10 things you might not know about Hayling Island

Hayling Island (Illustration by Lucy Atkinson)

Hayling Island (Illustration by Lucy Atkinson) - Credit: Archant

A Russian princess, an ancient tree and a tornado - there are plenty of stories linked to this popular island

A Bit Of History

On the coast between Portsmouth and Chichester and shaped like a hammerhead shark, this isn't a classic-looking island. But it has enough history and stories to fill a dozen islands.

The Romans put Hayling on the map when they turned an Iron Age shrine on the island's north area into a temple, the remains of which now lie beneath farmland.

It had its own salt pan, recorded in the Domesday Book and thriving until the early 19th century, and its own oyster beds. In May 1944 it took part in the run-up to D-day by hosting Exercise Fabius, the evidence of which, a broken Mulberry harbour, remains on Sinah Sands.

Oldest Yew

The impressive Hayling Island Yew can be found at St Marys

The impressive Hayling Island Yew can be found at St Marys - Credit: Chris Gunns / Geograph (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With an estimated age of 2,000 years old, no wonder many islanders proudly believe the ancient yew tree which stands in St Mary's churchyard is the oldest in Britain. Hard to verify, perhaps, but what isn't in dispute is its mighty girth - nine metres or 30ft. If you're visiting this arboreal gem, take time to notice the shells and pebbles used in the mortar for the ancient church itself, a wonderful reminder of the nearby sea.

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Mysterious Sea Path

Before the construction of the island's original wooden toll bridge in 1824, you got there by boat. Unless you were prepared to risk the mysterious Wadeway, a submerged, three-quarter mile route between Langstone and Hayling, which is believed to predate Roman times. Look carefully at the lowest tide between Northney shore and the Royal Oak at Langstone and you can spot the wooden stumps, alleged to mark its way. The route has been impassable since it was cut in two by the construction of the Portsmouth and Chichester canal in the 1820s.

The Godfather of Windsurfing

In 1982, British courts recognised 'prior art' by engineer Peter Chilvers who, as a young boy on Hayling Island, assembled his first board combined with a sail, in 1958. Chilvers' contraption was dubbed a 'sailboard' and a UK court case examining an alleged patent infringement (which was not upheld) established an important principle in patent law, now known as 'the Windsurfing Approach'. Peter Chilvers died in 2015 and in that year the Stagecoach company named one of its local buses in his honour.


No-one predicted the events of 20 October, 2013. At least 100 properties were damaged when the island was hit by a tornado - but no injuries were reported.

The Hayling Billy

This delightful name was once given to the jaunty little Victorian 'Terrier' locomotives, the only ones light enough to cross the wooden bridge from Langstone Harbour. The Hayling Billy Trail - the train's route from the island's neck to the seafront - is a popular cycling route, taking in views of the island's west coast, and plenty of wildlife, from the oyster beds to The Kench.

Things To Do

Sailing is big on the island with plenty of friendly clubs to help you get going, including Hayling Island Sailing Club, Mengham Rythe Sailing Club and Hayling Ferry Club.

There's also boardsailing and kayaking too. Nature lovers can enjoy walks, or cycle the Hayling Billy Trail to visit reserves at The Kench, the oyster beds and Langstone Harbour.

You may even see one of the local seals. The Funland Amusement Park has 18 rides, all beside the sea. Sporting types can join Hayling Island FC and you can find a real tennis court at the Seacourt Tennis Club in Victoria Avenue. Station Theatre has top films and concerts.

Eat and Drink

The Inn on the Beach is a charming pub that has the best sea views and often witnesses gloriously vivid sunsets. Inside, the decor is rustic cool, with barrels as tables, large windows and an aquarium populated by colourful fish. 

For a breakfast with a difference, go to the Salt Shack café at Northney Marina where they do a barbecue breakfast as well as lunch, all served with beautiful harbour views. There are more sea views at Sparkes Marina's Drift, where pizzas are cooked to order in the wood-fired oven.

Russian Princess

Take a turn about the graveyard of St Peter's Church in Northney and you'll find the gravestone erected to this ill-fated royal.

Princess Catherine Yourievsky was born in 1878 and her father was later assassinated. After wandering Europe following the Russian Revolution she eventually settled on Hayling in 1932. She was said to have chosen The Haven because the sea air eased her asthma.

The Princess was supported by a stipend from our own Queen Mary but this ceased in 1953 and she was forced to start selling her possessions before her death, in 1959.

From Health Farm to Holiday Hotel

No one knows how Sinah Warren got its name. Some claim it's because of the long-tailed rabbits supposed to have lived there. Others say sinah was a healing herb - which might fit with the camp's reported original guise as a health retreat run by 15th-century monks.

Whatever the truth, Sinah Warren, which has been owned by the Duke of Norfolk and Augustus Arbuthnot - who annoyed residents by starting up a battery chicken farm during the war - has attracted thousands of visitors to the island over the years. It became a holiday camp in the 1950s and is now a Warner Leisure Hotel.


- Things to see and do on the Lymington coastline - Dive on shipwrecks, kayak with seals, or sip a G&T as you sail on the Solent - Lymington has plenty to offer those who take to its waters