The Isle of Wight Coastal Path is an exhilarating walk around the island's coastline. It can easily be done in four or five days of walking, although very fit people may choose to do it in as little as three. The nature of the path is varied and is in many ways a microcosm of the mainland's coastline. It varies from expansive sandy beaches around Ryde to high, deserted clifftops in the south. If you cannot afford ten months to walk the mainland's coastline, then this is a good alternative.
The natural start point of the walk is from either West or East Cowes, although it can easily be started from anywhere else on the circuit, for instance Ryde or Yarmouth. It can be walked in either clockwise or anticlockwise direction, and on this website the route is described in a clockwise direction.
The trail can be extended by walking upstream alongside the Medina to Newport, before returning to Cowes along the other bank. This extension adds around ten miles onto the trail. Alternatively, the Cowes floating bridge offers a quick route across the Medina.
Map of the trail
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.
Unless you are lucky enough to live on the island, then the most important transport is getting across the Solent. Unfortunately there are no scheduled passenger flights to the island's sole airfield, which means that ferries provide the only transport across the Solent.
There are two types of ferry: passenger only and vehicle/passenger ferries. These are detailed here:
Lymington to Yarmouth. (vehicle and foot passengers). Operated by Wight Link. This service is very handy for the western end of the island and the Needles.
Southampton to East Cowes (vehicle and foot passengers). This is a Red Funnel vehicle ferry.
Southampton to West Cowes (foot passengers only). This is a Red Funnel Red Jet passenger-only service, a quick way across to the island. A regular bus service runs from the ferry terminal in Cowes to Newport.
Portsmouth to Fishbourne (vehicle and foot passengers). Operated by Wight Link.
Portsmouth to Ryde (foot passengers only). This is a catamaran service to Ryde Pier Head operated by Wight Link. You can either walk to the shore from the pier head or use the train to get to Ryde.
Southsea to Ryde (foot passenger hovercraft). By far the quickest and most spectacular way across to the island, this service is operated by Hovertravel, and drop you off right at the seafront in Ryde.
Transport on the island is very good. A solitary railway line (using old London Underground tube line stock) runs from Ryde Pier to Shanklin, with several intermediate stations. Although the railway may be useful when walking the eastern side of the island, it is not much use for the rest of the island.
Fortunately the island is well served by buses run by Southern Vectis. Most of these services radiate out from Newport and cover all corners of the island. Unfortunately the southern coast is not well served, and some planning may be needed if walking this coast in short sections.
Explorer 29 (Isle of Wight)
Landranger 196 (The Solent & The Isle of Wight, Southampton & Portsmouth)
The following schedules are advisory. They indicate various ways that the trail can be split up into walks of several lengths, with convenient end-points for each day's walk.
Naturally, you may want to alter this according to whether you are staying in B&B's, hostels, camping or are doing the walk in sections and are relying on public transport. Your own walk will probably vary from the itineraries shown below.
The Isle of Wight council closed all the tourist information centres on the island in March 2011. This means that it is best to get any information before you travel to the island. They have a very good tourism website called Island Breaks.
When to walk
It is possible to walk the coast of the island at any time of the year. Obviously the summer would be the best time of year in terms of weather, but accommodation becomes harder to get, especially during Easter and the summer holidays. Accommodation prices also tend to increase during the summer season.
Being situated on the south coast, the island's climate is generally milder than most of the UK, particularly in terms of hours of sunshine during the year. Having said that, any coastal walk can be exposed during bad weather and the Isle of Wight Coastal Path is no exception.
The island also tends to get busy during the Isle of Wight Festival, which is held near Newport in June each year. The same can also be said about the Bestival music festival which is held every September.
Perhaps the best time to walk is in late spring and early autumn, when the days are of reasonable length and the tourist season is either ramping up or coming to an end. Having said that, walking the island in winter can also be very rewarding if you are hardy.
Flora and Fauna
The differing geology of the Isle of Wight means that it is a varied place for wildlife. The chalk ridge that bisects the island west to east separates Cretaceous limestone and marls to the north from Teriary greensands to the south.
This variety of terrain, combined with the fact it is an island, means that it supports myriad flora and fauna. In particular it is known as being one of the Red Squirrel's last refuges in England. Much of the island has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.