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Godshill to Appuldurcombe

Traverse unspoilt downland from Godshill to the ruins of a Palladian mansion.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 639ft (195m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Downland, woodland paths, tracks, metalled drive, 6 stiles

Landscape Farmland, woodland, and open downland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 29 Isle of Wight

Start/finish SZ 530817

Dog friendliness Dogs must be kept on leads in places

Parking Free car park in Godshill, opposite Griffin Inn

Public toilets Godshill

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1 From the car park in Godshill, cross the road and walk down Hollis Lane beside the Griffin Inn. Just before Godshill Cherry Orchard, take the footpath left, signed to Beech Copse. Keep to the right of the pub garden to a stile. Continue to a further stile and keep to the path gently uphill through the valley to a stile on the edge of Beech Copse.

2 Just beyond, at a fork, bear right uphill through trees to a junction of paths by a gate. Turn right through the gate and walk towards Sainham Farm. Keep left of the farm to a gate and turn left uphill (Worsley Trail), signed to Stenbury Down. Steadily climb this fenced track, passing through two large metal gates and enter a copse.

3 At a junction of paths below Gat Cliff, take bridleway GL49 right through a gate beside a fingerpost, signed 'Stenbury Down'. Shortly, disregard footpath right and keep to the bridleway as it veers left and climbs to a gate. Skirt around the base of Gat Cliff and then Appuldurcombe Down, the path follows field edges before climbing steeply beside a stone wall to a gate and open grassland on the top of Stenbury Down.

4 Keep left beside the hedge to a gate and, in a few paces, bear right along the track towards a radio station. Pass to the left of the building, then just before reaching a stile and footpath on the right, turn left (unsigned) along the field edge. Head downhill, then at the field boundary, bear left to descend steps to a metalled track.

5 Turn left and steeply descend to a T-junction. Turn left then, where the lane curves right, keep ahead to pass Span Lodge and a large barn to a stile. Keep ahead between fields to a stile. Keep to the left-hand field edge in front of Appuldurcombe House, ignoring the waymarked path right, to reach a stile by the entrance to the house.

6 Take the footpath to the left of the car park, signed to 'Godshill'. Walk along the drive to Appuldurcombe Farm then, where it curves left, keep straight ahead through two gateways (with stiles to the left) and soon pass through Freemantle Gate on the edge of Godshill Park.

7 Proceed downhill towards Godshill Park Farm. Ignore paths right and left, pass in front of Godshill Park House and join the metalled drive that leads to the A3020. Cross over and turn left along the pavement back to the car park.

With its village street lined with pretty thatched cottages, flower-filled gardens, wishing wells, souvenir shops, and tea gardens, Godshill, at its most visible, is the tourist 'honey-pot' on the island. It is best explored out of season, when the coaches and crowds have gone, and its period buildings and magnificent church can be better appreciated. Godshill is also located in the heart of an unspoilt landscape and perfect walking country, making it a useful starting point for several exhilarating downland rambles.

The history of Godshill is closely tied to the Worsley family, builders of the Palladian-style mansion of Appuldurcombe in the neighbouring village of Wroxall and the focus of this walk. Several of the buildings in the village were built by various owners of Appuldurcombe and their fine memorials can be seen in the church. Your walk quickly escapes Godshill and the throng of summer visitors, steadily climbing through woods and farmland to the top of Stenbury Down, where you can catch your breath and take in the far-reaching island views, from Tennyson Down in the west to Culver Cliff in the east. From these lofty heights, you quickly descend towards Wroxall to reach the magnificent ruins of Appuldurcombe House.

Cradled in a sheltered and secluded natural amphitheatre beneath high downland slopes, Appuldurcombe, the great house of Wroxall, began as a priory in 1100. It later became a convent and then the home of the Leigh family in 1498. The connection with the illustrious Worsleys began when the Leighs' daughter Anne married Sir James Worsley, the richest man in Wight, who obtained a new lease. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Worsley's gained outright possession of the property, pulled down the old Tudor house and built a fine mansion with a pillared front towards the end of the 18th century. They also employed 'Capability' Brown to landscape the immediate surroundings of the house. It was, by far, the grandest house on the island until Queen Victoria built Osborne House. After 300 years as the home of the Worsley family, it was sold in 1854 and in succeeding years became a school, the home of Benedictine monks, and a temporary base for troops during World War One. Already damaged and decaying, it was finally reduced to a ruined shell in 1943, courtesy of a stray German land mine.

What you see today has been achieved by English Heritage and its predecessors, who since 1952 have repaired and restored the dramatic shell of the building, finally re-roofing and replacing windows in the Great Hall, Drawing Room and Dining Parlour in 1986. If you wander through the eerily empty rooms, admire the splendid east front and stroll through the ornamental gardens and 11 acres (4.5ha) of grounds, you will capture the atmosphere of bygone days when this was the island's finest private residence. A final evocative reminder of the past glories of the estate is encountered at the northern end of the former park, as you make your way back to Godshill. Here, you will pass through Freemantle Gate, a fine Ionic triumphal arch with wrought-iron gates, designed by James Wyatt and formerly the main gate to Appuldurcombe from Godshill in the 18th century. The Stenbury Trail must be one of the few footpaths in the land to pass through such a magnificent gateway.

What to look for

Escape the crowds and the knick-knack shops in Godshill and make for All Saints Church, a large, medieval parish church on a hill surrounded by pretty thatched cottages. Look for the late 15th-century wall painting of Christ crucified (the Lily Cross), a painting which may be by Rubens, and the magnificent Tudor monuments to the Leigh and Worsley families.

Where to eat and drink

There's a good range of pubs, cafés and tea rooms in Godshill, notably the Cask and Taverners pub and the Willow Tree Tea Gardens. The welcome Aviary Café is at the Owl and Falconry Centre at Appuldurcombe House.

While you're there

Visit the Isle of Wight Natural History Centre in Godshill. Housed in a 17th-century cottage, you can view marine and tropical aquariums and marvel at a collection of some 40,000 seashells and corals, together with minerals, precious and semi-precious stones, the largest collection of its kind in Southern England. Buy a joint ticket at Appuldurcombe House and visit the Owl and Falconry Centre to see aviaries with birds of prey and owls from around the world, and regular flying displays.

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