119. Yarmouth to Freshwater Bay

May 2015

This is another walk I have done several times, and there is a good reason for this – it’s a wonderful walk with wonderful scenery and good variety too. In fact I did this as a circular walk, from Yarmouth around the coast to Freshwater Bay then cutting inland back to Yarmouth. This means it’s very easy (you can take the ferry to Lymington) and there is no need to use the bus.

I was starting in Dorset where I took the train to Brockenhurst, then another train on to Lymington and then the ferry to Yarmouth. I did not make an especially early start, so arrived in Yarmouth around 11:30.  The sea was unusually calm.

The Solent near Yarmouth

Yarmouth is one of the ferry ports, but it is actually a small and interesting town, with a castle right next to the ferry terminal. I visited it once many years ago, perhaps I should go back.

Yarmouth Castle

There is also a small pier, used mainly by fisherman.

Yarmouth Pier

As the name suggests, Yarmouth is at the mouth of the River Yar which at this point forms quite a wide estuary. This is, confusingly, one of two rivers on the island with this name! In this case, and helpfully for me, the mouth of the estuary is spanned by a road bridge, the A3054, which has a swing bridge over the harbour. I crossed the loading area for the ferry and passed the harbour masters office to cross the river via this swing bridge.

Once across, the coast path turns right to leave the busy road. I followed this to rejoin the waters edge, looking back over the sand and shingle spit of Norton Spit that forms the western tip of the harbour mouth. The coast path west from here is easy, following along a low concrete sea wall which makes for an easy walk. I am not sure if there is a beach here at low tide.

Sea wall west of Yarmouth

Inland I pass the large Norton Grange Holiday Village, I think this is a former Warners Holiday Camp, now converted to an adults-only holiday complex. Soon the sea wall ends and so the coast path heads inland. I don’t. Instead I continued along the shingle beach as this is a more coastal route and was not that hard.

The coast near Fort Victoria

I soon passed a derelict pier on the right. I think this has something to do with the nearby Fort Victoria, but it has long been derelict. This time someone was allowing their child to play on it – rather unwise in my view.

Disused pier near Fort Victoria

I continued to soon reach Fort Victoria.

Fort Victoria

This is a a defensive fort, built in 1850 (replacing an earlier fort from the reign of Henry VIII). It was in use until 1962. Today it is a leisure attraction housing a model railway and planetarium. I walked past the coastal side of the fort which had a shingle beach in front of it.

The coast at Fort Victoria

But as I headed further west the shingle turned to sand. There was a link path here back to the coast path but I decided to see if I could continue along the beach towards a second fort, Fort Albert (you can probably guess how these forts were named now). This second fort (far uglier, in my opinion) is now converted to flats. They always look very precarious to me being right below the cliff face.

The beach here was beautiful, now soft sand, with rocks and pebbles backed by a line of trees on the low cliffs.

The coast at Fort Victoria

The coast west of Fort Victoria

Sadly at the far end cliff erosion came right down to the sea before I could get to Fort Albert (though it is private anyway) but I found a path (unmarked on the map) up from the beach to the coast path at the cliff top.

The coast west of Fort Victoria

It even had a lovely sign made out of wood “To the beach” at the top, obviously recently installed and a carving from an old tree trunk. A labour of love by someone, I have no doubt.

The coast west of Fort Victoria

The height gained meant I had a lovely view back to the coast of Hampshire and Hurst Castle. In fact from Fort Victoria to Hurst Castle is only a fraction over half a mile and is the closest point to the mainland. Below I could see there was more beach that I might have been able to follow if I’d been more determined.

The coast west of Fort Victoria

Sadly the coast path did not live up it’s name for long, soon diverting inland along a minor road (Monks Lane) away from Fort Albert and between fields. This goes around a chalet park (such things still exist on the Isle of Wight) and continues inland to Colwell Bay. I had however spotted a public right of way through the site and down to the beach, so I followed that instead. I was glad I did, because it soon took me down to this lovely beach (though the path is not well signed). The holiday park markets this as their own beach, but it isn’t.

Colwell Bay

I could now make my way along this beach past obviously rapidly eroding cliffs.

Colwell Bay

It was lovely to be back along the beach and I could see at the far end the promenade started, so I would have no problem getting along the coast to Colwell Bay and rejoin the official coast path. It was indeed lovely. Colwell Bay is a beautiful beach with gentle waves and clear water.

Colwell Bay

Colwell Bay

At the far end of the beach there were some beach huts and beyond this what has become an all to familiar sign on the Isle of Wight. “Footpath Closed Do Not Enter” it said. The diversion route was was several hundred metres inland. So I did what I usually do in such situations and pretended I hadn’t noticed. I mean, it’s easy to miss the sign and barrier isn’t it? [pedants please note this is actually the sign at the other end of the closure, but the same signs and barriers were at the other end too].

Sea wall between Totland Bay and Colwell Bay

What had happened here is that a large cliff area of the cliff behind had slipped, pushing the sea wall out further away from the base of the cliffs, breaking it into pieces in the process. It is very visible on Google Earth. But the cliff fall had happened some time ago and I don’t think has moved since. It was possible, with care, to climb over the broken bits of concrete and eroded cliff to get around and in any case the sea below was very shallow.

Sea wall between Totland and Colwell

I made it around and climbed around the side of the fence. I was not the only person going this way, as I passed someone else coming the other way and some children playing in the closed section.

I was pleased though to make it around to the remaining intact section of the sea wall. Ahead was the sad remains of Totland pier.

Totland Pier

Totland Pier

Totland was once something of a resort. It is now a sleepy but pretty little place, but I had been able to watch the gradual decline of the pier over my various visits. I think the first time I came here the pier was all still intact, with the decking in place and a building at the end. This is what it looked like in 2009, with the building at the end still intact.

Totland Pier

I think it was closed to the public back then too, but the building at the end was still in use as an artists studio. Gradually it declined further, with the building then closing and subsequently being demolished. The decking too has gone, leaving just the metal supports remaining. By the time of this visit there were many bits of metal hanging off the bottom of the pier as you can see. I’m no structural engineer but it looks very close to collapsing now (hence the numerous Keep Off signs, presumably). A shame to see.

It is a quiet place once beyond the pier with just a few beach huts and what looks like an old lifeboat station.

Totland Bay

At the far end, just as it looks like being a dead-end are steps up onto the cliff path where the coast path joins a residential road for a short distance. It is not long before the path opens out into the beautiful Headon Warren and Headon Hill an area of open access land with heather and gorse on it.

The height gained meant I had wonderful views back along the coast I had been walking. You can see how Fort Albert is almost an island at the base of the cliffs.

Headon Warren, Isle of Wight

Headon Warren, Isle of Wight

I made my way along the official coast path over this area (I remember once trying to follow a more coastal route, but the path soon fizzled out and I tried to battle through the gorse, I would not recommend it). At the top here were what looked like the remains of more World War II structures. But ahead I had a view of the part of coast for which the island is most famous – The Needles.

Headon Warren, Isle of Wight

I followed the path down to the enormous car park. This is because Alum Bay is a big attraction to tourists and the area around it is a sort of small theme park with a shop where you can fill various objects with the coloured sands from Alum Bay below, as well as glass blowing and even a chair lift down to the beach.

The Needles, Isle of Wight

The coast path now heads through the car park and at the far end there is the private road out to the Needles themselves and the Old Battery at the end. Though it is also possible to go down to the beach itself, either via a footpath which has many steps or on the chair lift (the latter for a fee, obviously). The beach here is famous for it’s coloured sands which are collected and sold in the shops above.

I have walked down to the beach (but did not on this occasion) so these photos are from an earlier visit.

Alum Bay

Alum Bay

The old battery is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public. Although the road is now closed to the public, an open top bus runs a regular service from the car park out to the battery. Ahead from here the coast path follows beside or along this private road soon giving fine views back over Alum Bay.

Alum Bay

Alum Bay

I soon reached the Old Battery itself. The official coast path diverts off inland before it gets here, so I ignored it and continued ahead. Again, I did not stop to visit but I did stop at the little shop to buy an ice cream, as it was a hot day.

The Needles Old Battery

Just beyond this you can climb up beside the fences to enjoy perhaps the most famous view on the island, the Needles.

The Needles

These chalk stacks are all that is left of the eroded cliffs and it is though a massive chalk ridge once linked The Needles to the Old Harry Rocks on the Purbeck coast in Dorset and the Solent was a river but this chalk ridge was breached long ago, leaving these chalk stacks at either end. It is a beautiful view and the cliffs are incredibly high. That perhaps contributes to the fact that this area is often the place with the highest recorded windspeed in the UK.

The Needles

I continued on paths and tracks as close to the cliff edge as I could (the actual cliff edge is protected with a high fence here). This took me to another interesting site.

The Needles

These concrete buildings are the remains of the Black Knight testing station where top secret rockets were tested. It goes surprisingly un-noticed by the crowds that visit the Needles, but there are some information boards about it.

This very western spit of the island is very narrow and it is only a couple of hundred metres before I’ve crossed it and reached the south coast of the island. This stretch of coast is magnificent.

Ahead is a high area of chalk downland, first West High Down and later Tennyson down. It is undevloped and unspoilt and offers wonderful views over the Solent and to much of the island. The path stretches for more than 2 miles un-interuppted along the chalk downs to the beach at Freshwater Bay. There is a high path right along the top of the ridge (the official route of the coast path) and a lower path which runs nearer to the cliffs. I alternated between the two routes.

Tennyson Down

The only downside of this route is that because you are on top of the cliffs and you mostly can’t get right to the cliff edge, you don’t actually see so much of the coast. But it is a lovely walk. Soon I had the view into Freshwater Bay ahead.

Freshwater Bay

The path heads down the chalk cliffs and to the road which you have to follow for a short while down to the beach itself.

Freshwater Bay

I’d now finished my walk around the south coast of the island, and it really is stunning, for it’s whole length.

Sadly there is now a limited bus service between Freshwater Bay and Yarmouth. During the summer there is the open top bus, but the only ticket you can buy for this costs £10. There is a local bus service as well (which is cheaper) but it is infrequent and one was not due for a while. So what I did is another walk I enjoy, to cut inland back to Yarmouth. Whilst not on the cost I still enjoy it, so I will write it up too.

You turn right off the road through Freshwater along a gravel track and then alongside the marshes beside the infant River Yar.

The River Yar

You briefly join a road before resuming north to reach the A3055 where you turn right along a bridlepath to reach the pretty village of School Green.

Here there are thatched cottages, a causeway and a church.

School Green

The Yar Estuary at School Green

The Yar Estuary at School Green

Well I say causeway because it’s called The Causeway but I’m not sure if it ever actually floods. But it is surprising how quickly this river becomes an estuary. Little more than a mile away from Freshwater Bay and it is now a wide marshy estuary. Presumably the sea has surged up the river over the years, widening it. From here there is an excellent path along the eastern banks of the estuary, through the edges of woodland and with numerous seats from which to enjoy the view. It is a good path because it used to be a railway line, which connected Yarmouth to the rest of the island, but it has long since closed. But it does make for an easy walk and you can often see red squirrels down here.

Old railway path beside the Yar

The Yar estuary, Isle of Wight

The Yar estuary, Isle of Wight

As you near Yarmouth you fork off to the left as the railway line turns to the right and go in front of the large mill.

Old mill at Yarmouth

This leads to the main car park of Yarmouth which you can walk through to the A3054 and turn right back into Yarmouth.

I really enjoyed this walk. The first part is alongside the quiet calm shores of the Solent passing some interesting places, such as Fort Victoria and some nice peaceful little beaches, such as those at Colwell Bay and Totland. It is a shame so much of the coast path is either closed or not very coastal here but as I found, if you are determined, you can find a more coastal route. Once at Totland Bay though the path is wonderful taking in the chalky downland that leads past Alum Bay to the Needles. I would not recommend it up here on a windy day, though! It is then a lovely way to end the walk to descend into Freshwater Bay. I strongly recommend this walk, it is very enjoyable.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Sadly if it is out of the summer season you will need to change in Freshwater and if is in the summer, there is a direct bus, but it is expensive.

Southern Vectis route 12 : Newport (Bus Station) – Carisbrooke – Shorwell – Brighstone – Brook – Freshwater Bay – Freshwater – Totland.  5 buses a day Monday – Friday and 4 a day on Saturday and Sunday. The last bus of the day continues to Yarmouth Bus Station.

Southern Vectis route 7 : Newport (Bus Station) – Carisbrooke – Shalfleet – Calbourne – Newbridge – Wellow – Yarmouth – Freshwater – Totland – Alum Bay. Buses only continue to Alum Bay during the day time. Every 30 minutes, seven days a week.

The Needles Breezer : Yarmouth (Bus Station) – Freshwater Bay – Alum Bay – The Needles New Battery – Alum Bay – Colwell Common – Yarmouth. Every 30 minutes in this direction only, seven days a week during the summer (from late March to late September). Only a £10 day ticket is valid on this bus (but it is valid on all other buses on the island too).

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

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