Hampshire walk around Niton
PUBLISHED: 10:30 01 September 2015 | UPDATED: 10:30 01 September 2015
© Steve Davison
Follow Steve Davison across to the Isle of Wight for a walk at Niton, visiting the fascinating St Catherine’s Oratory
From the car park the walk heads up across Gore Down to reach the unusual octagonal stone tower, known locally as the ‘Pepperpot’ - although its shape is more reminiscent to that of a rocket, with the four support buttresses looking like rocket fins. Sadly this is no medieval rocket, but rather the remains of St Catherine’s Oratory (chapel) that was built on the hill in 1328.
Legend has it that Walter de Godeton, Lord of the Manor of Chale, received wine taken from a shipwreck in Chale Bay and as penance, he was ordered to build the oratory and beacon on St Catherine’s Hill. A monk kept a fire lit in the tower at night as a warning beacon to ships, whilst also praying for souls lost at sea. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the oratory fell into disrepair, however, the tower continued to be used as a warning beacon until the 17th century.
From the tower the walk continues north-eastwards with extensive views over the patchwork landscape before heading down to Niton. The village is split into two distinct parts by the impressive inner cliff, with most of the village above the cliff and the smaller, Niton Undercliffe, below. The upper village is home to The White Lion pub and the Church of St John the Baptist, parts of which date from the 11th century, although it was extensively rebuilt by the Victorians.
The final leg of the walk follows the Coastal Path along the top of the inner cliff, giving some great views as its skirts high above St Catherine’s Point, the most southerly part of the Isle of Wight. Far below is the white-painted St Catherine’s Lighthouse. The present tower was built in 1838 following the loss of the sailing ship Clarendon on nearby rocks. The light, which on a clear day is visible for up to 30 nautical miles, provides an important guide to shipping in the Channel.
Beside the lighthouse is Knowles Farm, and it was here, in 1901, that Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio telegraph system, succeeded in transmitting radio signals over a distance of 180 miles to the Lizard Radio Telegraph Station in Cornwall.
Shortly before arriving back at the car park there is an extensive view to the west over the Blackgang Chine amusement park, one of the oldest theme parks in the country, opened in 1843, to the distant white cliffs of Tennyson Down and The Needles. The large area of landslips below the cliffs has formed over thousands of years and in 1928, a large landslip destroyed the original Niton to Chale road.
• Distance: 4 miles (6.4km)
• Time: 2 hours without stops
• Terrain: A few climbs, tracks and paths which can be muddy, stiles and gates
• Start/Finish: Car park at Blackgang view point on A3055, 1.25 miles west of Niton; grid ref SZ490767
• Map: OS Explorer OL29
• Refreshment: The White Lion (01983 730293) at Niton; ice cream van in the car park
1 (SZ490767) - From the car park carefully cross the A3055 and go up the steps, signposted for St Catherine’s Oratory. Go through a kissing gate and follow the path diagonally left up across the grassy slope of Gore Down, taking a breather part way to admire the views. At the top fence cross the stile and continue to reach the stone tower, or ‘Pepperpot’ crowning the top of St Catherine’s Hill. After admiring the views, continue over a stile beside the trig point and head down across the field, later passing an area of undulating grassland. At the bottom right corner of the field, turn right through a gate and follow the enclosed bridleway to a junction.
2 (SZ500774) - Turn right down the hedge-lined bridleway (Bury Lane), later passing Ladyacre Farm to a T-junction with the A3055 in Niton - on the right is the Church of St John the Baptist. Turn left along the A3055 to a crossroads and go right along the High Street to a junction with The White Lion pub on the right. Keep ahead up the road for 100m, passing the village shop (which has a tearoom) and turn left along School Lane. At the end, go straight on along the path to a 5-way junction.
3 (SZ508765) - Take the second on the right (almost straight across), heading south-east along the hedge-lined path. At the corner, go straight on up across the field to a stile in the hedge and cross through into the next field. Follow the path across the field to a path T-junction at the top of the wooded cliff. Turn right following the coastal path, keeping the cliff on the left as the path shortly turns right, with a wall on the left. At the junction, keep right and then left at the next junction (Bridleway NT31 – West Cliff and Blackgang) down to the A3055.
4 (SZ505762) - Turn right up the road for a few metres and carefully cross over to make a sharp left turn along the track (Coastal Path to Barrack Shute). Keep to the coastal path passing through a couple of kissing gates and then along the top of West Cliff, with some great views down to St Catherine’s Point and lighthouse, to reach a path junction at a seat - the path to the left drops down towards the lighthouse. We continue straight on along the top of Gore Cliff as it later swings northwards and the amusement park at Blackgang Chine comes into view. Follow the path to the right at the house, with a hedge on the left and go through the trees to reach the car park.
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