Down south: Luccombe and the Landslip walk
In May it's a haze of blue from the bluebells, then in September and October enjoy the autumn colours of heather and bracken on this invigorating walk in the south of the Island, with splendid far-reaching views to Culver Downs in the east.
Enjoy dramatic views from the highest point on the Island
For those who enjoy strenuous walking, join this walk to the Ventnor Down National Trust trail, which starts from the car park next to the radar station.
Ventnor Down car park, grid ref: SZ565784
From the Dakota Memorial interpretation panel at the back of the car park, follow the path around the perimeter of Ventnor Radar Station, keeping the fence on your left. Turn left at the kissing gate by a tall mast, signposted V122 Boniface Down. This is one of the many gates to keep the goats in their enclosure. Keeping the radar station perimeter fence on your left, take the path which follows the hillside in a north-east direction, parallel to the coast. At the end of the green radar fence, go through the first kissing gate and head diagonally uphill towards a signpost on the near horizon, signed. At this signpost, turn left (V113 Luccombe Copse) and reach a seat after 200yds (180m) from which to admire the view.
Backtrack for 20yds (20m) and take the path on the left which heads gently downhill along a ridge. Start to descend more steeply and pass through trees. Go through the memorial gate by the interpretation panel and go down the steep and grassy Nansen Hill to the gate onto the main road.
Poet, priest and polar explorer
In addition to its natural beauty, this area of the Island has a number of interesting connections. Algernon Swinburne, the romantic poet, spent his childhood at East Dene and is buried in the graveyard of Bonchurch New Church. St Boniface Down is named after the Saxon priest who is believed to have come to the Island in the 8th century. Nansen Hill takes its name from Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian explorer who led an expedition to the North Pole in 1919.
Cross the road and take path V65 towards the back right of the car park by the interpretation panel. When you reach a wall turn right. Do not descend, but keep to the immediate right of the wall and bearing left at a fork. The path crosses the lower end of the Smugglers Haven tea-rooms, then returns to the wall. Follow the wall past a low-roofed stone shelter, then take the steep steps downwards through the Devils Chimney, a narrow cleft in the cliff. Bear right and continue down two more flights of steps to the remains of a seat. Bear left and up four steps then down many more to reach the coastal path. Handrails are provided where the steps are steepest.
The rocks under your feet
Ventnor Downs are made up of a number of different rock types which suit a variety of wildlife and vegetation. Acid-loving plants such as heather and bracken thrive on the flint gravel caps, while chalk grassland plants favour the shallow chalk soils of the slopes. The Landslip, now heavily wooded with sycamore, oak and hazel, is formed from blocks of limey 'greensand' which often slip over the underlying 'blue slipper' or gault clay. The Devil’s Chimney is a dramatic cleft in the greensand rocks with steps leading down to the Undercliff.
Bear left and follow the twisty path through The Landslip, following the coastal path signs where there is a fork. At the end of a narrow walled path you reach Rosecliff Lodge. Carry straight on the track, ignoring all left turns, and follow the coastal path for 0.6 miles (1km) past a few houses in Luccombe, eventually reaching a tarmac road after going through a garden and a gate and passing more houses.
Look out for birds like goldcrest and blue tit feeding amongst the ivy, and peregrine and raven which nest on the cliffs nearby. The peregrine, a large powerful falcon, is the fastest-flying bird in the world and catches its prey mid-air.
In 65yds (60m) after the white house turn right and cross the stile to walk through Haddon’s Pits. Follow a meandering path parallel to the road through this open area, rejoining the road at the stile at the top left corner. Turn right and follow the road downwards towards Shanklin. Turn left into Priory Road opposite a large white block of apartments.
Haddon’s Pits, adjacent to the coast, has splendid views over to Sandown Bay. The tangle of bramble, hawthorn and elderberry here provides shelter for many birds and insects, including whitethroat and long-tailed tit which breed in the scrub. It's also a good place to see swallows and house martins migrating south in their thousands in autumn.
After 165yds (150m) take footpath SS91 on the left into Vaughan Way. Follow the road into the estate, and on a left hand bend follow the grassy and then stone track to its end at the main road. Cross the main road with care and pass through the lych gate of St Blasius church signposted SS10. Take the tarmac path to the left of the church and cross over the boundary wall. Continue over two fields and three memorial gates to reach some trees, climbing all the time, more steeply and with some steps past Holme Copse. Go through two more memorial gates into a meadow.
St Blasius Church
St Blasius Church is set peacefully at the foot of the downs, overlooking a pond. The church dates back over 850 years and was once the family chapel for Shanklin Manor. Many of its original features were lost when it was extensively restored in Victorian times. In 1853 it was given to the town as the parish church for picturesque Shanklin Old Village nearby.
Turn sharp left keeping the fence on your left, pass through a gap at the lower end of the crossing fence and then head diagonally right up the hill to the trig point. There are fine views along the whole length of the island from from Tennyson Down to Culver Down. Continue onwards crossing a stile and a memorial gate in the hedge in front.
Turn left onto the crossing track, and pass through two gates to reach the Luccombe Down interpretation panel. Follow the wide ridge-top track. Shortly after the radar station comes into sight take the track which sweeps around to the right in that direction. The track eventually becomes a well-worn grassy path on the down, close to the road leading to the radar station. Continue to follow this path parallel to the road back to the car park at the end of the perimeter fence.
In autumn the downs here are carpeted in the rich pink and mauve hues of heather, and in spring they are clad in bluebells – both are truly breathtaking sights. Heathland needs to be grazed to keep it in good condition for wildlife. Luccombe Down was once grazed by ponies but now cattle are used. They are better at keeping down the scrubby vegetation, allowing heather and bilberry to thrive. Patches of gorse are burned and cut to encourage it to grow in dense low bushes, providing good nesting habitat for birds and shelter for insects.
Ventnor Down car park, grid ref: SZ565784
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.