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Landscape Walks: Calbourne and Swainston

8.9 mile trail near United Kingdom
id_3595266
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length: 8.9 miles
Duration: Half day

Overview :  Landscape Walks: Calbourne and Swainston is about 8.9 miles long and located near United Kingdom. The trail is great for walking and... more »

Landscape Walks

This walk follows an old highway, takes in some fantastic panoramic views of the southwest and north east coastlines of the Isle of Wight, passing near to ancient archaeological sites, and passes through woodland, farmland, pasture, parkland, hamlets and a village.

We begin our walk at the National Trust Jubilee Car Park which is situated on Mottistone Down off of Lynch Lane.  Cross over Lynch Lane and follow the track which goes up the hill.  This is part of the Tennyson Trail which runs from Carisbrooke in the east to Freshwater Bay in the west following the line of an ancient highway over the top of the downs.   It is also part of the annual Walk the Wight route which takes pace during the Isle of Wight Walking Festival and sees many thousands of people being sponsored to walk from one side of the Island to the other to raise monies for the local hospice.

Until recently this route which is a Byway Open to All Traffic was used by off road motorised vehicles (4x4, Trials bikes, etc.), but because of the sensitivity of the route which runs through internationally important grassland and past many bronze age archaeological sites, and the damage that vehicles were causing a Road Traffic Order was placed on it to restrict vehicles to those with a private right to access land for farming and forestry or vehicles for those with disability through a permit system. 
Walk up the slope and take in the panoramic views of the south west coastline.  On a clear day in the far distance you can see Gore Cliff near Blackgang and in the other direction the white chalk cliffs at High Down with the Needles beyond.    Look to your left and see how the woodland is stunted where it is close to the track.  This is due to the impact of the prevailing south westerly wind which can be very strong and salt laden during the winter months.  

At the top of the hill the path splits with the old highway forking to the left (this is the path we take).  Ahead the route continues along the top of Limerstone Down towards the village of Shorwell as part of the Worsley Trail.  Take the left fork and follow the track.  You will pass through a more open area that is currently being restored to lowland heathland.  Once extensive across the sandstone hills and in large pockets where peat and gravel are found overlying the chalk, this now rare habitat was significantly reduced due (90%) to afforestation and mechanised agricultural practices in the C20th.  In recent years a number of organisations such as the Wildlife Trust, National Trust and at this location Wight Conservation have been working to restore this rare and important habitat.  You can see Bell heather, Ling heather and other lowland heathland wildflowers and grasses and may be lucky to hear the bird call of a Nightjar or Dartford Warbler.  On hot days you may come across lizards and Adders (please be careful and keep dogs under close control) basking in the sun.

Can you smell coconut?  The large yellow flowered bushes found all over the downs are Gorse.  Their small yellow flowers have a coconut oil like fragrance and are loved by bees.   There is a local phrase that says ‘When Gorse is in flower it’s kissing season.’  Perhaps unsurprisingly,  you can find Gorse bushes that are in bloom twelve months of the year!

Further along the path we enter an area of woodland in Brighstone Forest.  This land is managed by the Forestry Commission.  There is a mix of coniferous and deciduous (mostly beech) tree species in this part of the woods but other areas were planted in the C20th and largely consist of pine trees grown for timber.  Woodland provides another important habitat when it is properly managed, this includes keeping a balance between large trees which provide the canopy, smaller trees and shrubs which provide important nesting and feeding sites for birds, mammals and insects and cleared glades which allow species which need more light to grow to establish and are often important sites for butterflies.  In some parts of the woodland you will see lots of thin upright stems coming from a large base or stool.  These trees, most commonly hazel, have been coppiced by being cut back to ground level this usually takes place every 10 to 15 years of so.  In the past hazel coppice was used to make hurdles for fencing, stakes for laying hedges, wattle for wattle and daub buildings and also faggots for firewood.

Take the left hand path which forks away from the Tennyson Trail on the left.  This path takes us out of the woods and towards Rowridge.  You will see the transmitter masts which provide the TV signal for the Isle of Wight and parts of Hampshire, Dorset and Sussex.  Currently there are two masts on the site.  The shorter mast dates from the late 1950s and the larger mast has been built in 2011-2012 to provide the new digital TV service with the close down of analogue transmission in early 2012.  The smaller mast will be removed when it is no longer transmitting.
Before you reach the masts note the large mound on the skyline at the top of the field on your right.   This is Gallibury Hump.   This and its neighbour Gallibury Fields are both important archaeological sites with many Bronze Age burial mounds in the surrounding area and an ancient field system close by.   The area remained important long after the Bronze Age, being mentioned in an Anglo Saxon charter of 826 describing the boundaries of Calbourne as gemote beorh meaning ‘the meeting or assembly hill or barrow’ an important boundary marker.  

We pass by the masts and take the path down the northern slope of Newbarn Down towards Ashengrove.  The path runs along a hollow way which is sunken into the surrounding landscape an indication of its ancient character being carved into the land by the tread of people and animals and by the action of water running off of higher ground surrounding it.  These tracks are refuges for wildlife in areas where the surrounding farmland has become more intensively managed and can act as corridors to allow species to move between areas.  Notices how there are many more ash trees in the woodland.  It is from these that Ashengrove got its name meaning ‘the grove where ash trees grow’.  This area provides a shoot and you can see that there are bands of planting of ‘shoot cover’ which provides a food source and refuge for pheasants which are bred on the farm.

Pass by the buildings and take care when crossing the main road.  Take the path down the access road to Swainston Manor.  Swainston ‘or the farm or estate belonging to a man called Sveinn’ was an important estate with extensive lands across the Isle of Wight.  Swainston Manor is a Grade II* listed building surrounded by a Grade II nationally important park.  Parts of the house date back to the C12th and C13th centuries with the main building built in 1750 by the Barrington family and altered in 1790.  The farm at Ashengrove was originally the main farm for this estate (there were many other tenanted farms across the holding).   The parkland was laid out in the C14th by the Earl of Salisbury and landscape in the C18th by the Barrington family which held the seat from 1557 to 1832.  There are many interesting features in the parkland including the bridge which can be seen in front of the house and the late C18th Doric Temple (Grade II listed) built as an eye catcher on higher land to the south (on the other side of the main road).
We walk past the house and take a footpath to the left which passes through woodland and gives an excellent view of the rear of Swainston Manor and to the Temple in the woods under the downs.

Continue on this rural footpath which passes through arable and pastoral fields to Five Houses named in the C19th for the five cottages built in this hamlet.  Join the lane and turn left.  Look behind you and you can see that this public highway is a gated lane.  There are a number of field gates across the carriageway that if you are driving you have to get out to open and close and is the only example of this on the Isle of Wight.  Take the footpath off of the lane on the right.  Follow the path through the hollow and past the small woods called Crainges and around the edge of the next field.  Take the steps down to the road and turn left to the village of Calbourne.  

At the main road junction you can see an old stone animal watering trough in front of the Sun Inn with an inscription to the Barrington family of Swainston.  Cross over the main road and take the road into the village.  Here you will pass a number of beautiful stone cottages with thatched or tiled roofs.  Pass by the bank on your left with the Church and Old Rectory set back on top of this higher area and walk down the road towards the ornate lodge house for Westover which you can see on the higher ground behind.  This beautiful house was built in the C18th as a hunting-box (hunting lodge) for a Mr Holmes replacing an earlier medieval manor and is Grade II* listed with many additional listed outbuildings and structures.  The landscape parkland is of national importance.

Turn right into Barrington Row also known as Winkle Street.  This row of former agricultural workers cottages sits picture perfect by a small running chalk stream and has for many years been a draw for tourists.   Half way along the street the stream includes a sheep wash structure that would have been used on a regular basis.  Walk to the end of the street and take the footpath along side the stream.  Use the stile and then take the path to the left and use the boarded bridge across the stream and walk up the bank to the fields.

Take the path across the fields and down into Withybed Copse.  Where the path forks take the right hand side and leave Furzebreak Copse onto a farm track.  Turn right and follow the track to Westover Farm.  Walk through the farmyard and afterwards turn left and follow the wide track up towards Westover Down.  Walk to Westover Plantation which is the woodland on the side of the downs.  Notice how the downs are more heavily wooded on the north facing slope than on the south.  Follow the path through the woods as its bends back on itself up the slope.  Look out for a steep right hand path which is a break in the trees and take this up to the top of the slope.  As you catch your breath, look behind you for a dramatic framed view of the north coast of the Isle of Wight and the Solent beyond.  At the top of the down cross over the gate onto Harboro and Mottisotne Down.  

At Harboro you can see close by a series of Bronze Age burial mounds.  The open chalk grassland landscape of this downland is much as it would have been in Bronze Age times (4300 years ago).  Before this time the whole of the Island would have been densely forested and the Bronze Age people started to clear this particularly on the downs for their settlements, for grazing animals and on the highest areas for ceremonial sites.

Turn left and follow the old highway as it descends Mottistone Down.  You can see how the chalk grassland is gradually re colonising the vehicle ruts now that motorised vehicles are no longer allowed to use the route.  Walk past a number of smaller tumuli and return to the car park.

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Tips:  Please follow the Countryside Code


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