First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The red squirrel sat on the garden wall at The Medlars B&B, nibbling nuts, his tail like a puff of ginger smoke held tightly to the curve of his back. The Isle of Wight is full of red squirrels (it has no grey intruders to out-compete and infect our native species), but I’d never seen one so bold and so willing to hold a charming pose for my delight.
We could have crouched all morning at the window watching the squirrel, but the early morning held the promise of a walk inland from the salty old port of Yarmouth. First, though, a wander along the sandy narrows of Norton Spit among prickly leaves of sea holly and fleshy spears of glasswort, out to the harbour pontoon where moored yachts bobbed.
The Yar estuary curves north through tremendous reedbeds to Yarmouth, a brackish tideway that all but isolates Wight’s western tip into an island of its own. Isle of Wight footpaths are beautifully waymarked and maintained, an exemplary network. The Freshwater Way carried us unerringly south through Saltern Wood and up to a wonderful view, east across reedbeds and river to folded downlands muted by the wintry light to shades of apricot and grey.
Along the margins of thick clay ploughland, oak leaves were beginning to turn brown and crisp. At King’s Manor Farm a donkey grazed the paddocks, gulping and chewing with noisy relish. Birds were forming the flocks that herald winter – pigeons busily pecking in the newly sprung wheat, crows reducing the farmers’ insect enemies as fast as they could gobble them.
In All Saints Church at Freshwater, morning service had just come to an end. ‘Ah, walkers! Come in, welcome! A cup of coffee? Yes, the church is a bit of a Saxon-Norman mishmash, but we love it!’
Beyond All Saints we crossed a broad bridge over the River Yar and followed an old railway path as it curved back to Yarmouth. Black-tailed godwit and ringed plover stalked the river shallows above their own rippled reflections.
Back on the north coast we made our way down to the shore and followed a sea-stained promenade back into town. A Lymington-bound ferry rumbled away out of Yarmouth, red and white sails scudded in the Solent, and the mainland lay grey and misty on the horizon, no more than a cloudy dream on the edge of sight.
Start: River Road car park, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight PO41 0RA (SZ 354895)
Getting there: Red Funnel Ferries (redfunnel.co.uk), Southampton-East Cowes. Bus 5, Cowes-Newport; bus 7, Newport-Yarmouth.
Road – A3021, A3054 to Newport and Yarmouth.
Walk: (6 miles, easy, OS Explorer OL29): From car park, A3054 to cross bridge. On left bend, right (347896, ‘Coastal Path, Fort Victoria’). At seafront, right along Norton Spit, then along pontoons to end. Return to coast road; left towards bridge; in 50m, right and follow ‘Freshwater Way/FW’. In 400m bear right (348892) through Saltern Wood. In another 1¼ miles, left at All Saints Church (347873) along road. Cross River Yar; left (349871) along railway path. In 1½ miles pass ‘Off the Rails’ café (358894); in another ½ mile, left (364896) along B3401 to cross A3054 (363898). Down steps (‘Yarmouth’ fingerpost) to shore; left into Yarmouth.
Lunch: Off the Rails Café, Yarmouth PO41 0QX (01983-761600, offtherailsyarmouth.co.uk) – bright and quirky; or Red Lion Inn, Freshwater PO40 9BP (01983-754925; redlion-freshwater.co.uk)
Accommodation: Medlars B&B, Halletts Shute, Yarmouth PO41 0RH (01983-761541, medlars-bnb.com) – immaculate B&B
Isle of Wight Walking Festival 2018: 28 April – 13 May
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk