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, what3words: ///ignore.payback.bulbs.
From the car park, cross the road and go up the steps and through the kissing gate to follow the clear path which first goes diagonally left then straight up the hill towards the Oratory, up to a kissing gate on the skyline. Go through the gate, then immediately turn left and away from the Oratory, which we visit at the end of the trail. Follow the grassy track leading gently downhill towards Chale and the sea, following the line of the hedge on the left. Soon the path bends right, and this leads into an area with a small ridge on the left and old chalk quarries on the right. Follow a line through the valley between them and eventually reach an open area. Go straight across following the main track, and pass through the bridle gate next to a field gate straight ahead and onto St Catherine’s Down. Bearing left at first, follow the wide, grassy path to the Hoy Monument, keeping to the ridge top.
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 45yds (40m) turn right, and go through two more gates. Take a straight line across the field aiming for the right-most gate in the boundary at the right-hand edge of the tree belt, 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.
Just before a spoil heap about 50yds (45m) before the farm/wood yard, take a path on the right, turning immediately after a marker post with yellow footpath sign. This 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 a track. Turn left and follow the track as it bends left again. At the junction just past the little bridge, turn sharp right to skirt Wydcombe House on a path to the right of the driveway to the house, which soon becomes grassy. Bear right by the second and larger ornamental stone arch and after 20yds (20m) follow the path straight ahead for 15yds (15m). Then take the path which bends diagonally right downwards towards the banks of a stream. Go over the footbridge and follow the very 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. Just before a pair of stiles in the bracken, take a path bearing right and follow a slowly-rising diagonal path 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.
Bear left at the top of the slope and pass between stiles on the left and right to reach another stile 20yds (20m) away. Cross this and turn right onto a level green track and eventually pass through a gate to the left of a field gate and continue onwards. After 150yds (135m) aim leftwards off the track, aiming to skirt the old quarry edge on its right and then upper edge, aiming for a gate on the skyline almost in line with the radio mast. The path is hard to distinguish on the ground, but the target gate is easily visible. 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 and follow the outward route back to Blackgang Viewpoint 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, what3words: ///ignore.payback.bulbs.
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