FolkestoneJack's Tracks

An afternoon in Yarmouth

Posted in England, Isle of Wight, Lymington by folkestonejack on August 1, 2015

In the afternoon we made a little side-trip to the Isle of Wight, a short hop by ferry from Lymington, to see another of the coastal strongholds that Henry VIII commissioned to defend the entrance to the Western Solent – Yarmouth Castle.

Yarmouth Castle

Yarmouth Castle

The construction of Yarmouth Castle was prompted by the urgent need to address the vulnerability of the Isle of Wight and the Solent following an unsuccessful French invasion in July 1545. Francis I had assembled an armada of 200 ships and 30,000 soldiers to attempt an invasion of England, resulting in troops landing on the Isle of Wight. To put this into some context, this was a force twice the size of the Spanish Armada that threatened England later in the century.

Ultimately, the French troops were repelled by the local militia and the armada was unable to secure sufficient advantage to make it worth continuing the battle. The ambigious nature of the conclusion to the ‘Battle of the Solent’ probably goes a long way towards explaining why it is not well remembered today. Not a glorious victory, nor a terrible defeat.

The gun platform with a view across to Yarmouth Pier

The gun platform with a view across to Yarmouth Pier and a departing Wightlink ferry

The castle was operational by September 1547 so is contemporaneous with Hurst Castle, but built to a radically different design. The construction at Yarmouth was influenced by the latest trends in continental castle design – out went rounded bastions and in came arrow-headed bastions. However, completion of the original design for the castle had been abandoned by the late 16th century. The outer walls were lowered and half of the castle’s courtyard was filled in with rubble to produce an artillery platform. As an added benefit, the platform would have softened the impact of any enemy fire directed at the castle.

Although the castle has seen various changes since then, it hasn’t witnessed the degree of modification in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that other coastal fortresses have seen (such as at Landguard Fort and Hurst Castle). The square fortress that has survived to the present day would still be recognisable to its builders, even if half of the interior has been buried!

Our exploration of the castle took only half an hour, but the information on display did a terrific job of telling its story (much better than many castles do with hundreds of display boards). The guide book they sell on site is pretty decent too.

Yarmouth was granted an official Charter in 1135

Yarmouth was granted an official Charter in 1135

A wander around Yarmouth didn’t take alot longer than our walk around the castle, such is the compact nature of the town, but it did at least allow us to reach all the local attractions in the time available. These included:

1. The disused railway station, now wonderfully reconstructed as the Southern Railways themed cafe/restaurant Off the Rails and a great spot for an ice cream on a hot summer’s day.

2. Saint James’ Church with its supposedly ugly tower. The tower (1831) was designed by Daniel Alexander, an architect better known for warehouses, lighthouses and the original Dartmoor Prison. The incumbent vicar at the time thought this portfolio of work was telling!

3. Yarmouth Pier, which is the last operational all wood pier in the country, originally constructed in 1876 to service London and South Western Railway Company steamers. As the wooden piles only last 15-20 years it is essentially undergoing constant restoration.

The Gribble Seat in Yarmouth

The Gribble Seat

4. The Gribble seat, created in 2008 as part of the campaign to save Yarmouth Pier. Gribbles are wood-boring creatures that had been eating away the softer parts wood in the pier’s piles. They don’t exactly look like this in real life…

Our afternoon visit to Yarmouth concluded around two hours after we arrived. We had originally hoped to spend more time on the island and visit the Needles and the nearby old and new batteries, but circumstances dictated a shorter stay. I’m sure we will be back to take a look at those places on some future occasion – the Solent seems to hold quite a lure for us.

Low tide in Lymington

Low tide in Lymington

The day ended with a return ferry to Lymington at a particularly low tide, which meant our ship had to proceed down the Lymington river at a slower pace than usual. No complaints from me – it’s a lovely stretch of coastline to admire and photograph (excessively as usual). Meanwhile, my ferry-phobic travelling companion had to admit that the crossing was not as bad as expected. One step closer to a world cruise..!?


A day return foot crossing by ferry cost us £14.20 each. Advance booking is recommended to guarantee the crossing you want (we discovered that we couldn’t get a walk up ticket for the crossing we wanted, but were lucky enough to be able to get on in the end). The terminal at Lymington Pier is a short hop by train from Lymington Town station (or a twenty minute walk), whereas the terminal at Yarmouth is in the centre of town and right next door to the castle.

Admission to Yarmouth castle currently costs £5 for adults (free to English Heritage members) and opening hours when we visited were 10am to 4pm (the castle is closed in winter).

On our return to Lymington we found a wonderful pub for dinner, The Ship Inn, located on the waterfront. The pub served up a fine combination of real ale and some tasty dishes with a twist (the damson plum & apple shortbread crumble served in the pan comes highly recommended).


Carisbrooke Castle, Osbourne House and the Solent

Posted in Isle of Wight by folkestonejack on May 30, 2011

The last day of the trip involved quite alot of bus, train and ferry travel whichever way you look at it. The day started with a couple of buses to get us to Carisbrooke Castle (Via Newport) and then at midday we partly re-traced our steps with a couple of buses to get to Osbourne House.

The two buildings are inevitably steeped in history but most strongly echoed with the stories of Charles I (who was imprisoned at Carisbrooke) and Queen Victoria. I found Osbourne House harder to like than some of the royal palaces I have seen but there is a real wow factor to the anglo-indian decoration of the Durbar room.

Finally, we took the bus back to Ryde and then a high-speed catamaran from Ryde Pier to Portsmouth Harbour Station for a perfectly timed interchange with a train back to London.

An evening in Ryde

Posted in Isle of Wight by folkestonejack on May 29, 2011

An evening walk along the seafront at Ryde brought a diverse range of sights amidst a rare burst of sun and blue skies. The improved light gave a clearer view of the USS George H. W. Bush and assisted with the sight of a tall ship passing through the solent and the Cunard liner Queen Victoria heading out to Norway on a cruise.

Isle of Wight Steam Railway – 40th Anniversary Gala

Posted in Isle of Wight by folkestonejack on May 29, 2011

An outing to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway for their 40th Anniversary Gala provided an enjoyable way to spend the day and learn a bit more about the preserved line (which opened in 1971) and the past history of the railway lines on the island. I knew very little about the network so it was fascinating to read about the failed attempt to keep the line from Ryde to Cowes in operation, the early days of the steam railway and their future hopes to run into Ryde St John’s Road.

The railway itself is a lovely operation with beautiful stations (particularly the set up at Ashey), locomotives (with additional visitors for the gala) and carriages (which were quite wonderful in their own right). The sheer enthusiasm on display all around us was hard to resist. At the end of the day we made a point of leaving the stations behind and taking to the local footpaths with an OS map to hand, in order to get a different perspective, albeit with quite a blustery wind taking the upper hand by this point!

Tube trains along the pier

Posted in Isle of Wight by folkestonejack on May 28, 2011

The strange sight of refurbished 1930s tube stock takes some getting used to on the Isle of Wight, but never more so than on Ryde Pier with the sea lapping underneath! The ‘pier’ is in fact three piers – one for cars/pedestrians, one for trams (now abandoned) and one for trains. However, it is the skeletal state of the middle (tram) pier that gives it this most dramatic appearance.

The Hovertravel fleet in action

Posted in Isle of Wight by folkestonejack on May 28, 2011

The Hovertravel fleet consists of three craft. Two are API-88/100S designs (Island Express and Freedom 90) and the third is a BHT130 (Solent Express). In my short stay on the island I saw the two API-88/100S craft in action, with most of the work done by Island Express. A few of the photographs can be seen below…

The quirky world of the Isle of Wight

Posted in England, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth by folkestonejack on May 28, 2011

After taking an early morning train south I found myself with Brett at the Southsea hoverport today ready to take my first trip on a hovercraft. I’m not sure how long these incredible machines will be around but I felt I had to give it a go – at least once.

At present, the route between Southsea and Ryde is the only place you can sample a daily timetabled public hovercraft service in operation within the UK today. I got more of a preview than I anticipated as I watched an earlier service depart – getting a soaking from the departing hovercraft as the propellers blasted spray in our direction. I obviously didn’t learn anything from this encounter as I repeated the experience at Ryde later in the day (with added sand!).

I stand in utter amazement at these vehicles and the sheer speed at which they operate. I still can’t quite get over how quickly the skirts inflate and the vehicles manoeuvre themselves off the slipway and into the sea. A mere 10 minutes later and they have arrived at their destination. Incredible! Throughout the weekend I found them utterly spellbinding and could have watched them endlessly, which probably accounts for the sheer number of photographs I took…

Hovertravel's AP1-88 "Island Express" makes the crossing between Southsea and Ryde

Hovertravel's AP1-88 "Island Express" makes the crossing between Southsea and Ryde

The quirkiness of the Isle of Wight experience doesn’t stop there… the trains on the island are refurbished London Underground trains from 1938! Over the years the island seems to have had a history of taking on old locomotives and rolling stock from the mainland and this is not the first. Indeed, it may not be the last time that old stock is passed on as there has been some suggestion that the recent programme of rolling stock replacement on the London underground system may yet lead to ‘newer’ stock transferring to the Isle of Wight. The heritage of the existing units has been acknowledged with a re-paint into the traditional London Transport red livery. For now, the 1938 stock provides the strange sensation of underground trains out of context – close your eyes for a second and you can almost imagine that the train will rattle into Bank rather than Ryde.

One of the Island Line multiple units on the run from Ryde Pier Head to Ryde Esplanade

One of the Island Line multiple units on the run from Ryde Pier Head to Ryde Esplanade

An Island Line train approaches Ryde tunnel

We took a train south to check out Shanklin and Sandown which further confirmed our initial impressions of the quirkiness of island life – one of the stations on the route has a disused platform with dummies reading a newspaper on a bench and looking out of a waiting room window! Then, on the road down to the seafront at Shanklin we came across a sequence of B&B signs trumpeting the availability of colour TVs (can there really be hotels still offering black and white tv these days!?) and finally at the beach itself there were baffling array of signs warning of the perils of weaver fish, but no clues on what to look for or what the danger was! Needless to say, a quick google has unveiled the danger (see: Beware the weever fish!) but now that I am back in the comfort of my room I’m hoping that I am safe enough…

All in all, it was a fascinating day back on the Isle of Wight and good fun along the way. The weather might have been blustery and a little wet but there was no chance of dampening our sense of fun. A good meal at the Ryde Castle was a perfect way to round off the day ahead of another two days on the island.

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