Up the Creek - Isle of Wight

River Medina

  We start by entering the River Medina at Cowes.   Cowes and East Cowes grew from a huddle of fishermen's shacks around two coastal forts built by Henry VIII on opposite banks of the River Medina and named after the two offshore sandbanks or cows.   The towns are linked by an old-fashioned chain ferry and have a tradition of fine ship building, dating from the reign of Elizabeth I.   Then came the yacht building industry, as sailing became a popular sport, endorsed by the royal family.  In 1854, the Royal Yacht Squadron was moved into Cowes Castle, the former Tudor fort, and the name of Cowes has been synonymous with yachting ever since.  Above the High Street and overlooking the Solent is Northwood House and Park.  This classical style mansion was built in 1837 and given to the town in 1929 together with its 26 acres of grounds which now provide public tennis courts, bowling greens, putting green and a children's play area.  At the edge of the park stands St. Mary's Church, its landmark clock tower, designed by John Nash, was retained when the church was rebuilt in 1867.  It is advisable not to try a pub crawl in Cowes as there are just too many pubs to choose from.  Since Cowes is the centre for Yachting in the world, needless to say there are also very many yacht clubs all giving visiting sailors a warm welcome, apart from Royal Yacht Squadron of course.  Should you wish to stay here then choose from many moorings most of which are expensive, noisy and buffeted by the continuous wash of the many ferries passing by.  This of course is hoped to partially cease when the new breakwater is completed (expected end 2015).   Try a swinging buoy mooring on the east side and either dinghy or water taxi ashore or maybe a pontoon mooring past the chain ferry, again much cheaper (call the Harbourmaster for advice).   Alternatively drop anchor on The Shrape Mud, drying just outside the Harbour and just while away the day.

Cowes Aerial view

The Harbour in a “rough”

Plans for a new Breakwater

The New Breakwater nearly completed (2014)

  East Cowes is where you will find yet another marina unfortunately these days it is as west Cowes expensive & noisy and has lost so much of its character.   Nearby is the magnificent Osborne House, a countryside retreat of Queen Victoria.   Visit the newly refurbished Dining Room and Durbar Room with its exquisite Indian gifts.   Stroll round the beautiful grounds, including the Victorian Walled Garden, the hot houses of tropical plants and the ice store.  The terraced gardens have recently been opened to visitors and don't miss the delightful Swiss Cottage designed for the royal children.  After her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, Queen Victoria felt the need for a family residence in the country. To use her words, 'a place of one's own - quiet and retired'.   Queen Victoria knew and liked the Isle of Wight after visiting as a child, and she and the Prince Consort were both determined to buy a property there.   'It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot,' wrote the Queen after a visit to Osborne House.  In 1845 the royal couple purchased the property with an estate of 342 acres, plus the adjacent Barton Manor to house equerries and grooms and to serve as the home farm.   Before the deeds had even changed hands, architect Thomas Cubitt had been approached, firstly to build a new wing and then to demolish the old house and add further wings.   Once all the work was complete, an exquisite pair of Italianate towers dominated the landscape and looked out over passing ships in the nearby Solent.  Visit Barton Manor lying adjacent to Osborne House where there is a fine vineyard here proving that English wine can be excellent!  The gardens feature a lake, secluded water garden, a national plant collection & hedge maze.  Both the wines & gardens have won awards.


East Cowes Marina (Downstream)

Proposed new 400 berth Victoria Marina for East Cowes

  The Folly Inn, about a mile past East Cowes Marina is a rustic pub perched on the east bank.  It has lovely views from a large beer garden and patio and because of its position it attracts a large number of yachtsman.   There is a Folly Waterbus which can bring you up or down river from your mooring to their own pontoon.   History has it that The Folly originated from a barge that ran aground whilst selling illegal liquor in the 1700s!   Today it is extremely popular and it is advisable to book, especially at weekends although even without a reservation you will always get a meal and a selection of real ales but on very busy Saturday evenings be prepared to queue through the door outside.   On a Saturday night try the table dancing, as ever very popular with all.  Moor north or south on the visitors pontoon on the west side or reserve a mooring on the Folly side.

The Folly Inn’s First sight

The Folly Inn showing their pontoon in 2006

The Folly's entrance walkway

The Welcome Entrance

The Folly Inn

The Folly Inn but all you see from a distance is 'INN'

Outside Tables in the Shade

A Glorious Sunset

  Island Harbour Marina about half a mile farther on started life as a mill (see photo).  The original building on this land, East Medina Mill was one of the great English tide mills and was built in 1790 by William Porter, a baker in nearby Newport.  At this time the Medina River was a mooring place for the convict transports, and when Mr Porter's workmen were rowing down to work they were taunted with being bound for Botany Bay.  In this way, East Medina Mill became known as Botany Bay Mill.   Though this story is quoted in Albin's History of the Isle of Wight, shortly after the erection of the mills, a more likely interpretation is that William Porter supplied ship's biscuits to the transports in the river.   Just after 1790 the banks who had previously supported Mr Porter withdrew their funding and the business was forced to close.  Thomas Porter died a year later and the buildings were left empty.   During the reign of George III (1760-1820) allot of funds were given by the Monarch for defence of this country and some of this money was used to enlist certain foreign mercenary soldiers into the British Army.  At East Medina Mill at the end of the 1700's, German and Prussian soldiers and their families were stationed.  Sadly, there was a typhoid epidemic and over 70 people died and these people were subsequently buried in a mass grave at Whippingham Church nearby.   Later on Queen Victoria's daughter visited Whippingham church and during her visit was made aware of the mass cemetery and contacted the authorities in Germany to advise them of this and this led to a plaque being put up in the church on the south wall in memory of the soldiers and their families.   It is also said, that there is an entry in the church parish register.   After the Napoleonic war in early 1800 it is also known that French soldiers were barracked at East Medina Mill as POW's.   In 1799, the mill was insured by William Roach with the Sun Insurance Company under the description 'Water corn mill and storehouse communicating (East Medina Mill) and kiln in tenure of James Roach, merchant and miller, brick and tiled small part timber, £1500.  Water wheel, millstones, wire machine and dressing mills, £500, totalling £2,000.  The stock was insured by James Roach under a separate policy for £500.   This records a change of ownership within the first nine years of the life of the mill.   The Roach family held the mill until it ceased to work in 1939.   The mill buildings were 300 feet long, 30 feet wide and 3 storeys high.   The mill part was 10 bays long and was attached to a storehouse which was 8 bays long.  This storehouse was ruined by a storm in 1930.   An article in the County Press (18 Jan 1930) highlights the damage that was caused "The most striking example of the fierceness of the gale on the Island was afforded at East Medina Mill, where a portion of the roof 90ft long and 30ft wide and weighing probably 10 tons, was lifted bodily from the high mill building and carried 40 yards before it crashed onto cottages and other buildings and extensively damaged them.   At it's height the wind probably reached a velocity of at least 90 miles an hour.  The scene next morning was one of almost indescribable chaos, and reminded some onlookers of the shell-shattered buildings of the battlefield."  In 1939 the Borough of Newport obtained the mill and used it as a store for any waste material and then a subsequent large fire burnt down half of the mill and it remained derelict until 1950 when it was demolished and then remained that way until 1960's.   During this time, in 1946 a firm called Southern Aircraft (Gatwick) leased the land to build aircraft, a project which never really came to fruition.   Then in the mid 1960's a group of local people got together and took over the lease from the aircraft company to build a marina which subsequently opened in 1965 and has since changed owners on a number of occasions the latest being 2004.   After this last change of hands the Marina has been dredged and extended with, of course an increase in fees but much of its character remains.   The PS Ryde or Ryde Queen as she was affectionately called was one of the Isle of Wight ferries and can be seen backing away from her terminal in Cowes in 1967 however in the next photo as she was in 2005 she is now nothing more than a rusting wreck and hazard to the public at large.   Since her installation at Island Harbour in earthen mooring she has served as a Night club and Restaurant but now her future is presently unknown although it wont be too long before the earth completely consumes her.   There are many walks to be taken from this mooring either north, east or south to Newport where one can take advantage of nature to its extreme.   Once locked-in with very good all round weather protection, the marina has good facilities, a Bar & Bistro and an excellent Chandler and the Harbour staff couldn’t be more helpful.

  Island Harbour Marina has been a firm favourite of Yateley Offshore Sailing Club (YOSC) for an extended weekend of activities within the marina and areas of interest nearby.   Seen in the photographs are just some over the years.   The event can attract some 14 vessels.

East Medina Tide Mill in 1936 (year before it stopped operating)

PS (Paddle Steamer) 'Ryde Queen' in 1967

PS “Ryde” in 2005

The lock at high tide

Plenty of room once inside

The view downstream to Cowes from the Marina

YOSC Blind Dinghy Racing

YOSC Scrap Heap Challenge in progress (Winner 2013)

YOSC Scrap Heap Challenge Trophy

YOSC Afternoon Games events

YOSC BBQ Evening

The evenings setting sun over the trees

  Unlike my other articles I leave you to choose your own mooring on this fine River but do not rule out an anchorage past the Folly on the west side where all is peace and quiet and with your trusty dinghy you still have “shore access”.

© Copyright Terry Paynter