Isle of Wight Coastal Path: Freshwater Bay to Yarmouth
This is perhaps the most famous stretch of the Isle of Wight's coast. The highlight is a visit to the infamous Needles, the jagged teeth of rocks that stick out into the sea from the headland. Sadly they cannot be seen from the trail, but a very short diversion leads to a viewpoint.
There are many other places worth seeing on this walk; from Tennyson's Monument on the eponymous down to the high and wild walking across Headon Warren. The only let-down is an inland diversion through Colwell. The end of the walk involves an optional stroll along Yarmouth Pier; this can be omitted if required.
4 hours 24 minutes
Map of the leg
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format.
This leg starts off from the car park in Freshwater Bay. Leave the car park and turn right to join Gate Lane. This parallels the beach; there is a car park on the right. The road starts to curve away inland; after a short distance some public toilets are reached on the left. Turn left down the track (signposted for Fort Redoubt).
Continue on southwestwards down this track for a short distance until a stile is reached on the right. Cross this, and take an obvious path that heads uphill in a rough westerly direction, aiming for a stile in the upper-left hand corner. Cross the stile and start following a path uphill westwards for nearly a mile, aiming for the Tennyson Monument and staying slightly away from the edge of the cliff.
There is a path that follows the cliff edge from the monument, but the official coastal path heads downhill slightly to the right, aiming for a beallach. It passes a replica of Nodes Beacon at SZ318853 before climbing uphill west-southwestwards onto West High Down. Continue on along the crest of the hill for a little over a mile until a fence is reached near to the coastguard cottages at SZ300847, with a mast on the left and the cottages on the right. Turn right and follow the fence downhill past the cottages until a stile is reached.
Do not cross the stile and instead take a footpath angles downhill east-northeastwards; initially the gradient is gradual but it soon becomes steeper as it ends at a surfaced road at SZ302849. Turn right and follow this road as it heads east-northeastwards; after a third of a mile it turns sharply to the left to head northwards. It passes the car park of the Needles Park on the left before reaching a roundabout at SZ308854. Turn right at the roundabout and follow the B3322 eastwards for a couple of hundred yards.
Turn sharp left down a track leading to a golf pitch and putt course. Continue down this lane until a gate is reached; here join a footpath that angles off to the right. This path curves around between hedges, initially to the right and then the left before emerging out onto the site of the old Headon Fort at SZ307857. As soon as you enter the grassy area of the fort turn right along a steep chalk path that leads up onto Headon Warren.
Continue along path eastwards, staying slightly to the north (seaward) of the summit ridge. When the path forks take the left-hand fork and follow it as it passes seaward of Warren Cottage. A good path then descends with the edge of the cliffs close by on the left. The path eventually curves to the right before ending at Cliff Road at SZ319863.
Follow this road as it winds downhill, curving to the left. After a couple of hundred yards a path leads off to the left; head down a slope to reach the top of a long flight of wooden steps that leads down to the foreshore at Widdick Chine. Turn right to join the seawall for a little over a mile; it passes Totland Pier and then curves to the right around Warden Point to reach the end of a road at Colwell Chine at SZ326878.
Turn right up Colwell Chine Road and follow it southeastwards for about a quarter of a mile until it ends at the A3054 road. Turn left and follow the road northeastwards for another quarter of a mile; when the road curves to the right turn left down a track that leads towards Brambles Farm. Continue along the track keeping the farm on the left until a junction in footpaths is reached; here turn right along a footpath that soon curves to the left to enter a holiday park. A few yards into the holiday park turn right to head eastwards up a driveway uphill; it leaves the park and ends at a junction with a lane called Monks Lane at SZ334885.
Turn left and follow the lane downhill north-northwestwards. It approaches the entrance to another holiday park; at the entrance turn right to take a path that follows the park's fence. It curves to the left before reaching a track. Turn right and follow this track northeastwards away from the park. The track enters some woodland; continue along it for about half a mile before it ends at Westhill Lane at SZ341897.
Continue straight on along the lane for about fifty yards; when it curves to the right take a footpath that leads off to the left. After a short distance this ends at a sea wall. Turn right and follow this seawall eastwards for about a quarter of a mile. When some marshland starts on the right, turn right down a track that heads southwards for a few yards before ending at the A3054 road.
Turn left and follow the A3054 in a rough easterly direction for about half a mile, crossing the Yar Bridge on the way. The road enters Yarmouth; turn left to walk through the bus station and at a roundabout turn left down Bridge Lane to head north back to the ferry landing. I extended the walk slightly by following Quay Street eastwards, then turning left to reach Yarmouth Pier. Walk along the pier before retracing your steps to reach the ferry landing.
Places of interest
Freshwater Bay and Compton Down
Freshwater Bay is a little settlement nestled in a small crescent bay near the western tip of the Isle of Wight. High, friable cliffs stretch nearly ten miles southeastwards towards Chale, with few coastal settlements between.
To the west are the high hills of Compton Down, forming part of the chalk hills that cut from west to east across the island. A clear path runs along the spine of the ridge, and this forms a great walk with superb views that can be used as part of a seven-mile circular walk.
The bay is home to a hotel and various facilities, including a large car park and an independent lifeboat. An old Palmerston fort, Freshwater Redoubt, lies on the western side of the bay. This is now a private house.
Old photographs show the progress of erosion on this stretch of coast; the Arch and Stack rocks that projected out of the sea for many years are now just two stacks. They have been joined by a third, the Mermaid Rocks, which was formed by a rockfall in 1969.
location UID #27
Tennyson Down is a high chalk ridge that stretches between Freshwater Bay towards the Needles. It is dominated by the Tennyson Memorial, a Maltese Cross that stands at the highest point of the down. Lord Tennyson lived nearby for forty years, and he would often walk over the surrounding downs. The cross was unveiled in 1892, when the surrounding down was also named after the poet.
The down descends to a little bealach between it and West High Down. At the bottom of the saddle is a wooden sea beacon that sits strangely in a position where it cannot be seen from the sea. This is a half-sized replica of the Nodes Beacon that originally stood where the Tennyson Memorial now stands. A few parts of the replica belonged to the original beacon.
location UID #28
The Needles and the lighthouse
The three jagged chalk pinnacles of The Needles are one of Britain’s most famous coastal sights. It marks the westernmost point of the Isle of Wight, and is part of a chalk ridge that once spanned the western Solent, emerging out at Old Harry Rocks near Swanage. A quick glance suggests that the name of the rocks should be ‘The Teeth’; ‘Needles’ refers to a pillar called ‘Lot’s Wife’ that collapsed during a storm in 1764.
A red-and-white banded lighthouse guards the outermost pinnacle. This was built in 1859, and a helicopter pad was added above the lighthouse in recent years to aid automation.
One of the best places to view The Needles are from a recently-built viewpoint at the New Battery.
location UID #29
The Needles Battery and British Rocketry
A battery was constructed low-down on the cliffs directly above the Needles from 1861. Within a few years concern about subsidence and percussion effects of the guns led to a new battery being constructed slightly further inland and higher up. The Old Battery is now in the care of the National Trust and is regularly opened to the public.
The larger New Battery was completed in 1895 but, like all of the Palmerston forts, it never saw any action, although it was reactivated for World War II.
It regained a new life in the 1950s, when Saunders Roe, based in Cowes, needed somewhere to test the rocket motors of the Blue Streak missile. Test stands were erected at the New Battery, and the missiles would be tied down in a vertical position before firing. It continued to be used with the successor missile, the satellite-launched called Black Arrow. All of the buildings were removed after the British rocket programs were cancelled in the early 1970s, but the concrete bases remain, allowing you to easily tell where the rockets once stood.
location UID #30
Alum Bay and Headon Warren
Alum Bay is a narrow bay immediately to the north of the chalk ridge that ends in the Needles. The cliffs of the bay are famous for their multi-coloured sands from strawberry-pink to chocolate-brown; glass vials of the sand can be bought in local shops, showing the different strata. The cliffs are perhaps best viewed from the road that heads above the bay from the Needles themselves; the deeply-dipping strata give a vivid impression of the power of geology. Fossils can also be found in the cliffs, although care needs to be taken.
The cliffs at the top of the bay are home to a large amusement park called The Needles Park. The park has many shops, including a sweet manufactory and a glass studio. A chair lift stretches down from the park to the beach below, saving a long and steep walk.
Inside the park there is a memorial to Marconi, one of the inventors of radio. In 1897 Marconi sent the first over-water radio transmission to a tug out at sea from a 40-metre tall antenna outside the hotel. The next year he extended the range across the Solent to Bournemouth and Poole.
The bay was once home to a pier - the 370-foot long pier did not last too long, being destroyed by a storm in 1927.
Above Alum Bay is a wonderful - if short - stretch of high moorland walking called Headon Warren. Just below it lies Headon Battery, part of which has already been claimed by the land which is slowly slipping towards the sea.
location UID #31
The light and aetherial Totland Pier was built in 1880 to service steamers from around the island and the mainland. Originally 450 feet long it was extended in 1916; unusually this was to landward, as erosion had pushed the shoreline back.
Although still extant the pier looks as though it has seen better days, the fencing giving it more of an industrial than a pleasure look.
location UID #32
Fort Victoria was a battery built in 1855 to protect the western approaches to the Solent; it worked in conjunction with Hurst Fort, which was built around Henry VIII’s Hurst Castle on a shingle spit that projects out into the Solent.
The accommodation barracks was demolished in 1969, but the casements and surrounding grounds are now part of the Fort Victoria Country Park, which includes a planetarium and a marine aquarium. A trail through the grounds has scale markers representing the distance of the planets from the sun.
location UID #33
Yarmouth and Yarmouth Castle
The town of Yarmouth was granted the first royal town charter on the Isle of Wight in 1135. It nestles at the mouth of the River Yar (as there are two Yar's on the small island, this one is known as the ‘western’ Yar).
Several sackings by the French led Henry VIII to construct Yarmouth Castle in 1547. This is in the care of English Heritage, although it is rather dominated by the ferry terminal and pier that lie on either side. The castle secured the town and led to the wonderful mix of buildings that stand around the High Street.
location UID #34
To travel between Yarmouth and Freshwater Bay by bus, then you need to take the half-hourly Southern Vectis Route 7 service that runs between Newport and Alum Bay, calling at Freshwater and Totland on the way. You can then change at Totland or Frehswater for the infrequent Southern Vectis Route 12 service that runs between Totland and Newport, calling at Freshwater Bay on the way.
However, it may be quicker and easier to take the route 7 service from Yarmouth to Freshwater, before walking the couple of miles back to the coast at Freshwater Bay.