Friday, 9 January 2009

A Wight Winter Wander Day 3 Freshwater Bay - Ventnor

Freshwater Bay
There is no doubt about it, this was the hardest of the days on the island due to the distance and terrain. The south west coastline of the Isle of Wight is pretty wild, with few villages and little development. Its wildness is reminiscent of the Dorset coast and the weather can be very unpredictable. The reason I chose to follow the route around the island in an anti-clockwise direction was because I had this section in mind. I really wanted the prevailing wind at my back rather than have to face into it. What I didn’t bank on was that on the day in question the wind would actually be from the north, meaning that I would cop it no matter which direction I walked along the coast!

Freshwater Bay
Another impediment to my day was the length of time that it took to get to Freshwater Bay from Ryde on the bus. With all the stops and detours around housing estates this took nearly two hours and I didn’t arrive until noon, which meant that I would need to get my skates on to complete the walk within daylight hours. Luckily the weather was absolutely fabulous, easily the best of the days that I had on the island and so I really wanted to make the most of it.

Climbing out of Freshwater
Freshwater Bay is a small settlement dominated by a large hotel and the surrounding chalky cliffs. From the small promenade the view down the coast was spectacular but also a bit daunting as I knew I would have to cover this entire length, with a few extra miles round the corner at the end. Luckily once the first chalk cliff had been safely negotiated the next eight miles of cliff were mostly level, which made for fairly easy walking to begin with. At Compton Bay the underlying geology changes dramatically from chalk to sandstone, giving the coastline a completely different character.

Whale Chine Beach
There are almost no settlements between Freshwater Bay and Chale, some ten miles down the coast. Luckily the path runs parallel with the old military road and this is also the route for the number 7 bus, so if I had a problem I always knew that I could catch the bus if I needed to.

Coastal Erosion
The coastline, while spectacular, was also a bit monotonous compared with the rest of the island’s coast. Blackgang Chine and St Catherine’s Cliff, which could be seen in the distance from the off never seemed to get any closer. However, this was a most enjoyable section, with the sun shining relentlessly and the sea at low tide exposing great swathes of sandy beach below. Every now and again a small stream cut a deep gorge into the sandstone to find its way into the sea. These land features are known locally as chines. The other main feature of this stretch of coastline was the dramatic erosion, which had claimed stretches of car park, beach huts and even some of the buildings at the few holiday camps in this part of the island. There were several buildings that had been abandoned and left to their fate, since there was no coastal protection on this stretch of protected coast.

Sandy Cliffs

Eventually after about four hours I reached the village of Chale, where I briefly contemplated getting the last bus into Ventnor (it was only 4pm!). I decided against it as I was enjoying the walk so much, but knew that it would be a tall order to reach Ventnor before it got dark. The climb out of Chale up onto St Catherine’s Cliff wasn’t nearly as hard as I expected and once again I was high up on a chalk cliff rather than the fairly low sandstone ones that had been my companion for the last 7 miles. Strangely though I was no longer at the coast but a mile or so inland, with what looked like a landslip between this cliff and the much smaller one below. As I rounded the corner and finally left the view of Freshwater Bay behind me, I got a good view of St Catherine’s lighthouse below, which marked the southernmost point on the island.
Church and Oratory

The path skirted the village of Niton and continued along a wooded clifftop for a mile of so before a very steep descent to the actual coastline below by the village of St Lawrence. The path continued along the low cliffs all the way into Ventnor and after a mile or so it the coastal strip was actually a park that stretched all the way into Ventnor. Once at St Lawrence I wrongly assumed I was almost there, which proved to be a mistake as it was actually still quite a long way along the front. By the time I got to the outskirts of Ventnor I had to take a detour away from the coast path and follow the main road into town as it was too dark to see where I was going.

St Catharine's Cliffs
This section of the walk is very long and could be split at Chale by using the bus service. This would allow more time to explore the coast near Ventnor, which is a completely different character. I would suggest that if you were to finish at Chale, the next section should be as far as Sandown, making for a 9 mile section. Overall the walking wasn’t too difficult although it’s a good idea to ensure that you are fully equipped as this is the only section without major settlements en route. Keep a close eye on the weather in particular.


  1. I backpack the IOW a few years back but going in a clockwise direction, only made to as far as Yarmouth, as a dodgy knee stopped me completing the route.

    I found this part of the walk to be the lease interesting.

    Enjoying reading the blog :-)

    There is a whole load of us over at the Outdoor bloggers forums


  2. Thanks George. How funny, I really enjoyed this section. It was the Ryde - Shalfleet one I enjoyed least due to the amount of road walking.

    I'll be sure to look you guys up at the Outdoor Bloggers Forums

  3. We are going to the Isle of Wight next week for my wife's birthday. She isn't an enthusiastic walker unfortunately... I've bought my map and planned some walks which is quite funny as I grew up on the island!! Sandown was where we used to go out drinking and I used to dive off the pier in to the sea when I was in my teens. I lived in Seaview so I'm glad you saw it how I used to see it every day.

  4. Thanks David,
    It is over six years since I did this walk but I still remember it really well. It was on my way round the island that I determined to finish the SWCP after my flirtation with it while studying at Plymouth University in the mid 1990s. I have a special affection for the island and when my family is bigger I shall take them over for some weekends to complete some of the shorter walks. Keep up the good work! I have really enjoyed looking at your pictures and walks.