Evicted from his office by the noisy Isle of Wight Festival today, the Ranger instead spent the day on a tour of the Osborne Estate, Queen Victoria’s island retreat, still lovingly maintained much as she left it. Just occasionally there are privileges associated with being a Ranger, and today was one of those rare moments. Although Osborne is a fantastic visit for the paying guest – highly recommended, if you’re wondering – much of the estate is not open to the public, and so this was the first time the Ranger had ever been around many of the quieter corners of this royal estate, including Queen Victoria’s own beach at Osborne Bay, one of the very few private beaches on the Solent. It was an extraordinary experience. A few images will perhaps serve to convey a little of the splendour of that isolated cove. Apologies to those who subscribe by email but if you want to see them you’re just going to have look at the webpage.
The public have no access here
The beautiful wooded bay has a little changing room looking out over the small, sandy beach
Unusual shoreline plants such as the yellow horned poppy thrive in the undisturbed shingle
Dappled shade from the trees falls across the pristine sand
The Ranger was struck by this remarkable place. It was not so much what was there, as what was not there. It was no different to hundreds of other such little bays across the Solent, except for the lack of people. The sand was without footprints. The beach was without litter. There were no railings, no steps, no bins, no groynes and no vehicles. Wild plants were strewn across the sand and shingle as they chose, and tangles of fallen branches marked the edges of the woodland. Nobody needed to pass that way, and nobody had seen fit to tidy them away. We are so used to seeing a beach as a busy place, where we play, run, walk, and join the throng of others doing the same. Even if we find a beach deserted, someone else will have been there not that long before. When we sit, we check to see if any rubbish is there. When we comb the strand, we expect to pick through the plastic and glass detritus of previous visitors. When we walk, we walk in the footprints of thousands before us. Osborne is a tiny reminder that it does not have to be like that. The Ranger is, naturally enough, in favour of public access to the countryside. But, just once in a while, it’s also worth having a place, albeit small and remote, where the public do not and should not go, to remind us of what we put aside when we allow access for all.
A glimpse of distant Osborne House from the beach
This article was first published in 2006, and is republished today with minor corrections, to mark the opening of Osborne Beach to the public.