I Wish... Whale Chine

Whale Chine has to be my most favourite beach for a walk. It's also one of the most inaccessible. The steps down the side of the verical chine began to fall away just after they were re-installed in the early noughties. Now they are very dangerous and attempts have been made to fence off the top of them to prevent their use. It doesn't deter everyone, but it does deter me. I decided to walk from Atherfield about two miles up the south west coast.

To make this walk you must check the tides. You need to set off about an hour or two before low tide to give yourself enough time to get there (between 45 mins and an hour) and mooch around, and then get back to Atherfield before the sea begins to come back in – especially around the headlands where the sea is closer to the shore.

The wind and the size of the waves can make the sea come in much further in the winter, so this is very important. This is a good site to check – the low tide for the south west coast will be similar to that of Ventnor.

You can also walk from Blackgang beach to the south, but getting down to this similarly amazing shore is not without its problems. You park at the end of the old Blackgang Road and make your way down across the landslip, over stiles and through secret woodland pathways worn by countless feet. But in the winter it can be very muddy and slippery. Sometimes the land has moved and you find that the path suddenly drops several feet in front of you. And there's always a slight chance that the land might move while you are on it, which could be quite alarming.

At Atherfield you can make your way down Shepherd's Chine (also muddy) or walk around the right hand side of the deserted holiday camp and down the steep pathway to the beach, which is what I do.

When you get to the beach you will be rewarded with a fabulous view of one of the wildest and most unspoilt pieces of coastline on the Island. In the winter the stream that trickles down the chine becomes a torrent of some strength and you have to get across it to walk to Whale Chine. You can jump it but it takes some ingenuity and agility. Or you get wet feet. I got wet feet.

Then you walk. It's not easy because at this end there are loads of pebbles. It's like walking on ball bearings. But soon the pebbles get smaller and more manageable. I found that walking nearer to the edge of the sea was easier, in the compacted wet sand.

As you walk the cliffs get steeper and closer to you. At first there are sludgy lumps of landslip which flow onto the shore, but as you trudge towards the first piece of headland the cliffs seem to come toward you. In places there are rivers of water-logged earth that appear to be moving imperceptably from high above you. Beware – these move very quickly when they do actually move. Keep away from the edge of the cliffs in the winter. These cliffs fall.

On the other hand they look majestic, none more so that those at Whale Chine. As you continue along the beach you see the cliffs in the distance getting taller and taller as you get closer and closer. Towards Whale Chine they rise to over 140 feet and are a deep orange/brown colour with striations of darker and lighter greys and russet colours. Perched on the top is a little sprouting of green before the immense blue of the sky. When you get to the mouth of the chine you can call out and get an eerie echo back to you. “Is there anybody there?”... “anybody there”.... “there”...

I always get that 'I could be the only person in the whole world' feeling on Whale Chine beach. It's a primordial beach.

And you can find fossils here. Lots of fossilised oysters, which are much larger than those we see nowadays and other shells. But also ammonites – this is the very best beach for them in my experience. On this walk I was not disappointed as I found a fairly large one embedded in a huge rock right by the bottom of the cliff.

I wish the IW Council would repair and replace the steps. Maybe I ought to start a petition...

Lady Penelope

15 May 2016

By Lady Penelope in The locals' blogs