NUNWELL TRAIL: Ryde to Sandown
Monday, July 11, 2016
The Nunwell Trail is the shortest of the Isle of Wight's official day walks, at just 11.7km. The trail cuts across the eastern end of the island from the bustling town of Ryde in the north to the more relaxed seaside resort town of Sandown in the south, climbing over the spine of the island on the way.
The official route runs between the Island Line railway stations at Ryde St John's Road and Sandown, but both of those are a little inland, out of sight of the coast. As I was staying near the seafront at Ryde, I decided to make this a coast to coast walk, linking the Ryde and Sandown piers.
On a rather overcast morning, I set out from the little park beside Ryde Pier (picture 1), which was built in 1824 and made Ryde the main gateway to the island for Victorian holidaymakers venturing across the Solent. I walked along the Esplanade to the wide beach of Ryde Sands and onwards along the road between the beach and Ryde's large Boating Lake to reach the long crescent of Appley Beach, with it's little fairytale tower standing on the edge of the sands (picture 2). I didn't go as far as the tower though, instead turning right in front of the Ryde Inshore Rescue Station to climb away from the beach, past the ancient-looking boathouse of the Ryde Rowing Club and up Appley Lane (picture 3).
After passing a large carpark on the left Appley Lane becomes a pleasant shady tarmac footpath which continues to climb along a narrow strip of woodland for about 500 metres to emerge on Appley Road in the suburb of Oakfield. A little over 100 metres to the right along Appley Road I turned left onto Alexandra Road, where the sun appeared as I passed the church of St John on the corner (picture 4). The brighter weather didn't last long though.
Alexandra Road bends to the right, and after a couple of blocks I turned right onto St John's Hill, which snakes downhill for about 400 metres to a road bridge overlooking the platforms of St John's Road station (picture 5), the official starting point of the Nunwell Trail. The big shed behind the platform on the left is the depot for the Island Line's fleet of electric trains, which were formerly used on the London Underground's Piccadilly Line.
The Nunwell Trail goes back up St John's Hill to take the second street on the right, Oakfield's High Street. At the far end of the mostly residential High Street the trail turns right for a short distance along to the end of Slade Road, where footpath R54 swings left around the last house and runs alongside the playground of the Ark Park.
The path continues ahead through scrubland beside the Island Line for about 800 metres with the old tube trains rattling past now and then (picture 6). At the end of the path a ramp leads up to Smallbrook Lane, where the Nunwell Trail turns right onto a bridge over the railway tracks then follows the narrow road, which has no verge for the first 200 metres despite there being quite a few cars using the road.
About 800 metres from the bridge, a signpost on the left of the road points along a rather overgrown path that runs through scrub to the edge of a fenced hockey pitch and then bears right to pass between Smallbrook Stadium and the Smallbrook Cricket Field (picture 7). From the stadium's carpark, a path goes out to Ashey Road, where the Nunwell Trail turns left along the road for about 200 metres until Public Bridleway R35, signposted to Hardingshute, turns off to the left beside the attractive stone-built Kerry Cottage.
The bridleway, really a wide vehicle track, soon swings to the right and runs uphill to cross over the single track of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway (picture 8), which runs for eight kilometres from the Island Line at the nearby Smallbrook Junction via the railway's headquarters at the village of Havenstreet to the end of the line at Wootton.
Once over the railway track, the trail climbs a bit further uphill along the edge of a field to turn right under a pair of oak trees and follow a track up to a signpost at a junction of tracks amongst the barns of Whitefield Farm. The Nunwell Trail bears left through a gate then right along Bridleway B19, which climbs along the right-hand edge of a large field, just outside Roke Mead Copse (picture 9). At the top of the hill, the bridleway goes through a gap in a hedge to run along the left edge of the next field then the right edges of two more fields to reach the edge of Broadley Copse, where a signpost that was rather well hidden in the foliage indicated a left turn down the left edge of the next field.
At the bottom of the field the path reaches the quiet lane of Hardingshute, turning right past a large duck-pond and following the lane between fields for about 400 metres until Hardingshute merges into West Lane. Barely fifty metres further ahead, the Nunwell Trail turns left into Nunwell Farm Lane.
The lane climbs gently for about 800 metres, past Nunwell Farm and crossing the route of the Bembridge Trail on the way up to the pretty little West Lodge (picture 10). A little further up on the left, out of sight from the trail, is Nunwell House, after which the trail is named, and best known to history students as the place where King Charles I spent his final night of freedom at the end of the English Civil War in 1647.
The Nunwell Trail does not go up to the house, but instead turns right at the lodge to climb a little more steeply on Bridleway B59. The bridleway soon reaches a junction of paths in a peaceful beech wood, turning right on Bridleway B32, which climbs through the trees (picture 11), taking the left branch when the path forks and soon emerging on the grassy hillside of Nunwell Down, where there are far-reaching views over the north-eastern part of the island and across the Solent to Southsea and Portsmouth (picture 12).
A steep little climb leads up to a gate and a path along the left edge of a field to Brading Down Road. The Nunwell Trail turns right along the verge beside the busy road, following it westwards along the crest of Brading Down with views over the towns of Sandown Bay (picture 13).
After about 500 metres, a signpost on the left of the road shows the way onto Bridleway B33a, a narrow, overgrown fenced path that descends steeply between fields (picture 14). I was rather surprised that this path was marked as a bridleway rather than a footpath as I can't imagine anyone bringing a horse down it.
A little while after the path levels out, it becomes a narrow lane between high hedges running up to a bend in Alverstone Road in the village of the same name. The route continues ahead through the sleepy village, passing the Old School Hall (picture 15) then crossing the trackbed of the former Newport to Sandown railway, now a popular cycling path. About 100 metres beyond a bridge over the East Yar River, the Nunwell Trail turns left off the road on Footpath NC17, which cuts across the corner of the wetlands of Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve, soon joining a long boardwalk that heads into woods (picture 16).
The path leaves the reserve at a stile in front of a house, turning left on a wooded path that then circles to the right, skirting three-quarters of the way around a large field before turning left to resume it's previous course. 800 metres ahead on a muddy forest path the trail reaches Golf Links Road in front of the clubhouse of the Shanklin and Sandown Golf Club.
The route turns right to follow the road past a school athletics field on the edge of Sandown. When the road bends away to the right, the Nunwell Trail keeps ahead on a footpath past playing fields to a pedestrian crossing over Station Approach. A left turn upon leaving a tunnel under the Island Line leads uphill to the front of Sandown Station (picture 17), and the official end of the Nunwell Trail. Ironically, the sun chose this precise moment to emerge from behind the clouds.
Opposite the front of the station, I walked down Nunwell Street then turned left to follow Melville Street down through the town to the Sandown Pier (picture 18), completing the 16.4 kilometre walk from Ryde Pier.
It was only early afternoon, so after finding some lunch by the beach I climbed up the long flight of steps beside an apartment building just to the west of the pier. The steps lead up to the Battery Gardens, which have great views across Sandown Bay to the chalk headland of Culver Cliff (picture 19). The gardens surround a fortress and battery that were built in the early 1860s, but abandoned between the two World Wars.
From the gardens, a clifftop path, part of the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, runs for about three kilometres through the conjoined town of Lake to Shanklin, where the seafront is lined by mini-golf courses and other amusements (picture 20). Having already walked a brisk twenty kilometres for the day, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Shanklin before heading off to catch the Island Line back to Ryde in time for a sunset walk along the 681 metre long pier.