I’ve actually done this walk twice. The first time was in May 2005 and the second in June 2011. However I also did a circular walk of my own devising from Brighstone which covered part of this stretch of coast too. So whilst the write up is from the most recent occasion (June 2011) I’m using photos from all 3 dates, sometimes because they are different and sometimes because I managed to get salt spray over the camera lens in 2011 and did not notice for some time and so many of the photos are blurred.
This is a fabulous walk too. I can’t make up my mind if this or the next walk past the Needles are my favourite on the island. But both are excellent walks.
I started the day by taking the train to Brockenhurst, a second train on to Lymington and finally the ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. My journey went smoothly. From there I took the bus to Newport and a second bus to Blackgang Chine. I bought a day ticket for the bus, this works out cheaper and also avoids the slight embarrassment I always feel for asking for a ticket to Blackgang Chine, a children’s theme park, without any children with me.
I arrived at Blackgang Chine around 11am. Whilst the park was open, it did not look exactly busy!
Before I headed for the coast path I was curious to explore a bit more. I followed the road from the car park which soon took me to this view.
A common sight on the south of the island which seems to be falling into the sea at a very rapid rate.
It was not the only evidence of erosion.
These buildings had clearly been abandoned to their fate. I think the one nearest used to be a restaurant. It’s unusual to see this – most of the time the Council will insist on the building being demolished before it gets so close to falling down the eroding cliff. I was tempted to explore inside but I was a little worried at what I might find.
I also suspected I was in what was once part of the theme park, since I came across this abandoned ride, too.
There does seem to be a lot of things abandoned on the south of the island. Peering over the cliff edge the cause for all this was soon clear the cliffs around here are very soft and very prone to erosion and had fallen away.
As a result of the erosion the coast path from Blackgang Chine does not exist and so the current route of the path briefly follows the main road on the south of the island, the A3055. Once again I turned down a now dead-end road. I could look back at the park of Blackgang Chine itself and see how close the park is to the cliff edge and where parts of the paths or buildings had gone over the edge.
Below me was Chale Bay.
This spreads some distance west, though it is not clear to me where Chale Bay ends, Brighstone Bay starts, Compton Bay starts of Freshwater Bay starts! But either way it is a beautiful remote beach. Whilst it might look like sand it is in fact very fine shingle. The cliffs here are a common source of fossils. I returned to the road and then followed the coast path alongside another of the large chines, Walpen Chine. The view back is impressive, showing the extent of the of the slipping that occurs to the cliffs here.
On my previous walk I also noticed how the wind and rain shapes these soft cliffs in to all sorts of shapes. In places there were holes write through parts of the cliffs and it looked like they also made a good nesting spots for birds (sand martins, perhaps?).
Looking east once past the chine was the beautiful beach of Chale Bay.
Sadly, as we shall see later, the public is rapidly losing access to this. The coast path though is excellent and runs right along the cliff top. In places these cliffs are nearly vertical.
Sadly the coast path does not stay on the coast as there is another chine ahead, this one Whale Chine, I think so called because a whale was once found there. This is actually an L-shaped chine and the road goes just north of it, hence another brief diversion onto the A-road to get around it. This brought me to a car park where there was, or rather used to be, access to the beach.
Whale Chine is another of these deep sided valleys. A public footpath runs down the length of the valley to the beach. I can’t remember a time when that route has ever been open, despite being shown on the map. Instead this was closed and a series of wooden stair cases constructed at the western side of the chine, right by the cliff edge. These wooden steps gave access to the beach. Since that was the prime purpose of the footpath (to get access to the beach) I don’t think too many people are bothered by the route it takes providing they can get to the beach. But you can’t any more (legally).
I remember going down to this beach in the past and it is really wonderful, with those huge towering cliffs above you, the interesting geology, the chance to find fossils and the fact it is a real escape. The limited access and parking meant you hardly ever saw anyone on the beach, it was certainly never crowded. On returning, on the first occasion, to do this walk in 2005 I was disappointed to see a sign indicating the steps were “temporarily” closed. Still I hoped this would be temporary. I did not let it put me off, anyway!
Looking down the Chine I could see the remains of the steps, a path down and a bridge with some missing planks. But it looked perfectly possible to still get down there with care – and it was.
Here is the proof, first the view east, back to Blackgang.
And the view west, to Compton Bay.
As you can see, I was not the only one here this dog walker had also made his way down. And you can surely see why people want to come down here, it is beautiful. Having explored the beach, I made my way back up the stairs. When I returned in 2011 my disappointment turned to anger when I saw the same sign saying the steps were “temporarily” closed, some 6 years later. That is not my definition of a “temporary” closure and it was clear to me the Council had done no work to repair the steps in the mean time. I’m afraid at this point I saw red. I contacted the Council who informed me
“It is with regret that I have to inform you that there is very little likelihood of this path being reinstated in the foreseeable future. We too would very much like to see this path open. However, the land (as you will appreciate) is incredibly unstable in this area and major structural works at great expense would be required to make the path safe for use with no guarantee that such works would be a permanent solution.”
So the email certainly suggested to me it was closed primarily for cost reasons. It could be restored, but it would be expensive and there was no guarantee it would be permanent. Well of course it would not be permanent because the coast is always eroding, but it was clear to me that the Council had simply decided it was too expensive. So I sent him a photo of a steps I had seen at another part of the coast which suffered similar erosion problems.
“Such a structure at Whale Chine is unlikely to be achievable due to the Chine and shore being within an AONB and SSSI. Feasibility studies have been carried out in the past.”
I did point out that with the path in this condition and no signs from the beach (since this is not the only access) it could lead to people getting cut off or trying to use the path and injuring themselves because they did not know it was closed. This got the response.
“We have attempted on a number of occasions to retain a sign at the beach but they are very soon destroyed by the weather.”
The situation continues today. The only difference is that the Isle of Wight Council was previously relying on continually temporary closure orders. The Department for Transport informed the Council they were not prepared to continue to renew such orders with no chance of the path being restored. So they are now closed under a permanent traffic order instead. A real shame. Yet another coast path on the island that looks to have been lost for good.
A larger fence has been erected over the top of the path to make it harder to access. But not impossible. As this video (from 2015) shows, it is still possible if you are determined.
Ropes have been put in by locals to help you down over the steeper sections. I’ve been down there a number of times since, but not for a couple of years. It seems quite well used, on this occasion in 2012 I saw some others coming back up this way.
The signs in 2012 were still saying the path was “temporarily closed”.
Once I reached the car park at Whale Chine I could follow the coast path back to the cliff top past these steps. From now on the cliff path is excellent, running right along the edge of the cliffs. Though it is best not to get too close to the edge!
It was a lovely walk though and I was soon approaching a row of old coast guard cottages near Atherfield Point.
On my walk in 2005 I was surprised to see someone (probably a resident of these cottages) had erected a number of seats below the cliff top.
It was also clearly being used for fishing since there was boat and a large amount of fishing equipment part way down the cliff, with ropes attaching them to the cliff top.
I continued past the cottages where I spotted another bench on the cliff face and clearly an un-official path from it down to the beach.
It was not far beyond these cottages to Shepherds Chine. Here there is still access to the beach.
Just inland there is also the remains of a once substantial holiday camp, Atherfield Bay Holiday Park. I was surprised, given the state of it, to find it closed as recently as 2007. There are numerous videos of it on Youtube if you want to look inside.
At Shepherd’s Chine the path again heads a bit inland to cross the Chine and returns to the coast – for about 200 metres to the next chine! This one Cowleaze Chine where there is a small caravan park.
On my walk in 2005 I noticed a shipping container had been washed up on the beach here.
The coast path west of here is magnificent, right across the fields by these high and eroding cliffs, with fine views of the chalk headland at Freshwater ahead.
It was really beautiful and the cliff tops were dotted with large clumps of these beautiful sea pink flowers.
This glorious walking continued for a couple of miles to a wider shallower chine, Marsh Chine. Again there was a small caravan and campsite occupying the valley, but at least it was not visible until you are almost on top of it.
The path goes across the mouth of the chine and then climbs the cliff again, to pass a quite remarkable holiday park I thought. This is the Brighstone Holiday Centre. What is remarkable about it as that so little seems to have changed! The park consists of very many holiday chalets.
This is something you rarely see these days as chalets seemed to be a very short lived form of holiday accommodation. But what is more surprising is that they don’t look to have changed a bit probably since they were built in around the 1950s I would guess.
Those nearest the cliffs had obviously been abandoned. Some had been demolished, with just the concrete base remaining. Others had been left to their fate with much of the roof missing and the doors missing. I had a quick look inside – they certainly were basic!
From here the path continued along the now lower cliffs to Chilton Chine, where once again it is necessary to go inland a short distance to the road to get around it. Once past it the path resumes it’s route along the cliff top, with a few stiles to negotiate. The cliffs are now lower, but certainly no less prone to erosion. I passed this where there had obviously been a recent cliff fall, taking the farmers gate with it – but leaving the stile you can see a little to the right.
Ahead the white cliffs west of Freshwater could clearly be seen. As I approached Brookgreen the cliffs briefly got higher again and then descended down to almost sea level – there is access to the beach here. There was also a pretty little thatched cottage. Below is Brook bay a popular little beach.
The erosion is taking it’s toll here. In my last post I made a lot of comment about the situation on the Undercliff Drive near Ventnor, part of the A3055. This is not the only stretch of the road with problems. Erosion of the cliffs here prompted the Isle of Wight Council to close the southern lane of the road here a few years back (you can see the orange barriers in the photo below).
Now it is down to a single lane, with traffic lights to control the traffic. The view of the Council is that when the road goes, it won’t be repaired. Instead they will simply construct turning circles at either end, perhaps with some car parking and leave it as a dead-end stretch of road. As I said it is clear to me the public is slowly but surely losing access to the south of the island. Roads are closing, footpaths are closing.
The path now climbs back onto the cliffs, which rise gently up to Hannover Point. A question I get asked from time to time is what is the best beach. It is a hard question to answer. But if you ask me the best beach on the Isle of Wight, the answer is an easy one – the one ahead of me, Compton Bay. This is a magnificent sandy beach in the care of the National Trust. The beach is unspoilt and beautiful with a good sandy beach although little of it at high tide. They have minimal facilities here, and it so much the better for it. It is also facing south westerly which means it is quite a popular surfers beach, perhaps the closest area to London with good surfing.
The National Trust though are not immune from the effects of erosion as the car park is slowly but surely being lost too.
I followed the cliff tops over the top of the beach but huge chunks here were giving way too.
Compton Bay also marks the point the geology changes. The soft crumbly cliffs at Compton give way to more solid chalk cliffs at the western end of the beach. It’s a steep climb too, as the path heads right up these steep cliffs alongside the road.
It is worth it though for the views alone – looking back to glorious Compton Bay and I can see all the way back to St Catherine’s Point at the southern tip of the island.
Ahead too I can see my destination, Freshwater Bay.
Soon there is my last descent into the beach. The chalk stacks here once formed an arch, a bit like Durdle Door, but it collapsed, I think around 20 years ago leaving these two stacks remaining.
Freshwater Bay is a pretty spot with a shingle beach backed by high chalk cliffs at it’s east.
I headed down onto the beach for a rest having really enjoyed this walk. My walk was not done yet though.
Since the end of the Island Explorer bus there is no longer a frequent bus to Freshwater Bay. I had a long wait for the next one, so I had a mile or so walk along footpaths to reach the larger town of Freshwater inland where I could catch the bus to Yarmouth. Then I took the ferry back over to Lymington and the train onwards from there.
It had been a wonderful day and it was a very varied walk and one that really allows you to appreciate the power of nature as you witness the havoc it is creating with the rapid erosion on this part of the island. The coast is spectacular. As I said last time I do feel this part of the Isle of Wight should have been included in the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, but sadly it was not, but it is a wonderful coast to explore. There are some excellent beaches too, Compton Bay being a particular highlight. I strongly recommend a walk on this part of the coast!
Below are the details of the public transport needed for this walk. There is no longer a direct bus between Blackgang Chine and Freshwater Bay. You will need to change buses in Newport or Carisbrooke.
In addition during the summer months only (until 1st October this year), Southern Vectis also run the Needles Breezer, an open top bus which runs : Yarmouth – Freshwater Bay – Alum Bay – Needles Battery – Alum Bay – Colwell – Yarmouth. This runs every 30 minutes seven days a week during the summer. Pensioner bus passes are not valid on this bus. There are frequent buses from Yarmouth to Newport.