Ventnor to Brook Isle of Wight Pt.2
It’s Monday 12th March 18 and myself, David Beech & David Evans are walking part 2 of our coastal walk around the Isle of Wight from Ventnor to Brook. After some much needed rest at our fabulous B&B, Brunswick House and an evening out for dinner at Ventnors Spyglass Inn listening to Wobbly Bob Brace on Piano, it’s time to get our rears into gear. Our walk today will take us along the coastal path and off it, due to the fact that there are some closer paths to the foreshore that will take us closer to St Catherine’s Point Lighthouse. Heading down to the sea front it is high tide and the weather is cloudy, but dry. However later the weather will change for the worse, so our plan is to try and cover as much ground as possible before the impending doom.
Ventnor lies beneath St Boniface Down (the highest point on the Isle of Wight) and for the most part is built on the side of a steep hill leading down to the seafront and beach. It is a traditional seaside resort, and one of Britain’s most famous Victorian health resorts due to its unique micro-climate. In fact the Ventnor Botanic Garden at Undercliff is one of the warmest garden’s in Britain allowing subtropical plants to flourish. Ventnor is a very pretty, tidy place with ice cream parlours and restaurants. In World War 2 there was a radar station at Ventnor which was attacked several times during 1940, and the town itself was also bombed, and again in 1942. By the end of the war the town had 120 buildings destroyed and nearly 1,500 damaged, with sixteen fatalities, Ventnors holiday trade had virtually disappeared, and was slow to return during post-war austerity. Nevertheless by the early 1950s Ventnor was booming again as a holiday destination.
Leaving Ventnor behind and passing through the Botanical Gardens at Undercliff the path is a small and at times a muddy path, however with the splashes of sunshine I am really enjoying the walk. We are above the sea and the views are really nice around Woody Bay.
A small ruin at Undercliff and St Lawrence, “Architectural Antiquities of the Isle of Wight” says that it was not an ecclesiastical building but a 14th century domestic building of uncertain use, probably not residential but a store. I personally thought the building looked a little better than that, more chapel like.
Now at this point we can either follow the coastal path up over the cliffs which would give us lovely views or we can continue closer to the foreshore and follow the old coastal path which has been unmaintained for some years. This is probably due to cost cutting, but to be fair this would then be due to the extensive coastal erosion. I chose for us to follow the old coastal route closer to the foreshore. It started off so well and then got progressively worse, soon there was loads of mud under foot and paths looked in a terrible state and just as we thought we had got out of it by reaching the safety of the woods at Puckaster Cove, it got even worse. These woods have been hit by huge landslides, acres have moved with paths starting off ok and then getting smaller and literally disappearing into walls of sand or broken trees. We had to basically make our own route through thick trees and bushes without a path for nearly an hour. Again as a walking mad man I was really enjoying it, but it was exhausting for all.
Finally we emerged out of the trees onto a path into someone’s garden, which did have a proper footpath sign. We had to walk up hill with steps and then had to climb a small wall onto the A3055 road which runs down to St Catherine’s Point. Hoping the mornings adventure was well behind us we took stock before heading down towards St Catherine’s village.
A protected Commemorative stone to Francis Gray Bacon.
Francis Gray Bacon was the son of Hackley Bartholomew Bacon (1841-1916) and Katherine Gray (1849-1921).
Shortly after Francis’ older sister Susan Gray Bacon (1877-1882) died, their father retired from the banking business in New York and moved the family to Ventnor, Isle of Wight, England. Sadly, Francis died at age 12 (in the 13th year of his life) subsequent to a fall from his Shetland pony. His father died in Ventnor in 1916, and his mother in Ventnor in 1921.
The paper report of the time read
“YOUNG BACON’S DEATH. AN AMERICAN YOUTH KILLED WHILE RIDING IN THE ISLE OF WIGHT”.
A cable dispatch received by John A. C. Gray, vice president of the People’s Savings Bank, on Sunday announced the death by accident of his grandson, Francis Gray Bacon, near Ventor, in the Isle of Wight, on Friday last.
Francis Gray Bacon was the son of Hackley B. Bacon, who up to eight years ago lived in West Thirty-fourth street, in this city. He was only fourteen [twelve] years old but was large and strong for his age and fond of cross country riding. He started out on Thursday last with his father, and together they rode out to the outskirts of the town, about four miles from their villa.
The ride had been a rapid and rough one, and they had just slowed up and were cautiously descending a steep spot in the road, when young Bacon’s horse stepped on a rolling stone and fell, carrying his rider with him.
Mr. Bacon dismounted and ran to his son, to find him unconscious and bleeding from a severe scalp wound in the back of his head. Securing a cart, the unconscious boy was carried home and physicians summoned. They announced it a case of fracture of the skull and contusion of the brain. The operation of trephining was deemed necessary and was successfully performed, but in spite of every effort to save the lad’s life he died the day following the accident. The funeral and interment will be in Ventnor today.
After passing through St Catherine’s village and making our way back to the foreshore we get the first sight of St Catherine’s Lighthouse. St Catherine’s picturesque lighthouse marks the most southerly point of the Isle of wight and is one of the oldest lighthouse positions in the whole of Britain. There has been a lighthouse here since 1323 by order of the then Pope. https://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/lighthouses-and-lightvessels/st-catherines-lighthouse
Now feeling quite pleased with ourselves for reaching the most southerly tip of the Isle of Wight, it was time to get back to it and the thought of lunch was starting to occupy our minds. So we continued around the foreshore here for another half a mile only to find we would need to navigate a rough steep path, slippery with mud, up to Knowles Farm car park and then a steep staired footpath up the cliff face, before reaching the coastal path at the foot of St Catherine’s Hill. Now I have to say I am always full of praise for Dave Beech’s sheer dogged determination, but hats have to come off to Dave Evans who at 72 years of age took it all in his stride.
After walking for a mile along and around the top of the sea cliffs we arrive at the viewpoint above Blackgang, well what can I say standing there was a big relief and you felt like all the ups and downs, slippery mud and hassle for the day was over and to be fair it was, however dark clouds on the horizon were starting to gather. From here on a clear day you can see all the way down to the needles and it doesn’t disappoint in the sunshine. After a short break we proceed down into Blackgang Chine and past its Land of Imagination theme park, which is shut for the closed season. From here it is a short walk to Chale for our pub lunch at The Wight Mouse Inn. https://blackgangchine.com/
Now I like a proper meat pie (with a pastry base) and The Wight Mouse did not disappoint, one of the best Steak & Ale pies I have ever had. After lunch we set off again and pass the church of St Andrews Chale.
The Parish Church of Chale, Isle of Wight, was dedicated to St. Andrew on 1st December 1114 and this year is celebrating that for 900 years a Christian church has stood on this site close to Chale Bay Farm.
Originally it was a Catholic church but on the Reformation it became part of the Church of England. It started probably as just a small single roomed structure, but over the centuries it has been enlarged to the building we see today. In the 15th century the tower was added, and in Victorian times it went through major alterations and extensions.
The Church has six stained glass windows by the famous Charles E. Kempe, five given in memory of James Arnold Hearn of New York, USA, as was the Clock, two bells, the organ, and land around the external churchyard.
The pulpit has a carving of the Last Supper by Millicent Johnson, daughter of Sir Henry Allen Johnson, Bart, who lived nearby and who was buried by the front porch in 1860.
Other memorials include those to members of the Worsley family and many victims of shipwrecks in Chale Bay are buried near the north churchyard wall, including the famous Clarendon, wrecked in 1836. http://backofthewight.co.uk/clarendon.htm
Walking along the sea cliffs above Chale Bay you realise the enormity of the problem they are having with erosion along the southern shoreline of the Isle of Wight. It’s on an epic scale, acres have fallen into the sea in big land slips and many of the footpaths are gone or hanging over the cliff edge. I warn any walker here to have their wits about them the paths are being undermined all along the edge. However saying that it is breathtakingly beautiful and I will return to walk it again.
Now I have mentioned the Chine’s on several occasions and here you can clearly see them along this section of the foreshore. Despite many attempts to bridge them by stairways like here at Whale Chine eventually nature wins and we find ourselves having to walk around each adding distance to our walk.
A Chine is a steep-sided coastal river valley where the river flows to the sea through, typically, soft eroding cliffs of sandstone or clay. Most Chines appear at the outlet of small river valleys when a particular combination of geology, stream volume and coastal recession rate creates a Knickpoint usually starting at a waterfall at the cliff edge, that initiates rapid erosion and deepening of the stream bed into a gully leading down to the sea. Whale Chine is a great example at over 140 feet deep.
Just after Whale Chine we meet an impressive friendly gentleman who lives close by. Dick who has his own access to the beach is a Beachcomber, fisherman and wreck diver, who knows much about the shipwrecks in the bay. During our discussions he informs us that from the point we are standing there are over 100 shipwrecks within a mile. Now, as a member of the Society of Thames Mudlarks, he has my lips licking at the thought of artifacts and gold doubloons being washed up on the foreshore and I do hope to talk to him some more in the future.
After another diversion around Shepherd’s Chine, the weather changes and the rain finally arrives. Although not heavy the wind makes it rather unpleasant. The temperature has dropped due to the wind and now we are looking to finish the days walking. With light fading we are rushing to get this section finished at Brook village just ahead.
My last thought of the day goes to surfers in Brighstone Bay down below the cliffs, hard to see in this picture. Their sheer courage to ride the large waves mesmerizes me and having had a go when I was young in Devon and Cornwall, I suddenly feel old. I salute them and I know the buzz it gives them must be so addictive and I think it’s the same buzz I get from walking, especially with this wind and rain racing past me. Being at one with nature and taking everything it throws at you should be a pleasure and that for me is what walking is all about and why I can never give it up.
Finally we are near Brook Chine west bus stop when we spot the 18:10 bus to Alum Bay, waving like mad as we hobble up to the road. The Alum Bay bus driver spots us and pulls over, lucky for us because it turns out to be the last bus of the day! The lady driver was very helpful and as we got into Totland she even gave us directions to Weston Manor B&B, I have to say she is a credit to Southern Vectis bus company.