Down South: views of Ventnor walk
Enjoy spectacular far-reaching views on this short but challenging walk on the south side of the Island.
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 right just before the gate by a tall mast, signposted V1. After 45yds (40m) go through the kissing gate and bear left, taking the ridge top path towards Ventnor. This is one of the many gates to keep the goats in their enclosure. The path eventually descends very steeply with a series of steps. Go through the goat gate at the bottom, where there is an interpretation panel for Coombe Bottom. Continue through the copse, including two flights of concrete steps.
View to Coombe Bottom
Enjoy the panoramic views of Ventnor and the Channel seen from this point on the top of the downs, 787ft (240m) above sea level. St Boniface, Luccombe, Bonchurch, Littleton and Wroxall Downs are all part of Ventnor Downs. St Boniface Down was our first acquisition on the Isle of Wight in 1922, and is the highest point on the Island. In the car park there is a memorial to the passengers and crew of a DC3 Dakota aircraft which crashed here in 1962.
Turn left on reaching the industrial estate, the site of the old Ventnor railway station 300ft (90m) above the sea. Turn left again at the main road and walk 380yds (350m) along the right-hand pavement of Mitchell Avenue. Take the path into the woods on the left signed V110, just past Ventnor Bowling Club.
An unlikely place for a railway
The walk passes the site of the old Ventnor railway station which stood for 100 years from 1866, when the last link was made by tunnel to Wroxall. You can see the bricked up southern end of the tunnel, which passes under Wroxall Down, as well as caves excavated in the cliff walls to serve the railway. With the arrival of the railway the town came into its own, both as a tourist destination and a health resort.
Follow the path along the bottom edge of the wood overlooking the tennis courts. Don't go through the kissing gate into Bishop's Acre but bear uphill to the left, with the stock fence on your immediate right. After a short distance the fence turns and descends again, but our path continues to rise straight ahead. Take the upwards left fork at a junction.
Ventnor Downs with its Mediterranean-like climate has proved a home from home for the holm oak. One of the few evergreen oak trees in the country, it was introduced to Ventnor by the Victorians but has proved to be rather invasive. It has been allowed to cover the south side of St. Boniface Down, but elsewhere on the downs a herd of goats is employed to control its spread. With its glossy salt-resistant leaves, it copes well with the exposed coastal location.
Go through the goat gate to emerge onto open downland and follow the contouring path for about 600yds (550m) across the lower slopes of St Boniface Down. This is the best area to see chalk grassland flowers and butterflies.
Flora and fauna
Chalk grassland flowers such as horseshoe vetch, rock rose, centaury and yellow-wort flourish here. On fine days a good variety of butterflies can be seen. Scrub and trees have been cleared, allowing butterflies to spread over a wider area and build up larger, more sustainable populations. These include meadow brown, small heath and the rare Adonis blue which flies in late spring and late summer.
Just below an isolated clump of trees on an exposed flank of the hill, a path with steps joins from the road below and a crescent of houses close to the sea is seen further beyond. At this point, turn left and climb straight up the down, passing the clump of trees. The path is very steep but becomes better defined higher up the hill. You may feel it is better suited to mountain goats than humans! Near the top of the hill there is a bench and interpretation panel.
Look out for our flock of feral goats. They live on the downs and are used to keep the holm oak in check. These old-English goats were introduced in 1993, and specialise in stripping bark and eating woody growth. The goats have to be rounded up annually to be checked over and ear tagged. The kissing gates are sprung to prevent them getting through. Buzzards, ravens and kestrels make use of the up-draughts from the steep slopes to search for prey.
Go through the goat gate and up the hill. Follow the signpost V113 for 50yds (50m) to meet a crossing track with a view of Sandown Bay ahead. Turn left along the crossing track to a disused parking area. Walk along the access track leaving this open ground but turn right through a gate on the path signed V43, then quickly left again in 20yds (20m) to follow a grassy track which runs parallel to the road. Return to the car park by turning left opposite a wartime shelter.
The radar station at RAF Ventnor was built in 1937, one of 22 linked radar stations along the south coast. It had a wooden receiver and a protected underground operations room. The station played an important role in the Battle of Britain, intercepting enemy aircraft. In Operation Overlord it was used to monitor ships and aircraft in support of the D-Day landings, and to track ‘doodlebugs’. Following its decommissioning in 1961, it was used by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Ventnor Down car park, grid ref: SZ565784
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