Our starting point for this walk is the National Trust Car Park at Brook Chine.
The word Chine comes from the Saxon word 'Cinan' which means a gap or yawn. It is used to describe where a water course has cut a chink, cleft or ravine through the underlying rock from in land down to sea level. Many of the Chines on the Isle of Wight have provided access to the beach and this is particularly the case at Brook where until the advent of motorised lifeboats, the old horse drawn lifeboat was launched. If you look across to the houses on the other side of the Chine you can see the old lifeboat house made of stone.
If the tide is out you may wish to follow the first part of this walk along the beach itself in which case you need to walk down the path through the Chine to the beach and turn right. Notice the colour of the cliffs. The rocks here are part of the Wealden geological series formed between 168 and 59 million years ago. These red, purple, green and grey sands and clays were laid down in swampy muddy river floodplains in a climate with alternating wet and dry periods. In very wet periods some trees and vegetation would be washed into the flood plains and evidence of this can be seen at low tide off of Hanover Point where there are a number of long tree trunks which have been petrified into a ‘Pine Raft’. This was the time of the Dinosaurs and large reptiles roamed the area, some footprints can be found in the rocks when exposed by low tide and also casts of footprints fall from the cliffs as a result of erosion and can be found on the beach close to the cliff face. You can also find small pieces of ‘coal’ like rocks on the beach, black and shaped like pieces of wood these often have small shiny minerals embedded in the wood grain which is ‘fools gold’ (iron pyrites).
As you pass around Hanover Point the beach sweeps dramatically around Compton Bay with a large flat expanse of sand and dramatic sandstone cliffs eventually giving way to the chalk cliffs which led to Freshwater Bay and the Needles beyond.
Take the next set of steps up off the beach at Shippard’s Chine (also known locally as Compton) to rejoin the Coastal Path. Follow the well trodden path along the top of the cliff. You can see how this area is subject to regular cliff falls so please take care and do not go to close to the cliff edge.
Coastal Path route:
Leave the car park by the Coastal Path. Follow the well trodden path along the top of the cliff. You can see how this area is subject to regular cliff falls so please take care and do not go to close to the cliff edge. You can see how the erosion in the area is now starting to affect the Military Road. This important coastal road dates back to the middle of the C19th when it was built as part of the preparations to defend the country against a perceived threat of invasion from the French during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. The road was built to allow ‘rapid’ transfer of forces along the south west coast of the Isle of Wight to defend it and to better connect newly built Palmerstonian defence sites such as Fort Dedoubt at Freshwater Bay. The road was improved and given a sealed (tarmacked) surface as part of the Ministry of Works after the Great War providing employment for many men who had lost their jobs during the economic slump of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Currently erosion and cliff falls at Churchill’s Chine near to Brook have threatened the integrity of the road at this point and reduced it to a single carriageway controlled by traffic lights. Further along the route at Afton Down, extensive engineering works paid for largely by the European Union were completed in the early 2000s to underpin the road on the chalk on a cantilevered structure which has been given a 50 year lifespan. When these start to fail and the road is no longer safe they have to be removed before the fall away to ensure that the wildlife and visual importance of the area is protected.
Continue along the coastal path towards the car park at Shippard’s Chine (also known as locally as Compton). There is a toilet block and also you may find an Ice Cream van selling refreshments. This area is very popular with surfers and often you will see them catching the dramatic waves caused by the prevailing southwest wind and submerged rocks off shore. Sometimes you will also see people paragliding catching the thermal updrafts off of the cliffs and enjoying a bird’s eye view of the landscape.
Beach route rejoin description here:
You can see how this area is subject to coastal erosion by the loss of the car parking area over the cliff. Parts of this coastline eroded at up to 1 metre a year on average. Erosion can sometimes be very dramatic with large areas falling after prolonged periods of rainfall and severe south westerly storms which cause the sea to erode the toe of the cliffs. Turn left and continue along the coastal path towards Compton Chine. You will see along this dramatic coastal path the effect of past cliff falls with a number of terraced areas often with small ponds. You can also see how nature reclaims fallen areas through the re colonisation of exposed rocks and soils by plants. This continued movement of the cliff creates a mosaic of different habitat conditions which in turn creates an area rich in wildlife with species taking advantage of every sort of niche. Some of these species are very rare with some like the Glanville Fritillary butterfly only being found in particular sites along this coastline and nowhere else in the world. The dramatic beauty, geological and wildlife importance of this area is reflected in the international and national designations which it benefits from. It is within the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), is defined as the Tennyson Heritage Coast, is a Special Area of Conservation and Site of Special Scientific Interest.
On the other side of the road is a large stone property. This isolated property is called Compton Grange and is thought to have been a medieval grange farmstead associated with Quarr Abbey (near Ryde).
To ensure that the coastal path is always accessible many of the landowners along its route have entered into an agreement with the Isle of Wight Council for fencing to be stepped back from the cliff edge. Depending on when you visit you may find that small sections of the path are diverted into the adjacent field, if the local authority has not already moved the fence line back.
The path gradually inclines, you can see where the route of the Military Road was cut through the red sandstone hill to your right. This Lower Greensand geology runs across the Isle of Wight from east to west as a secondary ridge to the south of the central chalk ‘backbone’. It also forms the soil in some of the most fertile flatter parts of the Isle of Wight on the Atherfield Plain and through the Arreton Valley. Because of the rolling nature of the landform, this part of the Lower Greensand is largely used for grazing by sheep.
As you pass the brow of the hill you will come to a junction of paths, turn left and back on yourself to ensure that you don’t miss out on seeing the dramatic view down the side of the cliff where steps run down to the beach. Retrace your steps and rejoin the path which now runs between two raised banks. Head for the kissing gate by the side of the road, go through and cross over the road and take the lane to Compton Farm.
The name Compton is first documented in the Domesday Book of 1066 where it is recorded as Cantune – this means ‘the farmstead or estate in a valley’ and as you can see aptly describes the tenanted National Trust Farm at the end of this lane nestled in-between the chalk downs on the left and the sandstone ridge on the right.
Look out for the old farm buildings and in particular the granary raised on staddlestones to protect the grain from rats and mice which are unable to climb around these mushroom shaped pedestals. You can also see an old milestone next to this lane which is an ancient highway which runs from the coast inland towards Shalcombe and Brook. This route now leaves this old road by forking right around the side of the main farmhouse and rising steeply in a hollow way up to the top of the sandstone ridge. Hollow ways are ancient paths which have been sunken into the surrounding landscape. They occur especially on the sandstone soils of the Isle of Wight and particularly where there is a change in levels from higher to lower ground. They are formed due to years of wear from people and animals using the routes and often further eroded by water as they act as channels for drainage from higher ground.
At the top of the hollow way go through the farm gate and pause to turn around and admire the panoramic view of the coast, coastal plain, valley and the two distinct and dramatic down land ridges. Continue along the ridge back of this narrow sandstone hill. This area is frequented by Buzzards and you may be lucky to see them gliding high in the sky and making their distinctive long ‘peeeee-uuu’ call. The grassland pastures on these downs are grazed by sheep from Dunsbury Farm which is becoming increasingly renowned for its Isle of Wight Lamb.
Look to your left up to the top of the chalk downs and you can see a series of ‘bumps’ on the skyline. These are known as the Five Barrows (although there are actually eight in total including examples of bell and disc barrows) dating from the Bronze Age it is thought that the design of these mounds, which were an important ceremonial site for people living the area over 4000 years ago, may mean that an important female was buried there.
Much of the land in the area was once part of the Seely Estate. Mr Charles Seely had moved to the Isle of Wight in 1859 to live at Brook House which is hidden in the trees in the village of Brook. The Georgian House replaced an earlier Tudor manor house which had been visited by Henry VII in 1499. Mr Seely was a member of parliament and quite radical in his views. In 1864 he invited the famous Garibaldi to stay at Brook House (Garibaldi also visited Alfred Lord Tennyson at Farringford during his stay). The family fotune had been made in the coalfields of Nottinghamshire and Mr Charles Seely’s son Charles remained in Nottinghamshire to manage this business and later followed his father into politics becoming Sir Charles Seely. His three sons all settled on the Isle of Wight, the eldest Charles living at Gatcombe House, Jack being given Brook House but deciding to live at Mottistone Manor which he much improved and Frank building the imposing Grade II Listed Brook Hill House on the sandstone hills above the village built between 1901 and 1916 in the fashionable Egyptian/Assyrian style. This was once the home of the C20th of the famous novelist, playwright and broadcaster J.B. Priestley.
Continue along the path where it runs alongside a hedgerow and then between two rows of blackthorn trees. Go through the gate at the end and then turn right. Take the path that is on the bank above the larger track.
Follow this narrow old road down the slope of the downs to Dunsbury Farm. Dunsbury is only recorded from the C16th but is thought to be a much older place name meaning the fortified place (burgh) of a man called Dunn.
Follow the lane past the farm and cottages towards the coast. On your right you will see an example of a ‘Seely’ cottage a design that can been seen in many areas across the Isle of Wight, built for workers on the various parts of the Seely Estate.
Continue straight ahead on the path that crosses the field. Notice how some of these fields are no longer pasture but are used for growing arable crops. This is because the land is flatter and more easily worked. Continue past the cottage on your right and over the stile into the feild between Coastguard Lane and the Military Road. Look back and you can see the terrace of Coastguard Cottages built in the C19th and one of a number of similar terraces found at various strategic locations along the southwest coastline (often also called the Back o’ the Wight).
Cross over the Military Road where you can see the impact of recent erosion on the road which has been reduced to one carriageway with traffic lights.
Turn left onto the Coastal Path and head back to the car park at Brook Chine.
Tips:Allows follow the Countryside Code:
Be safe, plan ahead and follow any signs
Leave gates and property as you find them
Protect plants and animals and take your litter home
Keep dogs under close control
Consider other people
Keep clear of cliff edges as they can be dangerous. Make sure that you are aware of the tide if you are following the beach route as at periods of extreme high tide you may not be able to get from one set of steps to the next.
There are toilets at Shippard's Chine (Compton Car Park). There is usually a refreshments van at Shippard's Chine (Compton Car Park).