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At first sight, the small village of Yaverland on the Isle of Wight, just off the south coast of England, might seem pretty much insignificant. Just north of Sandown, it looks more or less like any other housing estate of the 1970s, except that there are about 200 houses, no shops, and one postbox. This postbox, therefore, is pretty much the centre - and highlight - of the village and is where all the locals meet for the social gathering that is posting letters in the morning. It's 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 to 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 that this village also has its history.
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 tigers1 and also have a respectable snake collection. But the most interesting thing about the zoo is where it stands - the zoo is built on the remains of the Granite Fort which was built in the 1860s as part of Lord Palmerston's defence against the feared French invasion. Although that invasion never occurred, it was used by the military in World War II as part of the Pluto pipeline to pump petrol across the channel into France to service the vehicles there.
The Manor And Church
Behind Culver Down, about 1/3 of a mile's walk from the village of Yaverland, lies Yaverland manor and church. This is where another postbox is, built into the wall which surrounds these two very old buildings. The manor is medieval, and many of its windows are blocked up. This is not to do with vandalism or because the house is vacant. It's because of the Window Tax introduced in centuries past, where you'd have to pay more tax the more windows your house had. Stoning up windows was a good way to reduce the amount you'd have to pay.
The church is older, with parts of it believed to date from the 12th Century. In the 19th Century, however, the wood comprising the steeple was rotting and in danger of falling down, and so 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 Down2, 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 constitutes 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 tourists, who never wander far from the pier and ice cream shops of Sandown - it is more often used by fishermen, and often barbecues are held there, out of the way of the busy beach life which is found further south.
The cliffs are a favourite among 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. Redcliff is made of clay, its face continually changing and eroding, therefore revealing much of what is buried beneath. Many dinosaurs found there are on display at the National History Museum, London, or 2 miles south of the beach at the Geology Museum, Sandown.
Also in Yaverland are the remains of Yaverland Battery, built in the 1860s to defend the area in case of the feared French invasion. There are a grand total of 30 forts and castles on and around the Isle of Wight.
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 destroyed.
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 the Tudor ship the Mary Rose sank.
In 1544 work began on Sandown Castle, a star-shaped fort on the seafront. However, this was never completed, and a battle was fought over its half-built walls. The French lost, and retreated, and the castle was finished in 1546, never to be needed again. However, its lifespan proved to be a short one. Being built on a sandy beach, it was soon washed away. Its remains are still visible providing that you own a good diving mask and that you can hold your breath. The best time of the year to find the remains is, predictably enough, 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 the wall is built of are slogans and other anti-war propaganda. This is 85-year-old graffiti. The most visible messages encourage you to vote for Socialism, and to say things like 'Socialism, The Hope of The World' as you stand opposite the Sandham Grounds ice cream shop. This, though, is nearer the Sandown end of the sea wall. 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
This is the sleepy village of Yaverland. Not an exciting place by any means, and much like any village in England (except, perhaps, for the zoo). But it's still important to remember that each village, as similar as it may seem at first to any other, will probably have a unique and very interesting past.