Links and ledges walk, discover the Duver
A varied coastal walk exploring St Helens Duver, a sandy spit of land rich in wildlife and history. From busy Bembridge harbour you pass along the rocky seashore before climbing up inland and returning via picturesque St Helens village.
IMPORTANT: Choose routes depending on the state of the tide
Only attempt the longer walk within two hours either side of low tide, otherwise it would be a dangerous scramble over slippy rocks. The alternative footpath shown on the map through Priory Woods is often closed due to severe mud. So when the tide is high, we strongly suggest following the coastal path directly from route step 3 to step 5, which misses out Priory Bay but is safe in all conditions. This route alternative is 0.5 miles (0.8km) shorter and is described within step 3, and guidance on tide times is provided in the 'Terrain' section below.
St Helens Duver National Trust car park, grid ref: SZ637892
Leave the National Trust car park by following the hedge to the left of the interpretation panel and parking meter (for non National Trust members) and go on up the sandy path by the green dog bin. Cross the grass and go on over the road, aiming for the boats in Bembridge Harbour.
St Helens Duver is a sand and shingle spit which has built up over hundreds of years. The dunes which have formed here have stabilised. This is because the concrete sea wall built in the late 19th century has prevented any more sand being added, allowing acid grasslands and scrub to develop. The prestigious Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club was founded here in 1882 and the future King Edward VII was a member. The clubhouse is now a National Trust holiday cottage.
Turn left along the embankment path which soon leads away from the water, then cross the road and take the grassy path which heads over to houses on the right. Follow a track between the houses onto the promenade. Turn left and walk along the promenade to St Helens Old Church. Go through a gate and past an interpretation panel and a National Trust sign for Node's Point and go onto the sands.
Stretching from St Helens Old Church to Node's Point, these rocky outcrops of Bembridge limestone are one of the best places to go rock pooling. The limestone crevices provide shelter for whelks, limpets and periwinkles. Barnacles often encrust the rock. Sea anemones live in the pools, many different types of worm live in the sands and sea squirts cling to the rocks. Small fish such as blennies and gobies hide amongst the seaweed and even seahorses have been seen here.
(Low-tide route only) ............................ Walk along the sands for about a mile passing through three rocky headlands. Only attempt this at low tide. After crossing the third headland (Horestone Point) take the raised boardwalk along the back of Seagrove Bay. ___________________________ ___________________________ (High-tide route) ................................ Back-track to the road by St Helens Old Church, turn right and follow it for 110 yds (100m). Take the signed coastal path through a kissing gate on the right and go up the right edge of the field. Cross a bridge over a stream, then continue diagonally up the next field to a kissing gate in the top right corner. Turn right along the road, bearing left at the caravan park entrance. The footpath goes just to the left of the Priory Bay Hotel stone gate posts and follows the left hand edge of woodland. Step 5 is reached at the path junction where the wood ends: turn left to the stile.
St Helens Fort
St Helens Fort was part of a defence system put in place by Prime Minister Lord Palmerston to defend Portsmouth from French attack. The fort has been used as a navigational lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, 15 year old Ethel Langton, was once stranded there with her dog Badger. Stormy seas prevented her parents’ return for three days. Every four hours she had to climb a steep ladder to check the lamps were still lit. She was awarded a medal for her courage.
(Low-tide route only) ............................ Walk along the promenade, at the end of which take the road left up a slipway and hill, climbing Ferniclose Road (signposted Coastal Footpath). Continue to the top of the hill, reaching a stile 55yds (50m) beyond the Priory Hotel driveway.
Priory Bay is a secluded tree-lined beach with sweeping golden sands revealed at low tide. It has great views to the Spinnaker tower in Portsmouth, and offshore to No Man’s Fort and Horse Sand Fort, two of a chain of rugged granite islands built in the Solent by the Victorians. Used to defend Portsmouth Dockyard in World War Two, they are now luxury hotels.
Go over the stile and continue straight on keeping a hedge on your left. Go over another stile at the field boundary and follow in the same direction until you reach a road via a memorial gate. Turn right for 25yds (25m) then left along footpath R82 to St Helens. Bending left at a junction by the school, cross a cul-de-sac and follow a path between houses, before emerging alongside the Vine Inn. Turn left and continue along the pavement back towards the Duver, Notice the plaque to Sophie Dawes on a house on your left almost opposite Mill Road. Turn right into Duver Road when the main road bends sharply left.
Queen of Chantilly
The blue plaque in St Helens village marks the birthplace of Sophie Dawes, daughter of a renowned local smuggler. After an enforced stay in the workhouse after her father’s death, Sophie used her guile and cunning to climb the social ladder to a position of eminence - but later notoriety - at the French court. She became the mistress of a duke and married his military aide. Her downfall came after the duke was found hanged in mysterious circumstances after rewriting his will in her favour.
Just before some traffic lights, turn right onto a path which leads through St Helens Common. Go down this path and cross a wooden footbridge to an interpretation panel. Continue along the path for 60yds (55m) then head diagonally left across the grassy area and back to the car park.
St Helens Common
St Helens Common is an area of deciduous woodland and meadow. It is now grazed by very woolly black Hebridean sheep. At the edge of the Common is the Gaggen path. This gets its name from the press gangs who would come ashore to try and boost crew numbers in the days when St Helens was an important port. Naval and merchant fleets would often anchor in the sheltered waters to take supplies on board - St Helens water was known to have excellent keeping qualities.
St Helens Duver National Trust car park, grid ref: SZ637892
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