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My eagle-eyed winter wander around the Isle of Wight - MW

The island isn’t only for summer holidays: the colder months are perfect for birding and walks along trails that will form part of the England Coast Path

The Isle of Wight is having a good time. That's what environmentalist Dave Fairlamb told me as we were eating homemade bread on a gray afternoon, looking at the meadows in the Newtown salt marsh.

From a natural point of view, he said, everything was converging.

Dave has just launched Natural Links, which offers courses on birds and courses on the island, which have focused on his natural assets in the past year. Two Hampshire and Isle of Wight projects - Wilder Strategy and Secrets of the Solent - were launched in 2019; Visit the Isle of Wight, publish the slow travel guide; and the entire island has received UNESCO biosphere status. Last summer also saw the launch of a white-tailed eagle reintroduction project, with the release of six birds on the north coast island.

We didn't see the eagles, but as we strolled along the harbor, we discovered a whirlwind of dunlins - about 600, right away, said Dave Dave - and we were delighted to see. Brant geese pass in passing. Winter is one of the best times to live on the island, with large flocks of wild birds and waders converging on the wetlands, and the greatest number of divers and grebes offshore.

It started calmly for a slow adventure, outside of my season, it turned out remarkably easy. The island is served by a seaplane service all year round, passing by the Solent in 10 minutes. It is also bordered by racetracks and hiking trails; There is a public walking program that takes place all winter; and prefer a useful bus network - some roads and bridges even have bus stops. Then there is the island's railway line, which limits the range (one line, Shanklin to Ryde), but is a recycling line: it used the London underground in the 1930s - the oldest The country's stock is used frequently - and although these will be removed from May, new French wagons will be converted into trains in the 1970s.

I took full advantage of all these services to integrate myself during the winter weekend. After taking a bus to meet Dave in Newtown, I walked back, walked about six miles to Yarmouth across the coast. It was beautiful in the light of winter: I went down to the bony trees, then next to the scattered waves, the continent saw on the water. I see a few other people, even if it's not cold, and the bare trees create birds - like sparrows and chests that grow together at this time of year - all easier. I also fix my eyes on the red squirrels.
The Isle of Wight has had a coast path since the 1970s but – like the train – it’s about to get an overhaul.

“About 40% of the current trail isn’t by the sea,” David Howarth tells me the next day as we stride westwards from Yarmouth. David is former chair of the Isle of Wight Ramblers and helped ensure the island was incorporated in the England Coast Path, the 2,795-mile trail due to fully open later this year. The island wasn’t considered a priority for the project but passionate campaigning secured its inclusion and a Natural England report proposing a new round-island route is expected next month.

David We want the best coastline we can get, David said. Crane It not only sees the sea but also other aspects. This can help regenerate the coast for a very small investment.

The Isle of Wight Ramblers conducted a separate survey, showing an ideal route that includes reducing road use, tracing the mouth of the Medina River (You can walk from the Cowes ferry to the Isle of Wight Festival Festival) and pass the waterfront shore of Queen Victoria, Ostern Housing. With 4,500 landowners on the island, David is pragmatic: Beyond us, we have seen it from a pedestrian perspective, but we know we won't get everything we want.

Our route from Yarmouth to Freshwater Bay illustrates the good and bad. We’re obliged to road-walk around a holiday park, which David doubts will change – but at the Needles a tweak to the path is expected, offering the best view of the chalk stacks and the historic New Battery rocket test site. The following stretch across Tennyson Down doesn’t need alteration: it’s already brilliantly big-viewed and bracing, even in wintry mizzle.

I could have walked on to Ventnor, past 18 miles of cliffs, sandy beaches and steep chines (coastal gorges) but instead I use buses to reach the town on the island’s south-east with its own microclimate – on average it’s 5C warmer than mainland Britain.

The next day I walk west, heading out of town along the esplanade, via a clifftop park and the slope-tumbling cottages of Steephill Cove, to Ventnor Botanic Garden. It displays a range of ecosystems as they would grow in the wild, and curator Chris Kidd tries to garden as little as possible.

“We’re fairly hands-off,” he tells me as we amble from South African fynbos to Australian eucalyptus. “It makes the garden different and dynamic. The plants don’t obey the rules.” They do, however, provide environmental commentary. “Plants are showing the state of the planet more clearly than statistics. For instance, half-hardy plants we used to bring inside for winter can now stay out year-round.”

Then there are the cycads. Fossils show these primitive plants grew here 280 million years ago, when CO2 levels were naturally high. For all human history, they haven’t grown outside in the UK – until now. And they’re not only growing but potentially procreating. Chris peels back the petals of the female flower – it’s like a furry, football-size artichoke – to reveal seeds clustered inside. “You’re one of the first to see this in this country for 200 million years.” I didn’t expect to have my mind blown by a botanical garden.

I’m still thinking about this as I refuel in Cantina on Ventnor’s High Street, with its onsite bakery and all-day brunch menu (there are plenty of options to eat in winter in the bigger towns, though some cafes close). I take the bus to Sandown – where I chat about marine diversity, Unesco celebrations and the future of the bay’s National Poo Museum (hopefully reopening this year) with Arc and Artecology, two businesses passionate about social and natural regeneration – then continue on the train to Ryde.

I have time for one last walk, so I follow the coast trail from Ryde along un-coastal paths to reach Quarr Abbey’s medieval ruins and the 20th-century red-brick replacement. David told me he’d love the new round-island trail to run through the abbey’s grounds but the Benedictine residents aren’t keen, insisting the land remain off-limits to allow them their quiet contemplation. Monks versus ramblers – it’s a very Isle of Wight type of fight.


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