Coast is partnering with the Ramblers each month to promote coastal walking. In this month’s column, DAVID HOWARTH, organiser of the Donate a Gate scheme, explains how it works.
The Isle of Wight is a walker’s paradise. And whether its hugging our dramatic coastline or cutting through peaceful green fields, our path network opens up the island for everyone to explore.
But while access applies to us all in theory, the reality can be very different. From treacherous ground conditions to unnavigable stiles, hidden barriers prevent those with limited mobility from experiencing the joy of exploring our outdoors. In fact, Natural England estimate that 20 per cent of people in England cannot use our public rights of way due to mobility issues.
At the Isle of Wight Ramblers, we believe everyone should be able to enjoy the benefits of walking in the countryside. So we decided to do something about it: in 2009, we established our Donate a Gate scheme, a new project to replace unnavigable stiles with easily accessible gates.
Funded by donations from individuals and community groups, often to commemorate the memory of a loved one or a landmark event, these gates open up our beautiful island to everyone, regardless of their ability.
The Donate a Gate scheme has been a phenomenal success: in May, we celebrated the installation of our 250th gate. Formally opened by the High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight, the gate was funded by the Ramblers’ Path Accessibility Fund and Kate Ashbrook, vice-president of the Ramblers, attended the ceremony. It was a fantastic landmark in our efforts to open up the countryside to all.
And it’s not the only way we are working to make walking on the Isle of Wight accessible to everyone. As well as providing gates, we have been working to create all new accessible trails, replacing all stiles and improving the quality of the path to make it easy for everyone to enjoy. So far, we have created three new trails at Western Yar Estuary, not far from the route above, Tapnell Trail and the Warrior Trail.
There’s much more to do. But I’m proud to be part of a group, and charity, working to remove barriers and allow everyone to experience the joy of exploring the outdoors.
Walking is the best way to explore everything the Isle of Wight has to offer. And by combining a beautiful stretch of coast with some of the island’s most historic monuments, this circular route from Bembridge is a perfect introduction.
Starting at Bembridge Fort car park, the route winds along a lane towards the fort, giving you a chance to study its defences. Originally constructed in 1867, the hexagonal fort was one of many Palmerston Forts built around Portsmouth during the Second French Empire and was designed to protect against the perceived threat of invasion by Napoleon III. Used throughout both the First and Second World War, the fort was acquired by the National Trust in 1967.
Beyond the fort, the route heads west towards Brading, offering a commanding vantage point of the village of Bembridge, Countryfile magazine’s Village of the Year in 2019. Picking up a footpath on the right, and crossing a field, you’ll turn right at a kissing gate to enter Brading Marshes Nature Reserve and pick up the Bembridge Trail.
This nature reserve is Britain’s answer to a mangrove swamp: you’ll find lichen-covered trees, wild garlic, bluebells and miniature moss-covered islands. The route continues to follow the Bembridge Trail, opening up to look over Brading Marsh with St Helens to the left and the fort to your right.
As you continue, huge ships out to sea will come into view and, on top of the hill ahead, Bembridge Windmill. The island’s last remaining windmill, it was constructed in the early 1700s and once served as inspiration for a JMW Turner watercolour when he visited in 1795.
Heading east from the windmill, you’ll descend into woods and skirt around a clump of buildings to reach the coast path, rising white cliffs and the crashing sea below. Keeping to the coast side of the headland, you’ll pass a caravan park on your right to reach the Wonky Cafe and the picturesque beach at Whitecliff Bay.
Heading up steps through the trees will take you to Culver Down and the remains of the Culver Down Battery, built between 1904 and 1906 and operational during both World Wars. Following the road west, you’ll pass the Culver Inn and an impressive granite obelisk, a monument to the Earl of Yarborough, first Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes. Continue up the road to take you back to your starting point near Bembridge Fort.
You can find a full route description here: tinyurl.com/4r4rbyew
For more on the Donate a Gate scheme, visit iowramblers.com/donate-a-gate.html
THREE MORE TO TRY…
Want to find a route closer to home? Check out the three routes below:
The remote seventh-century chapel of St Peter stands on the Essex coast near the wide, wild Blackwater Estuary. You’ll walk from the chapel along the sea wall, above saltmarshes, beaches and tidal mudflats busy with wading birds in winter. tinyurl.com/m338eurr
Sewerby and Danes Dyke, East Yorkshire
Clifftop views, a beach in the woods, a fern-filled ravine, prehistoric earthworks: there is a lot of variety packed into this short circular route along the coast path near Bridlington and back through a nature reserve. tinyurl.com/2p8nwzsd
Birkrigg Common and Sea Wood, Cumbria
This is a gorgeous short wander to the highest point on the Furness peninsular. Packed with historical interest and great views it’s a brilliant way to experience a neglected area of Cumbria. tinyurl.com/4tv9fsxf
HELP US TO MAKE THE OUTDOORS ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
As Britain’s walking charity, the Ramblers are dedicated to making sure that our wonderful green spaces are accessible to all. Whether through their flagship Ramblers Wellbeing Walks programme, England’s largest health walks programme, or their work to improve our path network through the Path Accessibility Fund, they open the way for everyone to enjoy the simple pleasures of walking.
And you can help support this work by becoming a member today. Annual membership costs £38.50 and includes access to more than 50,000 expert-walk led walks taking place across the country, the full library of over 3,000 Ramblers Routes and exclusive discounts with partners including Cotswold Outdoor. And what’s more, you’ll be a driving force behind increasing access to green spaces and opening up more places to walk.
Find out more by visiting the ramblers.org.uk/get-involved/join-the-ramblers.aspx