I first did this walk back in 2001 when the Foot and Mouth disease meant that many footpaths on the mainland were closed, making planning a walk very difficult. Thankfully, the Isle of Wight remained free of the disease so I walked stretches of the islands coast during that year. But it was long enough ago that I did not have a digital camera (had they been invented then?) so only have a few prints from a film camera. However I subsequently did this walk again in 2010 and it is from this occasion I am writing up this walk.
I was again travelling over to the island for a day trip, but this time going by Hovercraft. I took the train from my local station to Portsmouth and Southsea station, which took around an hour. From here I followed the signs to the exciting sounding “Hoverbus” and took this to the Hoverport. It is not as exciting as it sounds. A Hoverbus is not anything special, in fact it is just an ordinary Stagecoach bus which has Hoverbus written on the side. But this took me to the Hoverport where you can travel over to the island on a Hovercraft. A Hovercraft – who could resist? They are mad mad machines really but it is great fun and seems to work very well on this route, so I don’t understand why they seem to have been abandoned elsewhere (I remember you used to be able to cross to France on one).
In my opinion this Hovertravel service is excellent, whisking you across the Solent in just 10 minutes and running up to every 15 minutes. Certainly since I first used this a year or so before this walk I have never since used the Wightlink service (which also runs from Portsmouth to Ryde). I find the Hovercraft service to be faster overall (even factoring in the bus link from the station) because it takes you to the town centre, not the end of the pier and has proven far more reliable in my experience. It is also great fun and an experience you cannot get elsewhere. The Hovercraft departed on time and once the skirt of the craft inflates and you are lifted off the ground you cannot really tell, other than by looking out of the window, if you travelling over land or sea. There is a lot of spray limiting the views out the window a bit but that is really the only negative point. We quickly arrived at Ryde, the skirt deflates and the craft sinks back down onto the ground so we can get off. I watched it depart, it is quite a spectacle.
From the Hoverport I followed the road in front of the 1980s Ice Rink then through the car park to reach the waters edge. Here I turned left and soon passed the marina.
On my right as I pass this is a small but very popular fun fair. This walk is a walk taking in two of the main resorts on the island, Ryde and Sandown. Beyond the end of the marina begins the large sandy beach. West of the pier in Ryde much of the beach is mud and shingle but east it is very different, with a huge expanse of soft sand. The tide in Ryde goes out a long way (which is why the pier is so long) and this means the water can be very shallow. It is one of the few places I have ever swam in the sea as when it is a warm and sunny day and the tide comes in over the sands, it warms the sea to quite a pleasant temperature and with gentle waves and a very gently sloping beach it feels very safe.
This is a beach I have been visiting for very many years. In the peak summer months, and on a fine summers day, the beaches on the South Coast of England can be packed. But cross to the Isle of Wight and it is always much quieter.
Initially I followed the promenade beside the road, passing the boating lake but then dropped down onto the harder sand near the shoreline. As I leave Ryde behind and enter Appley, the beach is backed by trees, which makes it feel more rural. These form the coastal boundary of the large Appley Park which makes a nice backdrop to the beach. There is also an unusual tower on the promenade here.
I have never really worked out it’s original purpose and it looks to small to live in. In recent years it has become a little bit of a gallery or artists studio. Here it is viewed from Appley Park.
As I head east, the beach starts to have areas of shingle and ahead I can see I am soon going to run out of beach as at Puckpool Point ahead the sea goes right up against the promenade.
Time to take one last look back at Ryde before I round the corner, with the pier now only just visible on the horizon.
So I head back onto the promenade and follow this round what looks like an old castle wall. In fact I think that is what it is and inside is another park (Puckpool Park) containing some of the old gun emplacements used in World War II (now protecting some beach huts). I continue on the promenade now back alongside a road, but this time a quiet road through the small village of Spring Vale.
This continues past houses which front almost directly onto the beach. At some point I move from the small village of Spring Vale to the small town of Seaview (how did they come up with that name?!). This is a sleepy place which is residential rather than resort (and I think has always been so). Soon the road heads inland but the promenade continues now behind the back gardens of the houses of Seaview. Only as I approach the Yacht Club do I have to head the inland side of it.
I’m now at Nettlestone Point and the coast path briefly heads inland here. However there is an old path (marked as a dead end) which sticks to the coast. I try this initially but ahead the sea is right up to the wall and I can’t get around. A shame. So I have to re-trace my steps (hate doing that!) and follow the official route around a couple of roads and return to the sea to pass in front of the Seaview House Hotel. Just past this the coast path heads inland again. It keeps inland for around a mile to St Helens. But I don’t want to go that way.
I decided instead to try to keep along the beach. This is now the small Seagrove Bay a sand and shingle beach. This time there is no path marked on the map, but at the next headland (Horestone Point) there is a footpath marked along Priory Bay, so I am hopeful if I can make it around the headland I can continue on a more coastal route. Annoyingly though there is a fence between me and the back of the beach and as I get further round I realise that, once again, I can’t get through.
So again I have to had back and rejoin the official coast path inland behind these buildings. But I’m not giving in yet. At a point just past these buildings the coast path does very briefly rejoin the coast before heading inland again. Here there is a small (dead-end) promenade. I follow this to it’s end and am surprised to see that it doesn’t in fact end. There is a well built board walk path that continues beyond the end of the promenade.
At the end of this little promenade there are steps leading up into the (private) grounds of the Priory Bay Hotel. However I can make it around over the rocks and round the corner into the pretty (and peaceful) Priory Bay, but it is very tricky to do so. There are fallen trees and rocks I have to climb over. But eventually I make it around, with the beach initially pebbles.
This is the view over the fallen trees and rocks I’ve just been climbing over – not easy!
In fact the Priory Bay Hotel which occupies most of the land inland of here tries to claim this is their own private beach. Thankfully in the UK there is not really any such thing (at least, as long as you stick below the high water line) and in any case there is a public right of way running along the back of the beach here and giving access to the beach, so it certainly is not private.
Nearing the far end of the beach I can see that if I stick to the beach I will have to do more rock climbing. Thankfully however there is a public right of way marked as going through the woodland right along the back of the beach here and I soon spot the sign and path leading up from the beach.
This climbs up through the trees and clearly goes over more unstable ground, as looking back along the beach I can see where there have been some small landslips to the cliff face.
Perhaps that is why this path is not part of the coast path although it is oddly marked as a dead-end at both ends. Having rounded Node’s Point there is access back down to the beach which I take and can see I can follow the beach south to St Helen’s where I can rejoin the official route of the coast path again, which returns to the coast here. Despite the awkward rock climbing earlier I’m glad I came the way I did, because I’ve passed some lovely unspoilt coast and would have missed out on the lovely Priory Bay.
Once again the beach I’m on now (St Helens) is initially backed by woodland (though there is a holiday park inland of it, but out of sight) and feels very rural.
Just out to sea I can see St Helens Fort. It was one of 4 of the so called Palmerston Forts. These are man-made forts built as islands out in the Solent due to the perceived threat of French invasion to defend the dockyard at Portsmouth. They have never been used in action and were generally considered to be an expensive folly. St Helens, in particular was expensive to construct as it suffered from subsidence. I believe it is now in private ownership and so not accessible to the public. However the tide does go out a long way here and at very low spring tides it is possible to wade out to the fort. Every year there is an (unofficial) walk out to it and last year around 2000 people took part – it is quite a sight as you can see from the aerial photo in this news report. The date of the walk generally spreads via word of mouth. It looks rather fun and I would like to take part one year, but not living on the island and the walk often occurring on a weekday it is hard to arrange.
So I have to make do today with looking at the fort from the beach though I gather it is derelict inside. The beach now is a mixture of sand and shingle which is easy enough to walk along.
Soon there begins a little promenade at the back of the beach as I approach the village of St Helens. Ahead is a rather odd sight.
This is the remains of the old church. The construction of sea defences left the church more exposed in the 1630s and it is thought as the church was no longer used, locals had begun removing stones. The church has gradually been claimed by the sea since and now all that remains is half the tower, but what does remain is now protected by the National Trust.
Beyond the church is now a good sandy beach but it is separated by groynes, so I stick to the promenade rather than attempt to walk along the beach.
It is as well I do, since soon the water goes right up to the sea wall and there is no beach left. The area I’m now on is called St Helen’s Duver and is an area of dunes and marshy land that forms the northern mouth of Bembridge Harbour, which I shall have to get round. At the old church the coast path again heads inland on the road, but I walk to the end of this small spit of land.
It is quite a nice little area with the beach backed by a few beach huts and the unspoilt dunes and marsh behind.
At the far end of the beach I am rewarded for my efforts with a fine view over Bembridge Harbour.
That is of course my next obstacle to get around. At the end of the Duver there is a boat yard so I head inland of that and then make my way around the shingle beach at the waters edge of the harbour.
This soon rejoins the official coast path as oddly a causeway has been built across part of the northern part of the harbour. This separates an old mill pond from the main harbour. Water can still pass under part of this causeway and hence this mill pond does fill with water still at each high tide. Inland of here is the Old Mill caravan park but I’m pleased to see they have made an effort to blend in more than most caravan sites, with green caravans rather than the usual white.
The causeway is unfenced and rather narrow but I rather like it for that. It also gives lovely views of this harbour and makes you feel a bit like you are walking on water.
There are a couple areas where the path drops down and back up where there are steps and water flows over the central one of these to fill the pond. At the western end of the harbour I leave the Causeway and pass what I take to be the sight of the old mill and go around the back of the small harbour area. The harbour is fairly large considering this is a small island and is fed by the River Yar (oddly, one of two separate rivers on the island with this name).
Sadly now the coast path follows the busy B3395 which runs around the south side of Bembridge Harbour and is the main town serving the sizeable town of Bembridge. As a result there is a lot of traffic, but at least a pavement. The area is also lined by all manner of houses boats some in great condition, others looking derelict. This red one was one of the former.
I was however glad to meet the point where the main B-road heads inland and I can soon continue ahead on the more minor road to reach the beach at Bembridge.
This is a great section of the coast path as the path runs just in the edge of woodland which goes behind the beach. I like beaches backed by woodland, but it is not something you see that often, especially in the south of England, but it does seem more common on the Isle of Wight.
It is a shingle beach, but a rather lovely peaceful one.
The beach is backed by a few huts and houses but is mostly rural and unspoilt and the little wooden groynes here are easy to step over.
Nearing the end of the beach I can see the Lifeboat station, which is a favourite location for photographers so you may recognise it. Except that I didn’t, for since I was last here the old lifeboat station had been demolished and a new one was in the process of being built.
Like at Ryde, the tidal range is large here so the lifeboat station has to be built at the end of quite a long pier.
Sadly the pier is not open so I have to continue along the beach. Just beyond this the coast path once more heads inland. Although a footpath is marked on the map all around the coast it is (or possibly was) closed. I have heard that it may have since re-opened, but I have not tried to follow it. My understanding is that the old path was lost to erosion and the land owner refused to allow the path to be re-instated. The Isle of Wight Council did not want to spend any money (as usual) so the coast path was closed and moved inland. Again, rather than follow it, I managed to make my way along the beach and then managed to find a path back up onto the coast path. I then stuck to the official route this to the cliff top above Whitecliff Bay.
The terrain is changing too now. So far the route I have followed has been almost entirely flat. But this has changed and now I am on cliffs and can see bigger cliffs ahead. This is Culver Cliff and the top of a chalk ridge that stretches right across the island to the Needles at the west of the island. It is though that at some point in the past this chalk ridge continued to the Old Harry Rocks near Swanage but the sea burst through, creating the Isle of Wight.
The chalk cliffs at the end make it obvious as to how Whitecliff Bay got it’s name.
The beach is lovely, one of my favourite places on the island and being east-facing it can be warm and sheltered down on the beach when there is a westerly wind blowing. The only downside is there is a large caravan and chalet park right on the cliff top by the beach and this time it appears no attempt has been made to try to blend them in.
On this occasion I did not go down onto the beach (but there are steps from the caravan park), so here is a scanned photo from when I did the first time I did this walk.
At the end of Whitecliff Bay the coast path now climbs steeply up to the summit of Culver Down. Most such view points take quite an effort to get to but this one also has a road to it, but that feels like cheating! It is a popular place as a result and you can see why as it opens up a view back over Whitecliff Bay and Bembridge.
I briefly followed the road and then joined the coast path which now follows along the southern edge of this cliff. Culver Cliff (or Bembridge Down) marks the eastern end of Sandown Bay. It reminds me a little of Hengistbury Head, this unspoilt headland looking over a large resort (Bournemouth). At the top there is again the remains of some World War II defences.
Sadly I’m looking into the sun, so it looks a little hazy.
The waves far below though gives an idea of how high these cliffs are and how far down it is to the sea! Thankfully this is the only real climb on the walk and I now have a gentle descent down to the promenade at Sandown. Sandown is the largest resort on the island and so many of the hotels are located here.
The grassy downs provide a lovely easy walk and also good views back to the chalky cliffs I have been walking on. You can see how soft the chalk is, with the sea discoloured by the white chalk being eroded away.
Normally as you descend the view gets worse, but as I continue to descend the view looking back just gets better and better as I see more of the cliffs I have been walking over coming into view.
The beach too is now a lovely sandy beach.
The coast is eroding quickly here and a large landslip had obviously recently occurred. Here two boys were wandering around over the remains of the landslip. It did not look like a good idea.
As I continued past them I soon passed a man walking who asked me if “I had seen a couple of boys playing on the cliffs” I said I had and was about to make another comment about looking very dangerous when he went on to ask me “Did they look alright, I’ve left them playing there?” He didn’t seem to be exactly being a responsible parent, but I decided to leave alone rather than suggest he keep more of an eye on them!
Soon the path descends to the large car park at Yaverland where there is access to the beach.
I followed through the coastal side of the car park and beyond it there was then a promenade albeit alongside the fairly busy road. Yaverland is a small place almost a suburb of Sandown but it does house a zoo that specialises in Tigers, Isle of Wight Zoo. This is located in another old military fort and it is well worth a visit. I did go there, but not on this day as I was too busy walking.
Ahead there starts to be groynes on the beach as I reach the town, presumably to protect the town from erosion, but it is still a lovely sandy beach.
Rather than follow the promenade I decided to drop down onto the beach as there were enough gaps to get over the groynes and I had become fed up of walking next to the road.
The pier at Sandown is a small affair with the usual arcade games at the landward end but a bit of a funfair at the sea end.
The main road now left the sea front so once passed the pier I returned to the promenade and got a nice look back at the pier in the late afternoon sun.
Just beyond the pier you go past some very ugly modern flats, which look very out of place and are built below the cliff. The coast path then climbs up the cliff which it follows round to the next resort, Shanklin. Between Sandown and Shanklin are the villages of Lake and Whitecross, but it is difficult to tell where one ends and the next starts because it is all now built up. However Lake does have the advantage of having a railway station and unlike in Sandown and Shanklin where the station is quite back from the coast, Lake is just 2 minutes walk from the coast path so I decided to end there where I could then take the train back to Ryde.
So I followed the promenade as it climbed back up to the cliff top. From here there was a wonderful view ahead over the lovely sandy beach of Lake and on to Shanklin.
Looking back I had a wonderful view of Sandown too, though you can see that ugly block of flats I mentioned to the left near the pier.
It was a great place to finish the walk right on the cliff top overlooking these two lovely stretches of beach. I followed a footpath inland which brought me out to the little platform at Lake station. This is a small station with a wooden platform and is not one of the original stations as it was opened by British Rail in 1987.
I only had a few minutes to wait for a train and here it is, this old Underground train that will take me back to Ryde. As I mentioned in my last post, the railway service on the Isle of Wight is very unusual in that it uses former London Underground trains dating from 1938.
These trains feel like they travel at quite a speed and give a very bumpy ride, but it is much faster (and probably cheaper) than taking the bus and another rather eccentric form of transport before I get back to Ryde and take a more eccentric Hovercraft back across the Solent.
This was a really good and varied walk and much better than my previous one on the island since the coast path was mostly near the coast! It was also extremely varied, since I have passed several large expanses of sandy beach (at Ryde and Sandown), pretty wooded shingle beaches around St Helens, Priory Bay and Bembridge, an interesting little harbour at Bembridge and then a good cliff walk over the high chalky downs of Bembridge Down to reach Sandown Bay. Despite being quite built up from looking at the map it turned out to be much less so and I was pleased I managed to find a more coastal route than the official path in many places, despite a few dead-ends! It had been a good day.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk, you can use either the train or bus:-
Island Line trains : Ryde Pier Head – Ryde Esplanade – Ryde St Johns Road – Smallbrook Junction – Brading – Sandown – Lake – Shanklin. Trains run twice an hour Monday – Saturday between Ryde Esplanade (and Ryde Pier Head) and Lake. On Sundays they run hourly in winter and twice an hour in Summer. It takes a little over 15 minutes between Ryde Esplanade and Lake.
Southern Vectis route 2 : Newport (Bus Station) – Merstone – Godshill – Shanklin – Lake – Sandown – Brading – Ryde. Every 30 minutes, seven days a week. Takes a little over 40 minutes from Lake to Ryde.
Southern Vectis route 3 : Newport (Bus Station) – Rookley – Godshill – Wroxall – Ventnor – Upper Bonchurch – Shanklin – Lake – Sandown – Brading – Ryde. Every 30 miutes seven days a week. Takes a little over 35 minutes from Lake to Ryde.
In addition this walk is served by two ferry crossing to the mainland:-
- Hovertravel Southsea to Ryde Esplanade. Runs every 30 minutes off peak and every 15 minutes at peak times. Takes 10 minutes. Foot passengers only.
- Wightlink Portsmouth to Ryde (Pier Head). Runs hourly off peak and every 30 minutes at peak times. Crossing time is 22 minutes. Foot passengers only. Island Line trains run along the pier to Ryde Esplanade for the town.