When King Charles I arrived in the Isle of Wight in November 1647, he was on the run after comprehensive defeat in the English Civil War. The king believed that the newly-appointed governor of Carisbrooke Castle, Robert Hammond, would help him escape to France.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
But Hammond, reporting Charles’s every move to Oliver Cromwell, held him securely in the old Norman stronghold like a pearl in a snapped-shut oyster. A year of royal incarceration, of farcical escape attempts and botched deals, ended with the inevitable humiliating journey under guard to London and to public execution in Whitehall on a cold Tuesday in January 1649.
High and handsome on its wooded knoll, its pale stone walls splashed with late year sunshine, Carisbrooke looked this morning like a romantic’s dream of a fairytale castle. In the car park a cheerful lady steering a black labrador told us, ‘Get up on the downs, you’ll have a beautiful walk.’ She couldn’t have given us better advice. The Tennyson Trail, a flinty lane in a tunnel of trees, took us up onto the roof of Bowcombe Down, where chalkhill and common blue butterflies were flitting with crazy energy over the last sprigs of wild marjoram and knapweed.
Views back to the curtain walls, great gatehouse and sloping motte of Carisbrooke Castle were breathtaking. And so were the prospects from the ridge track, out across a landscape of corn stubbles squared by hedges, hilltop spinneys, the roll and dip of the island’s wide chalk downs, and a northward glimpse of corresponding hills away on the mainland beyond the gleam of the sky-blue Solent.
A shady green lane dipped down from the ridgeway to cross a valley, with a wonderful view ahead of the flank of Dukem Down quilted with silvery stubbles, green and gold trees, pale crops of new grass and olive-coloured herby sward. Long streamers of chalk dust trailed after the farm tractors as they harrowed the stubbles. Up on the crest of Garstons Down buzzards wheeled, the sun struck warm, and jewelled beetles lurched through the close-nibbled turf among a million rabbit pellets.
Dropping down the slopes towards distant Carisbrooke, I pictured the captive king’s frustration and misery. Charles saw himself as God’s anointed representative on earth. It hadn’t done him any good. Pacing the quarter-mile circuit of his prison walls and looking out over the downs, how he must have longed for everyman’s simple freedom to go for a walk in the country.
Start & finish: Carisbrooke Castle car park PO31 1PE (OS ref SZ 485876)
Getting there: Ferry: Red Funnel (023-8024-8500; www.redfunnel.co.uk) Southampton to East Cowes (vehicles) or West Cowes (foot passengers). Bus service 1 (West Cowes) or 5 (East Cowes) to Newport; 6, 7 or 38 to Carisbrooke. Road: A3020 (West Cowes) or A3021/3054 (East Cowes) to Newport; B3341 ‘Carisbrooke Castle’.
Walk (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL29): From car park, Public Footpath 88 (‘Miller’s Lane’). Right at Miller’s Lane, left along Clatterford Shute (483876); cross ford; cross B3323 Clatterford Lane; up Nodgham Lane and over crest. Hairpin left by ‘Little Hill’ up Tennyson Trail (481881; fingerpost) across Bowcombe Down for 2¼ miles. At gate, left (455860; ‘bridleway N135, Bowcombe Road’). In 250 yards lane swings right; ahead here and down to cross B3323 Bowcombe Road (465859; fingerpost ‘Froglands and The Downs’) near Idlecombe Farm. Up field edge left of triangular copse; 100 yards into next field, right through hedge, left up green lane, over ridge, down to corner of Frogland Copse (471862). Follow stony lane to right; climb field edge; in 50 yards, ahead up hedged path (‘N146 Gatcombe, Shorwell’) to Dukem Down. At crest (472852) you’ll find a stile with Access Land logo on left, wooden horse jump fence ahead, and a metal rider’s gate to the right. Go through this, on among trees. In 400 yards, left (475850; ‘Gatcombe’ fingerpost) out of trees; follow fence on left past dewpond on Garstons Down. In 200 yards, left through gate (478850; ‘bridleway G7 Garstons’) and down to Garstons farmhouse (479858). Bear right in front of house (‘Byway’) along stony lane; in 250 yards, fork left along narrow green lane between hedges. In ⅓ mile, ahead (486864; ‘bridleway N108, Whitcombe Road, Carisbrooke’) along Shepherds Trail for ½ mile to Whitcombe Cross (487874). Left for 100 yards; right (‘Carisbrooke Castle’) along field edge. At top, left to car park.
NB – Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Carisbrooke Castle: 01983-522107;
More IoW info: 01983-813813; www.islandbreaks.co.uk