Tennyson Down travel guide and information
Almost all visitors to the Isle of Wight will be drawn to the extraordinary beauty of Tennyson Down, which in turn is something of a gateway to other adjacent and equally special places of interest. At sea level you will find the vast shingle bars and sea stacks of Freshwater Bay. On slightly higher ground, Tennyson Down – and the island itself – slips away to the crumbling chalk pinnacles of the Needles. Here, amid shivering high cliffs and breathtaking sea stacks, you’ll discover important military history at old and new batteries.
The area is also historically of great cultural significance as it was called by both Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Their exquisite old mansions are open for strolling. On the other hand, but of no doubt equal cultural importance, it is also where Jimi Hendrix, so briefly, put his hat down.
Beginning at sea level immediately west of Freshwater Bay, the descent rises inexorably for a mile to a 482-foot-high front before gently descending and leveling off as it is heading for its dramatic crescendo in the form of the Needles, the most westerly point of the Island. Along the entirety of the dunes, its southern flanks are guillotined by the steepest cliffs imaginable, where kestrels hover nearby.
Exploring the down can feel like navigating the deck of a ship on top of a wave, because while the land rises remorselessly from the freshwater bay, it also tilts to one side. and on the other. Crows wobble upward, sideways in kite-like maneuvers; in great contrast, the northern flanks slip into bucolic pockets of scrub and hardwood forests of oak, sycamore, beech, holly and hazel, where the thorny scrub has not been controlled to become hedgerows and Woodland. The glen is extremely varied with small thickets here and there and thick clumps of heather and gorse, breaking up what might otherwise be a uniform landscape of grass munched by cattle. You will sometimes see riders galloping on its wide bridle paths.
The initial goal while hiking Tennyson Down is to reach the Tennyson Monument, a plinth topped with a marble Celtic cross found atop the down. The monument, erected in 1897, is both an unofficial beacon for sailors and a tribute to the poet. A few elegiac lines from Tennyson’s poem, cross the barare registered on the basis:
Sunset and evening star,
And a clear call for me!
And let there be no groaning from the tiller, When I put to sea.
The “bar” in question is a treacherous sandbar, which, with its adjacent shallow waters, ferry captains must navigate on their journey to the mainland. It is located in the Solent, north of the dunes, and is easily spotted at low tide. You can almost imagine spotting Tennyson here too, his ghost pacing the downs, wrapped in his signature cape and sporting his wide-brimmed hat. Never short of a suitable turn of phrase, Tennyson described the air found on the dunes as worth “sixpence a pint”.