118b. Niton to Freshwater Bay

June 2014 and June 2009

On my previous walk I have looked down on the beautiful Chale Bay from the cliff top path rather longingly and wondered if it is possible to walk down on the beach. On this walk that is what I would try to do.

I started the day in Dorset and drove around to Lymington to take the first ferry over to the island as it was a Sunday. It was a beautiful morning and a relaxed crossing, taking in the views of the Solent, Lymingtion River and Hurst castle.

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From Yarmouth I took the bus to Carisbrooke rather than Newport as I could then make the connection on to the first bus to Niton, (which is just after Blackgang Chine), as this bus only runs 4 times a day on Sunday. I arrived in Niton around 11:15am. From here I followed the road south through the village, then took the minor road and eventually footpath down through the Undercliff. Before I lost too much height, I got a fine view of the lighthouse at St Catherine’s Point.

St Catherine's Lighthouse

I ending up at Reeth Bay, which was quiet this morning.

Reeth Bay

I then retraced my steps of the last coastal walk initially heading around along the low cliffs to the lighthouse at St Catherine’s Point. This time I walked around in front of it because the path behind the lighthouse has since eroded away. This did allow me to find that the lighthouse is in fact open to the public, every day except for Saturday for most of the summer.

St Catherine's Lighthouse

I resumed my route along the cliff top once past the lighthouse which was initially good but soon became rather vague and uneven. At Watershoot Bay I could see the rather un-official path that appears to be well used, linking this beach with the end of the old Blackgang Road above. This area is constantly slipping and the route did not look very easy.

Dodgy path down from the old Blackgang Road car park

I walked to the end of the pebble and rock beach at Watershoot Bay. The west of the beach became increasingly rocky and soon the way was blocked with numerous boulders, and also some mudslides from above.

Chale Bay

I began to climb over them, but it was hard work and required intense concentration, as there were may gaps between the rocks that I needed to avoid falling into, and many were also covered in sea weed which made them slippery. Just back from the waters edge and there was the start of the mud and rock that slides down the cliffs. Not an easy part of the walk (in fact, not really a walk at all). I was relieved when above I soon got the view I did and could see the beach ahead. Nearly there!

At last I reached the end of the rocks and could step onto this glorious beach.

Chale Bay

It is actually fine shingle rather than sand, but it is still much easier to walk on than boulders. I was surprised (and if I’m honest a little disappointed) to see how many people were here. Had they all climbed over the rocks like me? It surprised me that they would. Had they walked eastfrom the dodgy steps at Whale Chine (and if so why?). I also had to be a bit careful where I pointed my camera, for many of them were not wearing any clothes either.

I looked up to the cliffs but did not notice a path down. Subsequently, checking Google Earth I can see there is a path (again, not a right of way) from the car park at the cliff top following near to a stream all the way down the cliff. The bottom was clearly not obvious, but I suspect the route from the top of the cliffs is more obvious (there are photos taken along the path on Google Earth).

I walked past the naked bodies and once safely passed too far more photos. I was really in awe of the beauty of this place and the raw power of nature very evident in these cliffs.

Chale Bay below Blackgang Chine

There was evidence of cliff falls, minor and major, all the way along and areas which looked like rust – perhaps where there was Iron Ore in the cliffs?

Little streams ran down the cliff face and the earthy was so soft that in places the wind had eroded the sand and clay into some amazing shapes.

Chale Bay below Blackgang Chine

Chale Bay below Blackgang Chine

These cliffs are also known as a good location for finding fossils. I considered stopping to take a look myself, but not knowing how far I would be able to walk along the beach I had to keep mindful of the tide as I would not want to have to go back the way I came. Soon I was alone on this wonderful beach, the only sounds my own footsteps and the constant sound of the waves rolling onto the shingle.

Chale Bay below Blackgang Chine

The cliffs ahead were getting much higher and without any height it was difficult to see if there was beach all the way.

Chale Bay below Blackgang Chine

Ahead I could see the bushes right near the cliff edge were now dead presumably there roots exposed to the salty air as the cliffs eroded.

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At the base of the cliffs the yellow areas and small pile of rocks at the bottom marked recent cliff falls. Ahead the waves were almost (but not quite) reaching the cliff edge, so I had no choice but to go close to it, albeit briefly.

Rounding this corner I was puzzled at the coast ahead.

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There was a noticeable, straight, dark line at the base of the cliffs. Is this a line of different rock or was it a line of dampness in the clay left by the high tide? I was not sure, but if that was the high tide line I needed to be careful to be well away before the tide begun to come in.

Thankfully the dark line soon ended and ahead the beach was much wider again, although there was a large cliff fall ahead.

Chale Bay below Blackgang Chine

I got closer to it and could easily walk past but the clay that had come down the cliff was still very soft. I stood onto some of it and my feet squashed into it a bit with every step – it is no wonder the cliffs erode so fast.

Chale Bay below Blackgang Chine

Chale Bay below Blackgang Chine

I was now just beyond the base of the Blackgang Chine theme park and was looking back at the huge Blackgang Bluff.

The beach beyond was wide again and I continued, really enjoying it, for it is a stunning stretch of coast and I was very glad I had made the effort to come here. Mine were now the only footprints on the beach.

Chale Bay below Blackgang Chine

The walking now was easy, the scenery stunning and the geology fascinating. In places little streams flowed off the cliffs. I’ll let the photos do the talking here.

The coast near Blackgang Chine

The coast near Blackgang Chine

The coast near Blackgang Chine

The coast near Blackgang Chine

This last one reminded me of the rust-stained side of an old ship, yet it was cliffs I was looking at. It is Iron Ore, I presume. Progress was slow because I was taking so many photos.

The coast near Blackgang Chine

 

The coast near Blackgang Chine

I stopped for a paddle in the sea, which was wonderfully refreshing and a good way to cool off as the climb over the rocks at the start of the walk had made me hot.

Ahead I could see people on the beach again and this is because I was approaching beautiful Whale Chine. As I mentioned in my last post the steps here have been “temporarily” closed for a good 10 years or so now and have partly fallen away, but thankfully it does not stop people using them to gain access to this wonderful beach, as people had tide ropes over the missing sections.

Whale Chine

Whale Chine is a deep and steep-sided valley and in my opinion the most impressive of the chines on the island. You can’t really get the sense of scale on this photo, but it is stunning.

Whale Chine

The stream flowing out from the chine had washed away the shingle on the beach here but it was easy to cross.

Whale Chine

I soon passed the people on the beach at Whale Chine and was back to a deserted beach, just the sea and my footsteps the only sound. The walking was again easy, the sea now far enough back from the beach that I did not need to worry about the tide and the people at the beach at Whale Chine had given me confidence I could use the broken steps to get off the beach if needed, so at least I would not have to go back.

Chale bay near Whale Chine

It was a lovely walk and the cliffs to my right were now getting a little lower, and I could see the chalk cliffs near Freshwater ahead.

Chale bay near Shepherd's Chine

I was soon approaching Shepherd’s Chine.  This is now the only official footpath that is still open between here and the lighthouse and gives access to this stretch of beach so there were a few people about here too. A small stream flows from the chine over the beach, but I could simply step over it.

Shepherd's Chine

I headed up the steps here to admire the beach from (a little) above. And what’s this I see?

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A recent looking sign, finally, warning that Whale Chine is closed. It would be nice to have a sign on the beach but it seems, at long last, the Council has at least made an effort to warn people heading onto the beach that the access from Whale Chine is closed. It’s not quite true that there is no further access along the beach east from here to the cliff top, as I had done just that, but it is certainly true there is no easy access. I headed back down onto the beach to continue my walk.

The cliffs lower now, but still very spectacular.

Chale bay near Shepherd's Chine

The walking was again easy. The next beach access, was a little over a mile further west, so the beach was soon quiet again. The cliffs were lower now but also eroding quickly too. At the next chine, where there is another path to the beach there is a small caravan site. Again, I climbed the cliff for a better view along the coast.

Marsh Chine

A muddy stream flowed out to the beach through the chine. At beach level a home made bridge had been built out of a plank of wood, although there was another official bridge a few metres further upstream.

The beach was now becoming sandy rather than fine shingle and a few people were sitting down here enjoying it.

Chale Bay near Marsh Chine

Above I could see the chalets of the holiday park I remembered passing last time teetering on the edge of the cliff.

Chalets at Brighstone Bay Holiday Park

In some places I could see the concrete bases now hanging over the cliff edge, the chalets already gone. The geology just past here began to change again, the cliffs now a darker red rather than grey and yellow.

Chale Bay near Brook

I passed Chilton Chine and the beach ahead was now becoming mostly sand.

Chale Bay near Brook

I was soon reaching Brook Bay where once again there is a path to the beach and hence there were people down here enjoying the beach.

Chale Bay at Brook

I considered my options here. I knew I would not be able to walk all the way along the shore to Freshwater Bay, as there are high chalk cliffs which the sea goes right to the base off. The tide was coming in and I was not certain if I would be able to get around to Compton Bay. From there I would have to climb to the cliff tops and follow the coast path around to Freshwater Bay. I had already done that walk before. A check of the bus timetable showed the last bus of the day from Brook (to Carisbrooke) would depart in about 20 minutes. The next (and last) bus in the other direction (at the time) terminated at Brook so would be no use (now it goes on to Yarmouth, which would have been handy). If I didn’t end here I would have to walk onto Freshwater Bay and hope the open top bus would still be running. I decided that was too much, so I headed up the chine to Brook to catch the bus into Carisbrooke. From Carisbrooke I took another bus to Yarmouth where I returned to the mainland on the ferry.

However there was another reason I ended this particular walk here, as I had previously walked the shoreline to Compton Bay. I did a walk of own devising from Brighstone around 5 years earlier from Brighstone to Yarmouth. This took in the shoreline from Brook to Compton Bay and then the coast path onto Freshwater Bay (where I then headed inland). Rather than write a separate post about this, I’ll combine these two walks as one and hence the rest of the photos are now from an earlier date.

So we rejoin the action at Brook Bay. This time the tide was fairly far out and going out.

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So it was an easy walk along Brook Bay. Near the end of the beach near Hanover Point I passed another recent landslip, the cliffs like gravel with some large boulders having come down. What looks like sand is actually small rocks covered in seaweed, so it was a bit awkward to get over.

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I was pleased to round the corner and have the wide sweep of Compton Bay ahead of me.

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As I said last time in my opinion this is the best beach on the island as it is a fine sandy beach backed by pretty cliffs and with no development to spoil it.

I passed what I took to be a Geography class studying the cliffs, all in identical white caps.

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I soon passed them with the beach ahead now deserted.

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To my left I was soon passing some rocks, I suspect the original base of the cliffs before they had eroded so much.

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Ahead I was seeing more people on the beach again as I was nearing the car park. Another line of rocks headed out to sea, I took these to be firmer rocks that had eroded less quickly than those above. It reminded me a little of Kimmeridge.

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Above some para-gliders were drifting about. It looks fun.

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I continued along the beach.

The beach at Compton is unusual in that the east of the beach is backed by low clay and sand cliffs and I noted these unusual diagonal lines of grey in the cliffs.

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Odd. Whilst to the west are high chalk cliffs. This beach is a popular beach for surfing as it faces south west and so is exposed to the full force of the weather, whipping up the sea. There are usually surfers here as a result, as there were today.

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I continued where another recent cliff fall had meant I had to time it right between waves to get passed!

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Beyond the beach was almost deserted, with the white chalk cliffs looming ahead. I continued to the west of the beach where the pebbles where white and grey, I suspected from the chalk cliffs ahead, they stood out against the sand.

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At the western end of the beach is another stair case off the beach (not marked on the map). I used it to leave the beach as there is no access any further west along the beach as the sea comes right to the base of the cliffs. I was soon at the top of the cliffs looking down on the beach.

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It was very beautiful, in particular the view back over the beach.

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The coast path from here is excellent, though it runs very close to the road, and no sooner had I climbed to the cliff tops, than it was time to descend again down into pretty Freshwater Bay.

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From here on this walk I cut inland along paths beside the river into Freshwater and then Yarmouth but I will not cover that part, because it is not along the coast.

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This was a wonderful walk helped by pretty much perfect weather conditions. A difficult start but that was soon made up for by the really stunning walk along Chale Bay. The cliffs here really are amazing and show very interesting to look at, constantly shaped by the wind, the rain and the sea, this is a stretch of coast that is always changing. This of course brings it’s own challenges in terms of access. Seeing how beautiful the coast is, I think it is a real shame that all the access points from St Catherine’s Point to Shepherd’s Chine have been closed by the Council and they don’t make more effort to restore them. But if you are determined, like me, it is still possible to get access and I think the beauty of the coast makes it more than worthwhile. At your own risk, of course!

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

If travelling between Niton and Freshwater Bay you will need to change buses between the below routes in Carisbrooke or Newport.

Southern Vectis route 6 : NewportCarisbrooke – Whitecroft – Chillerton – Chale – Blackgang ChineNiton – Whitwell – Ventnor. Hourly Monday – Saturday. 4 a day on Sundays.

Southern Vectis route 12 : Newport – Carisbrooke – Shorwell – Brighstone – BrookFreshwater Bay – Freshwater – Totland – Yarmouth. 5 times a day Mondays – Fridays. 4 times a day on Saturday and Sunday.

Here are the complete set of photos from this walk : Main Link | Slideshow.

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