120. Yarmouth to Cowes

June 2010

My last walk on the Isle of Wight and this one takes in the Solent facing side of the coast. Sadly, the coast path on the north side of the island is not that coastal for much of it’s length, so there was quite a lot of road walking away from the coast on this walk.

I took the train to Lymington Pier, with a change at Brockenhurst. But I was a bit miffed at getting off the train (which was on time) to see a ferry just departing as the timetable indicated the ferry went about 10 minutes after the train arrived. I went in the terminal to find out what was going on, to be told the timetable the ferry had left on time. I showed the lady the train timetable I had printed out from National Rail to which she responded “it must be out of date”. I pointed out the date and time at the bottom (the previous day) and the response was “well they have it wrong then” and was handed a copy of the Wightlink timetable. It is not very good to offer an integrated ticket if the rail and ferry companies disagree on the schedule. I did contact National Rail about it and did get what I sensed was a rather exasperated email where I was told that after years of running the same timetable, Wightlink now constantly change the ferry timetable and whilst they are supposed to inform National Rail and South West Trains about any changes to it, they generally don’t bother. In addition, even if they did, South West Trains are only permitted to alter the timetable twice a year, so there is not much they can do to maintain connections. So much for integrated transport!

So a rather frustrating start, as I had about  45 minutes wait for the next ferry, but at least I could start the walk from Yarmouth, so I did not miss a bus connection at the other end. Yarmouth is a small and rather pretty town. From the ferry terminal I could turn left and head past a pub and the entrance to the castle to a little square.

Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

I am not sure what the bunting is for, but it added some colour. The coast path east from Yarmouth heads along roads, but first there was access to a small shingle beach and the pier beside a cafe at the other end of the square.

Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

The pier in Yarmouth seems to be primarily used by fisherman. You do have to pay to go on it, but I think it is only about 20p.

Yarmouth Pier

A nice touch is that each plank has the name of the person or company that paid for it, as there was fundraising some years ago to restore the pier.

Returning to the town I continue to follow the streets east from the town centre. Yarmouth seems a wealthy sort of a place and most of the houses on the coast have gardens that back right down to the sea, hence there is no public access and no coast path here.

Yarmouth, Isle of Wight

Mind you it’s a small town and it was only about 1/4 of a mile until I had reached the end of the town and the coast path turned left back to the coast. There was now a nice promenade and green behind the sea.

Bouldnor, Isle of Wight

Soon the green behind the sea ended and the path  continued on the narrow concrete sea wall.

Bouldnor, Isle of Wight

After a short while along this wall the coast path heads inland to follow the busy A3054. But I could see no reason to do this immediately, as this path continued along the sea wall to a viewpoint by the A3054. Here I could rejoin the official route and avoid road walking more than needed. I could not avoid that entirely though as once again private gardens block access to the coast, many of them having their own little jetties and piers. This is the small village of Boudlnor and this stretch of walk was not pleasant, along a busy A-road with no pavement and traffic heading to Newport.

Thankfully with my shortcut I only had to follow it for around 400 metres or so before a path headed through woodland and back to the shore.

Bouldnor, Isle of Wight

By now the shore was a bit muddy and showing clear signs of erosion with trees having fallen down the low cliffs into the sea. I was soon finding familiar features of the Isle of Wight, namely erosion and badly maintained footpaths.

Bouldnor, Isle of Wight

I expect this path would have been closed if the Council was aware of it, so at least I could get past even if it was a bit precarious (I believe the path has since been diverted a little inland here). A brief gap in the trees and I emerged beside a small shingle beach. There is an old Battery marked here on the map but I did not notice much sign of it. The path ahead now climbed up the hill above Bouldnor Cliff. Running right along the edge of the cliff meant I still had views of the Solent through the trees. Looking back to Yarmouth I could see one of the ferries docked.

Near Bouldnor, Isle of Wight

The path continued to climb and soon below me the cliffs were clearly more stable and were now covered with trees.

Hamstead, Isle of Wight

It reminded me a bit of the Undercliff area on the south of the island with all the trees below me. Soon the path emerged from the woodland to reach the small hamlet of Cranmore. This seems is a rather odd area with a few houses dotted about in the woodlands accessed via private and mostly unsurfaced roads (many of which are footpaths). I followed the signed coast path through this area and decided to follow a dead-end path down to the shore.

Hamstead, Isle of Wight

Here there was a small shingle beach and I could look back along the coast to Yarmouth. The trees that had been killed by the sea littered the beach. Time to head back where I came to the official coast path and the odd unsurfaced streets, now heading for another small village, Hamstead.

I could follow the tracks and paths here, soon crossing a field, one of which was filled with cows, to pass through Hamstead and then back to a coast path above the wooded cliffs.

Hamstead, Isle of Wight

This path soon descended down to an area of grass, with a small shingle beach at Hamstead Point.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

I could see increasing numbers of yachts out in the Solent, a sign Cowes was nearer, at least, as the crow flies. At the end of this little park I reached the start of a large estuary area, Newtown Harbour, now a national nature reserve. It is a large network of creeks and marshes and I was surprised to see such a large area of marsh like this on a small island. With no bridges or ferries, it meant I now faced a long walk inland to get around it. Worse, a sizeable area on it’s eastern side is a firing range, so there is no public access there either.

So the path now headed inland again over field edge paths and tracks on or close to the coast. It was high tide so the area was very picturesque with the numerous creeks and streams full of water rather than mud.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

I soon got a view overlooking the Newtown River, lined with boats.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

It was lovely and peaceful too, with just the distant sound of the clanking masts in the breeze. I rounded a larger inlet which I suspect might have been enlarged at some point in the past.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

At the south end of this there was a a little jetty and more boats moored up.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

Beyond this creek the path headed away from the waters edge to run along the edge of fields a bit back from the coast and up on a small hill. The height gained was enough though to mean that I still had a view of the lovely estuary area.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

Newtown, Isle of Wight

Soon the track entered woodland so I lost the view of the estuary, but it was quite a warm day and the shade was quite welcome.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

The track I was on joined another larger one, more a private road, heading south and crossing another small body of water, Ningwood Lake. I was puzzled looking at the map why all these little inlets seem to have the name lake, since they are not really a lake.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

The path soon crossed a second smaller creek, more a stream really.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

I now had a field-edge path to follow and then I reached the A3054. Now, with the exception of a few short sections, I had road walking for more than 4 miles! Thankfully, only a short stretch on the A3054. I turned left but this is an unpleasant road to walk alongside, there is no pavement and it is busy (the main road from the north west of the island to Newport). Thankfully a bridge over Shalfleet Lake ahead is only wide enough for one way traffic, so traffic lights regulate the traffic meaning that it does at least create some gaps in the traffic. Much of Shalfleet was modern housing, but the village centre had some attractive buildings.

Shalfleet

The onward path now left the main road and followed a quite track north over Shalfleet Creek where I had a brief glimpse of the water of Newtown Bay through the trees. Passing Corf Farm I then return to the road and turn left, heading for Newtown.

I continued along the road and a short distance ahead came to the head of Corf Lake which was unexpectedly lovely.

Near Shalfleet

A short distance beyond this I could turn off onto a more minor road, heading for Newtown itself. I think if I ruled the world I would ban any place names for including the word “New”, since Newtown is (like the New Forest) in fact very old. I soon reached the beautiful old Town Hall. Like much of the estuary, this is in the care of the National Trust and hinted that this small village was once rather more important.

Newtown, Isle of Wight

In fact, Newtown is believed to be around 1000 years old. The town hall however is more recent dating from the 16th Century, so still very old.

The coast path turns right here along a track parallel, but inland of the road. I didn’t bother with it, it looked like there were about 10 fields to cross (which usually means lots of stiles) in the space of 500 metres or so, so I stuck to the quiet road, which was also more coastal. Many of the cottages in the village were built of an attractive yellow stone.

The next stretch of the walk was rather dull. I continued on the road until it reached a slightly more busy road where I turned left to cross Clamerkin Lake and continue into the unremarkable village of Porchfield, which seemed to be mostly one road. About half a mile beyond the village I could turn left along field edge paths, at long last having left the road. My ankles were aching now, but at least I no longer needed to dodge the traffic.

The path soon joined a track then a road that led through the huge Thorness Bay holiday park, a mixture of camping fields, static caravans with a few chalets in the mix too I think. I followed through this and it was a relief to – finally – return to the coast. I was now at Thorness Bay at the eastern edge of Newtown Harbour having finally got around the large estuary and firing range.

Thorness Bay, Isle of Wight

It was not the best beach I have ever seen, but I was still pleased to see it.

The view ahead was of low wooded cliffs.

Thorness Bay, Isle of Wight

Ahead too the coastal path had improved as it was now once again an actual coast path as it soon climbed the cliffs offering views to a now sandy beach below, though it looked like there was some mud at low tide.

The coast path east of Thorness Bay, Isle of Wight

The cliffs soon became gently sloped showing much signs of slumping and slipping as a result of erosion.

Thorness Bay

It was a nice stretch of the walk. The path soon descended from these cliffs towards the village of Gurnard, which largely merges with Cowes. Here I had to join the road to cross the little creek of Gurnard Luck.

Creek by Gurnard Bay

Despite it’s narrowness it was packed with boats to the point I wonder if those at the back could even get out! Just beyond this I came down to the wide shingle beach at Gurnard.

Gurnard Bay

The coast path was supposed to follow the sea wall here but a sign warned it was damaged and not safe, so you have to divert either along the beach or the road behind. I opted for the beach but it was not a long section so I soon had to head to the road inland. This soon headed inland to climb up around the edge of woodland, cross another stream and then head back to the coast.

I followed the coast path alongside the road into Gurnard to soon reach the oddly named Egypt Point. I am not sure of the origins of the name because you can’t see Egypt from here (though I did once go to Cairo).

It’s marked with this strange sort of light house.

Egypt Point, Cowes

From here it was just a short distance along the pavement beside the road to the famous Royal London Yacht Club which hosts the Cowes week.

Cowes, Isle of Wight

It has a lot of shiny little cannons outside it, too.

Cowes, Isle of Wight

It was a short distance beyond here to the ferry terminal for the Red Jet ferry over to Southampton. I had used this previously to walk from Cowes to Ryde, which meant I had now completed my walk around the island.

I had bought a return ticket on the Wightlink ferry but to use it, it would mean I would have to take two buses (changing in Newport) in order to get back to Yarmouth. Then wait for the less frequent ferry in order to get back to Lymington, where I would take a train to Brockenhurst and another train home from there. That second train would stop at Southampton. Rather than all that faffing around I decided to buy a single ticket over on this ferry to Southampton instead. It was not cheap, but it would avoid any confusion over what timetable was running on Lymington and make my journey home much shorter too, because it only takes 20 minutes (plus a short free bus ride to the station). The ferry ran on time and whisked me back across the Solent where I had a simple journey home.

This was a mixed walk. The stretch from Yarmouth to Hamstead was quite nice. But from there there was far too much road walking, often miles from the coast only really broken up by the interesting little village of Newtown. Then a brief but pleasant section around Thorness Bay to Gurnard and finally more road walking (though at least alongside the coast back to Cowes). It is a shame a better route has not been found for the coast path here (though when the England coast path comes here, maybe the route will improve).

Overall I had very much enjoyed my walk around the Isle of Wight (which this walk concludes). I highly recommend it and I am glad that I chose to include it. Yes there are a lot of footpath problems unfortunately which is a shame and parts of the route (such as this day) are not great. But much of the coast is stunning (and I feel should have been included in the World Heritage site). The section from Ventnor around to Yarmouth is stunning and if you only do part of the route, this is the part to do. Next time I will be returning to the main land.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. If returning to Yarmouth you will need to change buses in Newport.

Southern Vectis service 1 : Cowes (Red Jet Terminal) – Cowes – Somerton – Northwood – Newport. Ever 7 minutes Monday  – Saturday and every 15 minutes on Sundays.

Southern Vectis route 7 : Newport – Carisbrooke – [Gunville – ShalfleetCranmore] or [Calbourne – Newbridge – Wellow] – Yarmouth – Freshwater – Totland – Alum Bay. Every 30 minutes, seven days a week, but buses run alternately vis Shalfleet or via Newbridge, so these parts are served hourly.

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

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