Although I have already walked the coast as far as Blackgang Chine the route I followed on this walk was quite different to my previous walk, hence a second write up for this walk. It was rather spectacular too and turned out to be a really good walk.
I like to visit the Isle of Wight a couple of times a year and having by this time already walked all of the coast I decided that I would head to Shanklin. My initial plan was to walk south along the beach to the cliffs at the end and then if the tide was write to see if I could continue around to Luccombe Chine. From here I planned to follow the footpath up to the cliff top. This is because the coast path misses out this beach and I wanted to explore it a bit further. I had also not been down to the beach at Luccombe Chine before and wanted to see that. From here I though I might take a path up onto St Boniface Down. From there I didn’t really have a plan. Perhaps I would head in-land and make a circular walk back to Shanklin, or head down to the coast and follow the coast path. As it happened I did neither of those things.
I was travelling from near Christchurch in Dorset for this walk, so I drove around to Lymington and took the ferry from there to Yarmouth. This is my favourite route to the Isle of Wight in terms of scenery, it is beautiful – and you get plenty of time to enjoy it since it takes the ferry 40 minutes to cover a little over 3 miles. Still I enjoy picking out the places I have walked to on the way. There was a fine view over to Hurst Castle.
Whilst behind there was quite a line of yachts following the ferry out of the harbour. The sea was very calm I imagine it was a good day for sailing.
I bought a ferry ticket that allowed me to use all the buses on the island for the day and so on arrival at Yarmouth I made my way over to Shanklin by bus. It was a long journey (I had to change in Newport) so I did not arrive until nearly midday.
Still the town was looking particularly attractive in the early autumn sunshine.
I was surprised the beach was not that busy, either.
I soon got bored of walking on the promenade and headed down to the hard sand at the shoreline. Given my plans for the day I was pleased to note that the tide looked to be a long way out and was so calm it was practically a pond. This would make conditions good for walking along the beach. Soon I was free of what little crowds there were, heading towards the tall cliffs called Knock Cliff ahead. The receding tide had left ripples all over the sand which made for a particularly attractive view I thought.
Looking back, Shanklin was soon disappearing from view.
It was soon clear that this walk would only be possible at low tide, because there was now firm sand going right up to the cliff face. And what beautiful cliffs they were, with coloured lines presumably marking the different layers of rock in the soil here.
The beach soon started to become scattered with rocks and boulders, presumably fallen of the cliffs, but there was always a way around them on the sand still.
I was now rounding the corner and heading to Luccombe Chine. I could see the tree covered cliffs at the far end of the bay and plenty of firm sand I could follow all the way between the rocks.
In places though I suspect cliff falls meant I had only a few metres between the edge of the rocks and the shoreline.
By now I was all alone to enjoy this peaceful and beautiful place. As I headed nearer the Chine, the beach returned to being mostly sandy and mine were the only footprints in the sand, I always like it when that is the case!
The cliffs here were beautiful too although they showed much evidence of erosion with at one point a bank of land that had slipped down the cliff face still with grass on the top!
The boulders on the beach only added to the beauty I thought, and I could see all the way back to Culver Cliff north of Sandown, it was wonderful.
As I got nearer the end of the beach I could see the foreshore became rocky again, so I was glad to spot the steps of the footpath back up the beach.
On reaching them I looked back for a final view over this beautiful beach. It was a beautiful day, a weekend and I was amazed that no one else had come here.
Having enjoyed the beach I began to climb up the steps. But I quickly realised something was wrong. The lower flight of steps were at a slight angle and felt a little wobbly. They did not line up with the top flight of steps, there was quite a gap of lose earth. I made my way up very carefully to the top of the stairs, where there was a brief stretch of boardwalk onwards. But there was no trace of a path onwards once this ended, it disappeared into undergrowth and more lose earth. I could hear running water from the stream and headed to that, but the ground underfoot became very soft and squelchy with a grey coloured clay. At one point I took a step and quickly had to step back as my foot started to sink! I stopped for a minute to look back and consider my options.
It did not feel safe to carry on, despite this being a public right of way, it was clearly not much used. I could go back, but I hate turning back. I could persist with trying to get up this path to Luccombe Chine. Or I could try to continue along the foreshore to Ventnor. I decided that despite the tricky terrain (it was now all rocks and boulders) I would opt for the latter, as it looked like once I was around Bordwood Ledge, the beach was wider and would lead me around to Momks Bay, where I could join the official coast path.
On getting home I later found that the path down to the beach at Luccombe Chine is another path the Isle of Wight Council does not bother to maintain, as their website reveals.
“Public Footpath SS3 (Luccombe Chine) is permanently closed pursuant to a Traffic Regulation Order from its junction with Public Footpath SS2 to the beach. This is because of land slippage. The path will remain on the definitive map and will be periodically inspected in case of any changes to the land which would allow reinstatement.”
Very annoying, but it seemed to me there was a more serious concern. It is reasonable I think to assume that a right of way (like a road) would be open unless otherwise signed. There were no signs to indicate the path was closed so unless I thought to check on the Council website first, how was I to know the path was closed? If I had got here I might not have had enough time to return before the tide came in and end up getting cut off by the tide. Or I might have injured myself trying to use the path or the dodgy steps I climbed collapsed under me. I put this to the Isle of Wight Council who told me that they could not put a sign on the beach because they would be “very quickly destroyed by the tide” and the path was signed as closed at the other end. Perhaps, but the stairs were still here – would it have been so hard to attach a sign to them?! They went on to tell me that there were signs on the promenade in Shanklin advising of the closure, (although I had not seen any).
As an aside a quick search on the internet revealed two videos I found very interesting. The first is where someone did manage to follow the path from the cliff top down to the beach, in April 2013. When I say path you will see what state it was in by then and I certainly would not have continued all the way down like that!
You can see the engineering that went into keeping the path open and it is a real shame the Council has stopped doing this. I think many of these paths have been created in Victorian times and maintained since then, but it seems we are slowly losing access to the coast of the island.
Two years later (in April 2015) the same individual did the same again and I found it very interesting to find out how much the remains of the path had changed and deteriorated further since then. I’m sure the storms of February 2014 would not have helped!
Anyway on with the walk. It was hard going to continue over the lose rocks and boulders on the shore. Many were lose and to add to the difficulties they were covered in sea weed, making them slippery.
So I was pleased to get a brief rest when there was a brief stretch of shingle beach.
The cliffs here now seem more stable, with the trees and bushes now almost down to ground level. Ahead I had more rocks to negotiate around the headland at Bordwood Ledge, but there were not so many and soon I had made it round.
This is Steel Bay (I am not sure why it has that name) and I thought it very beautiful.
The cliffs though were showing more signs of erosion again and ahead the beach soon became sandy, but the cliffs were certainly suffering from erosion.
It looks like this landslip was very recent, perhaps only a day or two previously. It was clearly not a good idea to walk too closely to the cliffs! Ahead there was a second landslip visible on the cliffs, this one having brought down a number of large boulders too.
I made my way carefully around this where the beach beyond soon became sand with a few rocks again. At Dunnose I had more rocks to get around the base of the cliffs but rounding the corner I was pleased to see other people on the beach – a sure sign I was getting near to civilisation again and so would not have to go back.
I had now reached Monks Bay and it was not far around on the beach to the next bay, Horeshoe Bay. Here there was a house just above the low sea wall – I’m really not sure that is a good idea!
Beyond here I had now re-joined the official coast path and was glad to be free of rock climbing.
The sea wall might not be very interesting, but at least it is easy to walk on! The geology had changed now, as I was walking below chalk cliffs. The sea wall presumably means the sea rarely reaches the chalk and here there was little evidence of erosion.
It did not take me long to reach Ventnor. I do like Ventnor and the beach here was quite busy – more so than in Shanklin.
I stopped here for a welcome ice cream after my efforts getting around on the foreshore. Refreshed after a brief stop I continued along the promenade to the end of the beach, it’s only about 200 metres, so it does not take long!
At the end of the beach I followed the road up and then onwards on the coast path I had followed previously through the pleasant gardens to the west of the town.
Just in case I had forgotten where I was there was a subtle reminder!
I continued around on the new sea wall at the end of the gardens around to Steephill Cove. I don’t think I have ever seen this beach so busy.
It was packed, a surprise for somewhere that is quite remote (I don’t think there is any car parking close by, for example). I won’t describe it again but suffice to say I made it along the official coast path west of Steephill Cove, the same route in my last post.
I passed the house at Orchard Chine I thought looked precarious last time, but it had survived.
Which is more than can be said for the coast path I had followed last time, as I was soon greeted with an all-too familiar sign.
Thankfully there was a diversion, and it was not a long one (but it did not help the sign showing the route was now buried in the undergrowth). By the end of the small beach I was back on the cliffs and looking back over Orchard Bay.
It looks to me like the wall protecting that house is being undercut at this end. I passed Mount Bay, where they were some kayakers.
Then on to Sir Richards Cove along the low cliffs.
Sorry, I still don’t know why it has this name. At the end of the next beach Woody Bay I came across this odd sign.
I found myself slightly confused and irritated. An expensive sign had been ereected to tell me the path was “in conservation area” (why does that matter?) and telling me to keep to the public footpath. Well I was going to do that anyway and I felt rather irritated that the Council would spend money on such a pointless sign whilst not bothering to sign the closed path at Luccombe Chine from the beach, which surely is far more important? I was also a bit confused because the map on the sign had the coast path highlighted as going inland here (as it is on the maps). But someone had made an “amendment” at the bottom left confirming the path ahead along the coast to Binnel Point was open again. This is the path I followed last time, so I was glad to be able to use it again and ignore the official coast path heading inland sooner than necessary.
The view back to Woody Bay from this path was lovely too.
Ahead I could indeed see that a lovely new kissing gate had been installed so it is nice to see the Isle of Wight Council obviously have spent some money on repairing this path. Unfortunately, I had an obstruction of a different kind to deal with.
I wondered what best to do here. I could try and climb over the barbed wire fence. Or I could try to squeeze in front of the cow – but I was a bit worried where those pointy horns would end up getting stuck if the cow objected! Thankfully it turned out to be docile and I could squeeze in front of it without it even moving!
There were various little un-named beaches to pass and the view inland showed the extent of the massive landslip that caused that Undercliff.
I soon reached the end of the path along the coast at Binnel Bay.
At this point I considered my options again. I could continue on the path up to the Niton Road (now I think both the path and road are closed again). Or I could try and make my way along the shore again. In the end it looked like the landslip I came across last time would be easier to get around, as the beach had built up in front of it, so I decided to try getting on the shore ahead.
First though, I stopped for a paddle at Binnel Bay. It is a beautiful beach and I was pleased to have it to myself.
I made it around the landslip that had blocked my route last time into Puckaster Cove.
It was rather lovely. Unsurprisingly this time given the difficult access I again had the beach to myself. The sea seemed unusually calm and very clear. It was so peaceful here.
There were the remains of some wooden structure poking out about the sea ahead, but it was hard to believe this really was the sea – pretty much no waves at all!
There was a bit more rock climbing to endure to get me around to the next beach, Reeth Bay. There was a brief stretch of sand.
But it did not last. Very soon I found that coastal defence works had been done by building large piles of big boulders at the base of the cliffs. Ahead the sea was now right up to the edge of these. My only choice was to go back or to try to climb over the big boulders. I decided on the latter option, but soon regretted it. There were big gaps between some of the boulders, it was also very hard work because the height difference between some of them was way too much to step over, I had to haul myself up and down with my arms and legs between the boulders. It was very hard work and I was having to focus hard on not falling down the gaps and on taking each step. I was very relieved when I finally made it to the end but was rather surprised to get a cheer for my efforts! It turned out there were some people sitting out at the little boat club here who had obviously been watching me – but I had not noticed them because I was only looking at my route ahead!
I continued passed them a little sheepishly!
From Reeth Bay I once again had a good route along a proper footpath. I had of course long since abandoned my plan to walk over St Bonfiace Down (when the path at Luccombe Chine was closed) and ended up sticking to the coast. But time was now getting on and I needed to make it to Blackgang Chine before the last bus. So rather than follow the shore path to the lighthouse at St Catherine’s Point, as I had done last time, I stuck to the official coast path up to the road. It climbed steeply through narrow wooded roads and I was quite hot by the time I reached the top.
So I stopped for another rest and enjoyed the view, which was a rather lovely view over the lighthouse and St Catherine’s Point.
The sun was now lowering and the sun glinting of the blue sea, it was beautiful.
The remainder of the walk was fairly easy. Having made the steep climb to the top of the cliffs at the Undercliff the path was now only gently undulating along the cliff tops.
It feels odd walking along cliff tops with so much land below me and as at the Undercliff west of Lyme Regis, an extensive area of woodland has formed.
Soon I rounded the corner enough for the whole rest of the south coast of the island to be revealed to me, as I could see round to the chalk headland at the other end of Freshwater Bay, which leads out to the Needles.
Once again, I was amazed at the calmness of the sea. Parts of the south coast of the island are popular with surfers but they wouldn’t have a chance with that today!
It was soon the final descent down to Blackgang Chine that I could see below me.
I descended down into the car park at Blackgang Chine. Sadly unlike last time, there is no longer a direct bus back to Yarmouth. So I had to take one bus into Newport and another bus back around to Yarmouth.
From there I took the ferry back over to Lymington. It was now around 6:30pm and so the sun was getting low. It made for a particularly beautiful crossing back to the mainland.
This is Yarmouth.
Hurst Castle was now almost a silhouette.
Zooming in with my camera I could also get fine view of the Needles and Fort Albert, where I would soon be walking.
The ferry soon entered the waters of the Lymington River. It was near high tide so this too was especially beautiful.
I also got a lovely view of the coloured boats moored along the river with the low sun on them. I was rather pleased with this photo!
From Lymington I had a short drive back. It had not been my original plan to walk the shore here, but it had turned out to be a wonderful walk taking in some undiscovered and virtually inaccessible beaches and some with great natural beauty too. It was a hard walk (in fact, not really a walk at all in places), because of all the rock climbing and walks over boulders and only really possible if the tide is low. But it had certainly been worth it and I felt I had really completed this stretch of coast now.
It is a shame the Isle of Wight Council lets the paths get into such states, but there is some good news. The Isle of Wight was originally missed out of the plans for the England Coast Path. A decision that was reversed as a result of a campaign by the Ramblers Association and I hear that the coast path management team have recently visited the island to work out the route they want the new path to take. It would be nice if some of these closed path and beach accesses could be opened up again as a result of the England coast path. Even if this is not so, at least the new coastal access grants automatic “rollback” so paths should not be so easily lost in future.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.
There is no direct bus between Blackgang Chine and Shanklin. Instead you need to take bus 6 from Blackgang Chine to Ventnor and then bus 3 from Ventnor to Shanklin.
Southern Vectis route 6 runs between Newport, Blackgang Chine and Ventnor : Newport – Carisbrooke – Whitecroft – Chillerton – Chale Green – Chale – Blackgang Chine – Niton – Whitwell – Ventnor. This bus runs hourly Monday – Saturday and 4 times a day on Sundays.
Southern Vectis route 3 runs between Newport and Ryde via Ventnor, Shanklin and Sandown : Newport – Godshill – Wroxall – Ventnor – Upper Bonchurch – Shanklin (Bus Station) – Shanklin (Railway Station) – Lake – Sandown – Brading – Ryde. The bus runs every 30 minutes, seven days a week.