The Isle of Wight coastal path, Tennyson Down, a nature reserve, and a disused railway.
Main Walk: 19¼ km (12 miles). Four hours 50 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, ferries, sights and meals, allow at least 13 hours.
Explorer OL29. Yarmouth, map reference SZ354898, is on the Isle of Wight, 15 km W of Newport.
5 out of 10.
This walk follows the Isle of Wight Coastal Path from Yarmouth to Alum Bay, then along Tennyson Down to Freshwater Bay. Leaving the Coastal Path, the route turns north through Afton Marsh Nature Reserve and returns to Yarmouth via a disused railway line along the Yar estuary. Swimming may be possible at Colwell Bay and Totland Bay, in the first part of the walk.
This is not an original walk. There are plenty of walking guides to sections of the Coastal Path (eg. see Yarmouth-Brighstone), and the section back to Yarmouth is also featured in other walking guides.
The walk notes include a short cut of 1½ km at the westernmost end of the island, although that misses out some fine views.
More generally, you could make use of the frequent Southern Vectis buses to cut out the start or finish of the walk, eg. by taking the #7 from Yarmouth to start at Colwell Bay, or diverting into Freshwater to take it from there back to Yarmouth.
Yarmouth is reached by Wightlink ferry from Lymington Pier, which is served by trains from Waterloo (changing at Brockenhurst). A through ticket to Yarmouth (IoW) includes the ferry crossing. The complete journey takes about 3 hours, so this is at the limit of what is feasible for a day trip from London.
Take the train nearest to 09:00 from Waterloo to Lymington Pier, changing at Brockenhurst, then the ferry to Yarmouth (IoW).
|Train & Ferry Times||
The suggested place to stop for lunch is Totland Bay, after 5½ km. The Waterfront Bar & Restaurant (01983-756969) serves bar food throughout the day, and there are other bars and cafés along the seafront (the Captain's Cabin, The Hut). You could also eat in one of the tourist places at Alum Bay an hour further on.
Almost anywhere along the Coastal Path you might find an enterprising owner offering cream teas. The crowded tourist places at Alum Bay might not appeal, but the short cut omitting the Needles goes past Warren Farm's Tea Garden (01983-753200; open to 4.30pm Thu-Sun & BH Mon, summer only). Conversely, if you take the detour to Needles Old Battery there is a 1940s-themed National Trust tearoom (01983-754772; open to 5pm daily summer, 3pm weekends only in winter) at the site.
At Freshwater Bay the options by the beach are disappointing but a short detour will take you to an excellent tearoom in the Dimbola Museum (01983-756814; last entry 4.30pm daily summer, 3.30pm Tue-Sun winter).
At the end of the walk there are several pubs near the ferry terminal. The George Hotel (01983-760331) in Quay Street has a waterfront terrace and the Bugle Coaching Inn (01983-760272) in The Square has a nice courtyard. Refreshments are also available on the ferry.
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National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
Click the heading below to show/hide the walk route.
Click on any section heading to switch between detailed directions and an outline, or the heading above to switch all sections.
- Yarmouth to Totland Bay (5½ km)
- Detour on Coastal Path route (+¾ km)
- Totland Bay to Alum Bay (3¼ km)
- Alum Bay to Freshwater Bay (5½ km)
- Detour to Needles Old Battery (+1 km)
- Detour to Dimbola Museum (+½ km)
- Freshwater Bay to Yarmouth (5 km)
Take the Coastal Path heading west out of Yarmouth, through Fort Victoria Country Park to Colwell Bay and Totland Bay. Except at high tide, you should be able to walk along the beach at Colwell Bay and so avoid a detour inland.
From the ferry terminal, with Yarmouth Castle1 on the left, go straight on alongside the harbour. At the end turn right onto the main road (the A3054) to cross the River Yar. 400m from Yar Bridge, where the A3054 turns left, turn right onto a path going down to the sea.
Turn left to go along the sea wall for 400m, then turn left onto a short path going up through the trees to a lane. Turn right along this for 100m, then bear left onto a track2 through the woods. Continue SW through Fort Victoria Country Park for 1¼ km to Cliff End Battery, with a fine view across the Solent to Hurst Castle3.
After leaving the woods continue on an enclosed path which comes out onto Monks Lane. Turn left, then in 500m turn right at a junction and keep ahead into a holiday camp. Go through this and take the signposted Coastal Path on the left, passing chalets and later going between hedges to come out onto a lane.
Turn right (leaving the signposted Coastal Path) to go down to Colwell Bay4. Look along the beach to the left to judge if this route is feasible: if you are satisfied that it is, turn left, rejoining the official Coastal Path after 500m.
At high tide (or after cliff erosion) you will not be able to continue along the path by the beach and will have to follow the official Coastal Path route below.
Go back up the lane and along the signposted Coastal Path inland. Follow this past Brambles Farm, up to the A3054 and turn right. After 450m along the main road, turn right into Colwell Chine Road, follow it down to the sea wall and turn left.
Follow the Coastal Path around Warden Point to reach the pier in Totland Bay. There are several possible refreshment places on the seafront, including the prominent Waterfront Bar & Restaurant.
Continue on the Coastal Path, which leaves the sea front to climb over Headon Warren. On the other side, descend into Alum Bay and go through The Needles Park onto West High Down.
Continue S on the Coastal Path. 500m from the Waterfront Bar, just after passing the old lifeboat house, turn left up steps. Go through Widdick Chine to Cliff Road and turn right.
Follow the road uphill as it curves round to the right. 200m along the road, where it bends left, turn right onto a signposted footpath. After winding through trees for 400m, the path emerges onto Headon Hill. Continue uphill on a wide grassy path, taking the right fork to pass beneath the summit.
There are several alternative paths through the gorse and heather on Headon Warren and if you wish you can detour to the summit and go along the ridge where there are bronze age tumuli. You will be able to see Alum Bay ahead and should be able to pick up the main route.
The official route continues W below the summit on a roughly level path. After a path comes down from the summit, bear left to go steeply downhill. At the bottom of the slope the path turns left and zig-zags down to a driveway, where you turn left to reach the B3322.
Turn right onto the road and in 150m turn left into The Needles Park at Alum Bay. Make your way through the scrum as best you can and keep ahead on a tarmac lane onto West High Down, leading to The Needles viewpoint and the Old Battery.
Follow the lane up to the top of the down by Coastguard Cottages, with an optional extension to the Old Battery and The Needles viewpoint. Turn round and head east to reach Tennyson Down, passing Tennyson's Monument and descending to Freshwater Bay.
Where the tarmac lane bends to the right, the footpath off to the left is a short cut to Tennyson Down which saves about 1½ km, though you would miss the famous views of Alum Bay cliffs and The Needles. The path goes along the side of the down for 1 km (passing a gate on the left leading down to Warren Farm's Tea Garden), then bears right uphill to a major path crossing, where you go straight on towards Tennyson's Monument. Continue the directions at [•] below.
For the full walk, follow the tarmac lane round to the right as it climbs up West High Down5,6. In 600m there is a stile and path on the left leading up to Coastguard Cottages. Unless you want to extend the walk to visit Needles Old Battery7 and New Battery8, bear left onto this path towards the cottages; here, the Coastal Path veers sharply left, almost doubling back, though you might like to cross a stile and detour a short distance ahead to The Needles9 viewpoint.
Continue ahead on the tarmac lane for a further 600m to reach the Old Battery (where there is a National Trust tearoom). The New Battery is on a separate site further up the headland. Afterwards, return on the main path but take one of the paths on the right leading up to Coastguard Cottages to rejoin the main route.
The main route now simply continues E along the ridge towards the prominent Tennyson's Monument, 2½ km away. 600m before the monument, the short cut route joins from the left at a path crossing in a dip; turn half-right here and go up Tennyson Down to reach the monument.
[•] Go past Tennyson's Monument10 and continue gently downhill in the same direction for 1½ km.
Leave Tennyson Down over a stile and bear left across a field. At the bottom of the field turn left onto a track and go up to a road (Gate Lane). For the main route turn right onto this road, but follow the detour below if you want to visit the Dimbola Museum or its tearoom.
Turn left onto Gate Lane, away from the seafront. The Dimbola Museum11 is on the left in 250m. Afterwards, return the same way and continue along the road.
Go along Gate Lane towards the seafront, 100m away. Unless you want to visit the tearoom ahead on the left, or the Albion Hotel opposite, turn left just before these places into Coastguard Lane.
From the western end of Freshwater Bay, head north on the Freshwater Way through Afton Marsh Nature Reserve. At a road, turn right to leave this route, then turn left onto a permissive path through the northern part of the reserve. At Afton Road go onto a disused railway line and follow this all the way back to Yarmouth, eventually bearing left past an old tide mill into the town centre.
Leave Freshwater Bay on Coastguard Lane, heading N on the Freshwater Way. At the end of the lane, keep ahead on a footpath through Afton Marsh Nature Reserve. Shortly after going through a gate, fork right and follow the path out to a road.
Turn right onto the road for a short distance, leaving the Freshwater Way. Just before a bridge, turn left onto a path into the northern part of the reserve, with a stream on your right. The path soon crosses it on a footbridge and you continue along its other side for a further 500m to the A3055.
Turn left onto the road and in 50m turn right onto a bridleway. This soon turns right onto the track of a disused railway line12, initially heading E and later curving gradually to the left. In 400m cross a minor road and continue on the track, now with the River Yar on your left, for a further 2¼ km to the outskirts of Yarmouth.
At a path crossing, turn half-left to head N towards a three-storey brick building13 150m away. After passing it, bear left onto a residential road. In 200m cross the A3054 and keep ahead into the centre of Yarmouth; the town centre is 150m further on. At the end of this road the Bugle Coaching Inn is on the right and the George Hotel is in Quay Street to the left, which leads to the ferry terminal.
- Yarmouth Castle was one of a chain of castles built by HenryⅧ to guard against a French invasion.
- The track is an old military road serving two Victorian forts. Fort Victoria (behind the trees on the right) and Fort Albert (visible from Colwell Bay) were built in 1840 to guard the Solent.
- Hurst Castle (on the mainland) was another of HenryⅧ's protective forts.
- The hideous large building along the coast to the right is Fort Albert. It has apparently been used for torpedo testing (perhaps it should have been used as the target).
- The famous cliffs of Alum Bay, which come into view as you climb up West High Down, are made of sandstone coloured by a variety of different minerals.
- Marconi made experimental wireless transmissions near here in 1897.
- Needles Old Battery (NT) was built in 1862, following the threat of a French invasion. It contains exhibitions about its involvement in both World Wars.
- New Battery (also NT) contains an exhibition on Britain's secret rocket testing during the Cold War.
- The chalk pinnacles of The Needles are gradually being eroded by the sea (one collapsed in 1764). The lighthouse was built in 1858.
- The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson lived for 40 years at Farringford House in Freshwater.
- The Dimbola Museum is dedicated to the life and work of the Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
- The disused railway line was the only one in the western half of the island, running from Newport through Yarmouth to Freshwater.
- The converted three-storey brick building is an old tide mill.
» Last updated: November 27, 2019