Isle of Wight South Coast

ISLE OF WIGHT 16/04/16 – 17/04/16

A two-day expedition exploring and hiking the Isle of Wight’s South Coast

The south coast of the Isle of Wight is renowned for being an amazing coastline. The majority of the resorts and towns on the island are either in the north or east leaving the south and west less inhabited, dramatic and beautiful and it is possible to be immersed in nature and a fantastic and interesting coastline.

After recommendation and having heard of the beauty of his part of the island, I have decided to walk along this section of the coastline and experience the full beauty myself. Due to work my plan was to start late afternoon and walk along the coast path from Shanklin doing a wild camp somewhere around St Catherine’s Point which is the southernmost tip on the island. The next day’s plan was to follow the wild west coast and head along to just before Freshwater and then head inland to Yarmouth where the walk would finish, (Having previously done the coast path from Freshwater around to The Needles and to Yarmouth.) The weather stayed dry leading to seeing spectacular scenery. The first day of the walk is estimated at about 10 miles in length with the second being around the 20-mile mark.

I set off from Shankiln after the short ride on the Isle of Wight line. Setting off at Just before 4, I walked passing through the resort to go through Old Shanklin. This small beautiful part of the town consists of numerous traditional thatched cottages which are mostly pubs or tearooms giving a quaint and interesting atmosphere to this part of the town. To get to the coast path I then followed the path passing a small gorge and heading on a dead end road towards Luccombe Bay. The road passes good views towards the sea and Sandown Bay. The road runs out and goes into a track passing a few isolated properties hidden in woodland. The trail passes an area known as The Landslip where the path undulates passing greenery and deciduous woodland with occasional breaks in the woodland with views to the sea. The coast path continues at a level well above sea level passing small coastal houses before coming upon a restored 11th century chapel. From here the coast path descends to sea level and follows below the cliff on a promenade until Ventnor. The views are clear of the coastline and the cliffs with golden beaches throughout. The atmosphere is very peaceful and pleasant especially in the late afternoon.

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View out to sea from The Landslip

Upon entrance to Ventnor follow the promenade along the front. There are numerous small café’s and pubs along the front overlooking the sea with the town being quite traditional very pleasant and relaxing to visit and a place where many spend their holidays. This is the last major town on the route I took and up the cliff at the far end of the road up to join the coast path. The path remains above the cliff for the duration of the next section but provides outstanding views out to sea. It is also possible to look inland at some of the traditional properties apparent throughout the island. The path descends to Steephill Cove, a small bay out of the way but incredibly peaceful and unknown by many with golden sand and deep blue sea with seaside buildings set around the edge of this quiet coastal bay. From the far side of the bay head up the steps at the end of the village and follow the path to the top of the cliff again before continuing along the cliff top path.

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Looking back to Ventnor from the coast path

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Steephill Cove

Shortly after the path passes botanic gardens on the right where it is possible to see a variety of species of plants amongst beautiful surroundings which can be observed from the coast path or visited by taking a detour to visit the gardens. At this point I even saw a red squirrel. Leaving the gardens behind the path follows the cliff top with the sea to the left and lush green fields to the right with a raised cliff after the fields. The coastline consists of light brown goldenly shaded cliffs of various shapes and sizes and small bays with the occasional property. The muddy coastal path continues until making a sharp right to head up to St Lawrence. St Catherine’s Lighthouse is also visible from this point. From here following signs through St Lawrence and the coast route heads on roads zig zagging through light stoned ornate buildings, manor houses, farmsteads and coastal properties along with the occasional thatched property until reaching steps which traverse through woodland to reach the highest cliff where another red squirrel was witnessed. Once at the top green countryside and downs fill the landscape looking inland into the heart of the island and onward with Southampton being clearly visible. Good views are present in all directions and when walking in the evening sun it was incredibly beautiful looking out towards the sea with the sky contrasted with the deep blue of the sea. Niton Down is also ahead where it is possible to see St Catherine’s oratory which was one of the first lighthouses in the country built in 1323 and run by monks.

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Views from the coast path around St Lawrence

The path continues until reaching a point where the coast path turns sharply to the right. Shortly after I turned backwards to take a very interesting path where the right of way went through two short tunnels along with mossy walls to emerge in the lower parts of Niton. The peacefulness and stillness of this village in the evening is immeasurable with a very traditional coastal atmosphere. Heading down the main lane in the village then taking footpaths that zig zag back to the coast it comes out approaching St Catherine’s Lighthouse which is the most southern point on the Isle of Wight. The bright white Lighthouse and weather station has been sited here since 1838. There are outstanding views along part of the south coast with distant sites of The Needles and Dorset coast by Swanage and Studland Bay can be seen. Some truly amazing sea views can be had from this point. I continued slightly beyond the Lighthouse and pitched my tent a few yards from the sea on heathland to watch the amazing sunset out west and the sun going down on what had been a great afternoon and evening walk.

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Tunnels at Niton

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St Catherine’s Lighthouse

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Sunset view from St Catherine’s point looking towards Dorset and The Needles

The next day I was up early and left camp by 6:30. It was a cold and partially clear night but gave a crisp beautiful and colourful morning. Retracing back to the lighthouse I then took the road up back towards Niton turning left and left again when reaching the one-way system. Next I took the steps on the right leading up to the top of the cliff to join the marked coast path. From here there are good views out to sea, occasionally being able to see St Catherine’s lighthouse. As leaving Niton being high up means that it is possible to see the entire west coast until just short of the Needles and the coastline that I was walking that day in all its beauty. A combination of the scenery inland and the coast makes this section of coast interesting and picturesque. The area is less visited by tourists and there are few services or settlements in this part of the island. This area also faces South West so is the most windswept by the sea. Once well away from St Catherine’s the first settlement that the path descends into is Chale. This mostly built in a light golden stone looks very traditional along with passing its current 14th century stone built church.

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The South West of the island from above Chale

From Chale the coast path heads back to the cliff tops at the sea where the coastline becomes rugged and very dramatic. Following the cliff top, it is possible to see features from the coastlines erosion of the boulder clay cliffs and landslides at numerous points along the coast with a golden sand beach at the bottom of the cliffs. This continues and is often broken up by small chale’s which are deep eroded gullies where small streams escape into the sea and are also the sight of some small waterfalls. In land there is beautiful scenery initially from flat cropped or sheep fields then further looking across to the downs which form the inland beauty of the Isle of Wight. There is few covered areas or trees and the path passes the occasional house. The beauty of nature is apparent everywhere especially on a day with good weather. Continuing the high cliffs of Compton Down and Freshwater Bay and their ominous chalk cliffs get slowly closer with Niton Down getting further away. One major feature of this part of the undulating coast is that it is possible to see almost all of the south west coast of the island from all points and every view is slightly different yet spectacular. The route also passes the Isle of Wight Pearl which are an interesting glassworks and museums. Inland the village of Brightstone can be seen and easily visited if deviated from the coast path. Other interesting sights that can be seen inland are Mottistone Manor and church, Brook House and Brook Church. The coast path passes through the quaint village Brooke with a handful of traditional buildings, thatched cottages and has easy access to the beach.

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Dramatic coastline

The coast path then continues along the cliff tops to with superb views of Freshwater Bay in its entirety and its chalk cliffs. Dorset can also be seen relatively easily. Where the boulder clay cliffs stop and chalk begins is where Compton down dominates the landscape. At this point I left the coast path and crossed the main road to then carry on up to the top of Compton Down. From here good views of the coast that I had just walked were present next to the crisp light blue shallow sea. Looking inland it is possible to see Yarmouth and then on mainland England across to Bournemouth, Cranbourne Chase in the background, The New Forest, Southampton and the South Downs. Descending Compton Down I took the path towards Afton, then north across fields and a single track road to meet the River Yar. From this a disused railway converted into a bridle path is walked which takes directly to Yarmouth. This consists of low level walking next to a tidal estuary with masses of reeds, open water and tidal plants growing. Yarmouth is a small town where my two-day hike ended. It is a traditional beautiful small quiet town with beautiful views out onto The Solent with a good Marina and a handful of good café’s, pubs and shops and a great place to end this walk.

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Freshwater Bay

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View from Compton Down

This route was brilliant taking in some great English Coastal Scenery and some of the best of what the Isle of Wight has to offer in terms of scenery. The coast is interesting and has a great variety of features and views changing throughout both on the coast and inland. The species and plants on the island often are slightly different giving a different variety of nature both in plants and in wildlife such as red squirrels. The route is relaxing and very peaceful particularly in good weather and when looking at the scenery. The route is easy to follow and most paths are easy to follow and in good condition.

Having already walked the coast around The Needles from Freshwater to Yarmouth. It would be interesting to explore the downs of the Isle of Wight and inland areas as these appear beautiful from just being on the walk. The rest of the coast in the North of the Island would also be good so as to complete the island in its entirety. Finally, the coast path has inspired me to look at other coastlines in the UK that have outstanding natural beauty and would provide a good expedition.

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