7th April 2019
The Isle of Wight Walking Festival and a Featured Walk
The annual Isle of Wight Walking Festival offers a great opportunity to really get to know the unique environment that is the Isle of Wight.
This year the Isle of Wight Walking Festival is taking place over a two-week period beginning on May 04 and ending on May 19. It is a great tribute to the islanders that all these walks are free and are led by voluntary leaders who love the island and are eager to share their interests and favourite places with those who join their walks.
On the Esplanade in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight
With one hundred walks on offer varying from gentle rambles to a three-day around the island walk there is something for everyone. Most of the walks are free but participants are requested to sign up before their chosen walk takes place. All the walks are listed on a dedicated website which describes the walks on offer each week and enables you to reserve a place on your chosen walks.
The Walk through Batts Copse in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight Walking Festival is one of the UK’s longest running walking festivals. The first festival was organised by the Isle of Wight Council in 1999. It offered 39 walks and over 5000 walkers took part. Over the years the festival has increased in popularity and this year there will be almost 100 walks on offer. All the walks will be led by volunteers, many of whom are members of their local Ramblers group. All the leaders are experienced walkers with a great deal of knowledge about the Island. In 2016 when the Isle of Wight Council made the decision that it could no longer afford to run the festival the Island’s Destination Management Organisation, Visit the Isle of Wight, took over and launched a new festival with over 80 walks. This year the festival is sponsored by Warner Leisure Hotels and promises to be better than ever.
The View from my Window at Bembridge Coast Hotel on the Isle
As someone who recently fell under the spell of this wonderful island I was delighted when I was offered the chance to try two walks featured in the festival programme. I chose a walk centred on Shanklin entitled Shanklin Coast to Country. I met the leader of this walk, Jacqueline, at Shanklin Railway Station. Getting there was an experience in itself as I used the Island Line Railway and travelled in the carriage of a London Underground train that dates back to the 1930s. Low bridges on the island make these trains a perfect fit. The station, built in 1864 and extended in 1881 is a grade II listed building. As Station Road was felt to be too insignificant a name for the town the approach road is Regent Street. Something that would have passed me by had Rob not pointed this out. There are many such references to the fact that Queen Victoria was once a resident on the island.
Island Line Train in Shanklin Station on the Isle of Wight
Before we left the station Jacqueline proudly showed me the beautiful gardens on the far side of the platform. These are maintained by a voluntary organisation Green Towns that encourages local communities to improve their environment. This garden was one of several gardens we visited on our walk. It soon became clear that both Jacqueline and her husband, Rob, are passionate about volunteering and proudly pointed out several projects run by volunteers on our way. They moved to the island in 2013 having spent several holidays here and are now very much part of the local community. Jacqueline is French and Rob is Scottish and they met while they were both studying in Switzerland. This lovely couple were inspiring and I was soon steeped in the history of Shanklin as we strolled through the town.
Town Cottage Gardens in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight
The walk covers a distance of 4 miles and takes about 3 hours but it is gentle walking and covers lots of places of interest. After we left the station we walked through the town to the sea front or Esplanade. On our way Jacqueline pointed out places of interest including the Shanklin Sailing Club which is run by volunteers and a section of the Coast Path that encircles the island. We strolled past the two crazy golf courses featuring pirates and dinosaurs. The latter are great favourites on the islands as they once lived here. Behind a large amusement arcade I could see a roof that looked a bit incongruous. Jacqueline told me that that this was a redundant sea plane hangar that had been moved to this site and incorporated in a building that has now become the Summer Arcade. The joy of walking with a local is hearing snippets of local history such as this. We stopped at the place where the town pier once extended out to sea and we all agreed that although the lift up to the town above the sea front is not very attractive it is very useful and that is why the inhabitants resisted its destruction.
Access to the Coast Path in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight
At the end of the Esplanade we had a quick peek into the Shanklin Chine an historic gorge. It is closed during the winter but opens again in April. We then climbed a short flight of steep steps to the Tower Cottage Gardens. As we strolled through these pretty gardens, once the gardens surrounding Tower Cottage, I admired a building at the far end wondering if it was the original cottage and then joked that it was probably some public toilets. I was right. Sadly, the cottage was demolished due to subsidence in 1947. A toilet block was built on the same sit and has recently been revamped with the addition of a small shop. After skirting the Old Village we walked a short distance along the High Street to the Shanklin Theatre. Jacqueline and Rob are members of the 150 team of volunteers who run the theatre aided by 3.5 paid members of staff. This is where the walkers will pause for refreshments and will be given a brief history of the theatre. This interesting building started it life as a literary institute before becoming the Town Hall of Shanklin. It was also used as a morgue during the Second World War.
Jacqueline outside Shanklin Theatre in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight
When we left the theatre we continued along the High Street for a short distance and then then turned off and made our way towards Batts Copse. This copse has been given back to nature it woods are sprinkled with an interesting collection of ferns. We followed a path that went into the woods before beginning a gradual ascent up the side of Sibden Hill. When we emerged at the top of the hill we had glorious views across the countryside and down to the sea. This hill is also known as the village green. When it was threatened by possible development the proposals were thwarted when local residents managed to register it as a village green.
View from the top of Sibden Hill in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight
After strolling down the hill we turned off onto the old railway line. This is now a walking and cycling track. It took us back to Shanklin Railway station and the end of our walk. It had been a really good walk and had acquainted me with the history of the town and the huge network of volunteer organisations that support and run its many interesting attractions. My next article will describe these and other attractions in more detail.
Where to Stay
While I was on the Isle of Wight I stayed at the Bembridge Coast Hotel, a Warner’s Leisure Hotel for adults only. This hotel is ideally situation on the coast amid lovely gardens. Several types of accommodation are available from standard and Signature rooms to Royal Rooms and Chalets. The staff are friendly, efficient and helpful. The package includes breakfast and dinner as well as professional live entertainment every evening. It was a pleasure staying there.
Bembridge Coast Hotel in Bembridge on the Isle of Wight
There are regular ferries to the isle of Wight and a choice of routes as follows: Lymington to Yarmouth; Portsmouth to Fishbourne; Portsmouth to Ryde; Southampton to West Cowes or East Cowes. I took the Wightlink Car Ferry from Portsmouth to Fishbourne (Ryde) and from there it was a short drive to my hotel in Bembridge.
There are also several public transport options to get from the mainland to the Isle of Wight including “through” tickets to the Isle of Wight port of entry. Onward travel tickets, including travel on the Island Line Train are also available and discounts such as Railcards are valid for these tickets. The passenger ferry to Ryde pierhead is a good option as there is a regular train service operating from Ryde Pierhead connecting the east and south of the Isle of Wight via the towns of Ryde, Brading, Sandown, Lake and Shanklin.
There are good bus services for getting around the island operated by the Southern Vectis. This bus company who also organise days out around the island.