What do Tennyson, Keats and Karl Marx have in common?
PUBLISHED: 12:20 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 17:08 20 February 2018
The Isle of Wight. Liz Nice followed in the footsteps of many of our greatest writers and poets on the island’s literary heroes trail
I learned the other week what possibilities a weekend can genuinely provide after my other half and I managed to squeeze a trip to the Isle of Wight into just two days.
There really is something special about crossing the water and leaving ordinary life behind you.
We stood on Queen Victoria’s beloved beach at Osborne House and looked back at Britain, feeling utterly isolated from the stresses and strains that so often occupy us, realising that none of them really matter anyway.
I’d never been to Osborne House, nor to Carisbrooke Castle but within a day I’d done both.
Then, on the Sunday, there was still time for a bracing walk to the Needles and then back up to the Tennyson monument where I came to feel as though everything I worry about in any given week was quite literally blown away.
Who would have imagined how remarkably uplifting this little island is?
We had headed down to Portsmouth after work on the Friday and managed to catch the 8pm Wightlink car ferry to Fishbourne.
My seasickness is so bad, I struggle to even watch Titanic, so I wasn’t looking forward to the crossing but despite much mockery from friends about how ill I was going to be, the trip across had no more motion to it than your average train journey and I managed to keep my petrol station sandwiches safely in my stomach.
We spent the night in The Seaview Hotel, a delightfully anachronistic institution that reminded me of summer holidays as a child in the 70s.
(I say anachronistic, but actually the preponderance of multiple gin options was very up to date!).
Apparently, Enid Blyton used to stay in Seaview (which is an actual place), making me wonder if the Isle of Wight was an inspiration for Kirrin Island, the place where the ‘Five’ used to have amazing adventures and which represented my childhood’s ultimate land of dreams.
A bit of research when I got home suggested that Kirrin was more likely inspired by Corfe in Dorset, but even if Enid found other inspirations, many other authors have found the Isle of Wight to be the perfect muse.
It was suggested to us that we follow the ‘literary heroes’ trail around the island which exists because so many writers have done great work there.
Alfred Lord Tennyson made his home in Freshwater and you can visit his home, Farringford House, by appointment – it has been restored to the late 19th century style Tennyson enjoyed – although it wasn’t open the weekend we visited.
Undaunted, we walked from the Needles to the Tennyson monument, a route Tennyson often followed himself, I’m told, and used as inspiration for some of his most famous poems including The Charge of the Light Brigade.
It gets pretty blustery up there – Tennyson once said: ‘The air is worth ‘sixpence a pint’ but if there is a price on exhilaration, it would be cheap at the price.
Karl Marx was another fan of the Isle – he called it ‘a little paradise’ while Charles Dickens rented a home near Ventnor, describing it to his wife as, ‘the prettiest place I ever saw in my life.’
We found Keats Cottage in the charming village of Shanklin, now a tea room and B and B, where some of his poems were written. While our trail concluded in Ryde, where we were reminded of Anthony Mingella, the Oscar winning screenwriter of The English Patient, who hailed from here – his family ran a café in Ryde in the 1950s, and continues to operate their eponymous ice cream business in the town.
In many ways, the Isle of Wight feels like a blast from the past – as though time may have moved on away on the mainland, but no one here has been informed.
I think my favourite place was the café at the Needles Old Battery, where nothing seems to have changed since the 1940s.
I didn’t have the heart to tell the ladies serving behind the counter that the War is over – they seemed, by dress and demeanour, to be entirely unaware of this.
Posters on the wall reminded us to ‘Be like Dad, keep Mum!’, a motif that generated quite a bit of discussion.
But it was another poster that really caught the mood of the weekend.
Is your journey really necessary? it asked.
When I look back on my trip to the Isle of Wight, the clarity it gave me; the sense of how much of my life I spend worrying about things that are really of no concern, the sense of that ‘sixpence a pint air’ blowing away my troubles…
I would have to say, yes, it really was.
Victoria and Abdul
After the release of the film, Victoria and Abdul, there was particular interest in our visit to Osborne House at East Cowes – and fans of the film will not be disappointed as they recognise many of the locations from the film and learn more about the man who enlivened the Queen’s last years.
The guides at Osborne are amazing: I spent about 20 minutes chatting to a young woman who knew more about Queen Victoria than any scholar; she was so enthusiastic, clever and wonderful, I could only hope they were paying her enough!
The literary trail includes Osborne because the poet Edward Lear visited Queen Victoria there to teach her drawing; while the poet Robert Graves and the author AA Milne met and became friends there after World War I when the house was a convalescent home.
Carisbrooke Castle meanwhile holds the distinction of being one of the last places Charles I lived before he was executed. His ‘imprisonment’ there included the installation of a bowling green for his enjoyment – poor Charles. It must have been terrible for him.
Actually, I jest: it was in fact rather an awful time for Charles who had initially thought he was safe there, only to discover too late that Colonel Robert Hammond, the then governor of the Isle was offering him not sanctuary, as he had thought, but house arrest.
Charles attempted to escape twice, to no avail.
Having visited the Castle, and indeed the island, I have to say escape was the last thing on my mind.
Charles was also said to have been inspired to write poetry while at Carisbrooke.
That, I do understand.
John Keats, while in Newport, was said to have begun his powem Endymion on the Isle of Wight. ‘A thing of beauty,’ it begins, ‘is a joy forever.’
How to get there
The Wightlink Isle of Wight Ferries is the way to get there. Whether travelling by foot or by car, Wightlink’s three mainland ferry ports are perfectly placed for easy access to the Isle.
Prices from £61.50 return for a short stay, travelling outbound between 8am and 9:59am and return 4pm and 5:59pm
Routes and fares
Portsmouth Car Ferry Terminal - Fishbourne Car Ferry Terminal: from 45 minutes
Lymington Car Ferry Terminal - Yarmouth Car Ferry Terminal: from 40 minutes
Portsmouth Harbour Railway Station - Ryde Pier Head: from 22 minutes
To book, visit http://www.wightlink.co.uk/
Places to go
For more on the literary trail, visit https://www.visitisleofwight.co.uk/inspiration/literary-heroes-trail
Where to stay
The Seaview hotel won a Michelin Bib Gourmand for exceptional food at affordable prices for three consecutive years. The average price of a three-course dinner is £28.