An explorer's guide to the islands of Britain

Some of the quirky facts that make Hayling a fascinating place to visit

Secret canoes

Hayling Island Sailing Club was once the top secret depot for the COPPs (Combine Operations Pilotage Parties) – a secret group of special forces brought together during World War II to use specially designed canoes for clandestine missions. The secluded waters of the Harbour were perfect  for testing specialised military canoes that were produced to extract secret agents from hostile territory, gather intelligence and mounting guerrilla attacks all around the world. The canoes had some ingenious low-tech features – the outrigger support floats were  filled with ping-pong balls so they would retain their buoyancy if hit by a bullet. The most famous canoe mission was the ‘The Frankton Raid’ on Bordeaux Harbour, undertaken by 10 Royal Marine commandos who became known as the The Cockleshell Heroes – as their canoes were codenamed ‘cockles’. They entered the harbour unnoticed and sunk one ship, severely damaged four others and disrupted the use of the harbour for months in a sortie that Winston Churchill said helped to shorten to WWII by six months.

Oldest Yew in Britain

Standing in St Mary’s churchyard and thought to be 2000 yew this is the oldest yew in Britain. It boasts a nine metre girth.

Mysterious Sea Path

Before the construction of the island’s original wooden toll bridge in 1824 the only access to the island was by boat unless you braved the mysterious Wadeway. This is a submerged route between Langstone and Hayling believed to predate Roman times. On the lowest tides you can still see the wooden markers between Northney shore and the Royal Oak at Langstone, although today the route is completely impassible.

Birthplace of Windsurfing 

Peter Chilvers assembled his first board combined with a sail, in 1958 on Hayling. Peter Chilvers died in 2015 and Stagecoach named one of its local buses after him.

Tornado

At least 100 properties were damaged when the island was hit by a tornado in 2013.

Solent Seals

The harbour provides one of only two haul out sites for the Solent’s 25-strong population of Harbour Seals and the two Grey seals that occasionally visit. These guys can swim as far as Worthing to feed.

The Funland Amusement Park

If being hurled around next to the sea is your thing then this 18-ride park will be for you. All the usuals and a few extras.

Station Theatre

All the big films, concerts and shows from the Hayling Island Amateur Dramatics Society in this 144-seat theatre that was once a derelict railway goods shed

Russian Princess

Princess Catherine Yourievsky, who was the daughter of Tsar Alexander II, is buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s at Northney. She was born in 1878 and after her father was assassinated she  fled the country, wandered around Europe and eventually settled on Hayling in 1932. She fell on hard times though and after her last servant died, a retired Southsea cafe owner volunteered out of pity to act as an unpaid handyman around the house. She had a weekly standing order for spirits at a Havant off-licence, and reportedly sold her last piece of jewellery for £40 and a bottle of gin.

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