One of the best ways to explore the Isle of Wight is to take a self-guided walk or cycle ride along one of the pretty water-courses. Where else can you take-in such a mixture of wildlife, architecture and heritage at no cost, as the rivers wind through the Island’s stunning countryside and settlements…
With options to join at many different points, your river visit can be as short as a ten minute stroll or alternatively a full-day ramble.
As well as following valley floors, many of the riverside tracks are also old railway lines, therefore offering a relatively flat and well-made surface for less mobile people too. Here are three to try this summer.
The River Yar
The Yar River Trail follows the Island’s longest river across the south east from its source, a spring near Niton, to the sea at Bembridge Harbour.
The Trail is waymarked and also features stone-carved milestones and sculptures by local artist Paul Mason. It uses a variety of rights of way – footpaths and cycleways and for some distance follows the course of a dismantled railway. Alverstone, Newchurch, Godshill and Whitwell are passed en route. The whole trail is 19 miles along, but this can easily be split into shorter sections.
The river has a rich tapestry of heritage. Its springs were the focus for pilgrims; downstream you can still see the remains of some of yesterday’s uses; sheep washes, withy beds planted for basketry mills and centuries old drainage schemes. The trail even passes by the Roman Villa at Brading. As the river meanders through its floodplain from Alverstone to Bembridge Harbour, the trail follows through 8km of land that is managed for nature conservation. Here, you might be ‘buzzed’ by a kingfisher, or if you are incredibly lucky, spot a water vole.
The Medina Estuary Walk is a 9 mile trail which takes in the rich maritime heritage of East and West Cowes and Newport, as well as a wealth of natural habitats. The river is internationally designated as a ‘Special Protection Area’ because of its importance to wading birds. Look out for egrets, swans, oystercatchers, curlews, black-tailed godwits, herons and redshank. If you divert your gaze away from the water you may be lucky enough to spot a
Despite its rich array of wildlife, this has always been a busy working river. This year local charity Island 2000 are busy uncovering a Victorian cement kiln, locally known as the ‘Mummies Cave’, that sits between Dodnor Creek and Dicksons Copse Local Nature Reserve and the hi-tech factory of Vesta Blades.
At Newport Quay, tired cyclists and walkers have the chance to relax at riverside hostelries such as The Bargeman’s Rest and Quay Arts Centre. Keen walkers can extend their activity by joining the Mill Trail which includes many historic structures on the rivers in Newport. Cyclists can continue to the south of the Island on the Red Squirrel Trail.
This ‘easy access ramble’ is a circular walk of just under 4 miles around the River Yar Estuary from Yarmouth. When the harbour breakwater was built in 1847, it and other developments slowed down the flow of the river, and as the mud settled, plants started to grow and stabilise the banks and salt marshes developed. These vulnerable habitats are home to plants that are especially adapted to changing conditions on the shoreline.
The Estuary is really important for wildfowl and wading birds, particularly in the winter, so much so that it is protected by six different designations under national and international law, so bring your binoculars along to see why.
The towns of Freshwater and Yarmouth offer ideal refreshment opportunities at both ends. Cyclists can travel along the eastern side of the estuary where the old railway track offers an easy route. There is a bird hide in Mill Copse and, as ever, keep an eye open for our red squirrels.
All of these walks and many more can be viewed and downloaded from the Island Rivers website – details can also be found of guided walks and special events taking place through the summer.
To find out more visit: islandrivers.org.uk/explore/walks
Originally printed in Wightlife magazine