THE WILD WEST OF WIGHT

Wherever you are in West Wight you’ll be close to areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) and National Trust coastline. It’s easy to enjoy the simple pleasures of walking, cycling, watching birds and other wildlife, sketching and photography.

Photo: Albany Associates

Many village gardens are havens for wildlife with bird boxes, bug hotels, herbs, fruit bushes and colourful flowering plants and shrubs that attract butterflies, moths and bees. Goldfinches drink from garden ponds that are home to water-boatmen and many other insects and bugs. Bird baths attract blackbirds, robins, sparrows, wood pigeons, collared doves, blue tits and long-tailed tits. Badgers are sometimes seen and a wide variety of birds of prey and bats fly overhead.

Protecting our past
Granny’s Meade in Bedbury Lane, Freshwater, is named after the village midwife in the late 19th century. A group of active residents is committed to ensuring that this ancient field with its wild flowers, native trees and hedgerows remains in public ownership. Close by, on the other side of Queens Road in Pound Green, is the recently restored stray animal pound.

One Horse Field, Totland, covers two hectares (five acres) west of the recreation ground. You may spot the rare orchid autumn ladies’ tresses and the corky-fruited water-dropwort or the wasp spider. In summer there are plenty of dragonflies. Oxeye daisies and selfheal attract bees. The unimproved grassland is home to strawberry clover, crested dog’s tail, red fescue, common bent and yellow rattle. The semi-improved area supports cocksfoot, false oatgrass and yorkshire fog. Flowers include yarrow, birds-foot trefoil and wild carrot. Badgers and foxes visit. You may also spot rabbits, wood mice and bank voles. Bird species include tits, wrens, woodpeckers and chaffinches. If left unchecked, the meadow would turn to scrub and woodland. This precious site is designated a site of importance for nature conservation (SINC).

bird-watcher at Freshwater Bay

Photo: Albany Associates

From Gate Lane, Freshwater Bay, there are several footpaths onto Tennyson Down. In the opposite direction the Military Road rises steeply, and provides a spectacular drive or walk along the cliff tops. Compton Bay is popular with surfers and at low tide you can see fossilised logs and dinosaur footprints.

Natural history
At any time of year you can see extraordinary and uncommon plants and trees
in West Wight. In spring there are early gentians. Unique to Britain and now a national rarity, they have a foothold on Tennyson Down and West High Down. The downs look spectacular when the sea pink is out. Later in the year, at the end of June and beginning of July, pyramidal orchids put on a fine show.

butterfly

Photo: Albany Associates

Red squirrels thrive on the Isle of Wight because there are no grey squirrels and no deer to eat the young trees and shrubs that they need for feeding. They live in most woodlands in the area, including those near Fort Victoria, along the former Yarmouth to Freshwater railway line that is now a bridle path, in Bouldnor Forest and the gardens of Mottistone Manor. At Parkhurst Forest you can settle into the hide and wait for them to appear. Butterfly enthusiasts will find many species on the Island, including the Adonis blue and chalkhill blue on the chalk downs, and the Glanville fritillary on the sandy cliff tops of West Wight.

Reptiles to look out for include common lizards, adders, grass snakes and slow worms. Mammals include the common shrew, dormouse, wood mouse, weasel, stoat, fox, badger, rabbit, hare and red squirrel. Up in the sky you may spot red kite during their spring migration, peregrine falcon, sparrow hawk, buzzard, kestrel and ospreys when they migrate in spring and autumn.

Many of the local pubs, cafes and restaurants in West Wight use Island produce: the Red Lion, Old Freshwater; the High Down Inn, Totland; Barefoot on the Beach, Colwell Bay; the Crown Inn, Shorwell; the cafe at Chale Green Stores; and the Garden Restaurant at Farringford are all popular with residents and visitors. The award-winning New Inn, Shalfleet, has an excellent reputation, especially for seafood.

National Trust

Slightly farther away are the chines, unique sandstone and clay habitats near the sea for plants and animals, at Brook, Compton and Chale.We recommend these as the best access points to the long beach. The stream passing the water mill at Calbourne meets the Solent at Newtown with its former salt pans and harbour. The shore here is clay and sand. This is a popular spot for bird-watching. Shorwell is in a wooded valley with three Jacobean manor houses and a 12th-century church with a 15th-century fresco of St Christopher. The Victorian church in Brook, St Mary the Virgin (not to be confused with the church in Brighstone), has memorials to the local lifeboat crews. The Tennyson Mile stretches from the delightful unspoilt beach at Freshwater Bay to Farringford, the home of the Victorian poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The lovely magnolia by the conservatory at Farringford was presented to Tennyson as a cutting by Longfellow in 1868. Other writers came too, including Darwin, Thackeray and Lewis Carroll. This Victorian cultural circle was satirised by Virginia Woolf in her play Freshwater. Tennyson’s Gift, the novel by Lynne Truss, is set in Freshwater Bay.The poets and pines walk (www.histreetrail.com) is a fascinating four-mile easy trail round Freshwater. It highlights trees that inspired the poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and includes the Tennyson Mile but goes inland to Freshwater village passing the large property that the poet provided for his wife’s family. Hawkridge, now Freshwater Court, was built by Tennyson to complete his marriage vow. This stated that his in-laws could come and visit whenever they wished, for as long as they wished. But he did not want them under his feet at Farringford.

Photo: Albany Associates

Take a look at Afton Marsh, the local nature reserve, close to the Freshwater Way. It is a flat, easy walk from the picturesque causeway, along the route of the old railway line, by the side of the river Yar to Yarmouth.

 

 

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Credits

All content © 2017 by Albany Associates

Editorial: Albany Associates
Photography (Gallery and Slideshow): Jason Swain