Walk 148: The Isle of Wight…A stroll around the Yarmouth estuary

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4.23 miles (6.8km)

Time to walk: The choice is yours on this walk. I felt in need of a really good bit of exercise so at one point was walking at 10 minutes per kilometre. Taking photos slowed me down, but you could take a good couple of hours as there’s plenty of benches to sit on & chill, especially if you like birdwatching

Difficulty: Excellent marked paths. In fact all of the paths on the Isle of Wight are superb. The outward stage of this walk is flat along an old railway line & the return journey has a few slopes through field & woodland tracks. I encountered a few friendly horses in one field but no other livestock, so it’s a great dog walk

Parking: I used the large Pay & Display car park in Yarmouth (roughly £5 per four hours)

Public toilets: In Yarmouth & the Red Lion in Freshwater

Map of the route:

This is a walk I did on a beautiful, warm, September day in 2020. It had been almost 30 years since we had last visited the wonderful Isle of Wight &, in some (good) ways, little had changed, apart from the massive number of lycra-clad cyclists on the narrow & hilly coast roads

This short walk starts in the western, picturesque port town of Yarmouth, well known for its natural harbour, guarded by Yarmouth castle. One of the smallest towns in the UK, Yarmouth has been a settlement for over a thousand years, & is one of the earliest on the island. The first account of the settlement is in Ethelred the Unready‘s record of the Danegeld tax of 991, when it was called ‘Eremue’, meaning “muddy estuary”

The Normans laid out the streets on a grid system, a plan which can still be seen today. It grew rapidly, being given its first charter as a town in 1135. Until the castle was built, raids by the French hurt the town; in 1544 it was reputed to have been burned down. Legend has it that the church bells were carried off to Cherbourg or Boulogne

In 1784 most of Yarmouth’s ancient charters were lost. A ship’s captain, drunk after a court dinner, stole what he thought was a case of wine, as he returned to his ship. When he discovered it was a case of books, he threw it overboard!!

Today the town is probably best known as one of the island’s ferry terminals, connecting with Lymington in Hampshire

Shall we go & explore then?

Let’s Walk!

1. There’s only one place to start this walk…at the far end of the Pier! You can see what the weather was like…

Yarmouth Pier was opened in 1876. Originally 685 ft long, it’s now 609 ft, but is still, reputedly, the longest timber pier in England open to the public. The upkeep is an ongoing issue, as the piles only last 15-20 years. Restoration is never ending. In early 2008, 54 of the wooden piles along the length of the pier were replaced after having been eaten away by gribble (a small marine isopod crustacean)

The public were asked to sponsor a slat…

2. Time to start walking &, unless you’ve developed the art of walking on water, there’s only one direction to head in…

As you approach the land the remains of Yarmouth Castle are on the right. This artillery fort was built by Henry VIII in 1547 to protect Yarmouth Harbour from the threat of attack by the French

Just under 100 feet across, the square castle was initially equipped with 15 artillery guns & a garrison of 20 men. It featured an Italianate “arrow-head” bastion on its landward side, which was very different in style from the earlier circular bastions built by Henry & was the first of its kind to be constructed in England

During the 16th and 17th centuries the castle continued to be maintained & modified. For most of the English Civil War it was held by Parliament. Following the Restoration it was refortified by Charles II in the 1670s

The fortification remained in use through the 18th & 19th centuries, albeit with a smaller garrison & fewer guns, until in 1885 these were finally withdrawn. After a short period as a coast guard signalling post, the castle was brought back into military use during the First & Second World Wars. Today it’s in the hands of English Heritage

3. Also across to the right’s the entrance to the harbour the castle’s protecting…

Leave the pier (don’t forget to pop your donation in the slot at the end) & walk straight ahead along attractive Pier Street…

One of the first buildings you see is the charming The Bugle Coaching Inn which dates back to the 16th century. The pub is also mentioned in ‘Moonfleet’, a 1898 novel written by English writer J. Meade Falkner. The plot is an adventure tale of smuggling, treasure, & shipwreck set in 18th century England

4. Pier Street becomes St James Street. Pass St James’ Church, which dates back to medieval times, but little remains from this period. Rebuilding began in 1635…

There’s a monument in the church to the 17th century Admiral, Sir Robert Holmes, who based his operations at Yarmouth. He obtained it in a raid on a French ship, when he seized an unfinished statue of Louis XIV of France & forced the sculptor to finish it with his own head rather than the King’s!

However, in the opinion of the author of the guidebook, available at the church, this is a simply a legend

5. Across the road from St James’ is another church (The Old Church), which is now a private residence…

Continue along the street towards the junction. If you were walking here many years ago, you’d now be passing through one of the town’s four gates…

6. At the junction, cross straight over & walk down Mill Road, passing the Scout Hut & school…

At the end of the street the road peters out into a gravel footpath & you now realise why it’s called Mill Road

There’s been a ‘Tidal Mill’ at Yarmouth since the 17th century. The building you see today was built in 1793 & replaced a wooden structure

Tidal mills worked in a similar manner as watermills, but used the rise & fall of the tide to power the water wheel rather than the water flow on a stream or river…

A mill pond, alongside the mill, would be filled by the incoming tide through a sluice gate which was then closed at high tide. As the tide fell, the trapped water was then allowed to flow back through the mill wheel…

7. Continue past the old mill & the Y2 footpath sign…

The path is now going to follow the estuary for some time &, as most of it is along an old railway line, it’s flat easy walking so just enjoy the views…

8. Walk through the gate & turn right. This is where the path joins the old railway line. If when you’ve finished the walk back in the town, we can highly recommend “Off the Rails” at the old railway station – a great cafe where you sit on the platform…

But that’s for after the walk, so continue with the estuary on the right…

When I did this walk there were so many white egrets in the marshes

9. Continue in the same direction for approximately 2kms. It really is lovely walking & there’s plenty of benches to sit on & watch the world go by…

10. Eventually the track reaches the road & a rather attractive bridge…

Turn right onto the road & cross the bridge. If the weather’s nice you may want to have a seat & enjoy the view back down the estuary as this is roughly the halfway point in the walk

11. Continue over the bridge, passing an old pillbox before heading up the hill…

The Island was in full defensive swing in the lead up to & during the 2nd World War as it was seen as being in the forefront of the battle area. It was very likely if a German invasion was imminent for it to be one of the first places they would try & take in order for them to have a secure beach head & thus allowing them to launch their blitzkrieg method of advance easily into the mainland

With this in mind the War Office devised several defence mechanisms & prepared points of special interest that in the event of an evasion could be used to slow down any advancing forces. One of these methods was the deployment of several pillboxes, carefully positioned throughout the Island, such as this one you see here

12. Walk up the narrow lane, being aware of the odd car you might meet, to arrive in Freshwater. You’re not going to see much of the village, or indeed the fantastic Freshwater Bay that the village gives its name to, on this walk – I can really recommend visiting there & walking along the cliffs…

If you fancy some refreshments, the Red Lion is straight ahead of you. The origins of the pub date back to the 11th century, but the building you see today is much newer

13. Next to the pub’s All Saints’ Church, which dates back to medieval times & is one of the oldest churches on the Isle of Wight

There is a marble memorial commemorating Alfred Tennyson, who lived nearby, in All Saints Church & his wife, Emily, son Hallam & other family members are buried in the church cemetery. Inside the Church there are memorial plaques to members of the Crozier Family who resided nearby. Lady Mary Martin is also remembered on a plaque, her maiden name being Crozier. Admiral Crozier is buried near to Lord Tennyson in a large Table Tomb

14. That’s all you’ll see of Freshwater on this walk as the path back to Yarmouth lies to the left as you face the church with the signpost ‘F1 Freshwater Way’…

Walk down the alleyway stopping by the stone building on the right

If you look on the wall there’s a plaque…

The inscription under it tells of “A West Wight Mystery’…

“Early one morning, back in the 1850’s, an old fellow wandered the paths in West Wight peering curiously here and there. Presently he approached a farmer cutting willow twigs and hearing them called withies gasped “My eyes! Withies? Why, that’s what they calls ’em in the Isle o’ Wight!” The farmer retorted “So? This is Freshwater.” At this the wanderer seemed even more astonished. “Freshwater? If there ‘edden’t a place with that very name over on the island.” The farmer ignored him as mad and the old chap stumbled off.

That morning he wandered as far as Wellow perplexing folk he met by remarking that each place was very much like the Isle o’ Wight.

At last the story emerged. Manny Young (for that was his name( had helped land and smuggle brandy the night before at Tolland Bay. Well liquored, he had fallen asleep in the boat. At dawn, a passing friend joked that during the night they had put to sea and were now back in France. Still groggy, Manny exclaimed “France? I han’t bin in France afore! Now we’re here I’d like a bit of a walk, just to see the country””

15. Pass through a gate & continue to the end of the track, passing through another gate by the house onto the lane…

Walk straight ahead down the lane, passing King’s Orchard House on the right. Just before the farm, look for a gate on the left leading into a paddock where there may be horses present…

16. The gates that you’re going to pass through from now on are rather special. They’ve been designed & built by the Isle of Wight Ramblers Association & many have the names of members on them

Once in the paddock turn immediately right & exit through the next gate in the picture below…

17. The path back to Yarmouth is now pretty straight. Keep straight ahead & enter the wood via the next gate…

This is only a small wood & you exit it fairly shortly through another gate…

18. The F1 signpost points you ahead up a rough track that climbs steadily before bending right towards another wood…

As you’re now walking on higher ground, you can see Yarmouth in the distance once more across to the right

19. On reaching the wood look for a small wooden gate on the right – you can’t miss it as there’s another fingerpost telling you you’re on the right track – oh that our Northamptonshire paths were this well marked…

The gate that lets you exit this wood is one of those I mentioned earlier – how beautiful

20. Walk up the hill & there’s another one! If you could have your name on a gate where would it be? I think I know where mine would be

21. This gate leads into an arable field & the path hugs the right edge towards the next copse…

…where there’s another personalised one into the wood

22. It was a very warm day & the wood provides some welcome shade as it descends down the hill…

At the bottom of the hill guess what there is to help you decide which direction to go in? Yes another wonderful Isle of Wight footpath sign & it’s the F1 all the way!

23. The track now turns into a hard-surfaced lane which leads you to a junction with the main road…

…upon reaching which, turn right & be careful to stick to the path as this is a busy road. Yarmouth Harbour’s across to the left

24. Cross the road & the harbour bridge…

Across the road’s Yarmouth Sailing Club, plus a park with some lovely carved benches to sit & chill once the walk’s finished

25. For now though, after crossing the bridge, turn left onto the quay…

…passing the Yarmouth lifeboat. When it was decided to place a motor lifeboat at the west end of the Isle of Wight, Yarmouth was chosen in place of Totland Bay, where the Institution had maintained a station since 1885, owing to the difficulty of launching a motor lifeboat at Totland Bay. The first lifeboat was named by the Duke of Windsor, then Prince of Wales

Since then it’s had an amazing record – see this link

26. Walk around the quay & carefully cross the waiting area for the Wightlink ferry…

At the corner of Quay Street is “The Terrace” which I can highly recommend, especially if you can get one of the outside seats overlooking the harbour

27. Continue along quaint Quay Street where there’s some lovely shops & bakeries…

At the end of Quay Street turn left to arrive back at the entrance to the pier & where this walk started

So that’s my short walk from beautiful Yarmouth, taking in the estuary & what a gorgeous short stroll it was, away from the hustle & bustle of some of the more tourist spots

Now…if you want a cafe head to ‘Off the Rails’ & sit on the platform! If you want Fish & Chips it had to be the ‘Blue Crab’ in the High Street ( two visits proves it’s good 😉 )

If you’re on the Island…

Go Walk!