Route for an Isle of Wight walk around Freshwater Bay
- Credit: Fiona Barltrop
Enjoy some superb downland and coastal scenery on a circular walk along the Tennyson Trail
Despite its modest size (22½ miles/36km by 13½ miles/22.5km) the Isle of Wight has a remarkably diverse landscape.
Over half the Island (as it’s known locally) is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there’s an excellent network (totalling over 500 miles) of footpaths and bridleways, including a 67-mile long coastal path that encircles it and a number of named and waymarked inland trails.
The longest of these is the 14-mile Tennyson Trail, which runs along the crest of the downs from Carisbrooke near Newport, in the centre of the Island, to the south-western tip at Alum Bay. It’s a fine walk, indeed, providing excellent views.
The trail takes its name from the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, who lived in Freshwater Bay for many years. A monument to him is situated atop Tennyson Down, west of the bay.
Starting from charming Freshwater Bay, the first leg of this walk follows the Tennyson Trail eastwards over Afton, Compton and Brook Downs. The shorter walk then heads southwards via Dunsbury and a stretch of the Hamstead Trail to the coast at Brook Bay. Here the coastal path is followed via Compton Bay back to the start.
The National Trust looks after many of the Island’s most iconic stretches of coastline and countryside, including Compton Bay and Downs. The former is one of the best surfing and watersports locations on the Island and the large sandy beach is ideal for families.
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The longer option continues along the Tennyson Trail a little further, descending to the coast via Mottistone. The village is home to the National Trust’s Mottistone Manor and its delightful gardens.
The Manor, gardens and surrounding estate – which stretches from the sea to the top of the downs – were bequeathed to the National Trust in 1963 by the 2nd Lord Mottistone. Within Mottistone Gardens is the lovely tea garden, where you can recharge your batteries before the final leg of the walk.
Mottistone takes its name from the Long Stone, in earlier times known as the Moot Stone or Meeting Stone: a large standing stone (the remains of a Neolithic long barrow) which you will pass on your way down to the village.
1) (SZ351856) From the top right-hand corner of the car park walk a short distance north to join the Tennyson Trail and turn right. Initially the gently ascending track runs across the Freshwater Bay Golf Club course (watch out for golf balls!)
Looking back there’s a fine view over Freshwater Bay with Tennyson Down and its monument beyond. There are also good views to be had looking north taking in Yarmouth and the Western Yar estuary, and across the Solent to the south coast of the mainland.
Just past a bench on Brook Down it’s worth a brief detour – fork left - to take in the trig point and view atop the Five Barrows. Descend towards the B3399.
2) (SZ394850) At the junction before reaching the road, turn back sharp right along a track and after about 400m just before the track starts to descend bear left onto the grass by a byway sign.
3) (SZ387848) At the next junction turn left along the track/byway signed for Dunsbury. Follow the track, which soon becomes a bridleway, bending left and then right, down to an access road. Turn right to Dunsbury Farm, then left along the signed Hamstead Trail. At the next junction keep ahead across the field, alongside the following one and across another to the Military Road/A3055. The Brook Bay car park is across the road to the left.
4) (SZ384836) Turn right along the waymarked Coastal Path and follow it all the way back to Freshwater Bay. At a memorial shortly before you reach the Bay fork right back to the car park or carry on down to the beach, if you like. You can either retrace steps or walk back uphill along the roadside pavement.
For the longer option, keep ahead at point 2 to the road. Continue along the Tennyson Trail on the opposite side of the road. When you reach a Tennyson Trail signpost you should spot another signpost nearby to your right.
Bear right along this bridleway heading south-east. This leads to a gate beyond which you bear left along a track to the Long Stone, a pillar of sandstone thirteen feet high, with a smaller second stone at its foot. The nearby dwelling is a National Trust holiday cottage. Also nearby is an information panel, from which it’s a brief detour up Castle Hill, the site of an Iron Age enclosure.
From the Long Stone (SZ407842) leave the track and follow the footpath between banks to descend in a southerly direction (at first south-west) towards Mottistone. Maintain direction at a crossing track to continue down through woodland.
Keep ahead where another path forks left (this leads to a gate into Mottistone Gardens, but you need to enter through the main entrance at the bottom).
Go through the churchyard at Mottistone (or along the lane either side of the church) and continue down Ridget Lane, a byway which becomes a track, to the A3055. Cross, carry on to the coast path and turn right.
Start/finish: Car park (free) on N side of A3055 east of Freshwater Bay (SZ351856); alternative car park (pay & display) down at Freshwater Bay
Map: OS Explorer OL29
Distance: 7 miles (11km) Longer option 9¼ miles (14.7km)
Terrain: Downland tracks and paths, coastal path.
Time: 3½ hours (or 4½ hours for longer option)
Public transport: Wightlink car ferries between Portsmouth & Fishbourne and Lymington & Yarmouth; passenger catamaran from Portsmouth to Ryde, 0333 999 7333, Southern Vectis buses from Newport to Freshwater Bay (connections to Fishbourne and Yarmouth), 01983 827000,
Accommodation: Chilton Farm (self-catering and B&B), peaceful location near the coast, close to the route of the walk.