© TMP

Up the Creek - Isle of Wight

Ventnor Harbour

  The area that Ventnor town now occupies back then in the 18th century comprised around 330 acres of farmland, accessible from the rest of the Island only by a couple of rough cart tracks.   Down in Ventnor Bay, then as now, crab and lobster were the main focus of activity.  An early document from 1813 praises the Bay as "the most picturesque spot along the coast" and describes thatched fisherman shacks along the shore with an old corn & grist mill high above (on the site now occupied by the Winter Gardens), fed by a stream which today still flows gracefully down to the sea below (its current form, the beautiful floral Cascade, was originally landscaped in 1903).   Ventnor's fortunes were transformed in the 1830's when a report by eminent physician Sir James Clark extolled the beneficial healing qualities of the climate and waters.   Almost overnight, Ventnor became a very fashionable destination and health resort - Hygeia, goddess of health, still decorates the Welcome signs as you enter the town.  Building work soon flourished, and the population ballooned from under a hundred in 1810 to nearly one thousand by 1840.  This figure had tripled by 1851 and reached almost six thousand by 1900.   Ventnor's heyday peaked in Edwardian times but continued through the twenties and thirties with more and more visitors eager to enjoy the area's long summers, fine beach, promenade, Pier and the new Winter Gardens opened in 1937.  The war brought carefree holidays to an abrupt halt, the early radar station on St. Boniface Down to the East, making Ventnor a choice target on a number of Luftwaffe bombing raids.   When the railway reached the town in 1866, Ventnor cemented its place as one of the country's most popular holiday destinations, with more people than ever coming down to discover the delights of the scenery and the evolving town.  Ventnor's main station continued to be the main gateway to the town until its closure nearly a century later in 1966.  It is now a busy industrial estate and focus for local business.   A smaller station “Ventnor West” opened in 1900 but cutbacks forced its closure in 1952, and it is now a private residence.   The Royal Victoria pier survived two world wars (apart from being cut in two to prevent invading forces using it during 1939-45) and the peaks and dips in popularity of the British seaside holiday, right up until 1981 when its deteriorating condition prompted safety fears.   Only the entrance amusement arcade was kept open, but this burned down in 1985.   Despite surviving southern England's notorious hurricane in 1987, the structure had gone beyond economic repair and, in 1993, the Royal Victoria Pier was finally demolished.  Then the Council teamed up with a utility company and, by the late 1990s, construction work had commenced on a new facility on the site of the old Pier.   The result is another attractive landmark building with circular 'bandstand' covered seating, panoramic views and seaward walkway, all concealing a new pumping station hidden beneath.   Upon completion, the new Ventnor Haven harbour was constructed alongside the 'bandstand' for berthing smaller craft.  Officially opened in 2003, the Haven is currently being expanded into a New England style working port and marina for all sizes of vessel and, south of Cowes and Yarmouth, the only stop-off point for round-Island sailing.

  The Lat Long just outside the Harbour entrance is 50º 35.50’N & 001º 12.30’W.   It is advisable to enter the Harbour from the South rather than either side to ensure you miss any of the many rocks.  ADAT was the first ever yacht to enter the Harbour in 2003 and the pictures show her on buoys however as we were slipping after our last visit they were erecting a pontoon with shore access for visiting vessels during the Summer season reverting to fishing and local vessels over the Winter.  The fee for mooring on buoys is cheap although for the pontoon is as yet unknown.   Shore access from the buoys is via your dinghy to a slip but the Harbourmaster (one of several) will transport you both ways for free in his rib.  This also applies should you be Fin keeled and are moored on one of their outside buoys (in the bay).   The facilities were minimal to say the least but the area is very inviting with at least 3 top pubs and an extremely good beach within Metres of the Harbour.   One, the Spyglass Inn serving very good meals overlooks the beach itself which comes with its own attractions.  It’s a drying Harbour and with a fetch in a Southerly.   Due to the design it is silting up with sand and although somewhat new they have already had several attempts at dredging (see photo of the Harbour at Low Tide).   It also seems to attract much seaweed which in the midday sun tends to smell!   The Harbour staff are very keen and helpful especially in picking up a mooring buoy.  Talking to the locals one wonders why they didn’t build the Harbour somewhat bigger and with a “through” tide to keep the silting and seaweed clear.   It’s not as if they didn’t have the room.   Should you wish to be a little more adventurous then try St Catherine’s Lighthouse and Blackgang Chine both a short walk just a little West.   There is also a nice not too long coastal walk along the headland to the neighbouring Steephill Cove.

  There are also Dinosaurs on the Isle of Wight, or there were.   120 million years ago, there was no Isle of Wight, it was landlocked, part of a large continent which is why it is one of Europe's finest sites for dinosaur remains.  Some species of dinosaurs exceeded 30 Metres in length and weighed many tonnes, whilst others were minute, the size of a small house pet.  The Isle of Wight is a British Holiday Island Palaeontology Hot Spot.  You can examine the footprint casts of an Iguanodon and many others on the south shore just West of Ventnor.   The casts fall from the nearby cliffs as they're eroded by the weather so should you be interested then maybe again go west.  Ventnor has its own microclimate and can be extremely hot here, it also boasts record hours of sunshine throughout the year.  The Victorian town of Ventnor is one of the oldest seaside resorts on the Island. It has a smaller beach than it's neighbours Shanklin and Sandown and is popular for bathing and swimming whilst being quieter than it's larger neighbours.

  In 1813 the following was written about Ventnor - "The most picturesque spot along the coast; the smallest of small villages, consisting of a group of low thatched huts along the shore, and an old mill perched on a crag high above the beach on which the stream which turned it dashed in a picturesque cascade towards the sea."   Always worth a visit if only for a drink.

Ventnor Aerial view

Beach taken from the Spy Glass Inn

The Harbour

Later photo showing the Fisheries and visitors Pontoon

Adat, First visiting yacht

Harbour Master with Chris standing on the Bar at the Entrance

Spyglass Inn

Antiques TV Show with Michael Aspel

© Copyright Terry Paynter