The ultimate Isle of Wight Walking Festival guide
- Credit: Visit Isle of Wight
You may have visited the Isle of Wight many times before, but have you ever truly stepped off the beaten track and explored on foot? As the Island celebrates the launch of the Walking Festival this weekend, locals invite you to really get to know their little slice of paradise says Sarah Alexander
Post pandemic, walking holidays are more popular than ever and with over 500 miles of footpaths, cutting through beautiful countryside or along a breath-taking coastline, the Isle of Wight is the ideal place to start your rambling adventure.
Helping visitors explore that bit further, every year Visit Isle of Wight hosts their Walking Festival, as a celebration of walking and nature. There are two events this year, a spring festival on from May 7 to 15 and an autumn one running from October 8 to 16, each with over 60 bookable treks.
The tours are guided by volunteer walk leaders from groups such as the Isle of Wight Ramblers Association, the National Trust and local businesses. There’s nothing these passionate Islanders couldn't - and wouldn't - tell you about their favourite routes, special viewpoints, cosy cafes or pubs, to sit back and relax with a drink to end a day on your feet.
If you can’t make it across for either of the events this year, the top tips and routes can be downloaded from the Isle of Wight Walking Festival website. Head across anytime and walk the Island at your own leisurely – or speedy – pace. Whether you enjoy a light stroll, are looking for your next heart racing challenge or simply after a new destination to discover, take inspiration from the locals sharing their most trodden paths. So go for the day or stay a while, but be sure to make time to explore and enjoy some of the Island’s best rambles.
Magic in May
Exploring the Island in May is magical, the days are lighter for longer, the sky is blue, rows of vibrant bluebells line the footpaths, and the smell of garlic fills the air.
Over 50% of the Isle of Wight is recognised as an area of outstanding natural beauty and is one of few places in the UK to gain UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status for its unspoiled landscape, clear waters and thriving wildlife, guaranteeing spectacular views and varied terrains wherever your adventure takes you.
Guided springtime treks include the Bluebell Quest, with Jacqui Robertson, which takes walkers on a 9.5-mile trek starting from Shanklin Theatre, to the open Downs and underneath the canopy of America Woods. Or take the path from Brading Roman Villa with Spencer Brown, to see butterflies fluttering across a Roman Landscape. Also keep your eyes peeled for white tailed eagles and ears open for water rails!
The Wild West
Walk from the popular Colwell Bay up to Alum Bay, to see the widely recognised Needles landmark. At just six miles, this walk on May 14 with Sue Russell offers a good range of flat coastal paths and cliff inclines towards Headon Warren, a designated AONB. Remember to take your swimmers and take a refreshing dip in the calm blue waters of Colwell on your return.
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Staying in the West Wight, Rachel Richards takes walkers on one of her favourite routes, Grammar Common, the Longstone and The Downs, starting in the pretty village of Brighstone, heading across National Trust land to the Longstone and over Mottistone Down. Camp Wight also enjoy sharing their best trek with visitors; The Western Headland of Newtown Creek walking around the nature reserve and through Bouldnor forest.
Even Island MP Bob Seely is a keen walker. His favourite route is the Warrior Trail from Mottistone, which was created in celebration of one of the Isle of Wight’s most prominent First World War stories; that of Bob’s great grandfather, General Jack Seely and his horse Warrior – a real-life War Horse.
The Most Famous Local
Luckily for wildlife lovers, you’re likely to get a glimpse of the most famous ‘local’, the native red squirrel, come rain or come shine. Walking with Ray Braithwaite through Alverstone Mead, a lowland freshwater wetland nature reserve, is a good place to start and NatureZones offers opportunities in both festivals to get even closer to them, with their Squirrel Valley Trail, Eco Valley Trail and Nature’s Table treks.
A six-mile Ventnor to St Lawrence Coastal Circular promises views of some of the prettiest coves on the Island or further along the path, join Francis Quinn for his Two Saintly Lighthouses tour, to view a Medieval lighthouse at a high level and a fully operational Victorian one at sea level. You can expect spectacular views from both.
Step Back in Time
Local historian Sue Lowday will host guided literary walks throughout both Walking Festivals to share her research of Charles Dickens’ time on the Island and the many famous Victorian residents of Bonchurch. Whereas fellow historian and author, Tim Wander shares stories from over 2,000 years of history; from prehistoric tumuli to Palmerston Forts, gun batteries, the D-Day Radio station and more during his popular Culver Cliff at War walk. His book with the same name was published in 2018.
There’s also more to the quaint sailing town of Cowes than meets the eye. Royalty Racing and Rigging and the Digging Deep - Cowes Heritage Walk are fascinating meanders through the back streets to help discover more about the world-famous yachting town. Across the river, Queen Victoria’s Historic Visitors, starts just outside Osborne House and takes you on a journey from when Queen Victoria was in power. Out west, the Robert Hooke Trail takes you back even further by introducing the life and career of the internationally renowned scientist, born in Freshwater in 1635.
All of these routes and more can be found and booked online at isleofwightwalkingfestival.co.uk. You will also find downloadable guides to each route, if you wish to visit at another time.
Walk this way
For the whole island
Explore 72 miles of the Island’s varied and picturesque coastline over three days from May 13 to 15, starting in East Cowes on day one and finishing in West Cowes at the end of day three. During the Spring Festival, IOW Rambler, David Yates will be taking walkers with him on his 53rd walk around the Island. You really couldn’t be in better hands … or footsteps!
From East to West
For those looking for a test of endurance, journey across the Island East to West as part of Walk the Wight in aid of Mountbatten. With a choice of five walks and distances, people of all ages and abilities can take part, making this a real community event on May 8.
Meet the locals
Ian Griffiths, Chairman of Visit IOW
‘I moved back to the Isle of Wight seven years ago and I live south of the Island. I think they tie a bungee rope to us Islanders! Walking is a big part of my life and here on the Island you can get out and do it all year round. You can do the same walk in the spring and again in the autumn and it’s a totally different experience.’
David Howarth, IOW Ramblers
‘I came to the Island around 14 years ago now, I wanted to work in the Countryside and help improve access for walkers. They say the Isle of Wight is like a little bit of England the whole way round. Whichever way you go there’s completely different aspects! The Walking Festival is a terrific way to learn so much more about the Island, the guides are so knowledgeable, and they are willing to share that knowledge with you!’
Plan your trip
How to get there
The festival has partnered with the local travel companies Red Funnel, Wightlink and Hovertravel to offer exclusive offers and discounts for journeying across the Solent. Once on the Island, Southern Vectis offers discounted day and week-long travel passes, across their great bus network.
In the spirit of walking, event organisers are encouraging sustainable travel where possible, asking walkers to leave their car at home and use public transport to get to, from or around the Island. There are excellent rail links to the main crossing ports of Southampton, Portsmouth and Lymington with South Western Railway.
Where to stay
For self-catering offers check out Greystone Cottage in Freshwater (01983 740782), Clarence House Apartments in Shanklin (01983 852875) or the Island Riding Centre in the middle of the Island (islandriding.com). Other options around the Island include Tapnell Farm (tapnellfarm.com) who have put together a special package for their glamping and eco pod accommodation, the Auction House in Ryde (07565 563879), The Caledon in Cowes (the-caledon.co.uk) and Albert Cottage in East Cowes (albertcottagehotel.com).
Walking up an appetite
The Island offers a wonderful culinary experience wherever you may end up but some of the great walkers pitstops across the Island include:
Quarr Abbey Tearooms (between Ryde and Fishbourne) for homemade sandwiches, cakes and quiche and Smugglers Haven Tea Rooms (Niton) for a light lunch steeped in history.
Check out the Garlic Farm (Newchurch) for delicious brunches made from local produce. Off the Rails (Yarmouth) offers exciting plates at the old station on the marshes or enjoy a doorstop crab sandwich and a glass of fizz at The Best Dressed Crab in Bembridge, a floating café with views of the harbour and the Duver.
Try The Sun at Hulverstone for a hearty local roast. The old pub is nestled beneath the Longstone and Warriors Trail with views across the West Wight. For the best pub on the beach, see the charming, thatched Fisherman’s Cottage at Shanklin beneath the Chine.