Isle of Wight walk - Newtown Nature Reserve
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 March 2020
A stroll around the Newtown Nature Reserve, Isle of Wight
As well as some of the island's most iconic stretches of coastline and thousands of acres of open countryside, the National Trust also owns and manages the only National Nature Reserve on the Isle of Wight, situated at Newtown on the north-west coast.
Comprising estuary and foreshore with extensive mudflats and salt marsh, along with the adjacent wildflower meadows and woodland, it is well worth a visit both for its unspoilt beauty and tranquillity, and the excellent bird watching.
In the small hamlet adjoining the reserve is the Old Town Hall, also owned by the National Trust. The distinctive 17th century building is the only remaining evidence of Newtown's former importance as the most ancient borough on the Isle of Wight and a once thriving settlement (originally known as Francheville). It was laid out in 1256 by the Bishop of Winchester, the land divided into plots which were rented out. After a French raid in 1377 it fell into decline and later was known as a rotten borough (a parliamentary borough with a very small electorate), sending two MPs to Westminster, despite being a mere hamlet. This came to an end with the Reform Act in 1832 which disenfranchised the rotten boroughs.
The Town Hall lost its significance and became increasingly dilapidated. However, it was saved for the National Trust by Ferguson's Gang, a mysterious group of young women in the 1930s, fighting against the sprawling development in England. There's a display about their work at the Old Town Hall, which is certainly worth a look round either before or after the walk.
Nearby is Newtown's oldest house, known as Noah's Ark, which refers to the boat and lion illustrated on the Newtown (Francheville) seal above the front door. It was formerly a pub called the Newtown Arms Inn, which closed in 1916. The National Trust later bought the property.
The walk takes you around the Nature Reserve, with views of the estuary and opportunities for bird watching - notably from the bird hides - especially in the cooler months when wildfowl and waders migrate here. The walking is quite gentle along the nature reserve footpaths through meadows and woodland and beside the estuary. Although fairly flat, paths can be muddy in winter. An optional extension follows the Coastal Path route along roads and tracks to Shalfleet and on to its quay, from where you can enjoy more fine estuary views.
1. (SZ423906) Turn left out of the car park and just before turning left again there's the house on the right, known as Noah's Ark, with its seal above the front door. Pass the 19th century church on the right and continue along the road, which bends right then left, to its end.
2. (SZ420907) Carry on along the enclosed path ahead which leads to a gate and meadow. Continue along the left hand edge to another gate, then along the raised path by the estuary to the black shed at Newtown Quay. The large ponds here were formerly used for salt production. Bear right to cross the long footbridge over the salt marsh and take the next left to Mercia Seabroke bird hide, named after the reserve's first warden. Go right back to the road and left along the footpath, keeping ahead when you meet the road.
3. (SZ428905) Turn left at a gate and National Trust Town Copse sign and follow the track through the wood, then turn left and continue along the footpath that leads to the East Bird Hide.
4. (SZ426911) Retrace your steps but when you reach the road go left, follow it round to the right, then turn right along the footpath back to the road, turning left to the car park. For the extension to Shalfleet and the National Trust's Shalfleet Quay, follow the waymarked Coastal Path along the road via Cassey Bridge - an attractive spot and also good for bird watching. Turn right at the T-junction, pass the right turn to the scout camp, then fork right along a track, cross the footbridge and turn right to Shalfleet Quay.
5. (SZ414904) Retrace steps, continuing to Shalfleet itself to view the 11th century church with its impressive tower. Return to Newtown the same way.
Start/finish: Newtown National Trust car park (SZ423906)
Map: OS Explorer OL29
Distance: Three miles/5km (+ optional four miles/6km extension)
Terrain: Nature reserve footpaths through meadows and woodland and beside estuary. Quiet lanes. Optional extension follows Coastal Path route along roads/tracks.
Time: Two hours (or four hours with extension)
Refreshments: New Inn, Shalfleet (01983 531314)
Public transport: Wightlink car ferries, daily/hourly, between Lymington and Yarmouth (also crossings between Portsmouth and Fishbourne/Ryde), 0333 999 7333; wightlink.co.uk No 7 bus (regular daily services) between Alum Bay and Newport via Yarmouth and Shalfleet, where route could be joined, 0330 0539 182; islandbuses.info
Accommodation: Chilton Farm (self-catering and B&B) chiltonfarm.co.uk, peaceful location near the coast, 25 minute drive from Newtown
Further information: National Trust Nature Reserve and Old Town Hall, 01983 531785; nationaltrust.org.uk/newtown-national-nature-reserve-and-old-town-hall