I once followed the coastal path round the Isle of Wight. The trip never made it onto this website, as I lost my camera and all my photos a few miles from the end. I wanted to revisit the island, therefore, so that I could at least say something about it.
I didn't fancy repeating the coastal walk. Long sections are quite dull. The three best bits are Culver Down in the east, St. Catherine's Hill at the southern tip and Tennyson Down in the far west. Two of these can be visited by following the ridge through the centre of the island, from Bembridge to the Needles. This route also takes in some fine uplands neglected by the perimeter path.
The downside is that much of the eastern part of the ridge is topped by a busy road. From Brading to Ashley Down it's very walkable, with wide verges and permissive paths along the margins of adjoining fields. The section from Ashley to Arreton Down can also be walked, but it's not much fun. There's a path by the side of the road so it's never dangerous, but if I did the trip again I would pick up the Bembridge Trail where it crosses the ridge and follow it to the craft village near Arreton. After Arreton there are good tracks almost all the way to the Needles.
The bus dropped me outside the Whitecliff Bay holiday park. A right of way leads through the park to the coastal path, then up onto Culver Down. The short section of clifftop walking before the climb reminded me why I had disliked the coastal path. Too often it twists and turns through dense vegetation, so that you feel you are going nowhere slowly. I was glad to emerge onto the breezy summit of the Down.
The views from the top are outstanding. To the left across the wide sweep of Sandown Bay is the chalk upland forming the southern tip of the island. Northward lies Portsmouth, with Spinnaker Tower billowing over the water. Up ahead the long chalk ridge curves gently as it marches across the island.
A road and a bit of trespassing took me to Brading. From the village a footpath zigzags up onto Brading Down - a sweaty climb on a scorching afternoon. The rewards were a breeze of sorts and more outstanding views. Like Culver Down, Brading Down is a popular viewpoint and one that can be reached by car, so be prepared for company!
Fired with a desire to stay on the chalk I kept to the road over Ashley and Mersley Downs. Although the views were unabated the path kept close to the road, winding through tussocky grass and beds of nettles. The heat, and the constant thump of vehicles flashing by made it difficult to concentrate on the beauties of nature, and I was glad to reach Arreton Down and descend to the Craft Village south of the ridge. There's a pub there with a cool and pleasant interior, so the walk was put on hold for a while.
From Arreton Cross the Bembridge Trail swings north in the direction of Newport. It crosses St. George's Down, where the chalk disappears beneath gravel and blazing clusters of gorse. Finally it dips down to the valley of the Medina. To reach Carisbrooke where the Tennyson Trail begins I cut through the southern suburbs of Newport - dull walking, but it got me to where I needed to be.
For cheap and cheerful eating in Carisbrooke, try the Waverley. Sausage, egg and chips, with extra egg and added carbohydrate in the shape of a baguette came to little more than a fiver. All good, nourishing food!
From Carisbrooke to the Needles I followed the Tennyson Trail, an outstanding walk which begins well and just gets better. Leaving Carisbrooke it ascends Bowcombe Down, with views back to the famous castle. Then, as it reaches for the chalk massif in the centre of the island, the views open up all around. For three miles the trail sweeps onwards, until it enters Brighstone Forest and the views are gone.
It was dark when I reached the further edge of the forest. I could sense the sea, somewhere out ahead, but there was nothing to be seen. A few lights gleamed in the shadowy gulf below, but apart from that I was alone.
I followed the track westward for a little way, along the margin of the forest. Under the trees a deep bed of beech leaves had accumulated; and there in the quiet night I settled down, as warm and comfortable as I have ever been.