Thursday 4 August 2016
Freshwater to Ventnor
Appuldurcombe Gardens Holiday Park, Wroxall
I left the Youth Hostel just after 8am as yesterday I’d spied a cafe in Freshwater Bay that opened at 8.30. The Piano Cafe was lovely and one customer even tickled the ivories while I was there (it was Mozart or something that he played and we all applauded at the end).
Suitably refreshed and fuelled I set off from Freshwater Bay in the sunshine. There was a gale force South-Westerly wind. At times during the day huge gusts would catch my rucksack and attempt to spin me round. It felt like a fight most of the way but I won so I was happy.
Looking back towards The Needles it was striking how the cliffs changed halfway around Compton Bay. Echoing the Jurassic Coast (which the Isle of Wight would have butted up against when it was joined to the mainland) the cliffs changed from white chalk to a red sandstone and then clay. This resulted in the water changing from an opaque, milky colour, to a rusty red and then a muddy brown. Amazing.
There was plenty of surf and surfers were out in Compton Bay. I passed a few campsites on the cliff and many of the tents looked like their poles were going to break. I walked through one campsite and couldn’t believe it when I read a sign outside one small tent with a big shelter and a brick-built stove. The sign advertised yoga lessons and was signed by Seaside Steve! Judging by his gear he must have been home and driven to this campsite. I was sorry he wasn’t in.
All along the South coast the path and the road (known as The Military Road) hug the edge of the crumbling cliffs. I can’t see either lasting forever. There is also plenty of evidence of landslides to complement the erosion. Today I could feel the force of nature for myself. These clay cliffs are supposed to be the best place to hunt for dinosaur fossils and I did see a couple of people looking.
I negotiated my way around 6 chines (gouges in the cliff with streams flowing out), the most impressive being Whale Chine.
On the clifftop near Shepherd’s Chine someone had jury rigged a zip line to send diving gear down to the beach below.
Just before St Catherine’s Point the path climbed uphill, through Chale and around the Blackgang Chine Theme Park. I could hear the screams of people riding a rollercoaster.
I could see St Catherine’s Oratory on the top of the hill. I didn’t climb up to see it and probably should have done to see this pepperpot beacon that served as the island’s first (Mediaeval) lighthouse. It was built in 1328 by Walter de Godeton on the orders of the Papal Court because he (and others) drank the shipment of wine they recovered from a nearby shipwreck. What a brilliant punishment.
I turned the corner around the Island’s most southerly point and almost immediately got some relief from the wind.
The next section followed the ‘Undercliff of the Isle of Wight’; a continuous, narrow strip of landslipped terrain that runs 8 miles from Blackgang to Luccombe Bay. I could have been in East Devon (except this was bigger). The same types of rocks were involved in this landslip too: Upper Greensand and chalk, as well as Gault Clay.
As it is south-facing, The Undercliff has one of the mildest, sunniest and most equable climates in Britain. This explains the profusion of palm trees in St Lawrence and the Ventnor Botanic Gardens.
The path started on the top of the high, inland cliffs and then dropped down onto The Undercliff at St Lawrence. This is a pretty little town with large Victorian houses studded into the cliff.
I descended the steps to Steephill Cove; somewhere I’ve been before. It was quite busy but nevertheless I stopped for an icecream just for old times sake. I was tired. Fortunately it wasn’t much further to Ventnor and here I ended my walk as I could catch a bus. I hadn’t wanted to camp on the South coast as it was too windy and there were no campsites the length of The Undercliff so I headed a couple of miles inland to Wroxall.
I liked this campsite; it had a cafe and a laundry. I was able to dry my handwashed clothes while eating a cheap chilli and drinking a mug of tea. Thank goodness I didn’t have to walk to a pub.