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).