Brace yourself for a spot of fossil hunting

Walk Of The Month: Isle of Wight - Where else can you stumble upon a 65 million-year-old oyster? Mark Rowe takes a step back on the Isle of Wight

As any budding palaeontologist knows, a bucket and spade are handy for more than just building sandcastles on the Isle of Wight.

They are useful for rooting around in the sand along the base of the cliffs at Yaverland, where every rock you pick up seems to contain a fossil. When I visited, the autumnal gales had kicked in, hurling spray and waves at the battered cliffs, loosening the soil and releasing more fossils for hardy amateur collectors.

I'd dropped down to Yaverland beach, north of Sandown, as part of a walk that takes in the rich wildlife and history of a strangely enigmatic easterly point of the island. Starting in Brading, south of Ryde, I was immediately struck by how diligently the island waymarks its paths. Almost all footpath signs come with a number as well as the destination. And so, I dutifully took footpath number SS44 through the Brading Marshes nature reserve.

The landscape is being restored and already teal and widgeon are among the ducks returning, while the rarer snipe – twitchy, mottled brown, long bill – may flutter around in the ditches, and flocks of lapwing should by now have arrived for the winter. The area feels like an island within an island, which until a few hundred years ago was the case, when the Isle of Bembridge was separated from the main island by a tidal channel that now forms the course of the River Yar.

After collecting several modest fossils – 65 million-year-old oyster shells, according to Alex, a passionately knowledgeable guide at the nearby Dinosaur Isle museum – I clambered up the heathland that runs above the beach. Cattle graze randomly here and vigorous clumps of gorse still in flower had colonised the narrow, fractured valleys that lead down to the sea. Out on the Channel, tankers were queuing up to dock at south-coast ports, while windsurfers scuttled along the water in a stiffening breeze.

The top of the climb is marked by Culver Down and the Yarborough Monument, which you could argue form something of an imposition, because on either side there are superb views in all directions – south back towards the hills above Shanklin, the fetching rolling hills of the hinterland, and northwards to Bembridge and Ryde.

I made for the coast path and Bembridge, with useful information boards filling me in on the age and character of the sandstone and chalk cliffs I walked upon. Many of the fossils are freshwater, and date back to a time when the Isle of Wight was closer to modern-day North Africa. Just out to sea, was Bembridge ledge, at low tide its exposed skerries and rock pools resembling a reef. Elsewhere, the sea has taken sizeable chunks out of the cliffs. The coastline around Bembridge – the pebbles make for a rather painstaking plod on the beach – is attractive, too, with woodland groves, now bare of their leaves, acting as a scaffold through which to view the sea.

Beyond Bembridge, striking out into the interior of the island, the landscape changes yet again in the form of Brading Marshes, a silent, open expanse of land that has a touch of a magic about it. Above the marshes stands a lonely 17th-century windmill, the last remaining windmill on the island, but the land then tumbles away to become spirit-level flat, with paths threading through reedbeds and clumps of woodland thick with old oak, ash and hazel and home to buzzards, yellowhammers, red squirrels and the embattled green woodpecker. Gazing down on this enchanting landscape is the chalk edifice of Bembridge Down and the Victorian era Palmerston fort.

Arriving back in Brading, I had time to visit the truly excellent remains of the Roman villa – one of the best, when it comes to interpretation, in the UK. The Romans, I learnt, favoured the east of the island for its more sheltered climate, fertile lands and easy access to the continent. I was particularly struck by a map of the Roman perspective from Wight – the east, and the Isle of Bembridge, are positioned north, and the direction and flow of trade to London, France, the Low Countries and, via the Rhine, to the heartland of Germany – and then Italy – was obvious.

Whether it is fossils, Romans, wildlife or, indeed, the prevailing 1970s bucket-and-spade charm that draws you here, the Isle of Wight is a walking destination for all seasons.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Mark Rowe travelled to the Isle of Wight with Wightlink Green Getaways (0871 376 0013; wightlink.co.uk/ greengetaways), which offers three-night weekend breaks at Niton Barns in the village of Niton from £121 per person, including return Wightlink ferry crossings from Portsmouth or Lymington. Wightlink publishes a free walking brochure, Wight Safaris (wightlink.co.uk/wightsafaris).

Further information

Brading Roman Villa (01983 406223; bradingromanvilla.org.uk)

Dinosaur Isle (01983 404344; dinosaurisle.com)

Directions

OS Map: OL29.

Distance: 9 miles.

Time: Four hours.

Start at Brading railway station. Head for the B3395 (Bembridge Road). Take footpath on right (SS44) across fields and turn left to follow the path in front of houses and down to B3395. Turn right and then left on to beach before walking up the grassy slopes to Culver Down and the Yarborough Monument. Follow coast-path signs – including diversion behind Foreland Fields – to Bembridge and take the beach route around the town. At Bembridge Point take footpath BB33 to Dulcie Avenue and turn right along unpaved road to the T-junction. Turn left, then right up Bembridge high street. At the bend, take the footpath ahead to Bembridge Windmill and follow waymarkers to Brading via Centurion's Copse. Cross railway back to train station.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam