It is really worth heaving yourself out of bed early one morning and strolling along the shoreline at Seaview, to understand why such an apparently unoriginal and self-evident name actually fits the Isle of Wight village wonderfully well.
As dawn eases its way through the twilight, look for bats flitting in and out from the nearby eaves of the graceful flint-built buildings that characterise the village. In the clear, still dawn half-light, these airborne mammals can seem surreal, rather like broken umbrellas being jerked up and down by an invisible hand. Lines of cormorants fly east along the Solent from their overnight roosts, honking geese following in their slipstream. It’s a timeless scene – if you had to date it you might feel you have stepped back 100 years – and all that seems to be missing is a lady twirling a filigree-trim parasol while carrying a poodle under her arm, escorted by a wheezing, portly gentleman taking the sea air on doctor’s orders.
A non-stop walk around Seaview takes perhaps ten minutes (you have little more to explore than an anti-clockwise loop starting on the High Street, which leads down to the Esplanade from where you turn back uphill along Seafield Road), but it would be easy to dawdle a whole day here, spending time in either of the two good hotels, the handful of cafés and two excellent shops, all of which are centred on or just immediately off, the High Street. Some visitors come for a week and get no further than here on the Island.
The coast path runs around the edge of Seaview, often tracking a sea wall that keeps the Solent at bay, and there are uninterrupted views of Ryde East Sands and the shingle-sand mixture of Springvale Beach. The defences, for now at least, keep the sea from overwashing the smattering of new and rather exposed houses that sit hard above the beach. Follow the coast path a few hundred yards west from Seaview and you’ll come to the Alan Hersey Nature Reserve, named after a former local councillor who passionately cared for the local environment. The woodland is small but runs inland alongside a reed-fringed lake and is an enchanting place, especially on an early still morning when, if you tread quietly, you may catch a green woodpecker foraging on the ground. To the dismay of today’s local wildlife lovers there’s a proposal – vigorously opposed – to convert the reserve into a yacht park.
A narrow coastal road and sea wall separate the reserve from the adjacent Seaview duver. A duver (pronounced to rhyme with ‘cover’) is a geological feature comprising a spit of sand and shingle and this one spreads out in rectangular fashion on the seaward side of the sea wall. Both the reserve and duver are part of a Special Protection Area, an environmental accolade awarded to species-rich places, and you will almost certainly see herons and little egrets. In addition, nine species of bat have been recorded here. The duver provides an important habitat for sandwich, roseate and little and common terns, along with wintering ringed plover, teal and black-tailed godwit.
Had you been here in 1887 you would have had something more grisly to gaze upon, for that year the steamer Bembridge struck a whale near St Helens Fort. The unfortunate cetacean was exhibited in a tent on the beach at Seaview.