The monk and the merchant walk
Ships A-Hoy! A breathtaking circular walk steeped in history with spectacular panoramic views across the Island.
Explore the island on green hills great for hiking
Enjoy the views from St Catherine's Down over Compton Bay to Tennyson Down and beyond. Spot rare wildlife in Wydcombe valley and learn about the ancient grasslands and monuments on the route.
Blackgang viewpoint car park, grid ref: SZ490767
From the car park, cross the road and go up the steps and through the kissing gate to follow the path diagonally left. After 220yds (200m) turn left onto a cattle track and follow the upper edge of the scrub line. The track bends left after another 220yds (200m) but keep straight ahead over the crest and on the level to follow the line of the hill, bending gradually to the right. Cross two stiles, the second of which is to the left of a field gate, and follow the path which keeps a fence to its immediate right. Cross the next stile and go across the field, passing through the gate straight ahead marked by a fingerpost onto St Catherine’s Down. Follow the wide, grassy path to the Hoy Monument.
There are records of sheep being kept on the down from medieval times. The hill beneath the Oratory is made of chalk; look out for birdsfoot trefoil and thyme in the short grass of the old quarries. The lower ridge leading to the Hoy Monument is made of greensand which has more acid-loving plants like sheep's sorrel and heath bedstraw. You may spot old boundary banks. The view is west from St Catherine’s Down to Tennyson Down.
Turn left and go through the gate in the fence by the plinth. Turn immediately right and downhill, then right at the T-junction signed C3. After 60yds (60m) turn right, and go through two more gates. Take a straight line across the field aiming for the right-most gate in the boundary, leading onto a road. On a clear day you can see Culver Down to the east and Tennyson Down to the west: the full extent of the Island.
The Hoy Monument
Michael Hoy, a wealthy merchant who traded with Russia and lived in the nearby Hermitage, built this 72ft (22m) high column in preparation for the visit to England of Tsar Alexander I in 1814. The Tsar had successfully repelled the French invasion of Russia in 1812, dealing a serious blow to Napoleon the First’s campaign. Ironically, the south side of the monument bears an inscription to the memory of British soldiers who died fighting the Russians in the Crimean War in 1854.
Turn right at the road, then left onto the path GL26 by the wall of The Hermitage. Follow the path round the copse until it reaches a track by a house. Turn left through a metal gate taking path NT78 and then through another metal gate and down a hill until you reach a junction. Turn left for 30yds (25m), then right through a gate. Keep the fence to your left and follow the path, continuing across a field on the track heading down the valley.
The Victorian house you see is not owned by us, although the former farm cottage is now a National Trust holiday cottage. The cottage has a drystone wall - an unusual feature on the island. This may have been built using stone from the ruins of the chapel which stood adjacent to the Oratory. In summer 2014 Wydcombe was the setting for a rare event. Two pairs of bee-eaters, brightly coloured birds from the Mediterranean, chose to nest here. Eight chicks fledged – a UK record.
50yds (45m) before the field gate leading into a farm/wood yard, take the right-hand path which crosses through the hedge by a footbridge and gate. Keeping the fence to your left, continue on the path bending above Wydcombe House. Go through the gate and down to the track. Turn left and follow the track bending left. At the junction by the stream, turn sharp right to skirt Wydcombe House. Bear right by the ornamental stone arch and after 20yds (20m) follow the path straight ahead for 15yds (15m). Then take the path which bends diagonally right down to the banks of a stream. Go over the footbridge and follow the stony tree-lined track straight ahead. When the path leaves the valley it emerges into a field by a stile. Cross through the gap in the hedges about 20yds (20m) in front, and cross the field to the top right-hand corner and a pair of stiles hidden behind gorse bushes. Cross the stile on the right and turn right after 5yds (5m) to join the diagonal path climbing onto Head Down.
The Wydcombe estate
This delightful valley lies at the head of a tributary of the eastern River Yar, which rises on the slopes of St Catherine's Down. Much of the valley has been farmed for hundreds of years as a mix of sheep and cattle grazing, and arable. Because it has never been intensively farmed, there are abundant wildflowers including common spotted orchid and heath spotted orchid. Look out too for the rare golden-ringed dragonfly, demoiselle damsel fly, parasol fungus and green-veined white butterfly.
Cross the stile at the top of the slope by the National Trust sign for Wycombe and turn left to reach another stile 20yds (20m) away. Turn right onto a level green track and pass through a gate onto the hillside. The path goes diagonally left towards the radio mast on the skyline, passing between two small mounds before climbing steeply and zig-zagging to the left of an old quarry area. Go through the gate then head straight uphill towards St Catherine's Oratory. Look at the unfinished 18th-century lighthouse base at the base of the radio mast, then go through the kissing gate by the trig point to the Oratory. Head downhill to pass through a kissing gate. The homeward path aims straight for the start point, clearly visible above the Blackgang Chine car park.
St Catherine's Oratory
St Catherine's Oratory is known locally as the 'Pepperpot'. In 1313 Walter de Godeton, Lord of the Manor of Chale, was fined and punished for receiving a cargo of white wine from a ship which ran aground in Chale Bay. He was ordered to pay for a monk to tend a lighted beacon to warn ships and to offer prayers in the Oratory for the souls lost at sea. The Oratory continued to serve this purpose until the 16th century.
Blackgang viewpoint car park, grid ref SZ490767
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