Welcome to the Western Yar Estuary
The Western Yar is a fascinating estuary with a wealth of wildlife and heritage.
The Western Yar ... more »Circular Walk is approximately 3.9 miles (6.1 km) long and should take between 1 1/2 to 2 hours to complete. The walk follows public footpaths, public bridleways and roadside pavements. There are also a few short stretches of road between Gasworks Lane and Saltern Wood and between All Saints Church and the Causeway with no pavement. Please take care in these areas.
The walk takes in woodland, farmland, quiet roads and part of the track bed of the former Newport to Freshwater railway line. It travels close to the shore and also slightly inland with glimpses of the estuary.
Our starting point is the historic town of Yarmouth. There has been a settlement here since about 991 AD. Its old name of Eremue came from the Saxon word Ermud meaning 'muddy estuary'.
Like most of the Island's harbour towns, Yarmouth was invaded by foreign forces at many points in its history. Unlike Newtown which was abandoned and is now a sleepy hamlet, Yarmouth was resilient to the invasions rebuilding the town when it was raised to the ground. Yarmouth Castle was built to defend the town and was completed in 1547 and no further invasions have taken place since.
Yarmouth Pier was built in 1876 and is reputed to be the longest wooden peir in the country still open to the public. Recently many of the timbers had to be replaced due to damage by a boring marine isopod called a Gribble Worm.
Prior to 1706 when a ferry service was established between Norton on the west bank and Yarmouth on the east the only way of crossing the Western Yar estuary was via the Causeway bridge near to Freshwater. In 1863 the first bridge was built across the harbour mouth allowing passage for pedestrians and horse drawn vehicles. This was replaced by the current swing bridge in 1987.
Estuaries are one of the most productive and fertile parts of the planet, just 1m2 of mud has the calorie content of 15 Mars Bars! The Western Yar is no exception and its mudflats are crammed full of snails, shellfish, shrimps and marine worms. These provide lots of food for a variety of wading birds and waterfowl including Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Oystercatcher and Little Egret.
The estuary's birds are all adapted to their own diet so large numbers of different species can live together. They have specially evolved beaks to help them take advantage of the food living in the mud. Wading birds awith long bills, such as Curlew, probe deep into the mud for Lugworms and Ragworms. Birds with shorter bills like Dunlin, rely on the small creatures that live near the mud's surface. A Redshank can probe and peck the mud up to 40,000 times a day!
The Western Yar is within the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This is an important and nationally treasured area of landscape that is shaped by people and their activities. It covers nearly half of the Isle of Wight and is protected like a National Park. Lots of work goes into conserving and enhancing the area for people and wildlife.
The harbour breakwater at the mouth of the Western Yar was built in 1847. This, and other development, slowed down the flow of the river and caused the saltmarshes to develop. As the mud settled the plants moved in and stabilised the muddy banks so that more plants could live there. The distinctive saltmarsh now covers 44 hectares.
Saltmarsh is home to different plants that are well adapted to the changing conditions of life on the shore. They have to deal with salt water; fresh water; hot sunshine; wind; waves and the movement of the mud they grow in. They are vulnerable to pressure from trampling, landing and launching, excessive wash from boats and natural change such as sea level rise.
Until the mill embankment was built in 1664, ships used to be able to sail up to Thorley to load and discharge their cargoes. This became more and more difficult as the Thorley Haven began to silt up and an alternative was needed. The settlement that is now Yarmouth developed as a Harbour and soon prospered. The mill that remains to day was built in 1793 and replaced an earlier wooden mill built in 1664.
Yarmouth has a thriving harbour which supports a small fishing fleet and attracts thousands of yachts each year. It is also an important gateway town for the whole Island as the Wightlink Lymington to Yarmouth ferry service brings people and vehicles across the Solent. There is an Old Gaffers festival held ieach June, that involves the whole town and over 100 gaff-rigged boats visiting the harbour.
In ancient times the Western Yar was a large river but erosion has reduced its catchment area. It is now a very small river with a large estuary. The sea wall at Freshwater Bay stops the sea from flowing into the Western Yar river.
The Western Yar Estuary is such an important area for nature conservation and landscape that it is protected by six different designations under national and international law.
The Western Yar Estuary Management Plan helps to co-ordinate activities and conserve the environment. It is implemented by a wide range of local people and organisations. By keeping the estuary healthy we can ensure that it continues to support our activities in the future.
You can find out more at the Isle of Wight Estuaries Project website. less «