Points of view: Headon Warren walk
Head on up Headon Warren – a breathtaking walk with splendid views of the mainland, and a Bronze Age burial mound. This walk can be shortened to 3 miles (4.8km) by missing out Alum Bay.
Turf Walk, Cliff Road Totland, grid ref: SZ322868
Turn right along Turf Walk to its left-hand corner, cross the bridge and go down the steps towards Totland pier. Turn left along the seafront.
Climb the wooden steps just after the Old Lifeboat Station, turning right at the top to follow the road. Take the footpath signed to Alum Bay on the right beyond Cape House. Go through a memorial gate and follow the path through the wood. Continue uphill when reaching open land to an interpretation panel and seat.
About 5,000 years ago trees on the Warren were cleared to provide grazing for cattle and sheep, leaving acid heathland which is now a small but important site for heather on the Island. Look out also for Rosebay willowherb, centaury, dwarf gorse and tormentil. There was a warren here in the 15th century when rabbits were farmed for their fur and food. Today's rabbits keep the turf short and to some extent prevent the heath reverting to woodland.
Bear right just after the panel and follow the coast path marker posts, emerging into a clearing by a seat. Walk along the ridge for 100yds (90m) for a fine view of The Needles. Retrace your steps to the seat (the onward path is unsafe due to landslips), then bear right and downwards towards Alum Bay. Follow the path to a junction by the next coast path marker post and take a detour to the right to visit Hatherwood Battery.
In the 19th century the Warren was home to a fire command station for all the gun batteries in the area, although now only the concrete foundations of Hatherwood gun battery remain. The battery was built between 1865 and 1869 in response to an anticipated attack by the French but never saw active service. It is one of the many Palmerston Follies, named after Lord Palmerston who was Prime Minister at the time.
Leave the Battery by a path to the right of a stunted pine tree and bear right again down towards Alum Bay. (For a shorter walk, bear left just after the coast path marker post and skip to direction 7 below). Cross the road by a gate and take the track opposite, signed T22. To reach the beach and see the famous coloured sands in the cliffs, follow the path and several flights of wooden steps right down to the shore at Alum Bay, then retrace your steps.
The chalk ridge which crosses the Island from Culver Cliff in the east once extended almost 20 miles (32km) to the chalk ridge at Swanage on the Dorset coast. It is thought that, after many years of erosion and sea level rise, the ridge was finally breached about 5,000 BC. The Island split from the mainland, leaving the jagged chalk stacks of the Needles and Old Harry Rocks at either end of the breach. One of the Needles collapsed in a storm in 1764.
Half way along the track, climb a steep flight of wooden steps, signed T23, to reach The Needles Park. Turn right under the chairlift for 40yds (35m), then left and right to visit the Marconi Memorial and viewing platform.
Marconi at the Needles
Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radiotelegraph system, set up the world’s first permanent wireless station at the Needles. He started transmitting on 6 December 1897 using a 150ft (45m) mast which took twenty men to install on the headland. In 1900 he moved to Knowles Farm, on the southern tip of the Island. From here he succeeded in transmitting radio signals a record 186 miles (300km) to the Lizard Radio Telegraph Station in Cornwall.
Cross through the pleasure park to the road, and turn left along the Coastal Path which follows the road for 220yds (200m). Take the first road on the left to the gate passed earlier and rejoin the outward path, marked T17, back up the hill to an interpretation panel. Bear right following the coast path marker post and follow the path back to the seat on the top of Headon Warren.
Flora and Fauna
The heather-covered acid heathland of Headon Warren, which glows purple in autumn, presents a quite distinct habitat from the nearby chalky Tennyson Down. Headon Warren is a brilliant place for wildflowers. It is also home to the small, long-tailed Dartford warbler which nests here. This elusive bird almost died out in the 1960s but numbers have since recovered. Look out too for seabirds passing close to the shore, and even the odd rare bird blown off course by the fierce winds.
Take the path to the right of the seat to the Bronze Age barrow. Follow the path to the right of the barrow and descend slightly, passing a sunken reservoir. Turn right at the finger post to follow the public footpath downhill. Cross two stiles to reach a road.
Bronze Age Barrow
Although the Isle of Wight has many burial mounds, also known as barrows, this round barrow on Headon Warren is one of only a few to survive from the early Bronze Age (1700-1500 BC). It is also unusual in not being sited on chalk. A local chieftain is thought to have been buried here.
Turn left, and left again along the first minor road (Headon Rise). Continue along this road to return to Turf Walk.
Turf Walk, Cliff Road Totland, grid ref: SZ322868
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.