Walking The Isle of Wight Coastal Path: Part 1 - Introduction

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Despite being only 26 miles wide and 23 miles long at its widest points, the Isle of Wight has over 600 miles of footpaths and bridleways, with most of the Island classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. One of the best ways to explore the Island on foot is to walk the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, a footpath that runs 72 miles1 around the Island's 64 mile coastline.

Walking The Wight

The Isle of Wight Council takes walking very seriously and encourage ramblers to the Island. The UK's largest Walking Festival, the Isle of Wight Walking Festival. This is a two week event held annually in May. This involves several walks, including walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, either in stages of various lengths and even a non-stop all 72 miles in 24 hours. The Walking Festival has been hosted on the Isle of Wight for many years.

The Island also boasts a unique footpath classification system. Every footpath and bridleway on the Island has its own number relating to which of the 20 parishes in which it is located. So footpaths in Cowes have numbers beginning CS, footpaths in Newport begin N etc.2, which helps guide hikers to the right footpath. It had been hoped by the Isle of Wight Council when they implemented this system that these footpath numbers would appear on Ordnance Survey maps. Inexplicably the Ordnance Survey have chosen not to print this extremely useful information on their maps, with no answer as to why not provided.

The Isle Of Wight Coastal Path, despite this, is easily followed and it is generally well signed, with almost all signs displaying the route's seagull logo on a blue background, and many also give the next destination and distance to it.


When walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path a strong pair of boots or trainers is recommended. Footwear should ideally provide strong ankle support, good grip, be waterproof and lightweight. Although you can follow the coastal path signs, due to coastal errosion it is quite likely that you will need to divert from the established path, and so it is recommended that you take an up-to-date Ordnance Survey map with you – ideally OS Outdoor Leisure Map 29, which is 1:25,000 scale, although OS Landranger Map 196 at 1:50,000 scale is also acceptable. These can be found in outdoor pursuits and tourist information across the Island or ordered online in advance.

Walkers should familiarise themselves with the Country Code and be aware of the dangers that walking near cliff edges can face – never attempt the Coastal Path in the dark. The terrain and climate during the walk can also vary significantly. The Eastern Wight is generally well sheltered from the weather, warm, with secure limestone and chalk underfoot. Unprotected walkers are often quickly sunburnt during the summer. The West Wight is windy, exposed to the elements and has a large proportion of clay soil, including the type known as 'blue slipper', which is susceptible to coastal erosion and cannot be reliably trod on. Sinking into the clay can be a problem in wet weather and as it sticks to boots and trainers, it can make getting a secure foothold a problem, especially when traversing the chines. A chine is an Isle of Wight and Dorset term for where a river meets the edge of a cliff and gradually, over time, erodes the cliff to form a V-Shaped gorge.

It is possible to do the walk with organisations that arrange for a guide and/or baggage carrying. Similarly, walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path as part of the Walking Festival can provide a completely different walking experience to that of walking the path on your own or in a small group. Although you gain the reassurance that you are going the right way, walking in a large group might possibly detract from the experience of seeing the Isle of Wight's stunning coastline in isolation. If you do walk on your own it is recommended that you take a phone and/or whistle with you, consider carrying a first aid kit and keep someone informed of your progress at all times.

The Route

The Isle of Wight is roughly a diamond shape3, with the capital, Newport, in the middle. The Northernmost point is the town of Cowes, the Easternmost is the village of Bembridge, the Southernmost point is St Catherine's Point and the Westernmost point are the Needles. From the northernmost point to Newport in the centre the Island is divided by the tidal River Medina, with the town of Cowes4 on the river's West shore and the town of East Cowes on the East. If you are fortunate enough to live on the Isle of Wight there is no reason not to start the walk from the most convenient location, or walk in either direction. As a broadly circular route, it is possible to pick the route up virtually anywhere, and the entire Island is within 10 miles of the sea.

For those who live on the Mainland it is common to begin the walk from one of the ferry terminals where the ferries from the Mainland dock. These are, from west to east:

  • Yarmouth - the car and pedestrian ferry from Lymington.
  • Cowes - the high-speed pedestrian ferry from Southampton.
  • East Cowes - the car ferry from Southampton.
  • ,
  • Fishbourne - the car and pedestrian ferry from Portsmouth.
  • Ryde - Ryde Pier Head is where the car and pedestrian ferry from Portsmouth docks, Ryde Esplanade is where the pedestrian hovercraft from Southsea lands.

Cowes, being the middle of the Island's north shore as well as the northernmost point is a good starting point and from Cowes it is possible to walk to each of the four corners of the Island in four days, although the walk is divided into different stages to allow for flexible timing. Walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path is most commonly completed in five days.

The route runs along land owned by bodies as diverse as the Isle of Wight Council, the National Trust and local farmers. It is generally a footpath only, meaning that it is mostly unsuitable for cyclists, horses and motor traffic, although some short sections are along roads or Bridleway. In common with the rest of the Island's public paths, some signs include the path number, which whilst not displayed on maps, is referenced on the Council's website if any section has to be closed, as well as the distance in miles to destinations on that route.

The Route Described

All distances and timings are approximations. The time taken especially varies on the speed of the walker, the weather and state of terrain encountered and the time taken for rests, stops, admiring the view etc. The timings should therefore be considered a minimum amount of time required, with the time taken between destinations in reality likely to be higher.

Walking The Isle of Wight Coastal Path
Isle of Wight Council Rights Of WayRights Of WayCountry WalkingNatural EnglandRamblers AssociationIsle of Wight Walking FestivalDefinitive Maps of Isle of Wight Rights of Way Ordnance SurveyTudor Castles on and around Isle of WightRailways on the Isle of Wight, UKCarisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight, UKDoughnuts and Isle of Wight DelicaciesAircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1900 - 1919Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1920 - 1945Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1946 - 1960Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1960 - 2000The Isle of Wight Space ProgrammeHovercraft on the Isle of Wight, UKThe Pepper Pot, Isle of Wight, UKPiers Of The Isle of Wight, UKShanklin Pier, Isle of Wight, UKPiers of the West Wight, Isle of Wight, UKPiers of the East Wight, Isle of Wight, UKPiers of East and West Cowes, Isle of Wight, UKSandown Pier, Isle of Wight, UKVentnor Piers, Isle of Wight, UKAnglo-Saxon Isle of WightAnglo-Saxon Isle of Wight: ChurchesThe America's Cup and Cowes, Isle of Wight, UKChristmas Traditions of the Isle of WightShroven on the Isle of WightIsle Of Wight ShipwrecksIsle of Wight Radar During The Second World WarWalkingOrienteeringHiking Around Loch Na GarSouth West Coast PathA New Forest Walk - Ashurst to BrockenhurstHadrian's Wall: A Journey Along the Edge of the EmpireSefton Coastal Footpath
1Eighty miles including navigating the tidal River Medina.2The codes are: A - Arreton, B – Brading, BB – Bembridge, BS – Brighstone, C – Chale, CB – Calbourne, CS – Cowes, F – Freshwater, G – Gatcombe, GL – Godshill, N – Newport, NC – Newchurch, NT - Niton & Whitwell, R – Ryde, S – Shalfleet, SS - Sandown & Shanklin, SW – Shorwell, T – Totland, V – Ventnor and Y – Yarmouth.3This is reflected on the Isle of Wight's flag, which is a diamond above blue waves.4Also occasionally referred to as West Cowes to distinguish it from East Cowes, but more popularly known simply as Cowes.

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