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Introduction | Cowes to Bembridge | Bembridge to Chale | Chale to The Needles | The Needles to Cowes
Optional Stage 0: Cowes to East Cowes via Newport
9 miles - 3 hours
Start at the Cowes Red Jet ferry terminal at Fountain Pier, which is opposite Cowes' Tourist Information office. Turn left onto the narrow, flag-decorated High Street, walking to the pedestrianised area, up the hill and follow the road left, passing the Police station, until you get to a pub on a T-junction. From here, turn left down the hill to the floating bridge that leads across to East Cowes. Most people will cross over on the floating bridge to East Cowes to begin their walk; however if you feel that walking the tidal River Medina should be included as part of the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, head onto York Road (to the right of the pub), right onto Bridge Street at the end, then left onto Arctic Road. After a while, you'll come to roundabout with a port services yard ahead – you'll see cycleway signs to Newport, and the start of the Newport to Cowes Cycleway (CS32/N207/N29) will be just off to the right. This riverside walk will take you along the route of the old Cowes to Newport railway line, and is about an hour's walk. This emerges in Newport's industrial estate; however continue to head south along River Way, and you can rejoin the river by turning left onto Hurstake Road then right onto Little London. In time you'll pass beneath the Island's only stretch of dual carriageway, the one mile long road nicknamed 'The Motorway', and arrive near the Quay Arts Centre. At the end of Little London you'll find yourself facing a T-junction with a car park opposite; turn right onto Sea Street.
Newport has several shops and places to eat, as well as a Tourist Information office. To visit them turn right and head down Quay Street; otherwise, head left onto Sea Street, heading downstream on the eastern bank. As you skirt the edge of Seaclose Park, you'll reach the Bus Museum; here the footpath begins again. Seaclose Park has hosted the revised Isle Of Wight Festival since 2002. Pass the Classic Boat museum and follow the river, heading along N120. You'll reach a large harbour, inventively dubbed Island Harbour. Cross over the inlet and keep following the river bank along N122 until you arrive at the Folly Inn. Here, head east along Folly Lane until you find the path on the left (CS24) – this leads to the Royal Church of St Mildred, Whippingham, which was designed by Prince Albert.
From here follow Beatrice Avenue1 north past several junctions until you get to Victoria Grove (B3321). Follow this road west and downhill, then turn left along Minerva Road which in due course becomes Clarence Road. This will take you past the East Cowes Heritage Centre which, if open, is well worth a look. At the end of Clarence Road you will have reached the corner with Ferry Road and York Avenue, near where the Red Funnel car ferry docks and where passengers from the floating bridge disembark, and it is from here that the Isle of Wight Coastal Path truly begins.
Stage 1: East Cowes to Ryde
8 miles - 4 hours
Sadly at time of writing, the first stage, from East Cowes to Ryde, does not involve any coastal walking. This is because much of the land between East Cowes and Wootton is in private or Crown ownership. Despite this, after leaving East Cowes, the route is quite a pleasant stroll through the Island's historic countryside.
You'll likely begin this section either from the floating bridge, the East Cowes ferry terminal, or the end of Clarence Road if you have taken the River Medina detour. Head up hill along York Avenue, following the main road. At the top of the hill you will pass the entrance to Osborne House, Queen Victoria's Island palace; follow the road past the entrance to Barton Manor and into Whippingham. From Whippingham turn east (left) into Alverstone Road, passing the small village post office, as the road narrows into a pleasant country lane. This will take you past quaint cottages built on the former Osborne estate, through Brocks Copse and Woodhouse Copse, again up a hill, before descending to Wootton, a rather concrete village next to Wootton Creek.
Here, a little left but straight on to Footways, then at the end of this road look out for the start of a pathway across the road and a little to the left. This will lead you into Red Road/School Lane, then turn right onto New Road and look out for the continuation of the footpath on the east side of the road. This leads to a pub named the Sloop by Wootton Bridge. North of the bridge is the creek; south of it lies the Mill Pond.
Cross over the water via the main road. Once on the eastern, Fishbourne, shore take the fourth road on the left, Ashlake Copse Lane2. This leads north to footpath R1, at the end of which you will need to turn north toward the Fishbourne Wightlink Car Ferry Terminal. A little further past the Ferry Terminal is Quarr Lane, a lane on your right heading southeast and officially designated R3. This lane passes the Quarr Abbeys, named after the quarries of the Quarr and Binstead area on the Island. Stone was first quarried here in Roman times but was used extensively in the mediaeval period, as limestone from this part of the Island was of a remarkably fine quality and sought after. Stone quarried here was used to build Chichester and Winchester cathedrals, castles such as Southampton castle and town walls as well as abbeys, including Beaulieu. The original Quarr Abbey opened in 1132 and was home to Cistercian monks until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537. In 1912 a new monastery, home to Benedictine monks, was built out of Flemish red bricks. Continue along the path past the new monastery and the ruins of the old3 as the path becomes a road which continues east next to a bird sanctuary.
At the junction turn left onto R45, heading northeast to the charming Norman Church, Holy Cross, with its gargoyle. Here you reach a footpath known as Ladies' Walk (R48), along which men are fortunately also allowed to pass – the alternatives are the dead-end R46 and R47 footpaths, both of which lead to the beach. Instead, head straight east to the coastal path, passing through Ryde Golf Course, until you get to the outskirts of Ryde, the largest town on the Island. Follow Spencer Road down hill and onto Yelf's Road, then cross below Yelf's Hotel's4 bridge corridor to reach Union Street, Ryde's main shopping road. Here there are plenty of places to eat, rest and drink. Turning left down the hill will take you towards the Ryde Esplanade, where the Tourist Information office is on the corner. Cross over and you will find yourself near the Ryde Esplanade transport interchange.
This is the location of the bus station, hovercraft terminal and Ryde Esplanade railway station and is at the dry end5 of Ryde Pier. Ryde Pier was built in 1814 and is the oldest pier in Britain. Ryde Pier was also Britain's third longest pier after Southport and Southend, but was usurped by Walton-on-the-Naze in 1895. If you wish to walk to the end of the pier, where the passenger ferry from Portsmouth docks, and back as part of the round-the-coastline experience then feel free to do so.
Stage 2: Ryde to Bembridge
7.5 miles - 2 hours
Many of the hardy souls who set out to walk the entire Isle of Wight Coastal Path in one go start from Ryde. It is the only town on the route accessible by two commercial ferry routes from the Mainland, from Portsmouth by ferry and from Southsea by hovercraft, and with the train and bus connections it is also fairly easy to reach from the rest of the Island.
If you arrived at Ryde from the Mainland via the ferry to Ryde Pier Head, you can take the regular connecting train down the pier to Esplanade station. Leave the station through the main exit, turning left into the Bus Station part of the Transport interchange and then over the railway footbridge. From the footbridge, Portsmouth is clearly visible, especially the sail-like Spinnaker Tower, and immediately ahead is Ryde Hoverport. From the hovercraft terminal, simply head east passing Ryde Harbour, the children's fair and the boating lake. You can walk along the sea wall, but as this is the first opportunity to actually walk along a beach, you may well wish to walk on the sand instead. Simply continue to follow the path, passing the Appley Tower folly and Puckpool Park, a former Victorian coastal battery, before entering St Helens. Keep along the Sea Wall and past the attractive restaurants through to Seaview and Seagrove Bay.
At this point you will reach a concrete plaza jutting out into the sea, with some large sloping buildings inshore. Once you've reached the south end of this plaza, you'll need to know whether the tide is in. If it is low tide then feel free to carry on along the beach. If it is high tide, however, you should look out for a path on the right (R105) which will lead you to the continuation of the Esplanade next to the public toilets.
Shortly after this, the path (R84) climbs up onto the cliff top above Horestone Point, Priory Bay and Nodes Point as you walk through woodland on the approach to St Helens and The Duver6. At this point the remains of St Helens Church, which had been built too close to the sea, are clearly visible. All that remains is the 12th Century church tower whose seaward side has been painted white as a sea marker7. St Helens was extensively used by the Royal Navy, who anchored off shore in the area known as St Helens Roads. Water from St Helens was believed to be exceptionally pure and stay fresh for longer. Stones from the eroded remains of St Helens Church were also used to scrub the decks of naval ships – as a result, the term 'holystoning' is now used to refer to the cleaning of decks in general.
From here the route takes you to The Duver, a small area of sand dunes owned by the National Trust near the village of St Helens. If you've deviated onto the beach already, you might continue a little further, but the coastal path heads across Duver Road past the backs of the houses and onto the dunes. Whichever way you go, you'll need to eventually head across the dunes to the west side, which is bounded entirely by water save for a narrow causeway between the harbour and the old mill pond8. Follow the path out to the road then turn left following the shore of Bembridge Harbour, passing the Brading Haven Yacht Club and the houseboats before entering the village of Bembridge itself, which claims to be the largest village in the UK. Once you've rounded all three sides of the harbour you will see a stone monument, the pump. To the side of this is the track that leads to the beach. From here you may continue along the coast to Bembridge Lifeboat Station pier and the easternmost point of the Island.