St Catherine's Hill, Winchester
Topped with the remains of an iron-age fort, this short walk just outside Winchester gives great views across the area.
GetOutside Champion Debs Butler regularly visits her parents on the Isle of Wight, exploring by foot or bike. Here's her top 3 walks on the west of the island.
In 2018 my parents retired to the Isle of Wight. I visit regularly, always by train. I have an old-ish touring bike that lives down there, but other than that I do all my exploring on foot. As soon as I step on to the Lymington Ferry, I feel like I’m on holiday. It seems less busy than other crossings and arriving in Yarmouth is picture-perfect. And because it’s a West Coast you get some great sunsets.
These three walks are my go-to rambles. There’s something for everyone here, whether you’d like a riverside wander for a piece of cake or a hilltop hike with panoramic views. Enjoy!
I tend to start this route at the public car park in Freshwater, though you could just as easily make Yarmouth your start-point and Freshwater the coffee stop. Head towards the sea and join the beach by Totland Pier. Keep the sea on your left and walk North to Colwell Bay – a great beach for playing, coloured beach hut photos etc. If the tide allows you can continue along the beach and turn onto the coast path by the holiday park. At higher tides turn up the road by the beach shop and follow the coast path signs – they will take you all the way to Yarmouth. Some stretches are inland.
Look out for the Hurst Castle spit and Lighthouse over on the mainland. There’s a really jungly-looking old forest as you get into Fort Victoria Country Park. It’s got wood sculptures, a planets trail and a really good lookout point. Return to the beach briefly for a paddle before a short road stretch over the lift bridge to picturesque Yarmouth. The quicker, flatter return trip gives the opportunity to bird watch along the Yar Estuary. The shared use path is also great for cycling – for two wheels a circuit could be made by taking the Yarmouth-Freshwater road on one trip, though the bike path is recommended.
This is my go-to walk on the Island, because I can start it right from my parents’ front door and it has simply spectacular views. It’s straightforward if you’re a visitor as there’s a couple of public car parks en route.
I started at the public car park in Freshwater, though you could just as easily make Freshwater Bay your start and finish point. Head NE towards the sea and join the beach at Colwell Bay.
Keep the sea on your right and walk past the beach huts. Go as far as the pier and take the road away from the beach, turning right across a park to rejoin the coast path signs. You can also continue along the prom and climb some steep-ish stairs to follow the coast path.
Follow the coast path signs briefly along a residential street, then turn right and begin the climb over grassy Headon Warren. There’s plenty more scenery to come, so I recommend leaving the coast path briefly (continue SE when it sharply turns SW on the descent) and joining the Alum Bay road.
There’s toilets at Alum Bay, and the chance to pick up the coast path signs again. Follow the signs to the Needles Battery too, initially up a short sharp grade past a well-decorated front garden (you’ll see)! The grade levels out, and the views are stunning.
Look out for the signs to the viewpoint to check out the famous Needles. Turning back east the trail rolls along the downs. Tennyson’s monument is clearly visible and makes a great picnic spot. There’ll usually be other walkers and families up here – I love to see lots of people out walking and enjoying the wonderful views.
The descent to Freshwater Bay is scenic – ice creams and drinks available at the independent lifeboat station in season. After you’ve had a paddle, the Freshwater trail returns you to the town via a well-signed route on footpaths and quiet streets. To shorten this route, use the Island bus services, which stop at Freshwater, Freshwater Bay and Alum Bay. There’s also a couple of other footpaths that take out some distance – though unless you like steep descents avoid going directly north from Tennyson’s Monument, especially if the weather has been wet.
This is a longer route that is a great one-way trip. After an early climb you spend most of the walk on the hilltops, with incredible views in all directions. I started the route in the centre of Newport. This is a great one for public transport as there’s regular buses to Newport and the finish at Freshwater Bay. You could also shorten the route slightly by beginning at Carisbrooke Castle. Alternatively, ask a friend or family member who’d like a shorter walk to park at Freshwater Bay and meet you on the top of Compton Down to do the last section together – they won’t regret the climb!
Make sure you leave Newport with a picnic – there’s no stops on this route. Head out of town towards the Castle, and make sure you head up to the footpath that goes just around the edge for the best view. If you’ve started early enough, you’ll have time to get your ticket and explore, if not, march onwards and return another day for your history fix. From the Castle there’s some easy footpaths through fields, turning NW to cross the road and climb up to the Tennyson Trail. You’ll be following this to Freshwater Bay and it’s well-signed all the way.
Once you’re up on the downs it’s pretty much wall-to-wall views for the whole trip. On a clear day you’ll pick out familiar features on the Island and the mainland. The trail rolls gently, but other than one sharper section down to the second road crossing and up again, your climbing is mostly done. The trail is well-maintained and shared with horses and mountain bikers. I’ve done it in summer and winter and the first section has never been busy, leaving you and the wildlife plenty of chance to enjoy the peace and the views.
There’s a shorter section through a forest which provides some welcome shade on a hot day. Turn West at the end of the trees and follow the edge of the forest with stunning views to the South. The section after the second road crossing, over Brook and Compton Downs, is unbeatable. If you’ve already done Walk 2 in this series, you can see over to Tennyson Down and the Monument – your previous picnic spot! If you can wait this long for lunch, there’s some benches with cracking views on this section too!
The trail goes through the golf course at Compton Down, so watch out for golf balls while you’re walking. The descent into Freshwater is the steepest part of the walk – a bit of a knee-burner but luckily not a long one! At the finish in freshwater paddle-tired feet in the sea and enjoy the beach.
A great way to spend a day!