This walk around the Isle of Wight coast path was organised at the last minute – it was the final week of the school summer holidays and the weather forecast was amazing. This really is the benefit of wild camping – we didn’t need to worry about accommodation being booked up (especially as this week also included a bank holiday weekend!) So, after some hurried organisation of train tickets to Portsmouth and foot-passenger ferry tickets to Fishbourne, we were ready to go.
As the forecast was so good, we packed light. We also decided against taking the water filter, as we would never be too far from resupply and we weren’t sure about how many rivers we would be able to access for fresh water anyway. Full details of the Isle of Wight Coast Path route can be found here.
Day 1: 23rd August 2019. Fishbourne to Gurnard Bay
Our ferry from Portsmouth arrived at Fishbourne in glorious sunshine. We had decided to walk the coast path in an anti-clockwise direction – this meant we would start with the road stretch to Cowes rather than end with it, and what little wind there was would be on our backs. Looking at the map, we were also concerned about finding a suitable wild camping spot if we headed towards Ryde first, as our afternoon ferry crossing meant we would still be in a fairly built-up area at bed time.
So once safely off the ferry, we headed down the estuary, across Wootton Bridge and then through the residential (and surprisingly hilly) streets of Wootton. This stretch of the coast path is a bit of a slog, and the sea itself is elusive. After an hour or two, we were very glad we’d made the decision to walk this first as it would make a disappointing end to an otherwise glorious coastal walk. No offence, Wootton!
The last mile or so into Cowes was alongside the busy A3021, which was safe enough with a wide footpath. Nonetheless, reaching East Cowes was a relief and we rewarded ourselves with an ice-cream before catching the chain ferry across the River Medina to Cowes.
From here, we turned right and finally joined the coast. The stretch around Egypt Point was beautiful in the setting sun, and Gurnard was a real surprise. This seemed to have a lovely community atmosphere, with wooden houses and beach huts filled with families enjoying the evening sunshine.
We left the houses of Gurnard behind and joined the cliff path. As the darkness finally caught up with us, we dropped on to the beach and made camp just above the high water mark (or so we hoped! Luckily it was a neap tide). This was an amazing spot to camp, with the lights of Southampton visible across the Solent.
Day 2: 24th August 2019. Gurnard Bay to Headon Warren
Another glorious day, with hot sunshine, blue skies and very little wind all day. We packed up our little camp at Gurnard Bay and headed back to the coast path. A local fisherman had told us the night before that it was possible to stick to the beach and walk around to Thorness Bay, but we were a little concerned about the children so we took the cliff-top path again. Looking at the beach from the top, it probably was possible to do, certainly at low tide.
However, the cliff path was stunning and we soon arrived at Thorness Bay. The holiday park here had a great play area that occupied the children for an hour while we enjoyed a coffee.
This marked the end of the sea views for a little while, as the coast path turns inland to avoid the MoD land east of Newtown. The walk through the fields of Newtown was lovely, and we stopped briefly at Newtown Old Town Hall. Hungry bellies then drove us on to our lunch stop at the Horse and Groom pub at Ningwood, where we combined a great value meal with a highly competitive round of crazy golf!
After lunch, we headed into the woods (very welcome in the heat), turning off at Hamstead and following Bouldnor Cliff towards Yarmouth. We had planned to re-stock our food here, but the only supermarket was extremely expensive. We just bought the barest minimum and hoped for cheaper prices in Freshwater Bay, which we planned to reach the next day.
By the time we left Yarmouth, our thought were turning to finding a suitable wild camping spot for the night. The map suggested that the area past Fort Victoria might be possible, which was tempting as the day’s mileage was beginning to show in the children. However, when we got there the area was packed with people enjoying the evening sunshine, so we stopped for another ice-cream and a lovely chat with the lady that ran the cafe at Fort Victoria (it was closed, or we would have eaten there!)
So we left Fort Victoria behind us and headed towards Totland, the walking a little easier now the sun had lost some of its heat. Totland itself was absolutely lovely, and the temptation for an evening swim was just too much. What a treat after a hot day’s walking!
Suitably refreshed, it was a short, sharp climb up from Totland Bay to Headon Warren, where we finally found a camp spot with a stunning view of the coastline and Tennyson Down to the west.
Day 3: 25th August 2019. Headon Warren to Grange
We packed up camp and walked down to Alum Bay very early, and it was lovely to have this usually busy spot to ourselves. We skirted around the edge of the Old Battery at the Needles, then headed along the beautiful Tennyson Down towards Tennyson Monument.
From the monument, it was an easy downhill stroll to Freshwater Bay and breakfast at the Piano Cafe. We were very short of supplies by this point, and the shop marked on our map had closed, so we walked into Freshwater itself to find a very welcome Sainsbury’s Local. Thank goodness we hadn’t paid the prices in the Yarmouth shop!
We returned to the coast by following the footpath by the river, and then headed up on to the cliff-top path towards Compton Chine. This was another swimming opportunity too good to miss, so a couple of hours were spent here enjoying the sea.
The tide was out when we left Compton Chine, so a split decision was made. Mark stayed on the beach and followed this around to Grange, and the children and I headed back up to the cliff-top path. We met up again at the next beach access at Grange, and found the perfect camp spot on the undercliff. Camping early meant that the evening was spent swimming and enjoying the cooler sea breeze.
Day 4: 26th August 2019. Grange to Dunnose
A fairly thick sea fog had rolled in this morning, which made for an atmospheric walk along the cliff top towards Chale.
The erosion was clear to see on this coast, and parts of the path ran extremely close to the cliff edge. In places, you could see where the old coastal path had fallen away, and a new path had been made further inland.
The stretch from Blackgang Chine to Ventnor was my favourite part of the whole Isle of Wight coast path. The views from the down were spectacular (once the sun had burned away the sea fog) and the descent into St Lawrence was lovely. We gave Blackgang Chine a miss as we had visited the last time we were on the Isle of Wight, and we were on a bit of a clock to get back to Fishbourne for our ferry. It is definitely worth it if you’re walking with children, though.
The Isle of Wight Coast Path takes you right into Steephill Cove, which is a gem of a place. As the day had become very hot again, this was a perfect place for another swim.
From Steephill Cove it was a short stroll to Ventnor, where we were planning to have a well-earned dinner. We stopped initially at the Spyglass Inn, which is in an amazing spot overlooking the bay. However, the crowds on this summer’s evening were understandably ridiculous, so we walked further into Ventnor, and had a great meal at the Mill Bay Inn instead. A bargain and highly recommended.
Tummies full, it was time to start the search for a suitable wild camping spot. This was the stretch of coast that we were the most concerned about, as it is quite built up all the way back to Fishbourne. However, our strategy of waiting until dusk and being unobtrusive worked, and we found a great spot above the landslip at Dunnose. It was so warm overnight that we slept without the flysheet over the tent, giving us a wonderful view of the stars.
Day 5: Dunnose to Bembridge
We left Dunnose in the early morning, and the coast path took us through lush woodland, into Luccombe Village and on to Shanklin.
Shanklin didn’t hold much appeal so we headed on to Sandown, and found a lovely cafe for breakfast (Barnaby’s – we highly recommend it!) The staff here also kindly refilled our water bottles.
After a stop at the Sainsbury’s Local in the high street to resupply again, we headed to a play area (to burn off our huge breakfast) then spent the afternoon on the beach. We chose Yaverland, right at the end before the Coast Path took us up on Bembridge Down. This turned out to be a great decision as the toilet block in the car park had outdoor showers and a drinking water tap. We made full use of both!
The walk across Bembridge Down was spectacular, and once at the top we spotted the stunning lady’s tresses orchid (interestingly, this website says they are extinct in the UK – but we definitely saw them!)
We had been looking forward to a drink in the pub at Culver Cliff but this was closed, so we walked on into Bembridge. There was a nice pub here for a drink, but it was too expensive for us to eat at. We had a picnic on the beach watching the tide come in instead – much better!
Then it was time to start the search for a camping spot again. We were half-resigned to thinking we would have to pay for a camp site, or maybe even B&B accommodation, but we managed to find a spot just off the coast path in the trees before Bembridge Point. This ended up being a very warm night, as we had got used to the sea breeze.
Day 6: Bembridge to Fishbourne
As we had covered quite a bit of mileage earlier in the week, we could afford a really easy day today. The aim was to try to find a camping spot as close to Fishbourne as we could, as we were booked on the 9am ferry to Portsmouth the next day.
The walk around Bembridge Harbour was lovely in the quiet of the early morning, and I enjoyed looking at all the houseboats. We stopped at the Duver for a great breakfast at the Baywatch Cafe. A handy disabled toilet next door allowed us all to wash ourselves and our clothes, and the heat of sun had dried them all before we’d even finished breakfast!
The coast path then took us around Nettlestone Point and Puckpool Point, which had a good play area for the children. It allowed us to dry off the tents and sleeping bags, too, which had got quite damp the night before camped in the ‘jungle’.
Ryde was our next stop, and I insisted we walked all the way to the end of the pier – I can’t remember why, and no-one was particularly happy with me! Fish and chips for tea on the sea wall helped to cheer everyone up again…
Fishbourne was then approaching fast, and we needed to find our last camping spot. We managed to get to the beach just before Quarr Abbey (which is private ground), and camped right at the edge of the high tide mark (the water sounded VERY close in the middle of the night!)
Day 7: Fishbourne to Portsmouth (and home)
And so our week’s adventure came to an end. It was an easy stroll from our camp spot to the ferry terminal (dodging red squirrels as we went) and we caught the 9am crossing to Portsmouth. As a last treat, we spent the day at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, which was brilliant. We highly recommend Victory News (Cafe Oasis) at The Hard in Portsmouth, where we could store our luggage and get a great cup of tea.
This was a fabulous week, helped by amazing weather of course. Wild camping was easier than we expected and we will definitely return. The Isle of Wight coast path would make a good first long-distance walk with children.
Read our 11 wild camping rules here.