Hayling Island is easy to visit and a favourite with water sports enthusiasts, as SHARON GOBLE discovered on a trip to Hampshire.
Hayling Island, east of Portsmouth and west of Chichester, is conveniently joined to the mainland by road and, once upon a time, by rail. If you prefer to arrive in time-honoured fashion, you can sail across or take the passenger ferry from Portsmouth, but for those who want to nip on and off, the road bridge is perfect. It ensures Hayling is secluded but not isolated.
Although largely residential, Hayling buzzes with families and water sports enthusiasts during the summer. With Langstone Harbour on the west coast and Chichester Harbour on the east, it’s no surprise that sailing and water sports are huge here; there are several marinas and sailing clubs. In fact, Hayling is the home of windsurfing – the first windsurf was invented by islander Peter Chilvers.
These days, windsurfing on Hayling has been overtaken by more high-flying water sports. Chris and Rosemary Bull moved here to set up their water sports business, CBK Hayling Island. It was one of the first kitesurf schools in the UK, teaching people to kitesurf and stand-up paddle board since 1999.
Rosemary says: “Hayling Island is a premier destination for the sport because we have such unique and gorgeous conditions here, particularly off West Beach; it’s idyllic.
“I don’t get to kite here much because whenever it’s windy, I’m working! I’ve been to Mauritius and all kinds of places, and you just can’t beat the water conditions on Hayling.”
The British Kitesurfing Association, the national governing body for kitesports, runs the national events circuit, including the Freestyle National Championships, which will take place on Hayling Island from September 30 to October 1.
Andy Gratwick of the BKSA tells me: “Hayling Island is one of the flagship locations in the UK for sports like windsurfing, kitesurfing and windfoiling. It’s strategically well-placed, not too far from London. The big sand bar produces some lovely waves, a beautiful lagoon, and geographically Hayling lends itself to what a water sports enthusiast wants. It’s got it all.”
Water sports aside, Hayling has a fascinating history dating back to the Iron Age. Salt production was once one of the island’s main industries. In the north, not far from Northney Village, is the site of a Roman Temple and the historic church of St Peter’s. Its bells, cast around 1350, ring out one of the oldest peals in England. Further south, the ancient yew tree in St Mary’s churchyard is believed to be the oldest in the country. In recent history Hayling was used for a mock invasion to rehearse D-Day.
It’s easy to escape the traditional seaside attractions along the seafront on the southern shore. If nature floats your boat, there are numerous footpaths to explore, and you’ll find tranquil nature reserves in the north-west (off St Peter’s Road) and in the south west of Hayling (off Ferry Road). Pedal power is a great way to explore this compact island too, on or off-road.
Once you have worked up an appetite or if you need to quench your thirst, head to one of the bars and cafes dotted around the island. The Salt Shack Cafe on Northney Marina is open year-round to eat in or take-away. Laze on a sun longer and watch the comings and goings of the yachts in the marina or wrap up in a blanket on crisp winter days.
Nearby is Northney Farm Tearooms, a lovely spot to stop for an ice cream or cream tea made with milk from the dairy farm’s herd of Ayrshire cattle. Eat in the rustic barn or outside, overlooking a verdant rural landscape.
Employee Lottie Fogden says: “We are more than just a tearoom. We have events throughout the year that keep us busy and offer something new for repeat visitors. We only have acoustic music because Northney is a quiet rural part of the island, and we want to keep it that way.”
Dairy farmer James Pike was born and bred on Hayling, as he explains: “The farm was originally my grandfather’s, then we divided it up. I now run Northney Farm and other family members run Stoke Fruit Farm.
“It’s lovely living on Hayling, especially in the north of the island where we are. It’s tranquil, yet towns and cities are close by.”
So, if you want to experience (almost) island life, why not give Hayling a go? Whether the sea’s choppy or calm, driving across the bridge is guaranteed to give visitors a feeling of escapism and islanders a sense of homecoming.
Rosemary concludes: “Moving here was the best thing we ever did. Whenever we visit family in London, we drive home across the bridge, and it feels like a big weight is being lifted. Smelling the fresh sea air is very special for us.”
ISLANDERS’ TOP TIPS
- Walk or cycle on the Hayling Billy Leisure Trail, which runs almost the length of the western shore along a former light railway track. It’s part of the National Cycle Network.
- Cool down with a Northney Ice Cream made with milk from the farm’s dairy herd. There are lots of flavours to choose from!
- Take home some sunshine by visiting Sam’s Sunflowers, an annual pick-your-own opportunity. Wander through the flower fields in August and venture into the Maize Maze.