From lofty downland with magnificent coastal views to tranquil estuary scenes, this exhilarating ramble explores the landscape the poet loved so well.
Distance 6 miles (9.7km)
Minimum time 3hrs
Ascent/gradient 623ft (190m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Downland, field and woodland paths, some road walking and stretch of disused railway, 4 stiles
Landscape Downland, farmland, freshwater marsh and salt marsh
Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 29 Isle of Wight
Start/finish SZ 346857
Dog friendliness Let off lead on Tennyson Down and along old railway
Parking Pay-and-display car park at Freshwater Bay
Public toilets Freshwater Bay and Yarmouth
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 From the car park, turn right along the road, then left before the bus shelter along a metalled track, signed 'Coastal Footpath'. As it bears left, keep ahead through kissing gates and soon begin a steep ascent up a concrete path on to Tennyson Down. Keep to the well walked path to the memorial cross at its summit.
2 Continue down the wide grassy swathe, which narrows between gorse bushes, to reach the replica of the Old Nodes Beacon. Here, turn very sharp right down a chalk track. At a junction (car park right) keep straight on up the narrow path.
3 The path widens, then descends to a gate into woodland. Proceed close to the woodland fringe to a further gate and enter more open countryside. Pass disused excavations on the right, then shortly, turn sharp left down an unmarked path. Cross a stile, then keep left along the field boundary and bear sharp left to a stile. Cross the next field to a stile and turn right along the field edge to a stile.
4 Cross a farm track, go through a gate and walk along the track (F47) beside Farringford Manor Hotel. Pass beneath a wooden footbridge and continue downhill to a gate and the road. (Turn left if wishing to visit the hotel). Turn right, pass the thatched church and turn left down Blackbridge Road. Just before Black Bridge, turn left into Afton Marshes Nature Reserve.
5 Join the nature trail, following the left-hand path beside the stream to the A3055 (this can be very wet in winter). Turn left and almost immediately cross over to join footpath F61 along the course of the old railway. In ½ mile (800m) reach the Causeway. Turn left here for the longer loop of Walk 49 or to visit Freshwater church and the Red Lion.
6 On this shorter walk turn right and follow the lane to the B3399. Turn left and shortly cross into unmetalled Manor Road. In a few paces, bear off left, signed 'Freshwater Way', and ascend across grassland towards Afton Down.
7 Proceed ahead at a junction of paths beside the golf course, soon to follow the gravel track right to the clubhouse. Go through a gate, pass in front of the building and walk down the access track, keeping left to the A3055. Turn right downhill into Freshwater Bay.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the traditional resort towns, West Wight is a quieter, less populated area of great natural beauty, offering areas of open countryside, rugged cliffs, wonderful views and a fascinating wildlife. This exhilarating ramble encapsulates the contrasting landscapes of the area, from the wildlife-rich tidal estuary of the River Yar and the natural wetland habitat of freshwater marshes, to rolling farmland and the magnificent chalk headlands and hills with their breathtaking coastal views.
Of the many literary greats who sought seclusion and inspiration on the Island during the 19th century, it was the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson who chose to reside in West Wight. Tennyson and his wife Emily first came to Farringford House, a castellated late-Georgian house (now a hotel) set in parkland beneath Tennyson Down, in 1853. From the drawing room he could look out across Freshwater Bay and the slopes of Afton Down, a view he believed to be the most beautiful in England - 'Mediterranean in its richness and charm'. Almost daily he would take long solitary walks across the chalk downland, enjoying the bracing air, which he declared to be 'worth sixpence a pint'. The island inspired some of his greatest poems. The Charge of the Light Brigade was written on the Down that now bears his name, and Maud, Enoch Arden and the Idylls of the King were all written at Farringford.
Tennyson's poetry was so popular that he soon became one of the richest poets in the country. Combined with his magnetic genius and personality, he soon changed the face of West Wight, as tiny Freshwater became the cultural centre of England, attracting the most eminent Victorians of his age - Charles Kingsley, Garibaldi, Lewis Carroll, Charles Darwin, Prince Albert - to name but a few. Farringford was the perfect place to entertain friends and celebrities, despite or because of its remoteness, but it was his time spent alone wandering the Downs or with his wife Emily in their fine garden that made Farringford so special. They bought a house on the mainland and only returned to Farringford for the winter, when they would be undisturbed. Alfred died in 1892 and Emily nearly four years later in 1896.
Memories of the great man and his family are dotted along this walk. On Tennyson Down, where he often rambled, you will find the granite monument erected in his honour in 1897. On quieter days you can imagine the poet striding up the hill, dressed in his flowing Spanish cloak, wide-brimmed hat and with a stout holly stick, for his favourite downland walk. You can take lunch or afternoon tea at Farringford Hotel. In Freshwater, step inside All Saints Church to view the memorials to the family, while in the peaceful churchyard you will find Emily's grave and a lovely view across the serene estuary of the River Yar.
Visit the Needles Pleasure Park at Alum Bay. Take the spectacular chairlift to the beach to view the strange multi-coloured sands for which it is famous, take a boat trip to view the Needles at close quarters, and explore the restored Old Battery, built in 1862, with its viewing platform and exhibition of the history of the headland.
As you walk through the reedbeds and scrub of Afton Marsh Nature Reserve, look out for the blue flash of the kingfisher and the yellow blooms of the marsh marigold, among many other birds and marsh plants that thrive there. On Tennyson Down you may see rare chalk-loving flowers and grasses, including bee orchids and nettle-leaved bellflowers, and hundred of small butterflies, such as common, chalkhill, small and Adonis blues, skippers and dark green fritillaries.