Why Queen Victoria’s secret beach should remain secret

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.

Sign at Osborne Bay
The public have no access here

A Day in the Life: Sandown Bay

I like to have a good moan and rant, as regular readers will be aware. But it’s also worth standing back sometimes to remember just why I do the job I do, and why it’s so great. My friends over at myisleofwight.com have helped me do just that with this exquisite video homage to the town I grew up in, the beaches I played on as a child, and still work (and play) on today.

(We recommend you go fullscreen and turn up your speakers for the full effect) You see, you don’t have to go all retro and nostalgic to enjoy a holiday on the Isle of Wight – although by all means do if you want. This stuff is still going on, every sunny day of the summer. I love it.

By-the-wind sailors make landfall

A bit of a stir at work today, when reports started coming in of strange creatures washed up on beaches on the northern coast of the Isle of Wight. One of The Ranger’s colleagues (in fact, a real ranger, not a virtual one) set off to investigate, and brought back these fascinating images of Velella velella, the by-the-wind sailor.

Velella velella, the by-the-wind sailor (c) Richard Temple
By-the-wind sailor washed up at Gurnard, Isle of Wight

What strange, lovely little things. In the west millions of these little corpses have washed up. We seem to have got quite a few thousand, but still an impressive crop. MarLIN describes Velella thus:

Velella velella is an ocean dwelling species that is occasionally seen in the open sea and washed up around British and Irish coasts. Velella velella is a pelagic colonial hydroid. The float, which is an oval disc, is deep blue in colour and can be up to 10 cm in length. Short tentacles hang down into the water from the float. A thin semicircular fin is set diagonally along the float acting as a sail. This sail gives the animal both its scientific (i.e. from velum, a sail) and its common name, ‘by-the-wind-sailor’. The direction of the sail along the float determines which way Velella velella will travel. If the sail runs north-west to south-east along the float it will drift left of the wind direction, if the sail runs south-west to north-east it will drift right of the wind direction. Velella velella feeds on pelagic organisms, including young fish, caught by stinging cells on its tentacles.

So it’s like a jellyfish, but is not one – it is actually a colony of closely associated but separate organisms. Weird! Luckily for us, they are pretty much harmless to humans, so The Ranger and his colleagues can reassure enquirers. In fact, a press release is being prepared to make the best of this interesting publicity opportunity. People do tend to worry about this sort of thing, and it’s an important part of all rangers’ jobs to ensure that they can give reliable ecological information to people. This makes them more comfortable and confident with wildlife. Usually there is no reason for alarm when some unusual wildlife is encountered, but instinct does sometimes seem to take over when a strange spider, snake, fish, fungus or slightly sniffly bird is discovered. It’s a good thing to have ecologists and rangers around to offer some authoritative advice.

Making footprints on Queen Victoria’s secret beach

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.

Sign at Osborne Bay
The public have no access here
Osborne Bay
The beautiful wooded bay has a little changing room looking out over the small, sandy beach
Yellow horned poppy
Unusual shoreline plants such as the yellow horned poppy thrive in the undisturbed shingle
Sand at Osborne bay
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 where the public do not and should not go, to remind us of what we put aside when we allow access for all.

Osborne House
A glimpse of distant Osborne House from the beach