Rew Down Local Nature Reserve
Rew Down is open to the public at all times. There are always wonderful views from the site, down to the coast, as far as the downs above Niton to the west and over to St Boniface Down in the east. Rew Down played a very important part in the defence of the realm in the Second World War. The blast wall and base of the ‘Y’ station is now all that remains, but sitting by it and surveying the coast, you will understand why it was so strategically important.
If you are walking over the site with your dog, please keep it under control and do not allow it to worry the grazing animals.
How to get there
It is on the western side of Ventnor, on a south-facing slope above the Whitwell Rd (GR SZ 552 773). It can be reached from Steephill Down Road, Whitwell Rd or the Stenbury Trail and is well served by public footpaths V64, V64A, V54, V53 and public bridleways V56, V54A. The site is mostly open access land and there are also many permissive paths which criss-cross the site. It lies within the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
On foot / by bike – Access from the surrounding countryside is good. Footpaths V54, V54a, V64, V64a all transit the site, V56 skirts the west border. There is an entrance on Steephill Down Road, and teo entrances from Whitwell Road. There are no cycle racks at present, but there are gates to which bikes can be attached.
By bus – Steephill Down Road stop (Route 3) then access the site up the hill along Steephill Down Road behind the chip shop. (Bus Timetables)
By Car – There is no car parking on site. it is usually possible to park in Steephill Down Road.
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The site is entered from Steephill Down Road by a kissing gate and stile. There are also two gated entrances from Whitwell Road. No formal paths exist. Cattle may also be grazing. Much of the open areas of the Down are accessible with care by people on foot. However the slopes are steep and there are low-growing brambles. Some other parts of the site are rough country and are not easily accessible to anyone. The steepness of the site makes it unsuitable for mobility scooters and buggies. The nearest public toilets are in the town of Ventnor.
We will be updating our Site Access Statements during 2022. Please watch this space.
What to look out for
In spring, bluebells form a carpet under the ash trees, and cowslips cover the lower part of the slopes. Birdsong is heard from the scrub, where yellowhammers and whitethroats nest. Cowslips Bird’s foot trefoil Adonis blue The early gentian is found here and usually flowers during May and June, it is a nationally rare species and Rew Down was the site of the first British record (1883).
Pyramidal orchids make a fine show in late June and early July. Stemless thistles, with their deep purple flower heads and sharp shiny leaf rosettes flat against the ground are a feature of the later part of the summer.
More recently, populations of the adonis blue butterfly have been seen at Rew Down. The adonis is the most striking of the blue butterflies. It was once on the endangered species list but it is now making a good recovery thanks to favourable management of the species rich chalk downland habitat it needs to survive.
Ventnor’s Y station
Ventnor was home to a secret system that was critical to the Allied victory. It was the site – the only one on the island — of one of the twenty or so Royal Navy ‘Y stations’ (from ‘WI’ for Wireless Interception) that intercepted and located enemy transmissions and passed the information on to Portsmouth HQ and Bletchley Park (‘Station X’) for decoding. The headquarters of the Ventnor Y Station was ‘The Heights’ on Whitwell Road. Manned by Wrens from the WRNS Special Duties (SD) Service, it mostly intercepted messages in the German Naval Enigma code, which was broken by Bletchley Park. Reading these messages was critical for winning the Battle of the Atlantic against the U-boats.
As important as intercepting the messages was, knowing where they came from was equally valuable. Some Y Stations, such as Ventnor, had DF (Direction Finding) facilities, usually a 30-foot wooden tower on a concrete base, incorporating a hut with a swivelling antenna. If two or more stations could get a bearing on an enemy transmissions, the sending ship could be precisely located. A skilled operator could pin down the little as six seconds. The Ventnor tower stood on Rew Down, and mst such towers were manned by a single person.
On 15 July 1944 the tower was damaged by a V1 ‘doodlebug’ flying bomb, and a large crater about 100 feet from the site of the tower is still visible. The Y station wasn’t the target, it was sheer bad luck. Although repaired, the Ventnor Y station ceased operation by September 1944, presumably because Allies now controlled the parts of France and the Channel it monitored. The tower remained standing until 1948 or 1949, but all that now remains is an octagonal brick ‘pillbox’ with a concrete foundation and external concrete pads for the wooden supports. Despite this it is one of the best preserved Y station towers nationally and possibly only one of two that retain their brick blast wall.
The above information has been kindly provided by Ventnor and District Local History Society and the Isle of Wight Industrial Archaeology Society and more information can be found on these two sheets.
Listening to the Enemy – Ventnor’s ‘Y’ Station
Listening to the Enemy – The Wrens’ War in Ventnor
Photo’s and technical details can be found here
Managing the site
The site has a history of grazing and cattle have been on the site at times since January 2003, helping to keep down the faster growing grasses that would overwhelm the more delicate chalk plants.
There are various ways you can help improve and maintain our sites. We rely on volunteers to help with many tasks on our sites and also need people who are happy to regular visit the site be our “eyes and ears”, this means we can respond much quicker to issues. Our shop raises money to support our work and needs a team of volunteers. Or maybe you would like to help us with events. Find out more here.
You can also help by becoming one of our regular supporters. Even giving a few pounds each month can make a real difference, with your donation being invested into site management and improvement work to benefit site visitors and look after our precious wildlife. Sign up here.