Around the Wight (Part 3) - Yarmouth to Brighstone

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Things just get better and better for you ambitious circumnavigators. There is only about 1km road-walking in total on this section and scenery really to go on about. At last we start to enjoy the truly wild 'Back of the Wight'. Start your walk with some 'people-watching' in Yarmouth, a short road-walk and then into the wild. Okay, the first stretch at Fort Victoria is a sort of manicured wild, but pause to look at the sea rushing past here. I guess it must be caused by the constriction of Hurst Beach on the mainland and Sconce Point. The incoming tide absolutely flies along this part of the coast. There are lots to see and do at Fort Victoria, even outside of main season. The planetarium is very good if you have an hour to spare. Keep an eye out for the information boards within Fort Victoria Country Park.

A short 1.7km section of sea wall-walking allows the eyes to wander away from the job of watching your step to enjoying the great seascape. There are opportunities for refreshments at Colwell and Totland Bays, but do have a peep around the side of the old lifeboat house just before you leave the latter bay. Tucked away is a neat little rhyme that helps you figure out the approximate state of the tide from the phase of the moon. A steep, stepped climb from the end of the sea wall delivers a short road section then a footpath which brings you to Headon Warren. There are lots to keep you interested here, from archaeology to biology and nautical to past warfare - and the views!

Descending the dry heath of the Warren drops you into a seasonal city of grockles (islanders' affectionate term for holiday-makers) at Needles Park. Some walkers are a bit prejudiced against the bustling holiday parks, attractions and towns. They do intrude on the natural coastline, but are useful to the walker and soon fade into the distance. Personally I don't mind seeing the mark of humans in the landscape, within reason. You make up your own mind about Needles Park at Alum Bay. It is claimed to be the most popular destination on the island. A short, easy climb and you are soon at the western end of the island. I repeat my recommendation about the little detour off-route to the former rocket-testing site overlooking The Needles.

You finally turn eastwards and the whole of the back of the Wight from Freshwater to St Catherine’s Point swings into view; the notorious smuggling side of the diamond. As you walk it, you will see why. I always feel that from this vantage and especially from the top of Tennyson Down, it seems as if you are on a separate little island and with the land so low-lying from Yarmouth to Freshwater, you almost are. The top of Tennyson Down is an inspirational spot and must have helped the great poet with writer's block.

Freshwater provides the next refuelling station, with a fairly long walk of at least 3km to any subsequent. In fact it is possible (out of season) for there to be no refreshment opportunities until past the end of this walk in Brighstone. In addition, this involves a further 1.4km walk inland to the village. For (out of season) circumnavigators who are continuing past Grange Chine, there can be nothing between Freshwater and Ventnor, unless you detour to one of the pubs in Niton. So stock up, especially with water. One little pearl amongst all this sand is that IoW Pearl Cafe does stay open all year round. See website and phone number in 'Additional Information'.

Leaving our stomachs behind and returning to our feet, still firmly planted in Freshwater Bay, the climb out of the bay approaches the high cliff edge, so always choose the upper path. As you leave the chalk behind you, travel back to the time of the dinosaur and you will probably see fossil hunters from Shippards Chine through to Brook Bay, maybe even fossils or dinosaur footprints if you take the beach option here. The latter are best seen at Hanover Point but only on a very low spring tide.

Evidence of the continuous erosion (it is mostly the rain, not the sea that causes it) is ever-present, with several undercliffs created by large collapses and sheer drops rather too close to the old chalets to make for a relaxing holiday. Sadly for the walker, this does cause an ongoing problem for beach access at the deeper chines where the steps can be closed off from time to time. There are many places where a little scramble up the safer shallow cliffs is possible, but watch out for an almost liquid, grey clay that oozes out of the cliff and is another culprit in the erosion, acting as a lubricant. It presents no serious risks; it can always be safely avoided, being usually localised in small, 10 to 20m-wide stripes.

Note to Wight circumnavigators:
having walked the entire coastal path every year for the last ten or so, I feel reasonably well-qualified to express my opinion on it, having seen it in mostly baking sunshine, some howling gales and last year (2010), in deep snow. (I left it a bit late). Hares do the whole circuit in three days and tortoises, as slow as they like. I used to be a hare, but now I prefer to enjoy it, usually with my home on my back. I can recommend camping or B&B. Each has its own merits, generally predetermined by the weather. Anticlockwise is preferable in my opinion, especially if you start at Ryde and intend to do the whole circuit.

England - South England - Isle of Wight - Coast

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