffs.
enhance the colours and sealed. We filled a quite small one in the shape of a light-house, a reminder of the lighthouse at the end of The Needles. Before doing this, we found a shady spot to eat lunch and then did the trip down to the beach and back. Finally, we did the 20 minute walk along the top of the peninsula that ends in The Needles. You can't get very close to the end without paying to enter the site of an old gun battery, but there is a good viewing spot from which to get a good view and take photos.
We continued around the coast to Yarmouth, the only town of any size on the western half of the island. We then returned to the centre of the island, by-passed most of Newport (which we'll see today), and continued east back to Sandown. We were all a bit tired after a long, but good, day and had naps before walking around town looking for the best place to have dinner. We chose a small restaurant that offered a wide choice of meals at very reasonable (for England) prices. Three of us chose the home-made steak
& kidney pie with spuds and 3 veg, while Tracey had scampie (a type of seafood) with spuds and salad. The portions were large and filling. Nevertheless, David and I managed some apple crumble pie and ice cream, while Karen had pavlova stuffed with fresh raspberries. We weren't finished until after 9 pm, having now got quite used to eating much later, especially with the long daylight hours. We walked along the seashore again for a while, and then returned for one game of cards before bed. We have ordered breakfast half an hour later this morning, since it is Sunday, and since we don't have to get going before about 9.15. We will then be off to the far north of the island to explore Queen Victoria's home, Osborne House, and the famous town of Cowes.
Sunday 4 July.
We spent nearly all day at Osborne House on another fine, mild day, with just a cool wind off the sea in exposed places. The house and grounds are wonderful, and exploring them was a great experience. Osborne House is unique for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was owned by Victoria and Albert rather than by The State,
which meant that they were able to create the family home that they wanted and which suited their needs. Secondly, for 50 years after Victoria's death in 1901 their private rooms on the second floor were locked up, with no one allowed to enter. When The Queen permitted public access, these rooms were just as they were left and as we saw them yesterday. It is a slightly strange feeling to walk through their drawing/family room, their studies, their bedroom, and even their bathrooms, as if you were visiting them and they had just popped out for a while! This is an experience unlike that in any of the other castles/royal houses/stately homes that we have been through, and one couldn't help but feel that it was a privilege to be able to. And huge numbers do; about 1.5 million in the last 4 years. The stately rooms on the ground floor were used until comparatively recently for convalescing military officers, but these have now been restored where necessary to their original state. Many of the ceilings are original and very ornate. All the floor tiles are original. Much of what looks like marble is in fact painted plaster, one
As seen from a second floor window. John Brown's walk is in the centre background.
of Albert's ideas to save money! He was very keen on technology, and had an underfloor heating system installed, baths for each of them with hot and cold running water, and even a shower cabinet for Victoria. Some of the servants' rooms on the third floor are also open, along with the big nursery room, with exact copies of the original bassinet, cots, and bed, and much of its original children's toys etc. There is also a downstairs room open which was used by the table setters to store and wash all the tableware (plates, bowls, cutlery, knives etc). All the original plates have an intertwined V and A on them. It is hoped that a grant will soon be available to restore the kitchens, which are a 100 yards from the house and currently used for storage. The house itself is now owned by the Heritage Trust, but all the furniture, paintings, statues, tableware etc are owned by The Queen and on loan. We followed a set route through the house, with each room having a member of the Heritage Trust to answer questions (and of course watch the public carefully!). They were very knowledgeable and helpful. They have
to have a knowledge of the whole house, and change rooms every half an hour. No photography was allowed in the house (except out a couple of open windows), so we bought a guide book which covers it all. In one room was photographs and charts etc detailing the relationships between the royal families of Europe. Victoria and Albert had 9 children (4 boys and 5 girls in about 16 years) and were very particular about who they married, with the result that her descendants are the ruling monarchs or family heads of every royal household in Europe. As a result of one of her children marrying into the Greek monarchy, she is a common ancestor for both The Queen and Prince Phillip.
It was great that we could move through the house at our own pace (which may not be the case on very busy days), and spent about 2.5 hours in there. We then had a picnic lunch in the gardens, before exploring the extensive grounds and other places of interest. These included the Swiss Chalet, which Albert had built some distance from the house (a 15 minute walk) for the children. Here they learnt about commerce,
by each growing vegetables in their own patch of garden and selling them back to Albert, about cooking and entertaining, and about warfare, using a model fort, trench system, cannons etc, called The Albert Barracks. They also had a museum of the strange, unique, or macabre, which includes things like a 9-legged tarantula, the World's smallest pair of scissors, and Maori artifacts dating from the 1840s! All these things are still there as if frozen in time. The estate once covered about 2000 acres, but is now about 240 acres. Formal gardens in front of the house have been restored to their former glory, and there are numerous trees planted by Albert that are now rather large, including two of the largest cork trees in Britain. Albert supervised the plantings meticulously to hide the house from the view of others but leave them the lovely view out over The Solent to Portsmouth. Not far from the house is a walled garden, exactly one acre in area, surrounded by 12 to 18 ft high brick walls. This pre-dates the current house to an earlier house, but Albert had it restored and supervised the planting of both flowers and vegetables in it,
Cowes Chain Ferry.
Driving off at the West Cowes end. Note the two big chains that stear and propel the ferry.
as it is seen now. Interestingly this includes two types of rhubarb, called rhubarb Albert, and rhubarb Victoria! To one side of the front of the house is John Brown's Walk, a private path along which Victoria walked and conversed with John Brown in the years after Albert's death. A stone seat that she had installed by the path commemorates John Brown's death. After about another 2,5 hours we had seen everything and were getting leg weary. We then had a look through the shop before departing, happy that we had had a very interesting day for our 10 pounds entrance fee.
The town of Cowes is divided into two parts by a long inlet of the sea. Driving on to East Cowes, we crossed to West Cowes on a chain link ferry (which is guided and propelled by two big chains rather than by its own propulsion), and walked through the long open mall of shops on this side, many with a nautical name or theme. Being Sunday, not many were open. We then parked alongside one of the marinas along the water front for afternoon tea in the car, the wind having strengthened and cooled. There were
As seen from the Isle Of Wight ferry.
a number of yachts about, including a couple of beautiful classic old racing yachts, but nothing like the crowds that come to Cowes Week each year for the big yacht racing regatta. We were back in Sandown by 5 pm and had a rest for an hour before starting on an evening of card games, We paused at about 8 pm and walked down to the seaside and ate cod & chips & mushy peas while sitting in a shelter on the esplanade. Then it was back to the games until 11 pm, pausing at 10 pm for us to check in on line for our flights home. We were pleased that we were able to secure the seats that we wanted.
This morning, after packing up the car, we will be doing a bit of shopping in Sandown and exploring its pier (which is like a fun park). Then we'll drive back to Fishbourne to catch the ferry at 12.30 to Portsmouth. When I finish this tomorrow, I'll let you now what we found to do in Portsmouth before driving back to London.
Monday 5 July.
After spending the morning in Sandown, we had another very pleasant
As seen from Spinnaker Tower. Note the funnel shaped hotel. There is an equal area of shops to the left of the photo.
ferry crossing back to Portsmouth on yet another fine and slightly humid day. As usual, the sea lanes of The Solent were very busy with several types of shipping; standard ferries, fast ferries (tunnel hulls), the hovercraft, container ships, and yachts. Our time spent on the Isle Of Wight had been a very interesting and happy time. The Island lived up to everything that we hoped, and more. It is truly a delightful place to get away from the rat race and enjoy life as perhaps we older ones remember it years ago. On this trip we visited the main tourist spots, but there is plenty of other places and activities that we didn't have time to see or do. All four of us will certainly be keen to return there again sometime in the future.
We had lunch at Gunwharf Quays, a huge new shopping centre built in the area to the south of the old naval docks. Incorporating an old dock, which has been transformed into a huge water feature, Gunwharf Quays covers a big area, with hundreds of very smart shops and lots of space for people to sit or mill around. Overlooking the whole complex,
Like A Bird.
Looking down through the glass floor of the main observation room.
and the harbour entrance, is Spinnaker Tower, a 200 metre high structure that resembles a spinnaker sail attached to a yacht mast. A lift takes people up 100 metres to a big viewing room from where a great view is obtained in all directions through sloping glass walls.. A large glass panel in the floor offers a view straight down. A second room, 5 metres higher, offers similar views but without the glass floor. A bit higher again is a third viewing platform open to the air, but this was closed for repainting. From Gunwharf Quays we took a 10 minute walk to the old naval docks where three of the English Navy's treasured possessions are kept; the remains of the 500 year old Mary Rose, flagship of Henry VIII's navy, the 250 year old Victory, Nelsen's flagship (and still officially flagship of the British Navy), and the 150 year old Warrior, the pride of Victoria's fleet. The Mary Rose sank off the entrance to Portsmouth harbour. Its remains were found in about 1980 and are undergoing a 35 year programme of chemical treatment and very slow drying. It will then be housed in a new exhibition hall, along with
As seen from Spinnaker Tower.
all the artifacts found inside it. The Victory is still a magnificent ship to see at close quarters, truly a national treasure. Severe damage sustained during the Battle of Trafalgar and through deterioration since has meant that only about 10% of it is original, but it is constantly being maintained to preserve it in its original state. The Warrior is a huge ship compared to the wooden sailing ships of the day. While still fully rigged, and with broadside cannon like its opponents, it also had steam propulsion, an iron hull, and armour. This made it the largest, fastest, and most powerful ship of its time. It was soon obsolete, but changed naval architecture for ever.
Around 4 pm we headed back to London, arriving home, after going to Sainsbury's first, at about 7 pm. This morning I will be returning our hire car before we get serious about packing. Our Mondeo proved ideal once again for touring; roomy, easy to drive, and very economical. Come about 5.30 this afternoon, it will be time to start making sad farewells. We won't see David again until Catherine's and Brent's wedding in about 18 months, and probably won't see Tracey again
As seen from Spinnaker Tower.
for at least 2 years. They have been wonderful hosts, and we have loved the time that we have had with them. At 6 pm we will be off on the tube for the hour or so trip to Heathrow. David and Tracey are coming part of the way with us to help with the cases when changing lines. Then it will be the usual airport formalities before we take-off at 10.05.
If you have got this far and are still reading this, then congratulations on your stamina. And, if you have been with us all the way over the last 8 weeks, then thank you for sharing our adventures with us. And a special thank you to all of you who posted messages on our blog site or sent us emails. It has been great to know that there are people back home who care. For those of you who are statistically minded, we have now published 26 entries, incorporating about 35,000 words, and 265 photos. We have no idea how many kilometres we have walked, but it feels like thousands. We have had 8 weeks of sunshine and not one significant drop of rain on any day.
It has truly been a Summer Holiday.
Good Bye for now. We hope to see you all at home sooner or later.
Peter & Karen
There are more photos below