You step into serenity; the scent of the sea, hush of the meadows and the chatter of birdsong in the hedgerows and on the marshes, if you pay a visit to Newtown Nature Reserve.
It’s hard to believe that this small hamlet was the Island’s capital port and town between 1256 and 1377, as a quiet riot of nature has now reclaimed most of it.
Park at the National Trust visitor point and you can take two mapped walks: one to see the picturesque harbour with its former saltpans to the northwest or another to see the pretty woods, meadows and the old town quay to the northeast.
The harbour walk takes you through the village, past the church and Marsh Farm and down to a superb bird hide. If you become a friend of Newtown National nature reserve you can use this hide all year round – contact the National Trust Office.
On the outer wall of the hide a blackboard will inform you of the birds that have been spotted recently. In early March thirty names usually crowd the board: Black Tailed Godwit, Shelduck, Lapwing, Buzzard, Oyster Catcher, Grey Heron, Kestrel, Redshank and Spotted Redshank, Peregrine, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Goldeneye, Red Breasted Merganser, Knot, Redwing, Merlin, Red Throated Diver, Curlew, Cormorant, Golden Plover, Greenshank, Canada Geese, BB Brent, Dunlin, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Kingfisher and Starling.
From here you walk across a hay meadow and take the narrow wooden footbridge across the marshes to the black hut that sits on the ancient brick built harbour wall and jetty.
Children particularly like to peer down through the wooden slats to the water below. But this is not an easy walk for toddlers as there are unfenced drops on either side of the paths and kissing gates to negotiate for prams and buggies.
On a clear sunny day the view here must be one of the best on the Island and it draws both artists and bird watchers alike. The cerulean blue of the sky reflected in the water, and the greens and browns of the marsh, dotted with the bright whites of the wings of birds and the sails of passing boats.
Benches to sit on have been provided next to the black hut: an ideal stop to take a packed lunch and look out over the lagoons where sea water would have been collected to let out over the adjacent salt pans for evaporation. But beware, as scavenging black-headed and Mediterranean gulls will quickly surround you if you dare to drop a crust.
If you’re lucky you may see a cormorant diving for fish or the white fan wings of a little egret as it flies in to forage for shellfish in the mud with its long beak. To the north of the boat house you can see where the old sea wall used to run and the old posts can still be seen struggling to stay vertical against the tides.
This is a good vantage point to look out over the “Main Marsh” and Clamerkin Lake for birds like shelduck and curlew. A seasoned bird watcher will have a field day as around 200 different types of bird can be seen here throughout the year.
Two hides look out over the expanse of marsh – the one previously mentioned and one on the end of the short piece of sea wall to the east of the marsh, which is open all year round.
Walk west from the black boat house and you can circumnavigate the saltpan feeder ponds. Look across into the middle of the creek and Gull Island will assault your senses – covered in glinting white chattering gulls.
The route back to the village is around another hay meadow, ideal for picnics in the summer when it’s full of flowers, butterflies and birds. To help protect the wildlife please keep to the mown paths. Because these fields haven’t been ploughed for centuries or treated with fertilizers or pesticides, Ox eye daisies, knapweed, yellow rattle and the rare Dyers Greenweed thrive among the grasses and nesting meadow pipits.
If you take the woods and meadow walk another blackboard lists the birds to look out for at the entrance to Walter’s Copse. This is also one of the few places on the Island where you can see White Admiral butterfies feeding on honeysuckle in the summer months along with silver washed fritillaries.
Tall Monterey pines are used as nesting sites by birds of prey, and red squirrels and dormice are also residents here amongst the well-managed woods and hazel coppiced areas.
Spring flowers coat the woodland floor and as the trees thin you can look out over the salt marsh and mud flats where the town quay once stood.
If you stay as dusk falls there are the magical lights of glow-worms to be found in the hedges and roadsides in June and July. Actually a beetle, the female uses her glow to attract a male and children love to see them.
You can also visit the fascinating Old Town Hall and find out more about the history of Newtown as a Medieval planned town and rotten borough.