Walk 150: Bembridge, Isle of Wight Circular Walk

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 5.7 miles (9.19km)

Time to walk: It took me 2 hours 30 minutes with stops to admire the views (& there’s lots!). You could actually make a whole day out of this walk, including a paddle on Whitecliff Bay

Difficulty: All on well defined off-road paths. It ‘s quite hilly at times. There are two stiles, but there is a gap for dogs on one. I did encounter cows in the final field, but they were very friendly

Parking: In the lay-by near the entrance to Bembridge Windmill which is well sign-posted from Bembridge

Public toilets: The cafe at Culver Down

Map of the route:

This is simply a wonderful walk! I did it on a hot summer’s day in September 2020. It begins just outside the small town of Bembridge on the most easterly point of the Isle of Wight. Prior to land reclamation, this area was once a separate island

The walk starts at the iconic windmill. From there the path descends through woodland to arrive at stunning Whitecliff Bay. Fom here it’s a steep climb to the monument on Culver Down, plus a visit to Bembridge Fort. Then the route descends & passes through Brading Marshes, before a final climb back to the start

Let’s Walk!

1. As mentioned, this walk starts just outside Bembridge at the well signposted Bembridge Windmill. Park in the lay-by near the path leading down to it…

Walk down towards the windmill, which is the only surviving one on the island…

2. Knowle Mill, better known today as Bembridge Windmill, was built around 1700. It was also painted by JMW Turner in 1795. The mill was working by wind until 1913, having only been used for grinding animal feed after 1897

The mill was restored in 1935, but was used as a cowshed & store until it was taken over by the Home Guard during World War II as a HQ & lookout post.

Following the war, the mill was virtually derelict, with two of the sails having been struck by lightening. More restoration took place in 1959, being funded by public subscription. In 1962 the mill was taken over by the National Trust & has been restored & is open to the public. The good news is that it’s visible for most of this walk!

3. We’ll return here at the end, but for now continue on the track as it descends into the wood…

This is Steyne Wood. Keep your eyes peeled as the wood is home to a population of red squirrels. Shortly after entering the wood the path arrives at a junction. Our route is to the left…

4. Shortly you arrive at a road. Carefully cross this & continue through the gate on the other side…

What I love about the Isle of Wight is you’re never far from a signpost & all of the walking routes are excellently signed…

5. Continue through the wood & shortly the path runs alongside a caravan site…

We’re now heading towards Whitecliff Bay, one of the most popular resorts on the island. Look across to the right to see the monument on the top of Culver Down – that’s where we’re heading!

6. This path ends at another small road…

Cross the road, turn left &, after a few yards, follow the footpath sign down Jenny Streets Lane

7. Pass the house on the right & then the track narrows once more through the woods…

Walk around the large green building & carry on up the steps

8. All of a sudden the path arrives at the cliff edge. The route is to the right, but just walk forward to enjoy the views for a few moments…

9. Continue down the steps along the coastal path…

…& ahead now you get your first view of beautiful Whitecliff Bay

10. Just keep following the path towards Whitecliff Bay Caravan Park & the Monument…

…where, if you can get a space, there’s a few lovely benches to have a sit on

A plaque tells you that the sandstone cliffs you’re currently standing on contain fossils dating back between 30 – 55 million years. The chalk cliffs ahead in the above picture are made up of fossilised plants & shells from the Mesozoic era up to 90 million years ago!

11. Walk past the holiday village & continue along the Coastal Path

…towards that Monument again

12. On reaching the wooden building, pass round it as the path begins to narrow once more & there’ great views of the chalk cliffs…

If you wish to visit the excellent beach, the path goes down on the left. Our route continues straight ahead over the boardwalk…

13. You can tell that there have been land slides here over the years…

14. The path’s really easy to follow as it passes more trees & then enters a small copse to emerge with the Monument in above you…

Continue up some steps & pass through one of the lovely gates they have on the Isle of Wight…

15. Eventually the path emerges. Remember I said there were some hills on this walk?…

…& of course…the higher you climb the better the views become, all the way back across the Solent to Portsmouth!

16. One final push to the top of Culver Down…

Culver Down is a chalk down, the name of which is believed to come from from “Culfre”, which is Old English for dove. The down has a typical chalk downland wildlife on the uncultivated areas (generally the southern and eastern slopes). The chalk cliffs to the north & east are important nesting places for seabirds. Historically, Culver has been the source of commercial bird’s egg collecting from ropes over the cliff. It was also known for breeding peregrine falcons, as well as breeding Common Woodpigeons, (Culvers), the source of the cliff’s name. Watch out for Ravens too!

The Down is also known for the number of unusual ant species that live on it. The public areas are owned & managed by the National Trust. For many years the whole site was a military zone & not open to the public

17. The one thing you can miss on Culver Down is the Yarmouth Monument…a great place to sit on a day like this. You can see the size of it compared to the people in the picture below

The monument is a memorial to Charles Anderson-Pelham, the 2nd Baron Yarborough (later first Earl of Yarborough & also Baron Worsley), founder of the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes

It was originally erected in 1849 on the highest point of Bembridge Down, 3/4 mile to the west, & was moved to its present position in the 1860s, when its former site was used for the construction of one of the Palmerston forts. The family coat of arms is carved into two of the sides

18. Walk away from the monument through the gate & onto the road. There’s a cafe here if you fancy some refreshments…

Walk through the gate to the right of the cafe, continuing on the Coastal Path…there are now magnificent views towards Sandown

19. The path is well cut into the grass so follow it down towards the cliff, passing through Sue’s Gate…

This really is wonderful cliff top walking…

20. When arriving towards the gap in the cliff, turn right & head up the hill past the bushes…

I wonder which way the prevailing wind’s coming from?

21. Bear slightly diagonally up the hill, between the bushes in the picture below…

22. The grass track reaches the road once more. There’s a car park here too. Walk across & down the road to arrive at Bembridge Fort

Bembridge Fort is a fort built on the highest point of Bembridge Down. It ‘s one of the many Palmerston Forts built around Portsmouth during the period of the Second French Empire, as a safeguard against a perceived threat of French invasion by Napoleon III

The hexagonally shaped fort was the main stronghold for the South East coastline of the Isle of Wight & was designed as a final retreat if the island was to be invaded. Due to its location with a view over both Sandown Bay & the Eastern Solent, it acted as the command & control centre for the Western batteries on the Island. The fort had barrack accommodation for 4 officers & 106 men

23. Walk back across the road & straight down the cut grass path to the cross paths…

At the cross paths in the picture below turn right to walk down the valley…

…through the gap in the hedge

24. Keep to the trees on the right side to find the path continuing down the hill…

The track soon becomes easy to pick up again…

25. At the bottom pass through the kissing gate – be careful as it’s a blind bend for traffic so they can’t see you

Carefully cross the road slightly right to pick up the path again…

26. Enter the RSPB Gander Down Reserve, part of the Brading Marshes Trail …

Turn immediately right & keep to the hedgeline all the way around the field, ignoring any open gates…

27. Keep following the hedge until you reach a kissing gate near the large tree…

28. Once through the gate, you’re faced with a fork in the path… take the left one

We’re only going to follow this path for a short distance to have a look at Brading Marshes

29. Eventually you’ll arrive at the bridge in the picture below…

…& welcome to Brading Marshes nature reserve which is the only RSPB reserve on the Island. It was acquired in 2001 & is a mix of lagoons & ditches, reed beds & meadows, with a fringe of ancient woodland. This marsh is the site of a wetland restoration project by the RSPB

The land was reclaimed from the sea for agricultural use at the end of the 19th century. Today, grazing, haymaking & cutting rough vegetation encourage flowers & wetland birds. It’s well worth a visit & wander round just on it’s own

30. Retrace your tracks to the fork, but this time keep going – don’t go back into Gander Down…

The path now enters Centurion’s Copse, known locally as a curiously dark, silent woodland where birds are rarely seen & dogs are said to fear to tread. This is the spot of one of the Island’s legendary lost towns, the doomed Wolverton

31. The town is said to have been completely destroyed in the mid 14th Century, with all the inhabitants slaughtered (or possibly one survivor), with the town and church never rebuilt

The legend states that the church of Saint Urian at Wolverton was famous for a remarkable shrine; a Holy Well whose water was so remarkably fresh it did not go off, even on long sea voyages. The well also had healing properties for the sick.

Near the well stood an engraved stone cross, whose message proclaimed,

While the water flows pure and free
Wolverton shall happy be.
The net be heavy in the sea
And wheaten seed shall yield plenty.
When stains of blood burns the well
Then Culver’s Ness shall ring its knell.

In the early 14th Century an old mysterious merchant often visited the prosperous town of Wolverton. He always walked into & out of town from a path leading only to the cliff of Culver. No-one ever succeeded in following him to see where he came from, despite many trying. Whenever they glanced away for a second, reportedly thorn bushes suddenly appearing on the exact spot the he was last seen. Visiting monthly, he became a popular figure in town & happily gave his advice to help solve the townsfolk’s problems, & those who followed his advice always seemed to benefit

Later versions of the story state that the mysterious merchant freely gave medicines to the town’s sick & wounded, potions for those experiencing unrequited love etc. The merchant would inform all his customers at time of purchase that he didn’t want or need any money for the cures. Yet after the potions had taken effect, he would demand payment in the form of favours. These favours were often arsonist acts, where the locals were ordered to set fire to property of those not in the merchants favour, or else suffer terrible consequences

As his visits became more frequent, people noticed that Wolverton’s luck was subtly changing for the worse. When the townsfolk mentioned this to the old man, he said that he had had a prophetic dream. In this dream a stranger came to Wolverton dressed in grey & wearing a grey cowl. This stranger planned to poison the water in St Urian’s holy well, & the bad luck that the town was experiencing was a warning of what bad luck would befall the town should the stranger succeed. He advised the locals to keep a protective watch on the well, & should a stranger so dressed appear, they should kill him before he could carry out his fiendish scheme. This the villagers agreed to do

Soon after a stranger was spotted dressed in grey & wearing a cowl that obscured his face. He also carried little except a frond of an unknown, foreign plant – obviously something which could only be used to poison the well. He headed straight to Saint Urian’s church & the holy well as feared, & soon all the villagers gathered to prevent him from harming the water. As he knelt beside the well, looking as if he planned to lay the frond on the water, the townsfolk sprang into action to defend their pure sanctuary, suddenly pelting him with sharp stones to prevent him from carrying out this purpose. The stranger fell down dead beside the well, yet a drop of blood from his wounds fell into the water

As prophesied, with the well thus despoiled, Culver’s Ness crashed into the sea. Investigation of the stranger’s body showed that he was a holy man who had travelled to the well from the Holy Land. For almost immediately after the corruption of St Urian’s well, the town of Wolverton was invaded in force by the French, who raped, pillaged & plundered, burning the town to the ground & killing all remaining in Wolverton. In some versions of the story, the church’s golden altar plate & crucifix, silver candlesticks & the coins of the pilgrims who had travelled there were quickly buried to keep them safe during the raid

It’s though the old mysterious merchant was none other than…the Devil

Maybe time to move quickly on then…

32. Safely on the path again follow the sign post towards Bembridge Windmill (Footpath BB20)

The path comes to a T-Junction where the sign tells us to take the left path…

33. The narrow path passes through more trees & comes out into the open near a large tree…

Follow the grass track straight past the tree between the fields…

There’s some more information boards telling you the what to look out for

34. The route back to the windmill is very easy & pretty much straight. You’ll see it on the hill in the distance. Pass through “Aitche’s” gate…

…& continue straight across the next field – there’s the windmill in the gap between the trees. Just how stunning is this field walking

35. To the left of the tree’s “Chris Lipscombe’s” gate…

Cross the next field & into yet another. If you can hear aircraft noise it’s because Bembridge Airport is across to the right

36. Yet another field to cross & the views of the windmill are getting even better – there’s another climb coming!

Carry straight on through a fence that used to exist 

37. At the next gate, it’s wort stopping for a few minutes at the marshes again to see if there’s any wildlife to spot…

This is such a beautiful area

38. Another narrow path takes you to the only stile on this walk, which has a gap for dogs to pass through…

Climb the steep meadow. There were cows in this field, but they were friendly

39. Pass through the gate at the top of the hill…

…& just pause to catch your breath, whilst enjoying the view back towards where you’ve come from. You can make out the concrete runway of Bembridge Airport

40. Bear right upwards again to another stile…

…& now it’s time to have a closer look at that famous windmill. Sadly Covid 19 meant it wasn’t possible to go inside

So here we are, back at the start of this walk &…what a wonderful walk it’s been. Having now sampled some of the Isle of Wight’s magnificent Coastal Path, it’s made me want to go back & complete the whole circuit.

Now if someone could arrange for the same type of weather please…

Go Walk!