Have you ever walked all the way around an island? The pyramid shaped Isle of Wight, situated just off the south coast of England, is one place where you can do just that.
The 36km wide and 22km tall Isle of Wight is encircled by a long distance walking trail called the Isle of Wight Coastal Path.
The 70 mile (112km) route around the island transports walkers to the top of dramatic chalk cliffs, through picture-perfect coastal villages, along beautiful stretches of golden sand and even past a former royal residence. There’s also a chance to walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs.
This post published December 2020. We walked the Isle of Wight Coastal Path in January 2020. This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.
The Isle of Wight Coastal Path
First, I’m going to give you an overview of the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, which will be followed by our day-by-day walking experience. If you’re just wanting all of the important details and tips, there’s a full Isle of Wight Coastal Path guide in the second half of this post.
The Isle of Wight is separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent. The distance from the mainland varies between two and four miles. The Isle of Wight is best known for its spectacular coastal scenery, warm weather and laid back atmosphere. It takes just one hour to drive from west to east.
The Isle of Wight Coastal Path is a 70 mile (112km) hiking trail, circumnavigating the entire island. The exact distance calculation does vary a little, due to extensive erosion activity along the Isle of Wight’s coastline (some background here).
The Coastal Path combines walking trails, urban streets and agricultural footpaths to create a varied long distance route. A substantial part of the Coastal Path traverses grass covered chalk hills (also known as ‘downs’), rising above the English Channel.
For the most part, the Coastal Path does stay pretty close to shore. The exception is on the northern half of the Isle of Wight. Between Yarmouth and Cowes, a large natural inland harbour forces the route away from the Solent. East of Cowes, land disputes have pushed the Coastal Path inland.
Day by day walking experience
Here, I’ll share our own experience of walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path in January 2020. We chose a somewhat unusual itinerary, starting in Ryde and finishing in Yarmouth.
Instead of staying overnight at accommodation along (or close to) the Coastal Path, we stayed in two central hotels and bussed in and out to the start and end of each section.
This allowed substantial flexibility, particularly important since we were walking the Coastal Path in the middle of winter. As it was, a big storm swept in on day 4, so we had to chop and change our route.
Day 1 – Ryde to St Helens
Day 2 – St Helens to Ventnor
Day 3 – Ventnor to Niton
Day 4 – Compton Farm to Yarmouth
Day 5 – Shalfleet to Cowes
Day 6 – East Cowes to Ryde
Day 7 – Niton to Compton Farm
Day 8 – Shalfleet to Yarmouth
We walked the Coastal Path in a mostly clockwise direction, starting from Ryde. From here, we continued all the way to Niton (about 34% of the route). Due to the storm approaching, we then had to skip ahead and backtrack to complete the section we missed. On the final day, we reversed our walking direction to finish in Yarmouth.
Day 1 – Ryde to St Helens, 8.6km (5.3 miles)
Our first day on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path started in style, with a hovercraft ride from Southsea to Ryde.
This hovercraft service is supposedly the only one of its kind in the world and takes just 10 minutes to complete the 5 mile crossing. It felt like we were smoothly skimming over the water the whole way.
From the Ryde HoverPort, we were able to start our Isle of Wight Coastal Path immediately. Following the promenade and Ryde’s beautiful long, sandy beach east, we soon arrived in the sailing village of Seaview. Turning inland (due to an erosion-caused detour), the rain started to pour.
We squelched our way through a couple of very muddy fields to reach the ruin of St Helen’s Old Church. And promptly lost the trail. We ended up at the very tip of the St Helens Duver, a sandy spit of land protecting Bembridge Harbour.
Retracing our steps, we finally managed to cross the water on the raised causeway path just as the the sky lit up (and the rain became that bit more torrential). A rainbow peeked out behind the houses of St Helens as we decided to call it a day and get a bus back to our Ryde hotel.
Day 2 – St Helens to Ventnor, 23km (14.2 miles)
A good weather forecast put us both in a great mood, improved even more so by a cooked breakfast at a café in Bembridge.
Living up to its name, the Coastal Path then treated us to a short section of beach walking, just north of the imposing offshore Lightboat Station. Waves splashed onto the following concrete promenade.
Turning the corner of the Isle of Wight’s most easterly point, we began to see the famous chalk cliffs appearing. Sadly, the effect of erosion was immediately apparent too, with the occasional barrier, warning sign and even a detour.
Our reward for climbing up to Culver Down was sunny skies, magnificent views and a grass path ahead. Sandown, with its pier, arcades, cafes and family family attractions, awaited at the bottom of the hill. With beach huts leading the way, Sandown seamlessly blends right into Shanklin.
While a little kitsch in places, I loved this cruisy 5.5km section along the ocean. We even stopped at Sandown Pier to play some 2p machines.
A steep hill led us away from Shanklin and up and over to Luccombe. A strangely almost sub-tropical forest area followed, part of the Bonchurch Landslip. The 11th century Old Church of St Boniface was the second to last treat of the day, with the final, paved esplanade route to Ventnor being the last.
Day 3 – Ventnor to Niton, 7.5km (4.6 miles)
A short day, but a purposeful one. Our afternoon was to be spent at Carisbrooke Castle, a place that holds great memories for the both of us. Since the castle is only open on weekends, we had to plan carefully to be able to fit a visit in.
Back in Ventnor, we headed west along the esplanade. It was a something of a murky, windy day, with few other people around. Beyond Steephill Cove (the prettiest little community on a shingle beach), the path headed upwards to the top of the cliffs.
The coastline ahead (crumbling in parts) was now revealed, as well as burnt orange coloured sand on the beaches below.
The village of St Lawrence heralded a move away from the Undercliff area, with a climb up to a succession of arable fields. Alpacas and sheep provided a warm welcome into Niton, where a bus picked us up outside the 16th century stone walled Buddle Inn.
Day 4 – Compton Farm to Yarmouth, 20.2km (12.5 miles)
Walking a long distance path in January comes with a few risks, and bad weather is a big one. As it was, Storm Brendan was heading our way. With potentially only one dry day left, we prioritised walking what I believe would be the most impressive section of the Coastal Path (spoiler: I was right!)
Skipping ahead just over 20km, we started our day at the base of a chalk cliff rising above Compton Bay. The wind was howling and the ocean waves crashing as we get off the bus and headed uphill.
The following hours were my favourite of all on the Path; rolling chalk cliffs, a pretty village set into a cove (Freshwater Bay), a magnificently wide grassy hill (Tennyson Down) and finally, chalk stacks following into the ocean (the Needles).
After a pause for cream tea (served in a WWII signal station looking out to the Needles!), we needed to get a move on. Hatherwood Battery provided beautiful views before we dropped down to sea level again at Totland Bay and another wonderful oceanside promenade.
The sun was past set as we traversed through (another) holiday park and then into the woodland adjacent to Fort Victoria. Boat masts in Yarmouth Harbour signified the final stretch, where a bus happened to be waiting!
Day 5 – Shalfleet to Cowes, 15.8km (9.8 miles)
Another fast forward, this time we skipped ahead to a short northern section. Storm conditions were forecasted to arrive sometime in the late afternoon, so we started early and enjoyed blue skies with scattered clouds.
I took only a dozen or so photos this day. Our concentration was focused on the mud (of which there was a lot) and passing vehicles, since this section of the Coastal Path featured a surprising amount of road walking.
The first half of our day took us through the Newtown National Nature Reserve, the only one on the Isle of Wight. As well as discovering the history of this 13th century medieval port, we enjoyed beautiful views of the Causeway Lake (actually a tidal creek) and spotted some red squirrels!
Another highlight was Thorness Bay, where we ate our lunch on the beach while watching a group of teenagers learn to windsurf. I also enjoyed the approach to Cowes along the scenic Egypt Esplanade. It was apparently one of Queen Victoria’s favourite places on the Isle of Wight, too.
Day 6 – East Cowes to Ryde, 13.1km (8.1 miles)
With Storm Brendan threatening another afternoon and evening of high winds and torrential rain, we knew we had to be quick. This section proved to be relatively straightforward, though also not remarkably eventful due to being inland most of the day.
The Royal Family directed our focus in Cowes, where we discovered a memorial to Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia. Later killed in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the Tsar and his wife (who was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria) visited the Isle of Wight in 1908.
Just a little further along the Coastal Path was the entrance to Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer home. Only open on weekends in winter, we were refused entry to the grounds by security.
Turning off the busy A302, we found ourselves walking on high speed backroads almost all the way to Wootton. Thankfully, there wasn’t a lot of traffic.
The highlight of the day was definitely Quarr Abbey, a working Benedictine monastery surrounded by woodland. The beautiful church building was the perfect refuge from the drizzling rain. The ruins of the original 12th century abbey sit just a little further east.
Day 7 – Niton to Compton Farm, 21.1km (13.1 miles)
This day was one of big cliffs and even bigger skies! The southwestern coast is the most isolated part of the Isle of Wight, featuring only a handful of small communities. It makes for a wonderfully peaceful walk, especially in winter – we saw more sheep than people!
The views of the ocean and chalk cliffs ahead are uninterrupted as the path stays close to the edge, only veering away when a ‘chine’ forces it inlad. A chine comes from the Saxon ‘Cinan’ meaning a gap and is effectively a gully featuring a stream running down to the sea.
Storm Brendan had left us a few obstacles along the Coastal Path including a lot of standing water, cliff erosion, downed trees and, of course, plenty of mud. Our day started with some fun outside the Blackgang Chine amusement park (the oldest in the UK!), where we resuscitated some dinosaur models.
One of the most intriguing sights on this stretch was Brighstone Holiday Centre, a collection of small chalets with brightly coloured front doors. A small number, those closest the cliff edge, were missing doors and fenced off. As it turns out, Brighstone was built in 1932 as one of Britain’s earliest holiday camps (click to read the fascinating story!)
This was a walking day I didn’t want to end!
Day 8 – Shalfleet to Yarmouth, 8.7km (5.4 miles)
The final stretch! And this was a very short one too. Though I have to admit…we cheated. Approaching Hamstead, there is the option to follow the Coastal Path around towards the Newtown River (4.3km) OR continue straight ahead and cut the corner off. The latter is only 780m.
Being that we didn’t particularly love the section on the other side of the Newtown River, we had no qualms about doing so. A shorter hike meant an earlier ferry home, on another drizzly, blustery day. We also anticipated the low-lying path to be very, very muddy.
As it was, we had enough mud to deal with on the section we did walk! Views of the Solent were elusive for the first 5km or so; it was a treat to see them on the last approach into Yarmouth.
After checking out the outside of Yarmouth Castle (closed at this time of year), it was time to board the ferry to Lymington in the New Forest. We had just finished walking around the entire Isle of Wight!
Both JR and I really enjoyed walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path. Not only was it an unusual feat to be able to walk entirely around an island, but we were impressed at the variety and beauty of scenery on offer. There’s so much history too, with plaques and monuments scattered all over the place as well as the more obvious Royal connections and and military forts.
The three days we enjoyed the most were filled with never-ending views of chalk cliffs, calming downland and turbulent ocean. Being able to watch the sun disappear behind the horizon was an unexpected bonus.
In terms of difficulty, we found the Isle of Wight Coastal Path to be reasonably easy. There are plenty of hills but they are never steep (or high, with a maximum of only 240m) and usually promise a good view!
If we had walked this route in summer, I think we would have been comfortable with a five day itinerary (14 miles/day). As it was, I’m still glad we walked the Coastal Path in winter as it enabled us to experience the Isle of Wight during the quietest time of the year.
The only sections we didn’t really like were those that involved substantial road walking. Mud was a major issue on the northern side of the Path but I think those areas would be fine in drier months.
Other UK long distance trails we’ve walked:
Isle of Wight Coastal Path: Full Guide
This rest of this post will concentrate on the planning and logistics required to walk the Isle of Wight Coastal Path yourself. You can skip to any of the following sections by clicking below:
How long is the Isle of Wight Coastal Path?
The Isle of Wight Coastal Path is a 70 mile, or 112 kilometer, circular long distance footpath.
- The walk time is 30-40 hours, with most walkers taking five to eight days to complete the entire route
- There are no permits or fees required to walk the Isle Of Wight Coastal Path
- For cyclists, there is a separate 109km circular route, also known as the ‘Isle of Wight Randonnee’
If you’ve already read the day-to-day summaries above, you may have noticed that the actual distance we walked was a little more than the official trail total (especially considering we missed a 2 mile section around Hamstead). The extra mileage accounts for walking to toilets, bus stops etc.
Where does the Isle of Wight Coastal Path start and end?
Being a circular path, the Isle of Wight Coastal Path does not have an official start or end. It is possible to start the Coastal Path anywhere along the route and then finish at the same point, after a complete circumnavigation of the island.
Alternatively, it is possible to complete sections of the Coastal Path out of order and then finish at a different location.
Most Coastal Path walkers start at one of the Isle of Wight’s access points from the mainland – Ryde, East Cowes, Cowes, Fishbourne or Yarmouth. The Isle of Wight Coastal Path passes through all three towns, making them the most convenient option for a start/end point.
We personally chose Ryde as our starting point, but ended our walk in Yarmouth. This suited our unusual itinerary and also allowed us to try out a hovercraft for the first time!
How to get to the Isle of Wight
There are six main transport routes to the Isle of Wight:
- Portsmouth to Fishbourne ferry, operated by WightLink (45 minutes)
- Portsmouth to Ryde passenger-only ferry, operated by WightLink (22 minutes)
- Southsea (Portsmouth) to Ryde hovercraft, operated by Hovertravel (10 minutes)
- Southampton to East Cowes ferry, operated by Red Funnel (1 hour)
- Southampton to Cowes passenger-only ferry, operated by Red Funnel (25 minutes)
- Lymington to Yarmouth ferry, operated by WightLink (30 minutes)
During the peak summer season, there are up to 200 daily ferry crossings to the Isle of Wight.
Navigating the Isle of Wight Coastal Path
Overall, we found it fairly easy to navigate the Isle of Wight Coastal Path. I would suggest using two or more methods to navigate, however.
- The trail is marked with periodic blue sign posts, featuring a seagull. Most of the time, the text ‘Coastal Path’ will also feature. We found these blue signs at most major intersections, although they were less frequently available in the most urban locations (Cowes, Ryde)
- The Walking Englishman has a free GPX download of the Coastal Path. We loaded this onto the GPX Viewer app and checked it periodically to ensure we were on the right route (and in any location where signs were absent)
- Although not specifically named, the Coastal Path route is marked on the Maps.me app. We found the distances and time estimates to be remarkably accurate. I’d recommend downloading the offline map for the Isle of Wight, even just as a backup
- For a traditional map, check out the OS Explorer OL29. It covers the entirety of the Coastal Path and is the most detailed map of the Isle of Wight produced by the Ordnance Survey
On a few occasions, we found damaged or missing signs. This may have been because we were waking the trail during the winter season, around the same time as a major storm. We got turned around in the Duver area (St. Helen’s).
Due to the ever changing nature and erosion of the coastline, sections of the Path are subject to temporary (sometimes, permanent) closures. We stumbled on a number of these, but found the detours clearly marked for the most part.
High tide and/or strong waves could prevent safe crossing in these sections:
- From Salterns Road to the Esplanade at Nettlestone Point in Seaview
- In Bembridge, west of the Lifeboat Station
Both are located in urban areas so there are ways to detour.
Where to stay on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path
From hotels, holiday cottages, B&Bs to campgrounds, glamping and hostels, there’s a wide range of accommodation on the Isle of Wight. With the Coastal Path passing through some of the Isle of Wight’s biggest towns, most of the route offers plenty of choice for overnight accommodation.
The Isle of Wight’s compact size and excellent public transport system makes it possible to easily travel away from the path, to find more accommodation choice elsewhere.
The trickiest sections in terms of accommodation choice are Chale to Freshwater Bay (southwest) and Yarmouth to Cowes (northwest), due to isolation. The latter is particularly difficult. Seasonality can also have an impact, with some accommodation providers being booked up early in summer or preferring longer rental periods. In winter, some places close completely.
Since we were walking the Coastal Path in January, we decided to base ourselves in Newport (4 nights) and Ryde (3 nights), at each town’s Travelodge. We paid an average of £25/night, an absolute bargain, since both hotels were very clean, well equipped and centrally located.
Example itinerary with accommodation
- Day 1 – East Cowes to Ryde (7.7 miles/12.4km), overnight in Ryde
- Day 2 – Ryde to Sandown (12.7 miles/20.5km), overnight in Sandown
- Day 3 – Sandown to Chale (12.2 miles/19.6km), overnight at the Wight Mouse Inn
- Day 4 – Chale to Freshwater Bay (11.6 miles/19km), overnight at the Albion Hotel
- Day 5 – Freshwater Bay to Yarmouth via the Needles (9.8 miles/15.8km), overnight in Yarmouth
- Day 6 – Yarmouth to Little Thorness (12.7 miles/20.5km), overnight at Stable Cottages
- Day 7 – Little Thorness to East Cowes (5 miles/8.2km)
Isle of Wight transportation
The Isle of Wight has an impressive public transport system, with a network of bus routes as well as a railway line.
The Coastal Path is intersected by Southern Vectis‘ bus routes at numerous points, with two bus stations (Ryde and Yarmouth) actually located directly on the trail. Most of the bus routes connect through Newport, in the middle of the island, with Ryde acting as a second hub. As well as daily ‘Rover’ tickets, Southern Vectis sells a 7 day (or 30 day) pass, allowing unlimited travel on the network.
South Western Railways operates a regular service on the ‘Island Line’ on the eastern side of the island, connecting Ryde with Shanklin via Brading, Sandown and Lake. Ryde and Lake stations are located directly on the Coastal Path, while Sandown and Shanklin are less than 750m detour.
With such great transport links, it is possible to hike the Coastal Path in sections, using buses and trains to reach the start and end points each day (this is what we did). This is offers an alternative to walking the Path in a continuous direction and allows more flexibility regarding nightly accommodation.
Where to eat and drink on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path
With a considerable amount of the Coastal Path travelling through or close to urban areas, food is never too far away! As well as cafes and restaurants, there are a significant number of pubs located right on or very close (within half a mile) of the trail. Some good examples are:
- The Bugle Coaching Inn, Yarmouth
- The Wight Mouse Inn, Chale
- The Buddle Inn, Niton
- The Spyglass Inn, Ventnor
- The Culver Haven Inn, Culver Down
- The Crab and Lobster Inn, Bembridge
- The Pilot Boat Inn, Bembridge
- The Boathouse, Seaview
- The Fishbourne, Fishbourne
And, of course, Shanklin, Sandown, Cowes, and Ryde have many, many options.
Due to limited daylight hours during our own hike on the Coastal Path, we decided to bring packed food with us for breakfast and lunch. We then ate dinner in Ryde and Newport, where we were staying overnight.
We purchased our breakfast and lunch items in Ryde and Newport, but there are convenience stores and bakeries in the larger towns and communities en-route.
What is the weather like on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path?
The UK has a temperate climate. Winters are cool and wet, while summers are warm and wet (though drier than winter).
The Isle of Wight enjoys some of the warmest temperatures in the UK, with the average daytime temperatures in summer around 19-20c and in winter, around 8-10c. The warmest months are July and August, and the driest May and August. More rain falls in autumn than spring.
As well as being warmer, the Isle of Wight is also often cited as being sunnier too. It is claimed that the island receives an average of over 37 hours of sunshine a week compared to 29.7 hours on the mainland.
British weather is inherently unpredictable, however, with all manner of conditions (rain, cloud, fog, hail, sunshine and more) possible in the same day at any time of year!
Winter storms are not uncommon, with the Isle of Wight’s location making it vulnerable to strong winds and high ocean waves.
What to see on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path
Besides taking in the incredible coastal scenery, there are a number of trailside attractions that you may want to visit while walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path:
Carisbrooke Castle is not on the trail route, but we made a bus detour to visit (and would highly recommend)
Guided hike and luggage transportation options on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path
It is possible to book a fully guided walking tour along the Isle of Wight Coastal Path. As well as pre-booked accommodation and food, the services of an experienced guide leader is included. The leader will take care of navigation and share information about the local area while walking.
A larger number of walking companies provide self-guided tours. These also include pre-booked accommodation and some food (often just breakfast). All of the route planning will be taken care of, but no guide will be physically present on the trip.
To help lighten backpack weight, it is possible to arrange luggage transfers from one accommodation to another. Some of the guided and self guided tours will offer this service as standard, but independent hikers can also arrange luggage transfers through Wight Walks or Move My Bag for a daily fee.
Day walks on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path
Many of sections of the Isle of Wight Coastal Path are perfect for day walks. Some suggestions, derived from my favourite sections of the Coastal Path, are:
- Culver Cliff to Sandown – 3 miles
- Shanklin to Ventnor – 3.8 miles
- Ventnor to St Lawrence and back – 4.2 miles
- Brook Chine to Freshwater Bay – 3 miles
- Freshwater Bay to the Needles – 3.5 miles
- Wootton to Ryde via Quarr Abbey – 3.8 miles
Some longer route ideas would be:
- Chale to Freshwater Bay – 11.6 miles
- Freshwater Bay to Yarmouth via the Needles – 10.1 miles
- Culver Cliff to Ventnor – 6.8 miles
These distances are one-way (unless otherwise noted) and are approximate. All of the trail start/end points are accessible by bus, with the exception of Culver Cliff. If you’d like to do those routes using public transport, I’d suggest starting in Bembridge or Whitecliff Bay. This would add about 2.5/1.2 miles.
Isle of Wight Coastal Path Tips and Tricks
Here are some final tips and tricks to keep in mind when preparing to walk the Isle of Wight Coastal Path!
When to walk the Coastal Path
In my opinion, the best months to walk the Isle of Wight Coastal Path are May, June and September. July and August are usually warmer but accommodation prices will be at a premium.
As mentioned in this post, we walked the Coastal Path in January. While an unusual choice, we enjoyed surprisingly passable weather (three dry days, four wet ones), quiet trails and low accommodation prices.
Due to an incoming storm, however, we had to be flexible with our itinerary. Accommodation options are also fewer at this time of year and daylight hours are restrictive. We also encountered many muddy paths.
The Isle of Wight is a safe destination, with low crime activity. I personally would feel safe to walk the Coastal Path as a solo female. There is phone signal available along the route and ‘civilisation’ is never too far away. The prevalence of bus routes makes transportation easy.
One of the biggest hazards on the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, however, is the disintegrating chalk cliffs. This is especially apparent between Blackgang and Freshwater Bay.
- Stay away from cliff edges as much as possible
- Don’t walk along cliffs at night
- Be prepared to deviate from the trail due to cliff erosion
- Follow all closure and detour signs
Always check the weather forecast before heading out and avoid cliff areas when high winds are expected.
After rain, be especially careful when walking on chalk or clay surfaces. Both can be exceptionally slippery when wet.
On the northern half of the island, there are several sections which involve substantial road walking (no pavement). Some examples are Brocks Copse Road between Whippingham (near East Cowes) and Wootton and then from Little Whitehouse to Shalfleet.
The worst portion was Corf Road, just south of Newtown. It’s a quiet road but vehicles travel at high speed and visibility is limited.
- Personally, I never embark on any kind of long or challenging hike without a pair of hiking poles. My preferred pair is Black Diamond’s Distance Carbon Z – incredibly light, foldable and durable
- Waterproof top and bottom outer layers are an absolute must for hiking in the UK, especially in winter. My Arc’teryx Waterproof Jacket has not let me down yet. For trousers, I’d recommend the pull-on kind that are quick to put on and stash away small when not needed (like these ones – men’s | women’s)
- Keep your phone and extra clothes safe from the rain in a dry bag. We also used a raincover for extra protection against the winter weather
- If you like extra reading, check out Walking on the Isle of Wight by Paul Curtis
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada