BEMBRIDGE TRAIL: Newport to Bembridge
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
For the second time in three days, I found myself beginning a walk at Shide on the southern edge of Newport -- the Bembridge Trail starts just 50 metres east of the start of the Stenbury Trail, beginning where the quiet St Georges Lane leaves the much busier A3020 St Georges Way.
Initially the lane, signposted as Byway A28 (picture 1), climbs south-eastwards with houses on the right, while trees on the left hide the deep hollow of the Shide Quarry. Before World War II, chalk was extracted here, but now the site is open to the public as a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The houses are soon left behind and the lane continues to climb steadily up to St Georges Down, where gaps in the trees give good views west across the heart of the Isle of Wight (picture 2). Passing by the carpark of the Newport Golf Club, the lane becomes an unsealed track, still Byway A28, running parallel to a wider access road. Both of these run south, to the right of the 9-hole golf course, for about 500 metres until the trail crosses over the access road, heading south-east with a large and noisy quarry on the southern face of St Georges Down to the right. (This was the same quarry I had seen from the valley below while walking the Stenbury Trail a couple of days earlier.)
After about 700 metres, the quarry is finally left behind and the trail bends eastwards, heading through thick gorse in an area known as Great East Standen (picture 3) before descending on a sunken path (picture 4) to meet Downend Road a few metres from where it meets the A3056 at Arreton Cross.
The Bembridge Trail crosses the road, continuing eastwards alongside the A3056 and soon passing by the Arreton Old Village, a tourist attraction which bills itself as "100 years behind the times" (picture 5), where I stopped at Farmer Jack's Farm Shop (picture 6, left) to purchase some delicious supplies for the rest of the walk.
Continuing along the A3056, the trail passes by the White Lion pub (picture 7), before bearing left into School Lane. After following the short lane past the small Arreton St George's Primary School, the Bembridge Trail continues ahead along a series of field edges on Bridleway A9 (picture 8), gradually bearing away from the rows of houses that make up the bulk of the long, narrow village lining the A3056 further off to the right.
Beyond the village, the field-side track reaches the unsealed Shepherd's Lane, turning right for about 100 metres before turning left to leave the lane, still on Bridleway A9, which heads east between more fields, this time harbouring new crops covered with plastic (picture 9). At a junction, the track bears slightly left, running along the edge of one more field to reach Mersley Lane.
Turning left along the lane, the trail very soon turns right just past a cottage named Mersley Gardens and onto Footpath NC1, which bears right again on reaching trees, before heading out across fields to reach Knighton Lane. Turning left here also, the Bembridge Trail follows the lane through the hamlet of Knighton before turning right onto Bridleway NC45.
The gravel track snakes its way past the Knighton Waterworks, turning right in front of Harts Ash Farm (picture 10) to follow another track south then east inside a band of trees, and south then east around two sides of a sand pit. Now on Byway B35, the trail curves northwards and heads uphill towards the stone buildings of Kern Farm. Reaching a gate in front of the farm, the trail turns sharp right down the driveway, which soon curves left, and a few metres further the trail turns left again on Footpath B33a to climb through woods to join another driveway, this time above the farmhouse (picture 11).
The trail follows the driveway up the flank of Ashey Down, steadily gaining height and eventually reaching Brading Down Road, crossing over and turning right along the wide grassy verge (picture 12).
The trail follows the road eastwards along the crest of Brading Down for about 600 metres. On a clear day, there would have been some superb views south towards Sandown and north over Ryde and across the Solent to Portsmouth. Unfortunately on this day there was a haze in the air and the views were somewhat obscured (picture 13), though I could still just make out Portsmouth's famous Spinnaker Tower.
Reaching a signpost on the left, the trail leaves the road on Bridleway B26, descending across rolling open farmland on the northern slope of Brading Down. Bearing right at the end of the first field, the path drops into a hollow (picture 14) and soon bears left through a gate. The trail now descends steadily for another 800 metres to meet a lane by the buildings of Nunwell Farm, a large dairy farm.
About 100 metres down the lane to the left, the Bembridge Trail crosses a stile on the right, marked as Footpath B23, and heads across the middle of a field towards a second stile under a large oak tree (picture 15). Continuing ahead across two more large pastures with the buildings of New Farm away to the left, the trail emerges on West Lane within sight of the town of Brading. Turning right, the Bembridge Trail follows the lane past Nunwell East Lodge, which sits behind the imposing gates of the historic Nunwell House (picture 16), though the house itself is some distance back up the side of Brading Down.
The trail soon bears right into Doctor's Lane, which skirts the edge of the town before a left turn into Cross Street takes the trail up to the A3055, which is also Brading's High Street. Turning left along the High Street, the Bembridge Trail goes as far as the corner of Quay Lane, where the diminutive 18th-century Old Town Hall stands on the right, in front of St Mary's Church (picture 17), parts of which date from the 12th century. The ground floor of the hall was also the town goal and is still replete with a whipping post and stocks.
The trail heads all the way along Quay Lane, crossing a bridge over the Island Line railway about half way. For many centuries Quay Lane lead, unsurprisingly, to a quay, but in 1877 the East Yar River was dammed downstream, leaving the once prosperous port of Brading high and dry, and creating the large expanse of watermeadows that the next section of the Bembridge Trail traverses.
At the bottom of Quay Lane, the trail joins Footpath B3 and heads into the Brading Marshes Nature Reserve (picture 18), soon curving to the right before crossing two sluice bridges in quick succession. The narrow path then enters Centurion's Copse and crosses the low Centurion's Hill inside the woods on Footpath BB20. Emerging into a large field, the path follows the field edge for a short distance before turning right to head due east under a lone tree and ahead to a stile in the far field boundary.
From here there are good views south to the Yarborough Monument which stands on top of Culver Down, where I had walked part of the Coast Path just over a week earlier (picture 19). The trail then continues straight ahead, crossing several flower-filled meadows (picture 20) before crossing the end of a grassy runway belonging to the small Bembridge Airport.
On the far side of the airfield, the Bembridge Trail follows a floodbank across The Marshes (picture 21) to a stile at the edge of a pasture. Climbing diagonally across the pasture to a second stile, the trail then bears a little right across the next field and then follows a hedge to a gate just to the left of the Bembridge Windmill (picture 22).
The four-storey tower mill was built in 1700 and is the only working windmill remaining on the Isle of Wight, with much of the original wooden machinery still present. The entire top of the building turns on a central post and wooden wheels and gears to follow the wind. Now owned by the National Trust, the mill is open to the public and I stopped for about an hour to explore inside and to admire the view from the top of the windmill over Bembridge Airport and beyond to Bembridge Down (picture 23).
The trail turns left by the windmill to follow the access lane out to a bend in the main road, where the trail continues ahead on Bembridge's High Street, though the first part doesn't look much like most High Streets, as it runs between woods and a tall hedge.
About 500 metres along the High Street, now in a residential part of Bembridge, the trail turns left onto Footpath BB3, which follows a dogleg route through woods for about 600 metres to emerge on the end of Station Road. From there it is just a short walk past the unusually decorated Pilot Boat Inn (picture 24) and across the B3395 to the Royal Spithead Hotel, where the Bembridge Trail ends as it meets the Coast Path.
I had covered the 21 kilometres from Shide in good time and still had plenty of time to catch a bus back to Ryde for a walk along the historic pier at sunset.