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Exploring the estate at Mottistone

The long view from Mottistone Common to the white cliffs of Tennyson Down in the far distance
From Mottisone Common there are fine views to Brook Down and the chalk cliffs of Tennyson Down | © National Trust / Chuck Eccleston ARPS

A trip to Mottistone Estate is a great way to get outdoors and be active. There are long trails to walk that will take you from cliffs by the sea to high on the downs, countryside to explore on horseback and even orienteering.

Summer highlights at Mottistone estate

In summer the views from the top of the downs are an overload for the senses.


There’s beauty everywhere and hidden in the grass are exotic bee orchids. Horseshoe vetch is the food plant for two blue butterflies which are characteristic and chalk downland - Adonis blue and chalkhill blue.


Bird lovers will not be disappointed. Listen out for the signature yellowhammer call that sounds like ‘A little bit of bread and no cheese!’.

A most unusual and distinctive bird

Nightjars are summer migrants from North Africa. They are nocturnal birds and can be seen hawking for food at dusk and dawn between May and late August. They have long wings like a falcon but weigh only as much as a starling and they are similar in shape to a kestrel or cuckoo.

Their grey-brown mottled and streaked plumage provides ideal camouflage during the daytime. You can tell the sexes apart by the white patch on the male’s wing. They have large eyes for good night vision, and wide ‘frog’ mouths to catch moths.

Strange vocal sounds

They produce a unique rising and falling song of around 30-40 beats per second, which is usually called 'churring' because the word sounds a bit like the song. They choose a high perch for their display, and in flight clap their wings and make other strange vocal sounds.

If you choose a warm summer evening and climb to the higher parts of the Mottistone common you may hear and see nightjars churring and feeding around the scattered trees and clearings.

Butterflies to spot in the estate

There are several sun-warmed benches to relax on and watch butterflies darting across the carpet of wildflowers.

Three shades of blue

The chalk quarry around the limekiln at the eastern end of the Down is an especially good place to look for butterflies because it acts as a sun trap. Blue butterflies include the vividly coloured Adonis blue, the chalkhill blue and the common blue.

Other colourful butterflies

There are more butterflies to spot in the area. Look out for the brown Argus which has a row of bright orange spots on its outer wing edges. Its caterpillars feed on rock rose found on chalky ground. The distinctive marbled white appears to favour a diet of purple flowers as it is often seen near them. The vibrant green hairstreak always settles with its wings closed and is well camouflaged against foliage.

Butterflies on the lower slopes of Mottistone Down

The boundary between the acid and chalk grassland is a good place to look for the powerful and fast-flying dark green fritillary in July. You may find the grizzled skipper and dingy skipper difficult to follow in flight due to their darting movements.

There are also graylings, meadow browns and the gatekeeper which is often found on the edges of scrub.

A rare visitor

If you’re lucky, you might spot the rare Glanville fritillary in May and June. By far the largest population in the UK is found on the cliffs and downs here on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. The Glanville fritillary is one of the smaller fritillaries.

It's very active with rapid wing beats and a short glide. They rarely settle, but when they do, you can see their beautiful orange and brown chequered patterning and cream and orange bands on the underside of the wing.

Walk the estate

The estate at Mottistone covers cliffs, common and downland, as well as the village and farmland. It's an ideal place to go for a walk, from chalk downs through heathland and rolling hedge-lined farmland to the sea. Mottistone Gardens is an ideal place to set off from, heading down to the sea or up to the common for some excellent views.


On the wing

Part of the wider estate is Mottistone Common, which can be found teeming with wildlife. A favourite is the Dartford warbler, making a welcome return to the restored heathland, along with Nightjars and the more common buzzards and ravens. Linnets and yellowhammers also nest in the gorse. Look out for the beautiful small copper butterfly and the well-camouflaged grayling.

Mini beasts

If you get down on your hands and knees, tell-tale holes in the ground may indicate the lairs of burrowing insects. Some unusual ones, which are thankfully now widespread again on the common, include various mining bees and the ‘beewolf’ (a digger wasp). Other insects to look out for are the bright green tiger beetle, the common field grasshopper and the red and black thread-waisted sand wasp.


Heather and gorse are found in abundance on the common, both typical of acidic soils. The gorse is actively managed by cutting small discrete areas to create a patchwork of different aged bushes for nesting birds. There are plenty of smaller wildflowers too. In high summer you should see pink common centaury, yellow dandelion-like hawksbit and white-flowered heath bedstraw with its whorls of slim, sharp leaves. Red sheep sorrel can be found at almost any time of year.

The Longstone

As you venture across the estate, you might come across a large upright rock and smaller stone. In the 1950s it was discovered that the large rock, the Longstone, marks the entrance to a Neolithic long barrow. The stones are what remains of a 6,000-year-old Neolithic communal long barrow for burying the dead: 31m long, 9m wide and 2m high. Long barrows in this part of England that aren't on chalk or limestone are rare.

A group of people in the countryside looking at a tall, large single standing stone surrounded by green plants and trees
The Longstone on the estate at Mottistone Garden and Estate | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Legend has it that St Catherine and the Devil had a contest to see who should control the Isle of Wight. The Longstone’s tall iron sandstone pillar was supposedly thrown by St Catherine from the Down to the east which bears her name. At over 4m high and 2m wide, this was a mighty feat indeed. The Devil’s smaller stone (a mere 2.9m high and 1.2m wide) fell short and he lost the wager. The final resting place of the stones, St Catherine’s dominating the recumbent smaller stone, is said to symbolise the triumph of good over evil.

Outdoor pursuits

Bike riding

There are many bridle paths around the Mottistone estate to cycle along. The chalk ridge over the downs has glorious views, and, if you have the energy extend your ride to our neighbouring places.

Saddle up

There is plenty of parking for horse boxes at the Jubilee car park, from where the track leads straight up onto the chalk ridge of Mottistone Down and from there onto the Tennyson Trail.

Try orienteering

Orienteering is a great way to explore the countryside, with a purpose. The Wight Orienteers have set up some permanent marker posts on Mottistone Down and hold occasional events here.

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