You’ll discover some of the Island’s finest produce along this route, from an outstanding baker to English wine and just about anything that is edible flavoured with garlic. You can also find some hauntingly tranquil walking routes and discover that some of the best places for spotting wildlife include roadside verges and disused quarries.
Wightlink – Yarmouth
Brading Down, Alverstone
Points of Interest
Garlic Farm, Adgestone Vineyard, Brading Roman Villa, The Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Experience, Farmer Jacks, Shide Chalk Pits
Brading Roman Villa, Pedallers Café, The Garlic Farm, The Island Bakers, Farmer Jacks, Adgestone Vineyard.
One of the most mouth-watering displays of pastry awaits as you enter the Island Bakers. The counter bulges under the weight of chocolate swirls, croissants, almond brioche and jam doughnuts while the shelves behind sag with sourdough and baguettes.
The Island Bakers are John and Helen Fahy, who have taken a roundabout journey to the Isle of Wight, where Helen has family connections. They met while working in the royal kitchens of Buckingham Palace and later both taught at Gordon Ramsay’s cookery school.
Their bread is not just sold here (where you can also get a fine cup of coffee) but pops up all over the Island in cafes and local shops. Most days, John begins work at 2am, though when he’s busy in the summer season, he starts at 11pm to meet demand.
All bread is leavened and, unlike your supermarket bread that takes just two hours to produce, the process takes three days. John sources his flour on the Island from Flourish Flour and is also an advocate of the Real Bread Campaign, which argues that bread must be made without the use of artificial additives or processing aids. ‘Supermarkets can sell a sourdough roll that isn’t actually sourdough,’ he says. ‘Everything we make here takes time, I think it’s important that the bread tastes of the grain. It’s something to be proud of, it never gets boring,’
The couple are now happily settled on the Island. ‘We both worked in London but there is a work-life balance that you need. When we finish work we can go on to a beach with the children; I like to sail. I can’t think of a better place to be.’
Access: The Red Squirrel Trail passes close to the site – leave the trail at Shide Road.
Abandoned chalk pits are often good sites for orchids and Shide is no exception, with populations of bee orchid, pyramidal orchid and southern marsh orchid. On a warm day you may catch an adder or common lizard basking in the sun.
Tranquil Shide Chalk Pit is ‘a perfect place to get away from the hum of traffic,’ says Carol Flux of Gift to Nature which manages this wonderful and rarely visited Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The site was quarried for chalk during the first half of 20th Century and the prominent west-facing slope is a major landmark on Newport’s skyline. Since quarrying stopped, vegetation has colonised the floor and sides of the pit and habitats vary from bare rock to emergent woodland. A sprinkling of magic is added by a shaded stream.
A good variety of butterflies include brimstone, orange tip, holly blue, dingy skipper, green hairstreak, wall brown, green-veined white, speckled wood, comma, small tortoiseshell, common blue, marbled white and chalk hill blue. The small green mounds with soil on top you see are not the works of moles but the nests of the yellow meadow ant.
The woodland is dominated by sycamore, ash and hawthorn. Ivy covers much of the woodland floor. The northern slope, which is nearest to human habitation, includes exotic shrubs such as holm oak and sweet bay while the south-west corner contains more native woodland species like wild cherry, field maple and spindle. In winter this is a good place to spot goldcrest and long-tailed tit while they feed.
Access: Bus route 8
If you were to design a stereotypical farm shop, you would probably end up with something like Farmer Jack’s. Housed in a barn-like building, it comprises an in-house butcher, a delicatessen and Island produce.
From locally grown tomatoes to cheeses, sausages, speciality breads (focaccia, malty bloomers) and home-made frozen pies, Farmer Jack’s seems to have most options covered. These include a substantial stock of Italian specialities, such as cured meats, antipasti and stilton biscotti.
The shop is the product of the effort of two Island families, the Browns and the Pierces, who have farmed locally for several generations. Much of the produce on show is their own, including cherries grown in their orchards.
A key mission of the shop is to support the local community by promoting fresh local seasonal produce. Seasonal foods range from asparagus and cherries to pumpkins and squash as well as sweetcorn. You’ll also find up to 40 cheeses (many of them local).
Access: Bus route 8. Walk 182 meters along verge of A 3056 west of Farmer Jack’s.
The roadside layby at busy Arreton Cross on the south side of the road is one of the Isle of Wight’s more unheralded green corners. The scrub has been controlled to allow natural light to reach ground level and enable roadside plants to thrive in an unusual location.
You’ll find the site of interest where the A 3056 turns left. The superb sculpture of a hare and a magpie, carved by local artist Paul Sivell will tell you that you are in the right place.
Flowers you may see include purple or yarrow broomrape, a stunning parasitic plant (it has no chlorophyll and so a beautiful dark lilac colour). Look around and you will also see the scarce knotted and rough clovers, blue fleabane, and, in some years, bee orchids.
If your luck is in, you may see a Lunar Hornet Clearwing moth emerging from the large willow on the bank at the back of the verge.
Please note this is a busy intersection for car traffic and you will need to take care crossing the road.
Access: Bus route 8
Tucked away towards the back of the craft village that encircles Farmer Jack’s, The Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum is well worth seeking out. Here, the powerfully presented displays lay bare the tempestuous relationship the Island has had with the waters that surround it over the centuries.
Displays range from periscopes recovered from German U-boats to false teeth and bugles from British military ships sunk during World War One as well as genuine pieces of eight silver. ‘It’s so easy to get caught up in the stories around the wrecks,’ says Jacqui Arnold, education officer for the Maritime Archaeology Trust which manages the museum.
The museum is essentially a homage to one extraordinary man, local diver Martin Woodward, who over several decades has been responsible for bring most what you see in the museum up from the Solent waterbed. Martin first started diving around shipwrecks off the Island in the 1960s and soon amassed a huge collection which finally found a long-term home here at Arreton Barns. A highly engaging film of Martin’s life and times under water runs on a loop.
Other eye-catching items include an early 18th century diving barrel in which pioneering divers could explore the water with arms protruding through holes to resemble a deranged great crested newt.
The process of recovering items of interests continues today, with the Maritime Archaeology Trust at the forefront of the activity. ‘It’s a privilege to dive in the waters around the Solent,’ says Jacqui. ‘There are so many wrecks, there is something amazing about seeing them under water in a submerged landscape. I don’t think people always realise just how important our maritime history is, but it has really shaped the Island. You can watch people playing on Sandown beach and you wonder if they know there are WWI wrecks just offshore.’
Start/finish: The Garlic Farm
2 miles; 1 hour
This is a delightful walk through an ancient landscape long farmed by humans. The skyline is framed by chalk ridges and there’s just the one brief climb.
Walk south from the Garlic Farm and after 274 meters turn right along footpath NC6 and follow this for the best part of a mile as it heads west. There are fine views of the church spire in Newchurch and of Arreton Down. When the track meets a T-junction, turn right and walk north towards the downs.
After 365 meters turn half-right along footpath A16, which cuts across a field and follow this as it climbs uphill with a quarry to your left and bears right past a metal gate. This leads to a small road, Newport Shute, where you turn right and follow this to a shaded junction. Turn right to return to the Garlic Farm.
Up above you is Arreton Down, which is a real hotspot for butterflies, such as chalk hill blue, Adonis blue, brown argus and dingy skipper. The birdlife here is rich too and includes yellowhammers, goldfinches and linnets which are joined in spring and summer by migrants such as wheatears, whinchats, redstarts and spotted flycatchers.
A very popular attraction on the Island, the Garlic Farm is also the most archetypical of Island businesses: family run and expanding on the back of a good idea well executed.
Access: Bus route 8 – get off at the White Lion at Arreton and pick up the footpath that starts at Arreton Primary School – if you walk for a couple of miles it ends up at the Garlic Farm Walk so you’re on their land.
After talking to Natasha Edwards, (the third generation of the Boswell family to work on Mersley Farm; the Garlic Farm’s full name), she says something about garlic that is rather unsettling. ‘A garlic bulb is quite striking, it’s like an eyeball staring at you,’ she remarks.
Now you’ve read that, as you look around the café, you may feel like you are being watched. Everywhere, necklaces of garlic dangle down the walls. It’s easy to understand why garlic features so strongly in folklore. ‘I do ask myself sometimes, “why garlic?”,’ admits Natasha ‘but I don’t think any other product has the same allure or mystery. It’s just a very satisfying thing to grow.’
Garlic maintains that allure today, which partly explains the success of the Garlic Farm. The origins of the business date to the 1970s when Natasha’s grandparents moved to the Isle of Wight and took over Mersley Farm (it is thought that garlic may have been grown on the Island as far back as Roman times). Initially, the family were tenant farmers, rearing a few cows and branching into sweetcorn. In the late 1990s a change of direction saw the focus turn to garlic, ‘which had always grown really well in granny’s garden’, said Natasha.
Garlic is pretty robust but particularly thrived in the chalky soils of the Arreton valley. Soon Natasha and her four siblings were being dropped off at farmers markets from Sussex to Surrey with boxes of garlic to sell.
Today, the shop sells more than 60 garlic-themed products, from chocolate to mayonnaise, butter and beer and visitors can enjoy ‘tasting experiences’ and kids participate in garlic workshops where they get to make proper garlic bread. There’s a saying that no two foods are incompatible but Natasha says traditional garlic and ice-cream probably pushes at the limits of that adage. Instead, she suggests mixing ice-cream with the sweeter tasting black garlic.
Around the world, more than 500 varieties of garlic have been identified and in recent years Natasha’s father, Colin Boswell, has travelled to Georgia, Turkey and the Tien Shan mountains of Kazakhstan. in Central Asia in search of the ‘mother of all garlics’, one of the earliest ‘proto’ garlics from which many others are descended.
Access: The Red Squirrel Trail
If you’re a cyclist, Pedaller’s Café located on The Red Squirrel Trail west of Alverstone, will acquire legendary status. Great food, drinks, teas, soup and cakes await to greet the weary pedaller.
On chilly days there is a wood burning stove to make you linger before easing back into the saddle. Outside is a decking area where you can linger under the gaze of dangling tree branches; the air is often full of birdsong. If you’ve picked up a flat tyre, the café even has a free cycle repair station for DIY maintenance. They even have pet friendly luxury accommodation.
Distance: 2.1 miles (circular)
Time: one hour
Access: The village has an occasional service by number 22, and is right on The Red Squirrel Trail
Little more than a mile from Sandown, the village of Alverstone is a world away from the seaside bustle and is the starting point for one of the most delightful and easy-going walks the Island has to offer.
The entire route is a delight, following water meadows of Alverstone Meade Nature Reserve. This exquisite area of mixed woodland, featuring wild cherry, oak and hazel, has long been managed by traditional methods and features characteristic old ditch drainage systems and boardwalks offer fine views of the reserve where you may spot a barn owl, kingfisher.
Youngwoods Copse is a good place to look for red squirrels among the young wild service trees (one of the first species of tree to colonise Britain after the last Ice Age). In spring, the carpet of wood anemones here is breath-taking.
From the village of Alverstone, head east on the Red Squirrel Trail for 600yds and turn right through a gate and across a field to another gate and bear right before turning right again (west) onto footpath NC17.
The Bern Thearle hide by this junction offers fine views across Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve (and has wheelchair access). Continue west along the footpath to cross the road and follow bridleway NC42.
Where NC42 meets a road, cross over with care and bear right along footpath NC 12. After 365 meters turn right along NC50 through Youngwoods Copse to reach the red squirrel cycle trail again. Turn left and immediately right to follow B54 back alongside a stream to the village.
Access: Bus no 3 to Brading, then 15-minute walk; the vineyard is also surrounded by quiet lanes that are ideal for cycling.
Adgestone Vineyard is nestled in the chalky south-facing slopes of Brading Down.
You explore the grounds with an innovative audio tour before finishing off with an inspection of the cellars and the opportunity for tasting. As you do so, it’s highly likely you are following in the footsteps of Romans, who were thought to be producing wine on the Isle of Wight 2,000 years ago.
A full-bodied red with hints of caramel, a vanilla-tinted oaked white, a rosé mixing pinot noir and shönburger, and a fruit wine combining blueberries with lavender; we are of course talking about English wine produced on the Isle of Wight from grapes grown on the Island.
So, how do you pick grapes in southern England? ‘You must never pick the grapes when they look perfect, you need to wait until they look like the kind of grapes you wouldn’t want in your fruit bowl,’ says Russ Broughton, owner of Adgestone Vineyard, where in 2018 he grew 20 tonnes of grapes that produced 27,000 bottles of wine.
To say that Russ’s decision to buy the vineyard in 2013 represented a career change is an understatement. ‘I was the engineering manager at Southampton Docks but like a lot of trained people I had got promoted to a point where I no longer used my training as an engineer,’ he says. ‘I came over to the Island to visit my sister and over a glass of wine I opened The County Press (the local paper) and saw an advert for the vineyard on sale.’
Knowing nothing about making wine, Russ embarked on a steep learning curve. ‘I got the bug and gave it a go,’ he says. ‘Essentially you have to be prepared to make big decisions, occasionally make big mistakes – and then not repeat the mistakes – and work seven days a week for five years.’
English wine still encounters snobbery, not least from the English but Russ simply shrugs his shoulders and points to the long line of framed international awards on the wall of the shop. ‘Many English counties don’t have the sunshine we do on the Island and that really helps bring down the acidity.’ The largely frost-free microclimate of Adgestone means that the vines can grow without the help of insecticides.
The company doesn’t just produce wines – if you’re brave enough you might want to take away a jar of their “Arson-Fire” marmalade, jam or chocolate liqueur made with the Dorset Naga, one of the hottest chilli peppers in the world.
Start/finish: Brading Roman Villa, Morton Old Road, Brading, PO36 0PH
Access: Bus no 3, ask for Roman Brading Villa, then walk for five minutes following signs.
Two miles; 1-1.5 hours
The Romans of Brading almost certainly grew wine on the slopes of Brading Down and this short walk takes in both the villa and Adgestone vineyard.
From the villa car park, look for the waymarked footpath that leads north onto Lower Adgestone Road. Turn left along this quiet lane. Ignore the first turning on the left and after 274 meters at a T-junction head upwards. Walk along the road past the vineyard under a lovely canopy of pollarded trees.
This path – with chalk and flint now protruding through the shallow top soil – winds its way through brambles and thickets on to Brading Down, where there’s an information board and several convenient benches to take a breather. The Down extends to both sides of the road.
Looking north, freight ships and ferries glide across the English Channel, while to the south the towns of Sandown and Shanklin merge into one seaside conurbation. The view is bookended by the swooping flanks of Bembridge Down to the north, and to the south by the crumpled-smooth folds of Luccombe Down and St Boniface Down.
This is a good place to spot a yellowhammer, a bird that resembles an escaped exotic parrot; you may see one flapping out of the gorse.
Casting your eye further west, the ridgeline gently rose and dipped across Stenbury Down and Gat Cliff. It’s an ancient view. The folds of the downs were created 300 million years ago when the African and Eurasian tectonic plates bumped into one another (during the same collision, the European Alps were also created).
The north side of the Down is incised by a narrow paved road; turn right along this and descend. After 274 meters take the footpath downhill to the right to reach Upper Adgestone Road. Turn right then take the first footpath on the left, heading southeast and after 365 meters take the turning on the right to return to the villa.
Access: Bus no 3, ask for Brading Roman Villa, then walk for five minutes following signs.
Brading Roman Villa is beautifully laid out, remarkably intact and sheltered within a wonderful independent museum.
The Isle of Wight was a land of plenty for the early Roman arrivals. Generally, by around AD43 these were thought to be merchants or farmers as no evidence has been
found of an army presence: they may have been accepted by local people, which suggests that benign trade had gone on well before the invasion.
Brading Roman Villa offers an absorbing insight into those times. There’s a Medusa mosaic, here positioned to ward off evil doers as well as a depiction of a who’s who of Roman and Greek mythology – Achilles, Ceres and the constellations of Perseus and Andromeda.
The centrepiece is a huge fractured Bacchus, accompanied by some unusual mosaics, of a fractured house and a cockerel-headed creature, known as a gallus, possibly a human. Hundreds of Roman villas around the world boast a Medusa knocking around, yet it is highly unusual to see such mosaics as the gallus figure, which is not documented anywhere else. It seems this was the owner’s way of showing that he was a well to do, educated man. Other than that, we know nothing about the owner, other than he was almost certainly a merchant or a farmer, rather than a soldier.
The Romans also had an interesting geographical perspective. To the Roman eye, the Isle of Wight made little sense if looked at in the conventional north-south way. For them, it was far more practical to view the Island from east to west; looking along the spine of the Island, the east coast points directly along the Channel to France, with the Seine, Boulogne and the Germanic lands. There, a right-hand turn down any major river would sweep the traveller to Rome. It’s reckoned the return journey could be done within two months.
The sunny climes were not perhaps first on the Roman’s wish list but as well as
location, the mild climate, congenial to growing crops and grazing livestock, must surely have helped. Everything was to hand: building materials from the beach in the form of stone, reeds from the marshes, timber from the forests, lime from chalk pits and cowpats.
The northerly forests were full of wild boar and deer, the Solent’s creeks harboured fish, oysters and crab along with plump, migrant geese. The coastal and southern chalk downlands were given over to sheep, while the foothills of these downs fed streams that watered lower lying fields where beef dairy herds could graze.
The villa was also perched close to Brading Haven, a deepwater port that once despatched goods to the continent or to south-east England.
Brading Roman Villa has a good souvenir shop where children can buy their own self-assembly mosaics. The Forum Café is also excellent, offering big bowls of soup of the day with doorstep slices of bread and excellent cakes and fine views across Sandown Bay toward Ventnor Downs.