Yaverland, Isle of Wight, UK

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The small village of Yaverland, which is just north of Sandown, is pretty much insignificant. It looks more or less like any other housing estate of the 70s looks. Except that there are about 200 houses, no shops, and one postbox in the village itself. This postbox, therefore, is pretty much the centre, and highlight, of the village - and is where all the locals meet for all their social events of posting letters in the morning, and it is also used by joggers who use it as a leaning post where they can catch their breath.

The only way to get to Yaverland is along one coastal road, that leads from Sandown in one direction, along the coast, before heading inland to meet with the Brading-Bembridge road behind Culver Down.

And that, more or less, is the modern village of Yaverland - pretty much the same as any other village, except it has a history.

The Zoo

The first thing that people notice is the Zoo. Admittedly not every village has a zoo, and this makes Yaverland more or less unique. In the zoo they breed tigers (in fact, until the 80s they used to walk the tigers along the beach for excercise each day) and also have a respectable snake collection, but where the zoo is based is more intersting.

The zoo is built in the remains of the Granite Fort built in the 1860s as part of Lord Palmerston's defence against the feared French invasion. Although that invasion never occured, it was used by the military in World War II as part of the Pluto pipeline to pump petrol etc across the channel into France to service the vehicles there.

The Manor And Church

Behind Culver Down, about 1/3 of a miles walk from the village of Yaverland, lies Yaverland manor and church. This is where another postbox is, built into the wall surrounding the two very old buildings. The manor is medieval, and many of it's windows are blocked up. This is not to do with vandalism or because the house is vacant - it isn't - but because of the Window Tax introduced in centuries past, and stoning up windows was a good way to avoid paying it. The church is older, although I am not sure exactly how old. I believe that parts of it are 12th century. In the 19th century, however, the wood comprising the steeple was rotting and in danger of falling down, and was re-built by a team of local carpenters. Both the manor and church cannot be seen from the modern village, hidden as they are behind Culver Down1, but they are well worth a visit, as the flower garden beside them is a lovely place to relax - provided you don't mind being too near a graveyard.

The Cliffs And Beach

Yaverland is near the northern end of the 5-mile stretch that makes up Sandown Bay, and its golden sands are met by the cliffs of Redcliff, and Culver, the chalk cliff that overlooks the bay. This end of the beach is less used by the tourists, who never wonder far from the pier and icecream shops of Sandown, but is more often used by fishermen, and often barbecues are held here, out of the way of the busy beach life to be found further south. The cliffs are a favourite with kite-fliers, and often the beach barbecue parties climb the cliffs to play football on top. The cliffs are also one of the best places in Britain for Dinosaur hunters, as because Redcliff is clay, it's face continually changes and errodes, and reveals what is buried beneath. Many dinosaurs found there are on display at the National History Museum, London, or 2 miles south at the Geology Museum, Sandown. 2Also on Redcliff is the remains of Redcliff Battery, also built in the 1860s against a feared French invasion.3

The French Invasion

Yaverland was, historically, almost cut off from the rest of the Island by the Brading Marshes that form the River Yar. In fact, "Yaverland" is apparently derived from "Yar-island". The marshes were drained in Victorian times, but not until after Bembridge Fort, on Culver Down, was built, when the bricks were transported on flat-bottom barges to the side of the down. The only way to get from the manor house to the rest of the island was over a bridge, long since gone.

During the French Invasion of 1545, the French Fleet took advantage of this isolation by sailing up the river Yar to gather supplies. This resulted in the burning of towns and raping and pillaging that usually accompanied a French Invasion, and parts of the area are still considered haunted to this day. This was the same invasion in which the Mary Rose sank, and curiously enough, it had been predicted. In 1544 work began on Sandown Castle, a Henrican star-shaped fort on the seafront. However, this had not been completed, and so there was a battle over it's half-built walls. The French lost, and retreated, and the castle was finished in 1546, never to be needed again. However, it's lifetime was short anyway, as it was built on the beach and soon was abandoned and washed away. It's remains are visible with a good diving mask and if you can hold your breath - the author knows, as he's tried. The best time of the year to find the remains is, naturally, in winter when the water's freezing. Sometimes, however, the tide can go out so far that they can be approached by walking, but this only happens about once every 30 years.

The Sea Wall to Sandown

A final note about Yaverland is that if you walk to Yaverland, you cannot help but notice the sea-wall. This was built by Conscientious Objectors stationed in Parkhurst Prison during the Great War. No-one notices, but on the blocks they are made from are the slogons and other anti-war propaganda that is 85 year old graffiti. The most visible messages encourage you to vote for the SNP, and say "Socialism, The Hope of The World" opposite the Sandham Grounds ice-cream shop. This, though, is nearer the Sandown end of the sea wall. And walking along the sea wall in winter when the wind is VERY strong and the sea-crashes against you is an experience you'll never forget!

So this is the sleepy village of Yaverland. Not an exciting place by any means, and like any village in England (except, perhaps, for the zoo), but it is still important to remember that each village, as identical as they seem, have a unique, and perhaps not-too-dull, past.
The Fish in Yaverland, by the popular Post Box, September 1997.
1A Down is a Hill2The author of this has frequantly gone dinosaur hunting there, and all he has found is a sauropod's knee.)3There are a grand total of 30 forts and castles on or around the Isle of Wight.

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