Sunday, 6 November 2011

Over Culver to Shanklin

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About a year ago - see Swinburne, Culver climber - I mentioned Culver Cliff, at the eastern end of the Isle of Wight, and its literary connection: Swinburne claimed to have climbed it. On Friday 28th October, Clare and I walked from Whitecliff Bay round Sandown Bay to Shanklin (first visit for Clare, the first since the mid-1970s for me): a route of some six miles that starts by going up over Culver Down.

Culver Cliff from Whitecliff Bay
Whitecliff Bay from Culver Down
You start at the caravan park at Whitecliff Bay and walk generally south-west. It's geologically interesting, as you're walking over a steeply-folded succession of older and older rocks: Tertiary at Whitecliff Bay, on to the Cretaceous chalk of Culver, then down through the Cretaceous succession of Upper Greensand, Gault, Lower Greensand and Wealden. It was a slightly hazy day that got increasingly and dismally overcast, but from Culver Down we could see across the eastern end of the Island over Bembridge harbour, with Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower on the skyline.

Panorama, looking across Bembridge to Portsmouth

Yarborough monument

Culver Down itself has several points of historical note. Left, the Earl of Yarborough monument: "To the memory of Charles Anderson Pelham, Earl of Yarborough, Baron Yarborough, of Yarborough, in the county of Lincoln, Baron Worsley, of Appuldurcombe, in the Isle of Wight, D.C.L., P.B.S., F.S.A., whose benevolence, kindness of heart, and many virtues endeared him to all who knew him, this monument was erected, as a testimony of affection and respect, by public subscription.

As the owner of large estates he was one of those most conspicuous for the qualities which peculiarily adorn that station, and as the first Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron he was eminent in fostering and encouraging by his example and liberality all that was calculated to improve the science of naval architecture and the maritime interests of his country. He died on board his yacht the 'Kestrel' in the port of Vigo in Spain, September 5th, 1846, aged 65."

This is, incidentally, the same Earl of Yarborough that the Newport Oddfellows lodge was originally named after.

WW2 gun emplacement
Sandown, from Culver

Culver and Red Cliff
Somewhat inland, there's a small Palmerston fort (Fort Bembridge) that we didn't look at (I'd used up my day's geekiness allowance by looking at the WW2 gun emplacement). As I mentioned in an earlier post, the end of Culver Down appears to be a single headland, but the headlands from Whitecliff Bay and Sandown are actually different points, separated by a scary concave overhang (see page 66, Wight Hazards, and this excellent aerial photo by Ashley Middleton on Flickr).

From the summit of the down, the path goes downhill to reach sea level at Yaverland Beach, near the Dinosaur Isle museum, and from there it's a level walk by promenade or beach all the way round Sandown Bay, via Sandown, to Shanklin. There you can get to the town centre either by the lift up from the beach or via various footpaths; the most scenic - subject to opening times - is the commercial one up Shanklin Chine.

Sandown frontage
"Lester Pighutt" Blue Plaque

I found Sandown, like many resorts, deeply dismal out-of-season. Nevertheless, it has some quaint features: the rather baroque architecture of the Victorian villas that are now beachside cafes and restaurants; and the Strollers beach huts and cafe at the western end of Sandown, whose decorations and comic captions amount to a coherent piece of folk art (all the huts have spoof Blue Plaque signs and punning names, such as "Pier Huts of the Caribbean", and the dogs' water bowls outside the cafe have sizes and captions appropriate to different breeds, including one with a jagged bite out of it for Rottweilers). Shanklin beach too was in winter renovation mode, but the clifftop Keats Walk (where Keats wrote Ode To Autumn and revised The Eve of St Agnes) and Rylstone Gardens (above the Chine) are a pleasant oasis from the more seaside-y side of Shanklin whatever the time of year.

Left: view from Keats Walk, Shanklin, overlooking Shanklin promenade and cliff lift, with Culver Down in the distance.

It's quite interesting to compare the walk with the descriptions in the 1879 Jenkinson's Smaller Practical Guide to the Isle of Wight (Internet Archive ID jenkinsonssmall02jenkgoog) - see pages 46-52. Developments have mostly been unobtrusive; it's still remarkably similar to when Jenkinson saw it.

- Ray

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