Safe sandy beaches sheltered from the prevailing winds are the main attraction of the cost of the Isle of Wight. But the coastline includes more dramatic landscapes – isolated bays, narrow ravines or ‘chines’ and, on the more exposed south-west coast, precipitous cliffs revealing chalk beds that are the thickest in the country. All the features are linked by aa coastal footpath which runs round the entire island.
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The three 30m pinnacles of chalk standing in the sea are the remnants of a ridge which once joined the Isle of Wight to the mainland, a 40m pinnacle known as Lot’s Wife, stood in the chain’s largest gap; it collapsed in 1764. The lighthouse at the tip of the rocks to replace one on the clifftop.
A fort, Old Needles Battery, built in 1863 on the downs overlooking The Needles, has been restored by the National Trust and contains a museum of old gunnery.
The bay, names after the alum mined there as early as the 16th century, is baked by steep but insecure cliffs renowned for their coloured sands. White quartz, red iron oxide, yellow limonite and other minerals combine to create the mixture of colours.
A chair lift and flights of steps provide access to the pebbly beach. The bay is a favourite mooring spot, and there are boat trips to view the Needles. A leisure park with attractions sits at the top.
The fort, which stands on Sconce Point, is the remains of a structure built in 1853 to guard the Solent. It’s part of a 50 acre country park with picnic sites.
This neat little town lies beside a large, snug harbour set in the wooded banks of the river Yar, with wooded banks to the water’s edge. The Norton Beach is sandy and suitable for bathing.
Overlooking the harbour is a castle completed in 1547 as part of sea defences built by Henry VIII after his break with Rome. The original gun platform overlooking the Solent now forms a grassy terrace.
This tiny hamlet was, in the 17th century, a thriving port, but the only sign of its past glory s the town hall. Built in 1699, it fell in to disrepair in the 19th century as Newtown declined, but it has now been restored and is owned by the National Trust.
The Trust preserves the whole estuary which is an 800 acre nature reserve embracing five different types of habitat – salt-marsh, shingle, sand, woodland and pasture – and some 300 species of plants and 180 species of birds have been recorded here.
Narrow streets lead down to the mouth of the River Medina and to the harbour, crammed with the shipwright’s yards and yacht clubs of the world’s greatest yachting centre. The Royal Yacht Squadron commands the entrance to the harbour with a row of 21 little brass cannons. Though formed in 1815, the town didn’t become fashionable until 1890s when Edward, Prince of Wales, raced yachts there.
The Parade, which runs in front of the Royal Yacht Squadron and continues westward as the Prince’s Esplanade, is an ideal viewpoint from which to watch races, especially the numerous regattas held during the nine days of Cowes Week in August. Other major events include the Round the Island Race in June. A maritime museum in Cowes Library displays relics of the local shipbuilding industry over the last century.
Cowes is also the island’s main port, and car and passenger ferries and hydrofoils run regular services to and from the mainland.
Queen Victoria called Osborne her ‘little paradise’, after having it built for herself and her family as a country retreat in 1845-6. The house was built by Thomas Cubitt, to designs by Prince Albert. Around the Italianate villa are extensive gardens with collections of rare trees, and a full-sized Swiss chalet in which the royal children played.
Visitors can see the state and private apartments, preserved almost exactly as the Queen left them when she died in 1901.
The building of a half mile long pier in 1814 began the transformation of Ryde from a tiny coastal settlement to the major holiday centre it is today. It has a wealth if Regency and Victorian buildings, but the main attraction to holidaymakers is its broad sweep of gently shelving sands, ideal for swimming, which at low tide extends half a mile out to sea.
The pier spans the sands, and trains run right to the end of it where regular ferry services from Portsmouth berth. The trains used are electric and once used on the Piccadilly underground line in London.
Bembridge Harbour, often called Brading Harbour, is a bay that provides good anchorage. On its northern side is the Dulver, a spit of land leading from the ruined tower of St Helen’s Church and backed by gorse and open grassland where 260 species of plants have been identified. Bembridge also has the only remaining windmill, which dates from 1700 and contains much of its original machinery.
The horseshoe-shaped cove has a steep pebbly beach and a short promenade, rimmed by low cliffs of white chalk. A few hundred yards inland is a source of the River Yar, which flows north to Yarmouth and almost divides western Wight from the remainder of the island.
To the west of the bay rises Tennyson Down, a grassy ridge of chalk up to 120m high. It’s is named after the poet Lord Tennyson who lived at a nearby Farringdon House for nearly 40 years.
This chine, supposedly named after a local band of smugglers, is now the site a theme park, which include mazes, model dinosaurs and many other family attractions. From the top, 100m above the sea, there is a superb view of the cliffs leading north west past nearby Whale Chine.
The resort, developed in Victorian times, descends like an amphitheatre below the slope of the highest point in the Isle of Wight, the 239m St Boniface Down. The town has lovely beaches and a wide range of attractions including the extensive Botanic Gardens and a museum of smuggling.
A long, safe sandy beach is Shanklin’s principal attraction for holidaymakers, with its esplanade home to traditional seaside amusements. The main part of the town is Victorian and Edwardian, but from the top of Shanklin Chine walkers can continue through Old Shanklin, with its thatched houses, and along the coast path to Luscombe Village.
The Great British Coastline – Group Travel & Bespoke Individual Luxury Tours