Things to do

Walking on the Tennyson Downs

Living in south west Cornwall I’m lucky enough to enjoy some splendid coastal walks with my dog Nigel. Now I may be a bit biased but, I do think my area is hard to beat with its stunning mix of woodland, sea views and pretty coastal villages around the Lizard peninsula.

So, when I was offered the chance to walk around West Wight with some of the Travel Ambassador Green Star Scheme team who are operated by Visit Isle of Wight, the official Tourist Board for the Island, alongside some local accommodation providers, I jumped at the chance. What better way could there be of comparing two different areas of countryside and coast?

The Travel Ambassador team promote travel without a car around the island; walk, cycle, bus or train, if you are looking for information they will help with an answer. 

We met up in Freshwater, a lovely quaint village in the far west of the island with an assortment of interesting historical places to visit such as the Dimbola Museum exhibiting the works of Julia Margaret Cameron, a pioneer in the art of portrait photography and the very cute St Agnes Church (purported to be the only thatched church in the UK). Freshwater Bay is a horseshoe shaped pebbly beach with areas of sand and a rock ledge exposed at low tide making for some good crabbing opportunities.

The walk starts with a bit of a climb, up towards the Tennyson Monument, the statuesque monument to Sir Alfred Tennyson, the Victorian Poet Laureate, situated at the highest point of Tennyson Down. The views from this spot are simply wonderful with panoramic vistas across Freshwater Bay to the east, Hurst Castle over the Solent and Studland Bay to the west all dotted with tiny sailing craft and larger ships travelling the world. We took a quick breather and admired the views whilst taking advantage of some handy benches for a sit down.

The Downs then levelled out and it was an undulating walk on to the Needles. I’ve been to the Island many times but never ventured into the National Trust Needles Battery and I was so glad to have the opportunity this time. The Old Needles Battery was built in the 1800s to protect the area from French invasion. It was fascinating to look around the guns alongside other artefacts and read the history behind the battery. There is a tunnel which can be accessed via a very narrow spiral staircase which leads to a viewing area overlooking the needles. Watch your step, it’s not for the faint-hearted! Don’t forget your camera as there’s an amazing view of this iconic landmark. After a quick ice cream stop we headed over to the new Battery which was built at the end of the 19th century when it was decided the Old Battery was no longer fit for purpose and too small for more modern, larger guns. Extensive work was started in 2003 to restore the New Battery and now visitors can see underground rooms restored to their former glory. The Needles was also home to secret rocket testing and it is still possible to see the original testing site. 

After spending an hour having a good delve around (we could’ve stayed longer as there’s lots to see), we headed back east over the Downs back to the Monument. The return journey was not quite as taxing as there wasn’t as much of a climb and we were soon back in Freshwater enjoying tea and lovely cakes provided by Adam and Paul, owners of a local B & B. 

The walk took about four hours (mileage covered was around eight) but I would recommend taking longer and maybe enjoying a picnic en-route at the monument. The weather was kind, the views amazing, The Needles Battery well-worth a visit; so was it as good as Cornwall? Well, yes, but in a different way. 

Choose one of our Isle of Wight holiday cottages and starting planning your walking adventure around the island.

Walking across the Tennyson Downs on the Isle of Wight.

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