Walking the Isle of Wight Coast Path

by Christine Saul

Our very own Customer Services Supervisor Christine recently enjoyed a fantastic walking holiday along the Isle of Wight Coast Path with her faithful Labrador, Bella. Here is how they got on:


The Isle of Wight was a fantastic location for a mid-March, early spring walking break. It lived up to its name for being one of the sunniest locations in the UK; I was blessed with sunshine every day, although most of the time it was a bit too hazy to make out the truly spectacular clear views. Some days there was a cold early morning wind, but later on the sunshine soon warmed us up. I chose to walk from Yarmouth on the west, along the south coast and finish at Ryde on the north-east side of the island.

Yarmouth to Freshwater Bay is probably the most famous stretch of the Coast Path, passing the infamous chalk pinnacles known as The Needles. On leaving Yarmouth, the trail passed through woodland and the Fort Victoria Country Park – where a carved, life-sized, wooden soldier sat on a bench – before heading inland briefly through a holiday park and descending back down to the seawall and the picturesque Totland Bay. The path continued along the seawall and then climbed up some steps to ascend Headon Hill to Headon Warren, a lovely contrast in terrain over wild heathland with lots of yellow gorse in bloom, and home to a number of Bronze Age Barrows. From the top there were also fantastic 360 degree views over the island and to the mainland.

Sunset from Barefoot Cafe by Bridget Rylance

Continuing along the ridge path towards Alum Bay, The Needles – the most westerly point of the island – came into view in the distance. Descending from Headon Warren, the path passed an old fort and Pleasure Park at the head of Alum Bay, before heading uphill towards Coastguard Cottages and The Needles, making a slight detour off the trail to The Needles viewpoint. Heading east, the trail then ascended onto the high white chalk cliffs of West High Down, which later became Tennyson Down passing the Tennyson Monument, the highest point on the down; again there were fantastic views from the top of the Down. From here it was easy walking over grassy cliff tops eventually descending to Freshwater Bay.

© Freshwater Bay by Garry Knight

While walking along the sea front of Freshwater Bay, there are views of more chalk stacks known as the ‘Little Needles’. From the bay the path climbed up some wooden steps onto Afton Down. I was soon delayering on the uphill climb on another warm sunny day. The trail continued along the high cliffs and the south eastern coast as the cliffs changed from white chalk to sandstone and clay, and it was mostly easy walking. Big waves and sunshine had brought lots of weekend surfers out at Brook Bay. There was a lot of erosion on the cliffs along this section of trail, and some quite recent cliff collapses required small detours around yet-to-be newly trodden-in paths. There was a ploughing match taking place in the fields just before Brighstone, and the seagulls must be well fed on the Isle of Wight as there was no sight of seagulls flocking for a worm feast in the freshly turned furrows.

At Grange Chine in Brighstone it was down and up some very muddy steps back onto high cliffs to Shepherds Chine; here the path that went down and up the Chine was closed due to landslips, so a minor detour took the trail around the chine through a derelict holiday camp. The word ‘Chine’ is a Southern English term for a steep-sided river valley where the river flows into the sea through eroding coastal cliffs. The trail continued along high cliffs, eventually heading slightly inland to Chale village where I stopped off in the Wight Mouse Inn for some well-earned tea and cake.

From Chale the trail heads uphill back onto the high cliffs, with views inland of St Catherine’s Hill and out to sea, as well as the Undercliff and the lighthouse on St Catherine’s Point, the southernmost point of the island. Eventually the path descends down some steps to St Lawrence passing Ventnor Botanic Gardens, with a couple more ups and downs until the trail eventually drops down from the cliff path into Ventnor Esplanade.

© St Catherine's Hill by Herry Lawford

The trail continued along Ventnor promenade for about a mile, followed by a steady uphill climb through wooded paths past Bonchurch Old Church, across The Landslip and past a Wishing Seat to the top of Luccombe Chine. It continued along the top of Luccombe Cliffs with good views over to Shanklin and Sandown. Descending down to Shanklin beach it passed lots of traditional beach huts on the promenade.  In Shanklin there were two trail options; either climb back up onto cliff tops to Sandown or walk along the promenade. I chose the lower promenade route so my dog, Bella, who accompanied me on my walk from Ventnor onwards, could have a run around on the beach and take a dip in the sea. About a mile along the promenade, past more people enjoying the Sunday sun sat outside their beach huts, I arrived at Sandown Pier.

From Sandown Pier it was a walk along the promenade past the zoo, heading towards the white cliffs of Culver Down. It was a gradual climb to the top of Culver Down with good views back to Sandown. I had a slight delay/battle with some cows on the summit of the down; the path/small lane was blocked by a herd of cows who had all gathered next to a cattle grid. The extremely docile, stubborn cows wouldn't budge, even with three cars trying to get past as well. If I had not been with my dog Bella, I'd have pushed my way through them as they were very calm and friendly, but this is not advised with a dog in tow! In the end it took about 20 minutes to get past them.

© Simon Harrod © Garry Knight © Vasile Cotovanu

Eventually I reached the Yarborough monument on the summit of Culver Down. From there the trail descended slightly on a wooded path to Whitecliff Bay, past an old school/outdoor centre and a dolphin statue carved out of a fallen tree, descending gradually to Bembridge Pier and the Life Boat station. I walked along the beach shortly before the coast path signs lead you away to Bembridge Point. It was a road walk to St Helens past some amazing houseboats in Bembridge harbour where the trail then joined a causeway, with an old mill dam wall across Bembridge harbour to the St Helens Duver (Duver being another local term for an area of sand dunes). Continuing on to St Helen’s beach I took a slight detour along the coast past the remains of the 12th century St Helens Church. The trail then turned inland for a bit across fields to Seagrove Bay, and then onto Seaview village. Another tea and cake stop was called for at Lily’s café, which was very dog friendly as Bella was even given a big Boneo dog biscuit to enjoy.

From Seaview yacht club it was easy walking along Seaview Duver and the sea wall promenade past Puckpool Park, all the way to Ryde Pier with fantastic views across the Solent to Portsmouth. There’s a very nice chocolate café in Ryde called the Chocolate Apothecary, which was also dog friendly and a great place for a delicious chocolate brownie treat to celebrate finishing my walk.

I thoroughly enjoyed walking the Isle of Wight Coast Path; it was a very enjoyable trail, with easy to moderate walking and lots of variety in terrain. Very easy to navigate, it was clearly way-marked all along its length. Being early spring I had the trail to myself a lot of the time, and being out of season it was ‘doggie heaven’ on the beaches with no dog bans during the winter months, therefore it was also a perfect dog friendly trail.

Contours Holidays pride ourselves on our expert knowledge of the UK’s trails. We regularly set out to check our routes and directions and to make improvements on the holidays we offer. You can find several write-ups of staff expeditions in our Trail Diaries.

Originally published 27/05/16

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