I was Visiting Chale Bay Farm B&B for a well-known online Travel company (hem hem trip advisor cough cough). It’s a well placed B&B close to St Catherine’s Point and with good prices and smart owners so i can recommend you stay there if you wish to escape the seething elderly hordes and coach parties of shanklin and Sandown… see the note at the end if you want info on accommodation).
As the crow flies the fastest access to the fossil rich cliffs and beaches from here is via the old footpath at Whale Chine. The path is heavily eroded and has been shut for a while now but anyone with a liberal attitude to personal safety can still use it…..
In the picture below you can clearly see Whale Chine with a couple of people on top of the cliff and with the remnants of the old wooden stairs to the right and descending the cleft in the cliff. If you look really closely you’ll see one of the trickier parts of the remaining path way in the form of a ladder descending a sheer part of the rock face.
The descent is worth it as it takes you back in time to the Cretaceous Period – 65 million years ago and just before the mass dinosaur extinction. In other words this is home to T Rex and all those other rather groovy dinosaurs that make great film stars.
A little closer and the ladder (which is in fact two ladders strapped together) is indicated.
In the picture below i’ve indicated the pathway with a thin green line. The ladder(s) are secured at the top with a piton driven into the earth/rock at top. The piton is a little wobbly and as the ladders are bound together at centre with old rope the feel of the descent is…… enough to give you a cheap thrill.
I made the descent with a camera bag slung over a shoulder and carrying a tripod in one hand. I would not have done this had conditions been wet as the slope is full of loose earth and prone to becoming very muddy. The descent when the slope and cliffs are dry is reasonable for anyone with a head for heights and good footwear…. but it would i think be foolhardy to attempt in wet conditions. There are areas where you need to stand on heavily sloped mud and once you start to slip…. you aren’t going to stop until you reach the bottom.
If that happens you may be leaving the beach via a helicopter and a stretcher.
One more thing….. there’s a rather nasty section after the ladder where you may need to hold onto some rope and swing around on a ledge…… I didn’t photograph this as….. i had my hands rather full at the time. It’s not as bad as it sound though and if you can come down the ladder… you can ‘do’ the rope section.
Once at the bottom of Whale Chine, the beach is often deserted simply because it’s hard to get to. There won’t be any elderly folk or fat people with lardy thighs bad tattoos and mobility scooters…. and at best you will encounter another rambler and the occasional fossil-hunter or photographer.
The atmosphere is serene and all you can hear are the waves hitting shingle; It’s really a little ‘other-worldly’ and truly peaceful.
The Jurassic layer is below sea -level here… with the cretaceous at sea-level and above. This means cliff erosion of the friable materials facing the sea reveals new cretaceous fossils at regular intervals. Large ammonites are regularly found here and at low tide on this coastline dinosaur footprints and casts are very much in evidence. (Although for the footprints I think you really need to be at Compton Beach – slightly further North West of Whale Chine and the tide needs to be a spring low rather than at Neap levels).
The area here is attractive to fossil hunters primarily because it is harder to get to than other areas and therefore there is less competition for ‘finds’. Good luck with getting that 20lb Ammonite in your back pack and up the ladders though…. you may be better off lugging it up the coast to Compton Beach and taking an easier route back to civilisation.
The cliff strata and the beach itself seem rich in Iron – hence the lovely reds and oranges.
Closer to the rock face there are plenty of signs of ancient plantlike, burrowing, and coral or aquatic creatures. There are rocks that seem agglomerated with coral remains (correct me if i’m wrong) and there are many rocks that seems to show ancient tree stumps.
It’s easy to see the sedimentary strata on this side of the isle of Wight and the area at Whale Chine – although harder to get to quickly as you need to walk a long way along the beach from one of the more accessible areas or take the perilous ladder descent it’s well worth a visit simply for the relative isolation and sense of peace. For any geologists or fossil hunters it’s really a splendid place to spend some time – certainly at low tides.
As noted above, the closest B&B near here and by far the most reasonable – (with excellent bang for your buck) – is called Chale Bay Farm B&B. It’s got some scenic views and a good choice of accommodation with excellent parking and easy access to both ends of the Island and many top spots such as St Catherines Lighthouse and the Oratory. The owners are well travelled folk with a real grasp of hospitality and it’s really good alternative to any of the resort hotels in nearby towns.