Freshwater Bay, Tennyson Down and Farringford

A downland walk on the Isle of Wight within sight and sound of the sea

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Start: Freshwater Bay Distance: 5.1 miles (8.2 km) Climbing: 246 metres
Grid Ref: SZ 34749 85697 Time: 3 hours Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Tennyson Down
Start: Freshwater Bay Distance: 5.1 miles (8.2 km)
Climbing: 246 metres Grid Ref: SZ 34749 85697
Time: 3 hours Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

The Walk: Although there is only a small village at Freshwater Bay, it has become famous because of its beautiful setting. The little bay is framed by a semi-circle of sheer white cliffs, which rise to sweeping downlands. To the right of the bay are three prominent rocks named the Arch, Stag and Mermaid. The magical bay has appealed to many eminent people apart from its most famous resident, Alfred Lord Tennyson. George Bernard Shaw began writing 'Caesar and Cleopatra' here, Virginia Woolf wrote a play 'Freshwater' about Tennyson and his friends, Charles Darwin stayed in the village and the pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron made her home at the cottage named 'Dimbola' in the main street.

Surf and spray in Freshwater BaySurf and spray in Freshwater Bay
Freshwater BayFreshwater Bay

The lovely seaward down next to Freshwater Bay, Tennyson Down, has been named after Tennyson, the Poet Laureate of the Victorian age, because he walked here almost daily during the forty years from 1853 when he lived at Farringford close by. He said the air was 'worth six pence a pint'. Among the most famous poems he composed here are 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and 'The Idylls of the King'.

As you follow the gentle rise of the down the whole western approaches are spread before you. There are wonderful views, left over the Channel and right over the Solent. Preserved by the National Trust, Tennyson Down is rich in grasses and flowers, which include vetches, cowslips, harebells, pyramid and bee orchids, quaking grass, yellow wort, carline thistles and autumn lady's tresses. Buzzards and kestrels quarter the down for rabbits and now you may spot recently reintroduced sea eagles too. Smaller birds include meadow pipits, wheatears and ring ouzels. Uncommon seabirds nesting in the cliffs include guillemots, razorbills and puffins.

White cliffs of Tennyson DownWhite cliffs of Tennyson Down
Tennyson MonumentTennyson Monument

The first settlers farmed here about 3,800 BC. The have left the remains of an unfinished burial chamber, or long barrow, on the down. Later, Bronze Age tribes have raised their round burial mounds on the high downs also. Continuing on along the down one comes to Tennyson's Monument. This tall granite Celtic cross was erected in 1897. From the down, walking through woods and fields leads to Farringford, the late Georgian house which was home to Tennyson from 1853 until his death in 1892.

Walking back towards Freshwater, the pretty church of St Agnes is visible. It has something of the look of a country cottage, with thatched roof and small dormer windows. The site for the church was given by Lord Tennyson, son of the poet.

Acknowledgment: Text derived from the Out and Out Series; Discovering the Countryside on Foot. Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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