Lake to Shanklin via Ventnor walk
Hilly SE corner of the Isle of Wight - Sandown Bay, the Landslip, Ventnor, and St Boniface and Luccombe Downs
Full walk: 15.2km (9.5 miles)
Lake to Ventnor: 8.4km (5.2 miles)
Ventnor to Shanklin: 6.8km (4.3 miles)
6 out of 10 for Lake to Ventnor, 10 out of 10 for Ventor to Bonchurch
This GPX-only walk (ie, no written directions) explores the very varied and attractive south east corner of the Isle of Wight, and though short in miles, is an energetic walk full of interest that you may even want to split into two, using it to frame a stay of a night or two in Ventnor.
Starting at Lake station on the Island Line railway, you are on the cliff top path within a few hundred metres. Initially somewhat suburban in character, but with magnificent views of Sandown Bay, this takes you on through Shanklin and down to the mouth of Shanklin Chine and its beach.
You then climb up into very different territory - wooded, hilly and with a rather "lost world" air, passing through the scattered houses of Luccombe village and on down into the Landslip, an area of dense woodland and ferns. This eventually brings you out onto the seafront at Bonchurch, which you follow into Ventnor.
The route climbs up through the steep streets of the town to the site of one of its former railway stations. From here a very steep path takes you up onto St Boniface Down, with magnificent backward views. You pass on to Bonchurch Down, Luccombe Down and Shanklin Down, with magnificent views northwards across the island, before descending to the trackbed of the former Shanklin to Ventnor railway line, which leads you back to Shanklin station.
On entering the Landslip just beyond Luccombe, there is the option a diversion to the Smuggler's Haven cafe, a pleasant tea room set in gardens with a view over the tree tops to the sea. This adds only 250 metres or so to the walk route and, after tea, takes you down through the Devil's Chimney, a steep staircase down into the Landslip.
One short early section of the path up onto Boniface Down looks like it could be subject to a landslip at some point (though it has been in this state for many years). The alternative route via Wroxall Down is a way round this, adding only 360 metres in length and with many merits in its own right (including very fine views both to the south and north). Like the main walk route, it involves a very steep climb out of Ventnor.
It is possible, just about, to do this as a day trip from London, though it is better as an overnight trip. Trains from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour, taking 1 hour 40 minutes at best, connect with Wightlink catamaran services to Ryde Pier Head, from where you can take the Island Line trains to Lake. Total journey time is around 3 hours. You can buy a day return to Shanklin from any mainland rail ticket machine, which includes the cost of the ferry. This is one of the few surviving examples of an integrated rail-ferry-rail service.
On the clifftop path between Lake and Shanklin there are a couple of (probably seasonal) cafes, at least one of which serves meals. By the mouth of Shanklin Chine there is the Fisherman's Cottage pub, right on the beach, and at the top of the steps up from the beach the Grand View Tea Rooms, set in a clifftop garden.
Between Shanklin and Ventnor there is a possible diversion to the Smugglers Haven cafe - see Options - an idyllic tea room set in gardens with a view over tree tops to the sea.
Once in Ventnor by far the best place to eat is the Spyglass Inn, which is at the western end of the beach. It has ample seating both inside and outside overlooking the sea. In the summer season there are also various cafes and restaurants along the road behind the beach, and the town centre, passed through on your climb up the hill, has several restaurants, pubs and cafes.
After Ventnor there is no refreshment until you get to Shanklin, and even here the offering by the station is disappointing. The Tumblers cafe by the station is an old-fashioned greasy spoon, though it does serve a range of meals as well as tea and cakes. There are more options in the town centre, but that is a bit of a walk. If returning to London, you could postpone your tea until you get to Ryde, either getting off at the Esplanade station to look for places in the town centre, or staying on the train to Ryde Pier Head, where there is a Costa Coffee whose terrace has a fine view of the sea (assuming it ever reopens after the coronavirus epidemic...).
Lake has a wonderful beach, flat and fairly sandy. To get to it turn left when you get to the coast path and follow it for 250 metres to find a path slanting down the cliff. There is also a public toilet and a seasonal seafront cafe at the bottom of this path. If you are tempted to visit this beach at the end of the walk (ie taking the train one stop from Shanklin), be aware that because of its easterly aspect backed by cliffs, the sun leaves the beach at about 4.30pm to 5pm.
Otherwise, Ventnor has a very charming beach, part sand and part gravel, which is swimmable at all states of the tide except very low tide, when you may find yourself grounding on underwater rocks offshore (although with care these can be avoided). There is a wonderful scenic backdrop of the town's houses ranged up the hillside.
If staying in Ventnor, Steephill Cove, 1km to the west of the town on the coast path, is a very pretty and bohemian spot for a swim, though due to underwater rocks you can only swim there in the top half of the tide.
|Points of interest||
The Island Line from Ryde to Shanklin is all that remains of more than 50 miles of railway that existed on the Isle of Wight until the 1950s. It uses former London Underground trains because the tunnel floor in Ryde was raised in the 1960s to prevent flooding. From 1989 to 2021, ancient 1930s tube trains plied the line, but these have now been replaced with former District Line trains (40 years old, but fully modernised). Lake station was only created in 1987.
The Landslip is believed to have existed for thousands of years, but saw its most recent falls in the 1880s. It was much beloved by the Victorians, and is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The whole coast from here to St Catherine's Point is a landslip, essentially, with one taking out the coast road beyond St Lawrence to the west of Ventnor some 20 years ago.
On the seafront walk from Bonchurch to Ventnor, note the model of the solar system set into the sea wall. It starts with a football-sized sun, and then the other planets' positions are marked to scale. Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are passed relatively quickly, but it is an increasingly long walk between the outer planets. One interesting feature is that if you turn around at any planet and look back at the football-sized sun, it looks exactly as large as it would do to an observer on that planet. This stretch of cliff is also one of the few sites that where the glanville fritillary butterfly can be found in the UK. Look out for it among the flowers and stones at the base of the cliff from mid May to June.
Ventnor was a fishing village until it was recommended in 1830 for its healthy climate by James Clark, who later became Queen Victoria's private physician. It became wildly popular in the late Victorian era, when famous figures came to stay there, giving the town the nickname of "Mayfair by the Sea". It was attracted those suffering from turberculosis, which then had no cure, and special non-stop "Invalid Expresses" were run to the town from Ryde Pier Head. The town's south facing aspect gives it a mild climate, which allows some Mediterranean plants to grow there, including holm oak, which was deliberately encouraged to give it the resort an exotic air. (The southern slope of St Boniface Down is now a holm oak wood, essentially.)
The top of Bonchurch Down was the site of a radar station in the Second World War, and some remains of this can still be seen (along with modern mobile phone masts). Though supposedly top secret, its location and purpose were well known to the Germans, and as a result there were several air raids in 1940 and 1942, which also damaged buildings in Ventnor.
Luccombe Down has an extensive area of heather, which is at its best in late August. It and neighbouring Bonchurch Down (the highest point on the island) are also a staging post for migrating birds. Several hundred house martins or swallows can gather here in early September, feeding up before flying on south, taking the summer with them.
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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