Up the Creek - Isle of Wight
There has been reference to a harbour at the mouth of the River Yar going back to at least Roman Times. Throughout its history the area has offered sheltered waters to all types of mariner. In its heyday, during the reign of Charles 1, Brading was the principal port of the Island according to Sir John Oglander. At the time of the construction of the Embankment there had been a decline in its fortunes but substantial ships were still plying their trade up to the Quay at Brading. On entering Bembridge Harbour by boat it is difficult to realise that you are entering a man-made harbour constructed in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Before 1880, boats would have sailed a further two and a half miles upstream along the meandering channel of the Eastern Yar, with its wide expanse of mud flats and creeks to the town of Brading, the major port of the area. At high water the mud flats would be covered in water, the whole area being known as Brading Haven, the name now adopted by the Yacht Club adjacent to Bembridge Marina. In 1874 along came the railway and a small branch line then operated for many years under a number of owners. The Isle of Wight Railway bought the line in July 1898 for £16,500. In January 1923 the Isle of Wight Railway was amalgamated into the Southern Railway who made immediate improvements to the branch. St. Helens Quay, the present location of Bembridge Marina, became the main port on the Island for the movement of goods and freight. North and South Quays were reconstructed, evidence of which can still be seen if you look closely. Today it is hard to think what the area around the marina was until the 1960s, an industrial landscape, with railway sidings, a crane, warehouses, a gas works and an engine shed. After closure many changes took place. Up until the late 1950s carriages were stored and broken up on St. Helens Quay. The quay gradually closed to commercial shipping and the harbour was sold to the newly formed Bembridge Harbour Improvements Company in July 1963. The toll road along the embankment, owned and controlled by the British Railways Board, was taken over and abolished by the Isle of Wight County Council in October 1971. The Bembridge Station was demolished in the early 1970s, as was the Royal Spithead Hotel in 1989.
After navigating your way through the buoyed channel which itself is for ever changing, make your way to the Yellow buoy just North of Bembridge Point. You will notice on the West side Node’s Point, the whitewashed remains of a 13th century church most of which slid into the sea in 1550. The stones from its ruins were widely used for scouring wooden decks and according to folklore their being known as “holystones”. From there, make your way East of the point and drop anchor on the shingle beach outside Bembridge Harbour for free. The standing is good & firm and gives you a chance of cleaning the hull. Chances are that you will be alone in your quest and a row in the dinghy to the shore is short. There you will find a beach café serving drinks and snacks. The wooded shoreline is worth a stroll and guess how many wrecks there are on the beach.
Should you wish to moor on the beach inside (for a small charge) then continue past Bembridge Point over the bar and turn East dropping anchor on the fairly steep beach itself on hard fine sand. There’s usually several other vessels here so beware of the swing. There is fresh water available from a tap on the East side of the inner beach by the café. Children will love this area and it is safe although part is now a car park. A stroll along the beach at low water to Bembridge Lifeboat Station is worth a visit and of course the Crab & Lobster pub just a few hundred Metres further on and up the cliff face steps is definitely a must. The lobster is outstanding (and the beers are good too). The view from the picnic tables at low tide of Bembridge Ledge itself is not to be missed and demonstrates why the Ledge should be given a wide berth. Of course there are many buildings of interest in Bembridge village which is just a short walk from the beach, not forgetting the Pilot Boat Inn, the Windmill and the Shipwreck Centre.
Although even the latest admiralty chart shows anchorages in many areas of the Harbour the areas belong to the many Sailing Clubs and therefore are private although a telephone call to the relevant club may invite one to stay. Should you wish to stay afloat then contact Bembridge Sailing Club, if you feel lucky. Bembridge Marina is now solely for residential vessels and visitors are now relegated to Duver Marina Pontoon with shore access and rafting out to 5 and and a very long walk to anywhere. It has the usual facilities ashore with a small shop and the possibility in 2006 of an alcohol licensed premises. Beware, in spite of periodic dredging (few) the harbour is continually silting up. Visitors may soon be able to moor on the South side of the channel on fore & aft public moorings. The walk from these moorings to Bembridge itself especially for the young and old is no longer just a short stroll so a dinghy is the norm for access to the beach or water taxi again expensive but saves the long walk. Fresh fish are available (most times) off Fisherman’s Quay and with the small number of visitor moorings. Well worth a visit is Bembridge Windmill, the only surviving windmill on the Isle of Wight. This little gem is a a Grade 1 listed building and one of the island's most iconic images. Built around 1700, it last operated in 1913 but still has most of its original machinery intact. Climb to the top of the mill then find out how it once worked as you descend its four floors.
One interesting feature is the annual walk for hundreds of people with children and animals from outside the harbour to St Helens Fort. It’s rather along way at some ¾ mile and is no mean feat. The fort was built by Palmerston in 1860 to guard against a French invasion which never materialised. Also at very low tide there is still much to see of the original railway track bed that once crossed the seabed inside the Harbour. Although there is allot to see and explore in Bembridge it seems they are intent on building in restrictions, and then charging for the privilege so consider mooring outside the Harbour worthwhile and free.