114. Ryde to West Cowes

July 2005

I’m going a long way back into the past for this walk, as the Isle of Wight was one of the very first areas where I walked the coast. I have been a fairly regular visitor to the Isle of Wight for many years but really discovered the island as a walking destination back in 2001, when the “Foot and Mouth” epidemic meant that very many footpaths in England were closed. However the Isle of Wight remained free of the disease and hence all their footpaths remained open. With the Isle of Wight reachable for me from home in less than 2 hours, I began to visit the island more frequently and discover it’s coast. I walked sections of the coast path, later completing the whole path.

I discovered that it has some amazingly beautiful scenery, and tremendous variety too. As you would expect from being an island, it has a wonderful coast, from estuaries and marshes to long sandy beaches, high cliffs and numerous steep sided valleys (Chines), it is a stunning coast. However inland it’s pretty good too, with several areas of high chalk downland, several rivers to explore (oddly, two of which have the same name), large areas of woodland (with the added bonus of red squirrels) and pleasant arable land too. So it’s a great destination for walking.

I thought for the first walk I would get the worst section of the coast path out of the way. For whilst the Island has a coast path the section between Ryde and Cowes is very poor, almost all along roads (some of it A-roads) and mostly not even within sight of the coast. Despite this, there were still some places of interest.

Crossing to the Isle of Wight, especially with a car, is expensive. However I had discovered that you can buy through train tickets to the Island, which include the crossing of the Solent and these tickets are much better value. In addition my local station is only a 1 hour train journey from Portsmouth (where parking is expensive), so it makes sense to go on the train, which is what I did.

I took the train to Portsmouth, taking around an hour. It is worth noting that if you want to cross to the Isle of Wight from Portsmouth you actually have two routes to choose from. The Wightlink ferry or the Hovertravel Hovercraft. I opted for the former for this walk (although having had so many problems with Wightlink being unreliable over the years, I now don’t use them and always use the Hovercraft).

So if you want to use the Wightlink ferry you need to purchase a train ticket to either “Ryde Pier Head” (the end of the pier) or “Ryde Esplanade” (the sea front). This will cover you for the ferry over to the island. To use this route you need to alight at Portsmouth Harbour station, the ferry departs from the end of the station platform. However it deposits you at the end of Ryde Pier (around half a mile long), so you either need to walk or take the train to reach the town (included if you buy a ticket to Ryde Esplanade). Ferries run hourly, increasing to every 30 minutes at peak times and take just over 20 minutes.

If you want to use the Hovercraft, purchase a train ticket to “Ryde Hoverport”. You need to get off the train at “Portsmouth and Southsea” station. Exit the station and follow the signs for the Hoverbus, which departs from a bus stop just around the corner. This is included in your ticket and takes you to Southsea Hoverport. From here the Hovercraft runs every 30 minutes, increasing to every 15 minutes at peak times, and takes around 10 minutes. It deposits you by Ryde Esplanade station, where there is a footbridge over the railway line bringing you to the town centre.

I bought a ticket to Ryde (and promptly got this song stuck in my head) took the train down to Portsmouth Harbour and had a pleasant journey. On arrival at the harbour I was surprised to glance through the window and notice a number of tall ships. It turns out this was the week of a Tall Ships regatta taking place in Portsmouth. The ships were all lined up around the historic dockyard area and made for a beautiful and uplifting sight.

Tall ships at Portsmouth

I was also pleased to see that HMS Warrior had also been decked out with flags and bunting for the occasion.

HMS Warrior at Portsmouth

I was tempted to linger and go and take a look but I don’t like changing my plans, so I decided to continue to the ferry. This goes from the end of the platform and I got on the ferry within a few minutes. This took me to Ryde in a little under 20 minutes (it takes a bit longer these days, they have newer but slower ferries on the route now) and deposited me at the end of Ryde Pier.

The Isle of Wight has some rather unusual transport links. It has what I believe is now the only commercial Hovercraft service. It is quite a spectacle (and great fun to ride on).

Hovercraft departing Ryde

Hovertravel Hovercraft

Right next to that it has the Island Line train service. This too is rather unusual. Ryde Pier like many piers was originally built for steamers to dock at the end. Ryde has a large tidal range and hence the pier is long (almost half a mile) and unlike most piers is still very much a working pier. The ferries between Ryde and Portsmouth dock at the end of the pier. To provide a transport link to the town, when the railways were being built on the Isle of Wight it was decided to connect the pier end (for the ferries) with the rest of the network. This presented a problem of how to get through Ryde to the coast, since the town was already there and in the way. They could plough through, demolishing all in the way, build over via a bridge or under via a tunnel. They opted for the latter option, and a tunnel was built to take the railway under the town to the pier.

However soon after the line opened it quickly became clear there was a problem with this idea. The tunnel was prone to flooding, causing the train service to have to be suspended. A solution to this problem was to raise the track up in the tunnel, so that it was less susceptible to flooding. A problem with this idea is that the trains would no longer fit. So an unusual solution was proposed – the islands railway would be operated with former London Underground tube carriages that would still fit through the tunnels once the tracks were raised. This is still the solution that is used today. So the Island Line railway (which now runs between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin) is still operated today with former London Underground trains, currently former Northern Line trains dating, incredibly, from 1938. This means they are now close to 80 years old but this is no heritage operation, it is part of the National Rail network.

Island Line

So on arrival at Ryde I took one of these unusual trains down the pier. If you are a regular traveller on the tube, as I am, it is rather an odd experience to be travelling on one of these trains, above ground and over the sea, and looking at a route map showing Ryde Pier Head where High Barnet should be and Shanklin where Morden should be!

I got off at the rather run-down station at Ryde Esplanade (which is located at the landward end of the pier) and headed down to the promenade and turned right.

I could look back at the impressive length of the pier and see another ferry from Portsmouth now approaching the end of the pier.

Ryde Pier

Looking west the sandy beach soon gives way to shingle and mud.

VIew west from Ryde Pier

Sadly this is about the last I will see of the sea for a while. This marks the end of the promenade and west of here the gardens of private houses go right down to the shoreline, there is no access west of here along the coast. So on reaching the car park I head through it to the road and turn right. This takes me a long residential roads, past some quite large and grand houses. I suppose this is perhaps no surprise. Ryde is an easy commute to the city of Portsmouth just across the water so it is probably quite a desirable place as a result.

At the end of the residential roads I reach a golf course, Ryde Golf Course. I hate walking across golf courses, but in this cases the coast path goes on a track between trees making for an obvious route and out of firing range (I hope). This path is called Ladies Walk, but I walked along it despite not being a lady. Near the end, there is a short dead-end footpath leading to the shoreline. I had to take it to see what I had missed out on.

The view east was of a sand and shingle beach with a broken pier heading out into the Solent.

The beach at Binstead

Whilst the view west was of a tree-lined but muddy coast.

The beach at Binstead

I don’t think it would be easy to route a coast path along there, unless it could go behind that sea wall.

So it was back inland to the official coast path and the path soon emerged onto the road in the centre of the old centre village of Binstead. Most of the village today is really a suburb of Ryde and further inland. There was some sort of fete on at the church as I passed.

Binstead Church

I soon left the road and continued along a track down to a private road and continued west along this, passing a lovely thatched cottage on the way. I soon passed the ruins of Quarr Abbey.

The remains of Quarr Abbey

Sadly the remains are not open to the public, so I had to view it from the road. I can even see a glimpse of the Solent beyond!

However I soon came up to the most incredible building.

Quarr Abbey

I was a little confused, as I though Quarr Abbey was a ruin. But it turns out I had passed the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey. The building I now saw is the 1912 replacement and is still a monastery. There is now a visitor centre and shop here, but I did not visit, stopping only for a photograph.

On passing the Abbey, the private road soon returns to the public road at the end of the B3331, which is less than half a mile long. But it has an important reason for existing. It leads to the Fishbourne car ferry terminal. This is the busiest of the 3 car-ferry routes, crossing regularly from Portsmouth. I followed the road to the end, so I could get a good view of Wootton Creek.

Fishbourne

It is quite a rural creek other than the presence of the large ferry in the middle of it, which looks quite out of place! A nearby building has a “whinge” notice about the erosion and damaged caused by the ferries.

Fishbourne

It strikes me as an odd attitude on an island that depends on ferry links for it’s connection to the outside world. Yes it might well be true the ferries do contribute to erosion of the creek but without the ferries the Isle of Wight would be a much harder place to live.

Once past the ferry I could look back up Wootton Creek, a rather pretty place.

Wootton Creek

The path now follows this busy road south for a while but thankfully soon diverts off onto a quieter side road. This does not last and soon the path comes out onto the busy A3054. I have to follow this west for around 500 metres to reach Wotton Bridge, which crosses the now narrower creek.

Wootton Creek

Wootton Bridge

Once over the bridge thankfully the coast path leaves this busy A-road for a while and meanders on residential road and footpaths between them. Emerging onto Brocks Copse Road the onward route of the coast path is to follow this road for around 1.5 miles. At the end it emerges onto the A3021 and the coast path is routed all along this A-road for the rest of the way to Cowes. It was not very satisfactory. I spotted there was a road heading north (Upper Woodside Road) which lead to Lower Woodside Road which between them formed a sort of loop nearer the coast. But there were also a couple of footpaths from this road down to the coast. I decided to take a detour round here, to explore a bit more of the coast.

I passed another pretty little church, this one St Edmund, Wootton.

Church in Wootton

The road soon became wooded as I neared the coast and here I was lucky enough to spot a red squirrel up in the trees. I managed to get a slightly blurry photo of it.

Red squirrel

On reaching the footpath I could follow this down to the shore Woodside Bay.

Woodside Bay

This sleepy peaceful little spot had a lovely sandy beach, backed by woods. But it has not always been so. The Isle of Wight Festival took place right here for 3 years (1968 – 1970). It attracted many big names, including Bob Dylan and The Who. The festival became increasingly popular, in 1970 it was estimated over 600,000 people attended with many famous performers including Jimi Hendrix. It was a victim of it’s own success. The huge numbers of people prompted parliament to pass an act “The Isle of Wight Act” in 1971 preventing gatherings of more than 5000 people on the island without a special license. The as basically the end of the festival. The festival was revived in 2002 but on a much smaller scale and in a different location.

Now there is little here. A small caravan site, a small holiday park and (at least when I walked here) a large but derelict chalet park (formerly a Warners Holiday Village). Though I understand these derelict chalets have since been demolished on the orders of the Isle of Wight Council. It was an odd sort of place.

Woodside Bay

Having explored this interesting area I followed the loop road back to the official route of the coast path. Soon Wootton ends and the road continues to cross Palmers Brook and briefly enter woodland. Whilst not busy, there is more traffic than I’d like, and no views of the coast again. At a junction ahead I continue ahead into Alverstone Road which brings me to the little village of Whippingham. I’m surprised to see one of the bungalows has a little side extension housing Whippingham Post Office. This closed in 2014 but thankfully (and perhaps surprisingly for such a small place), has since re-opened.

The more minor road soon reached the busy A3021. This is quite some distance from the coast, but the private estate of Osborne House occupies all the land east of here to the coast. I followed this north but it is a very busy road heading to East Cowes (another of the islands ferry ports) and whilst it has a pavement I was getting fed up of walking next this busy road. So I took a footpath left off the road to the centre of Whippingham, emerging onto Beatrice Avenue. I soon came across a large and impressive church.

Church in Whippingham

It was a large and grand church and the reason for it’s large size in such a small location soon became clear. A stone at the base of part of the church said it was laid by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1860. As I mentioned in my last post, Queen Victoria adored the Isle of Wight and spent as much time at Osborne House as she could. This would be her nearest church, so it makes sense that it was a grand affair.

I followed the road north, just as it started to rain, but the height of the road did give me distant views down to the River Medina, which separates East Cowes and West Cowes.

The River Medina from Whippingham

It was a misty view over fields through the rain. I soon returned along this road back tot he A3021. I followed this north now passing the entrance to Osborne House.

Osborne House gate house

I continued with the coast path down this A-road for around a mile, to reach the banks of the River Medina. Here a chain ferry, oddly called a “floating bridge”, crosses the river on a regular basis.

River Medina and Cowes Floating bridge

As I arrived it was at the other side, so I waited for it to come across. Unusually, at the time of this walk the ferry was free to pedestrians. This is no longer the case (a controversial decision at the time but a ferry obviously costs money to run, it seems fair enough to me to expect people to pay for it).

I decided to explore West Cowes a little and continued on the coast path passing the harbour, where the Red Jet ferry operates regularly from Southampton. I continued along the pleasant promenade.

West Cowes

Soon I  reached the famous Yacht Club, home of the annual Cowes Week regatta. There were lots of very shiny little cannons on the sea wall here.

West Cowes

I decided not to continue any further as once you reach the end of Cowes there is not really any more public transport until near Yarmouth, which was too far to walk today. I could take the ferry across to Southampton, which would be my quickest route home. But on asking in the ferry office a single ticket back to my local station would cost almost as much as I had already paid. It was too much. So I returned back over the Floating Bridge to East Cowes and took the bus back to Ryde.

The beach at Ryde

On reaching Ryde I decided that rather than take the train back along the pier I would walk, after all it was another bit of coast I could walk! The pier at Ryde is unusual and I’m told is actually 3 independent but adjacent structures. A road and pedestrian pier (which is mostly used to access the car park and ferry terminal at the end of the pier) at the left. In the middle, a tramway pier, disused since the tram ceased to run and at the right the pier that carries the railway line. I followed the roadway pier (which I believe is owned by Wightlink), which is quite busy and has no pavements. At the time this was free to access both to pedestrians and cars, but it had speed bumps along it, causing noticeable vibrations as cars went over it. These vibrations eventually caused damage to the pier, it had to be closed for repairs. Once re-opened it now has a toll for vehicles to drive along the pier (and no speed bumps), but it is still free to walk along. To be honest there is not much to see on the pier itself, just a couple of Victorian shelters remain. However it does offer fine views of the town.

Ryde from the pier

Ryde from Ryde Pier

Nearing the pier head it looked like the road had either been wider or there was once another structure here, but now only the supports remained.

Ryde Pier

On reaching the end of the pier I headed into the ferry terminal and waited for the ferry back. It arrived a little late and unloaded the passengers. Whereupon the Wightlink staff told us the ferry had engine problems. It would go back to Portsmouth empty and we would have to wait for the next ferry in half an hour (operated by a different boat). A frustrating end. Once I made it back across, I took the train onwards to home.

This is most certainly the worst part of the Isle of Wight Coast Path, being mostly on roads and mostly away from the coast, which is a shame. The Isle of Wight has now been included in the England Coast Path, so I hope a better route can be found in future. If it is, I will certainly come back and walk it! Despite this there was still quite a bit of interest. Ryde is a lovely town with a good sandy beach. There was also some nice views around Wototton and I enjoyed exploring the area around Woodside Bay. But the last couple of miles are it has to be said pretty tedious.

Here are details of the public transport for this walk:-

Cowes Floating Bridge (East Cowes to West Cowes) : Operates very regularly (generally at least 4 times an hour) from 5am (6:40am on Sundays) to 12:30am (roughly 18 hours a day). A return ticket costs £1.

Southern Vectis route 4 : Ryde – Binstead – Wootton – Whippingham – Osborne House – East Cowes. Hourly, seven days a week, takes around 30 minutes.

In addition this walk is served by 5  ferry crossing to the mainland, from west to east:-

Here are the photos from this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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2 Responses to 114. Ryde to West Cowes

  1. Interesting. Look forward to reading about the rest of your walk around the Isle of Wight.
    I spent 6 months working as a junior doc in Newport on the island, back in 1979/80. But, with no car and working 100+ hour week, I had little spare time to see much. Spent my few, precious, free weekends in London, and so I remember the ferry crossing from Ryde to Portsmouth very well, including rattling along the pier in the underground train.
    One day I really do want to return and walk around the coast of the island, and hope the route improves.

    • jcombe says:

      Goodness 100 hour week! I am surprised you did not need to see a doctor after that! I think you will enjoy the walk around the island if you are able to get back, I know that I did!

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