Waking up from a good night’s sleep will undoubtedly set me up well for the day ahead - with high spirits and a positive frame of mind, you can always tell when I have slept soundly. After spending our first full day on the island walking 6-miles from Freshwater Bay to The Needles, our limbs ached and we struggled to get warm. But heading to Old Shanklin Guest House brought us welcome relief when the door opened, and we were greeted by a flood of warm light and two smiling faces belonging to owners, Sarah & Gareth.
As we peeled off layer after layer of sodden clothes and pulled our heavy boots off, the warm glow of Old Shanklin Guest House mixed with the knowledge of a shower and bed awaiting us, filled me with great joy. I love walking long distances and am not one to shy away from bad weather – I live in Cornwall! But there is nothing better than finishing a walk knowing you can strip off (don’t get too excited now!) and wash away the mud and aches with a hot shower and a big comfy bed. This is exactly what my partner, Hannah, and I did after checking in to Old Shanklin Guest House.
Sarah and Gareth immediately made us feel welcome and explained our check in as if talking to old friends. Sarah mentioned what time breakfast was and right on cue, my stomach rumbled. Old Shanklin Guest House is renowned for their breakfasts and after spending a day hiking along the coast, the thought of eating suddenly filled my brain.
After chatting for a few moments, Gareth kindly took our damp outerwear and hung it up in their drying room, then helped us with our suitcases to our room for the night; The Tennyson Suite. Once we had looked around and oooh’d and aaaah’d at the huge shower and bath, we made ourselves a cuppa and sat on the sofa, reminiscing about our first hike on the Isle of Wight, and wondering what it had in store for us the following day.
Famous for its thatched houses, Shanklin village is a quaint stroll away from the guest house. After warming up in the shower and making ourselves look fairly human again, we made our way to the village to find a place to sit and get a decent meal. We were recommended a few places by Sarah, but the one that caught our attention most was The Crab where apparently, their portion sizes are immense.
The legends are true, I’m still full to this day!!
Sipping on a well-needed and well-deserved violet gin, we chatted about the next chapter of our walking weekend. Our route for the following day would be taking us from Shanklin to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse. Between these two points we would be heading across the top of Luccombe Chine and The Landslip, via a darling little church at Bonchurch, along the sea wall towards Ventnor Esplanade, through a little fishing cove at Steephill Cove, through fields to St. Lawrence and finally, across to Niton. Phew!
With plenty of mileage to get through and lots of varying terrain to navigate across, we decided to start the walk fairly early the next morning. Hannah and I are notorious for stopping to take pictures along the way, so we made sure to add an extra hour onto our timings to account for selfies and gawping at the views!
Our starting point was luckily a stone’s throw away from the guest house, so once we were up and ready (and had gorged on the most delicious breakfast of poached eggs on these dreamy little pancakes), we could begin the hike straight away. Heading through Shanklin and up towards the coastal path, I was a little sad to see it getting further and further away. After remembering my time here as a child, it was good to be back in the place I came to when younger, and wish I could have spent more time exploring it as an adult. Maybe next time! But with the glorious expansion of sea to our left, we were excited at what the next 9-miles had in store for us.
We eventually found ourselves on the coast path and as we found our rhythm, walked one behind the other in comfortable silence, admiring the views that engulfed us. We approached a bungalow and prepared ourselves to wave hello to the old chap outside in his garden, but rather than waving us on, he pulled us over for a chat. Something about the way he seemed so friendly and accustomed to greeting us, made me wonder how many times he had spoken to ramblers before. We nattered for almost 10-minutes and found more out about this gentleman than we anticipated. Chatting about Cornwall, he spoke fondly of the memories he had of holidays on the Cornish coast. By the end, he felt like a familiar friend that I was a little sad to say goodbye to. We waved a fond farewell and carried on, nodding to a couple walking towards us. I turned to see our new friend reel this couple in and smiled.
What I loved most about this walk was how we still had all the fantastic coastal views but were also able to spend a chunk of the walk more inland. With the well-kept trails and occasional sheltered areas, we could admire the views without needing to carefully trace a map or worry too much about the wind. Part of the Isle of Wight Undercliff, the Landslip is accessed by many footpaths and is a wooded coastal landslip zone between Luccombe and Bonchurch villages. The coastal path runs through the reserve and hikers can climb up and down the inner cliff via The Devils Chimney or The Chink. As we made our way across Luccombe via the Landslip, we stumbled across an area on the wooded path called The Wishing Seat. Tradition has it that if you sit on the Wishing Seat and make a wish, it will come true. So naturally, both myself and Hannah took turns in clambering on and making a wish.
Although I am not religious, I have always been drawn to churches and cathedrals, so I was very happy to learn that along the way to Bonchurch (should have guessed by the name really), there would be a church for me to wonder at. St. Boniface Church is a parish church dating back to 1847 and on peering round the heavy door frame, I was not disappointed. As we silently took it all in, I couldn’t help but get a little emotional. Having recently lost a close member of my family at Christmas time, it all seemed a little overwhelming. But that’s what I love about being in a church. You don’t have to necessarily believe in God or have the same religion as your neighbour to be allowed in. Whatever you choose to believe in, if anything, there is an element of safety in a church that can bring you peace and comfort, as well as make you feel a little closer to those you have lost.
After spending a considerable amount of time admiring the history that seeped out of St. Boniface Church, we continued on our way. Whilst in the area, we detoured a little and went and had a look around Bonchurch village. One of the oldest settlements on the Isle of Wight, Bonchurch is full of personality and riddled with history. In the mid to late 19th Century, characters such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle were known to stay in Bonchurch and in 1545, the battle of Bonchurch was fought.
As we made our way to our next destination, Ventnor, we first had to walk along the one mile sea wall that curved its way along the skirting of the sea. Dodging the splashes as the waves hit the edge of the sea wall, it was a fun yet gentle amble towards the seaside town that was once described as the ‘English Mediterranean’.
A traditional seaside resort, Ventnor is full of your typical seaside holiday attractions. In the summer months, Ventnor beach is a suntrap and the sand and shingle beach are perfect for sunbathing – however not at the end of January when it’s blowing a hooley and all you want is a hot chocolate and a radiator to cling to. Taking the opportunity to stop for a bite to eat, a hot drink and a sit down, we found a little café and bunkered down for an hour. Looking at the map we could see we were half way to the end of our walk.
Feeling refreshed, refuelled and a lot warmer than when we arrived, we left Ventnor and headed for Steephill Cove. A pretty little area with no road access, Steephill Cove is a traditional fishing cove that has been likened to my beloved Cornwall. No wonder I fell in love a teensy bit. Making our way out of Steephill Cove, our next landmark was St. Lawrence, a village that takes its name from the parish church, which was dedicated to Lawrence, Archdeacon of Rome. Unfortunately, Lawrence met an untimely end when he was burnt to death on a gridiron in AD258! Yikes!
Following the edges of field after field, but with the coastline to keep us company along the way, we eventually made our way to Niton, a traditional village situated on the very south side of the Isle of Wight, and our last leg of the journey. Without realising, we had spent almost an entire day walking (I told you we like to take it all in) and could see the pink tinge of the sky appearing as the sun started to go down. Winding our way through Niton, we found a sudden burst of energy and picked up a bit of speed, like a horse that knows it’s on its way home. St. Catherine’s Lighthouse was in spitting distance, and after 10+ miles of hiking, we were ready to see our final landmark.
St. Catherine’s Lighthouse is located at St. Catherine’s Point at the southern tip of the Isle of Wight, and according to The National Trust, ‘was built in response to local need for reliable light to guide shipping following the shipwreck of the Clarendon’. After spending the day walking, we really were glad to see this beauty!
After exploring a little while around St. Catherine’s Lighthouse, we made our way to our third and final accommodation of the weekend; The Caledon Guest House back in Cowes. With everything you need, The Caledon does exactly what it says on the tin. A friendly and welcoming bed and breakfast but with the spacious feel of a hotel, it was the perfect place to stop off for the night and to end our weekend on the Isle of Wight. What I loved most about The Caledon was the array of local produce on offer and how fresh the food was. With so many varieties of tea to choose from, tea addict Hannah was in her element. After already checking in online, the owner of the guest house, Mark, welcomed us in, showed us around and then let us get on with collapsing in a heap in our lovely room.
Finding a lovely pub down the road for some dinner, we chatted about the walk and both commented at how varied it was. The twist and turns of the pathways muddled with the open expanse of fields and coast, plus the little villages and seaside towns among the intriguing history and architecture…quite frankly, this walk had it all and albeit we were both shattered, I already longed to get back out there and see what else this island I’d grown to love, had waiting for me.
Until next time…
“A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself ” Maya Angelou
~ Dedicated to Michael ~
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Red Jet Ferries: https://www.redfunnel.co.uk/en/isle-of-wight-ferry/timetables/