Walking The Isle of Wight Coastal Path: Part 5 - The Needles to Cowes

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Stage 10: The Needles to Yarmouth

6 miles, 2 hours

From the Needles Old Battery follow the path that heads Northeast to the Needles Pleasure Park and Alum Bay. The Needles Pleasure Park has several attractions and places to eat, and also includes a memorial to Marconi1 and fine views out to sea. Alum Bay is famous for its multi-coloured sand cliffs, 20 different coloured sands naturally occur here. Perhaps the best way to descend the cliff is by the chairlift which has operated here since 1973, a rare opportunity to sit down.

Heading away from Alum Bay and the Needles Pleasure Park the path turns Northeast, up Headon Hill to your left, passing Heatherwood Battery and through Headon Warren, a heather-covered cliff top. Follow the path around the prehistoric burial mound and then down hill, follow the road to the left, heading into Totland Bay and the coast. In Totland Bay you can actually descend to beach level at steps at Widdick Chine and walk on the beach, passing Totland Pier, which has a café, round Warden Point and into Colwell Bay. Colwell Bay, a sign proudly informs you, is a Coastal Award Area, although a Second World War pillbox reminds you that visitors weren't always so welcome here. However, you can get a very good view of Hurst Castle on the mainland side of the Solent from here.

Halfway along Colwell Bay you will see a road that leads to the beach. The coastal path signs are a bit misleading, but you need to go along this road inland to the top of the cliff and then follow the coast at the top of the cliff. If you continue along the beach you will soon reach a dead end with no way round the coast and a very slippy sheer clay cliff2, with the brick battleship of Fort Albert nearby.

From the top of the cliff follow the path inland around Brambles Chine Holiday Camp and Cliff End Fort, another Victorian fort, down Monks Lane and follow the cobbled path at the end of the lane into the wooded grounds of Fort Victoria Country Park. This Victorian fort, built in 1852-5 to defend the narrow straight of the Solent, is now the site of an aquarium, maritime museum, planetarium, and model railway as well as nature trails. There is a café, toilets and good views of the Solent from here.

Follow the path out of the country park, across the road and along the coast on the outskirts of Norton before arriving at Bridge Road, and the Yar Bridge swing bridge across the River Yar3 and into the town of Yarmouth.

Stage 11: Yarmouth to Shalfleet

6 miles, 2 hours

Yarmouth is one of the oldest towns on the Island and was mentioned in the Domesday Book as the town as Ermud. It has a castle, built in 1547 after the French invasion of the Isle of Wight in 1545 and owned by English Heritage, and a pier that opened in 1876. Yarmouth also has shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants and a Tourist Information centre next to the ferry terminal, where cars and passengers travelling from Lymington disembark.

From the ferry terminal follow the High Street through the town of Yarmouth onto the A3054, the coastal road that heads due east to the hamlet of Bouldnor. Here walk to the end of Victoria Road and pick up the coastal path. The coastal path follows the outskirts of Bouldnor Copse rather than the coastline, as the path follows the top of the cliff. Bouldnor Copse is owned by the Forestry Commission and is one of the best places on the Island to catch a glimpse of a rare red squirrel. Enter into West Close, then head down Sea View Road on the left, then take a right towards Werst Hamstead Farm, then follow the path to Hamstead Farm, rejoining the Coastal path that follows the top of Hamstead Cliff to Hamstead Ledge, round Hamstead Point to Lower Hamstead Farm near Hamstead Quay and through Lower Hamstead onto the Hamstead Trail. This part of the Island is known as Hamstead. At the end of the Hamstead Trail turn left onto Hamstead Drive, pass Hamstead Road and the Lower Hamstead Plantation as you cross Ningwood Lake, part of the Newtown Estuary.

Back on the A3054 main road, turn left and follow the road past Nunnesys Wood into the small village of Shalfleet, which despite its small size has a proud history and is mentioned in the Domesday Book and has a Manor and mill.

Stage 12: Shalfleet to Thorness Bay

5 miles, 2 hours

From Shalfleet head left past the New Inn pub up Corf Road. This leads past Corf Camp, an area owned by the Scouts and used as one of their main campsites. Past the lane to Corf Camp take Town Lane on the left, over Newtown Bridge up to Newtown, an area owned by the National Trust.

Newtown was once the capital of the Isle of Wight, having oyster beds and the Newtown Estuary made it an easily accessible and busy port. However as a town it never had much luck, being destroyed first by Sweyn, father of King Cnut, during the reign of Æthelred II in 1001, suffering frequent raids from the French before finally being completely destroyed by the French in 1377. Newtown did continue to be the political capital of the Island, sending two MPs to Parliament, until the Great Reform Act of 1832.4 The remains of the Town Hall, dating to 1699, is open to the public.

Take the lane on the right past the Town Hall and follow the path, and later the road, Southeast around the Newtown estuary, before heading North up the road into Porchfield, a small hamlet with a pub known as the Sportsman's Rest. It is important to keep to the road in this area as the land near the estuary is owned by the Ministry of Defence who use it as a Firing Range, which is why it is labelled 'Danger Area' on all maps. Follow the road up to the top of Bunts Hill and just before Bunts Hill Copse there is a footpath on your left to Thorness. Follow this footpath to Thorness Bay Holiday Centre, holiday chalets around a central Osborne-towered building, and then take the lane north to Thorness Bay, where you will be reunited with the Solent seashore.

Stage 13: Thorness Bay to Cowes

5 miles, 2 hours

Thorness Bay is a quiet, secluded spot where marsh land, mud flats and sand combine to form a bird lover's paradise. Follow the beach to your right, heading along the coast until the path takes you up the bank onto what becomes a low cliff top. Follow the path round to the village of Gurnard, following the coast until you see the luck run out. The Gurnard Luck is a river with a small harbour at its mouth. Gurnard is named after a type of bird known as the Gurnet that was once common here. From here follow the road, Marsh Road, Northeast a short distance around Gurnard Cliff, as it becomes Solent View Road. At the end of this, turn left down the hill down Worsley Road to the Esplanade. This Esplanade, known as Prince's Esplanade, was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1926 and links the village of Gurnard with Cowes along the Solent coast.

Following the Esplanade, passing the public convenience on the right, you soon pass a charming town sign labelled 'Cowes' on a yacht background. Shortly after that you reach Egypt Lighthouse. This small, beacon-shaped lighthouse marks Egypt Point, the northernmost tip of the Isle of Wight. Egypt Point Lighthouse was operational between 1897 and 1989 and is now used as a sea marker for yachts coming into Cowes. From here it is a short walk East to Cowes Castle, home of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the home of international sailing. From here follow The Parade south to the end where the seafront promenade ends. Head up the hill up Watch House Lane, and take the road on the left into Cowes town centre. Here there are numerous restaurants, pubs, shops and cafes, including a Beatles themed one, and in following the pedestrianised High Street you will soon arrive back at the Red Funnel ferry terminal, where the walk around the Island began.

Walking The Isle of Wight Coastal Path
1Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radio, sent his first over-water radio signal from this point in 1897, initially to a boat and later to Bournemouth and Poole. In 1898 he transmitted the first paid radio signal from Alum Bay and in 1899 he contacted Alum Bay from 70 miles away at sea.2These cliffs cannot be climbed and any attempt to do so would result in sinking into the cliff. Hence the warning signs which state, 'Danger of Death - Blue Clay - Do Not Climb'.3This is the Western River Yar. There are two River Yars on the Island, with the other at Bembridge, as 'Yar' was an old English word meaning 'River'.4Sadly since the 1832 Great Reform Act the Isle of Wight has only had one MP representing the entire population of the Isle of Wight, over 135,000 people, making the Isle of Wight's inhabitants the least politically represented people in the entire United Kingdom.

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