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1978 Fort Victoria Country Park
Nature Trail

Distance & Time : The Nature Trail is approximately 1 1/2 miles long and will take around an hour and a half to complete. 

Footwear & Accessibility: Part of the trail passes over clay and particularly near the shoreline you may have to negotiate wet ground, so wear suitable footwear. The trail is largely unmade tracks over uneven ground which narrow in places, Therefore a certain degree of physical ability is required.  

  • Leave No Litter.

  • Protect wild life, wild plants and trees.

  • Respect the life of the countryside. 

About the 1978 Fort Victoria Country Park Nature Trail....

In 1978 the Isle of Wight County Council prepared a leaflet detailing a nature trail around the woodland in Fort Victoria, we recently rediscovered a copy and thought it would be fun to retrace the trail and see what had changed in the park.. 

 

The answer is not much! the trail was still easy to follow although we had to make a slight detour where some steps have long disappeared down the landslip. So for your enjoyment, we have reproduced the trail below for you to follow. We have overlaid the "station" numbers onto our current Nature trail map as the original map shows paths that have now subsided and we don't want you to go looking for paths that are not there. The language and descriptions are very much of the time and can be a bit wordy but the features and plants described are mostly still there. 

Enjoy a trail back in time...

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Introduction

The particular feature of this trail is that it will take you through woodland which has evolved naturally, with little interference from mankind. You will pass back and forth over the coastal slope and over a variety of soil types ranging from blue clay at sea level. through various layers of sand and clay, to limestone at the highest point. The land here is continuously changing and generally gravitating towards the sea, whence it was uplifted some twenty million years ago. The continuous movements make a complicated mixture of soil content to suit a wide range of plant habitats. 

The Trail 

Start at the Cafe situated in the old fort remains. As you walk westwards across the mown grass, you will almost certainly hear the sounds of the old sconce bouy, which can be seen a short distance from the shore at this point. If the tide is running you will notice the swirling currents which account for the strict prohibition of bathing from this shore. As you approach the picnic tables, follow the the gravel path leading into the woodland on your left. Commence this ascending path through the dense growth of blackthorn, bramble and young oak trees to pause in 30 yards beneath a Pine tree. 

1 - Planted Pines

The land here is continuously moving, especially in wet weather, and gravitating towards the sea. In an effort to halt this erosion, some pine trees were planted some time ago, but without success. As the ground still moves, their roots have been torn and so some have died, while the others are much weakened and subject to insect attack. The seeds in the cones are eaten by red squirrels, which can be seen occasionally in the park. At the base of the pines are some evergreen holm oak trees, which have also been planted, but the natural cover of Bramble, Privet, Wild Rose and Blackthorn probably does more to retard erosion than the larger trees. You will also note Honeysuckle twining around the shrubs, and the dense clothing of wild clematis is an indication that the soil contains much lime. 

Corsican pine - Bramble - Rose - Wild Clematis - Holm Oak -

Privet - Blackthorn - Honeysuckle

Now walk up the path, and notice how you pass from dense scrubland into the dark canopy of the trees as the path gets steeper. In another 100 yards you will reach station no.2 

2 - Fern Glade

Now you have the opportunity to experience a different ground habitat to that which you have just left. Around you is a beautiful garden of ferns. The following species can be identified - Harts tongue Fern, Soft shield Fern, Male fern, Buckler Fern and Bracken. The plants dotted with little white flowers in the summer are called Enchanter's Nightshade, although it is no relation to the other poisonous Nightshades. In the Autumn the flowers develop into small burrs, which stick to animals fur and human clothing and so are spread far and wide. 

Harts Tongue Fern - Soft shield Fern - Male Fern - Bucklers Fern -

Bracken - Enchanters Nightshade 

Return to the gravel path, and continue ascending for a further 100 yards to the junction with a stone path. Ahead is station No. 3 turn right along this, the Coastal Path, in a westerly direction. 

3 - Wetland

The fissured stems of white willow rise from the temporary freshwater ponds which play host to a variety of insects and amphibians. In the summer months the ponds may dry out but rainwater is usually held back by the the path and collects on the impermeable clay to form a miniature wetland beneath the limestone wall. Notice the Harts Tongue Ferns again, and the smaller plants such as moss and lichen which thrive in these damp conditions. 

 

Now walk westwards along the coastal path, and notice the variety of trees and shrubs to the left and right. Among them is the Wych Elm, a native tree but with a larger leaf than the common English Elm. How many of the following species can you identify? 

Alder -Birch - Dogwood - Guelder Rose - Hawthorn - Hazel - Holm Oak - Oak - Sallow - Sycamore - Wayfaring Tree - Willow - Wych Elm

On your way along the Coastal Path you may hear the distinctive tapping of a Green wood pecker as it searches for insects beneath the bark, or a glimpse of a Sparrow Hawk as it looks for a meal such as a mammal scurrying through the undergrowth. Try and identify some of the birds you hear or see.

Robin - Blackbird - Green Woodpecker - Blue Tit - Collared Dove

In about 400 yards you will reach a viewpoint seat on your right and station No.4

4 - Coppicing 

The Trees have been thinned out or coppiced at this point, letting more sunlight to the ground which enables a wide variety of flowering plants to thrive. the summer flowers attract a number of insects including many species of butterflies. Here and along the trail you may see the following species:

Peacock - Red Admiral - Tortoiseshell - Speckled Woodland -

Meadow Brown - Chalkland Blue 

In the centre of your view of the Mainland opposite, you will notice the Arnewood Tower, near Sway, which is known as Petersen's Folly. It was built with the aid of unskilled labour by Andrew Petersen, a retired judge of the High Court of Calcutta, between 1879 and 1885 to demonstrate the possibilities of reinforced concrete as a building material. 

Now continue your journey westwards and notice on your way the strange liana-like stems that appear to be hanging from the tree tops. In fact, these are really Travellers Joy or old mans beard which climb the trees to flower in the sunlight above the tree canopy. 

In 200 yards you commence ascending a flight of steps to another viewpoint and station No.5 As you walk up these steps to the highest point of the trail, notice on the left the white limestone marl with plants usually associated with chalk downlands, such as Yellow ladies bedstraw, Dyers Rocket and Wild Thyme. On your right you will see tall Teasles, and a relic of the ancient plants which lived before and flowering plants existed - Greater Horsetails. 

Yellow Ladies Bedstraw - Dyers Rocket - Wild Thyme - Teasle - Greater Horsetail

Upon reaching the top of the steps take the second and shorter flight of steps (left) to sit and admire the magnificent view. 

5 - Viewpoint 

Look across the windblown tree tops to the narrowest width of the Solent dominated by Hurst Castle some 3/4 Mile away. This Castle was originally built between 1541 - 44 by order of Henry VIII for the defence of Southampton against possible French invasion. It was used later in the civil war between 1642 - 48 and Charles the 1st was held prisoner there before he was transferred to Carisbrooke Castle in 1647. Beyond the Fort on the distant horizon is the New Forest and in good visibility you may even glimpse the coastline of Dorset on the Western Horizon. 

Now begin the return journey. At the bottom of the long stairway take the footpath to your left which takes you towards the seashore and in 100 yards station No.6

6 - Landslip 

Pass down through the scrub of Dogwood and Hawthorn to a lower vantage point, where you will look upon Fort Albert, now renovated for modern living accommodation, and beyond this Fort, the Needles rocks and Lighthouse. 

 

Look around and you will see the evidence of dramatic changes that are occurring due to erosion and landslip. Without the ground cover plants and trees, the land is able to crack and slide freely towards the sea. For this reason the further descent to the shoreline is usually wet and treacherous and you should now retrace your steps to the coastal path. 

 

As you climb back up the slope notice more "Downland" plants such as the pea like pink and white rest harrow, clovers and the stunted wind-pruned pines. 

Back on the Coastal Path return to Station 4 in 100 Yards where the trail takes you down to the shoreline. Leaving the seat, descend towards the sea keeping to the prepared track. In 100 yards you pass through a belt of birch trees, a sign of sandy soil again. The plant with heads of yellow pea flowers is called melilot. Here and all along the bottom fringe of the wood you may find Spotted, marsh or pyramidical Orchids. Please do not pick them, each flower has taken many years to grow from seed to flowering. 

As you near the shoreline once again pause at station 7. 

7 - Seashore 

Now you are entering a new environment, where the sea and land meet and the ebb and flow of the tide assist the wind in creating the seashore. Conditions close to the sea encourage the growth of vegetation differing somewhat from inland. Some plants thrive in the salt-laden soil and wind in conditions which others would find intolerable. whilst on the shore anchored to the rocks or deposited by the tide are the seaweeds. Unlike the land plants, seaweeds are tolerant of some tidal submergence, they have no flowers or clearly marked stems, leaves or roots, only an anchorage or holdfast. 

Before stepping down onto the shore, consider whether the state of the tide will permit you to return to the Fort along the shore. If the tide is particularly high, you may need to retrace your steps to station 4 and the beginning of the trail. 

If you are able to pass along the shore, walk eastwards back towards Fort Victoria and look out for signs of wild life whose permanent home is the sea. Cuttle fish bones, Whelk egg cases, Mermaids Purses (Egg case of Dogfish). When you reach the sea wall in 300 yards, notice the land plants tolerant of maritime conditions such as Sea Purslane, Sea Beet, Buckshorn Plantain, Coltsfoot and Tamarisk.

Bladder- Wrack - Serrated Wrack - Oar Weed - Thong Weed - Sea Bootlace - Sea Lettuce - Sea Purslane - Sea Beet - Buckshorn Plantain - Coltsfoot - Tamarisk. 

8 - Visitor  Information Room

Although you have reached the end of the Trail at Fort Victoria, before passing inside the Fort to look at the exhibits in the Information room, consider for a moment what you would see if the trail made an excursion out to sea. Animal Life in the sea, like that on the land is a matter of survival. Eat or be eaten. At one end of the food chain is the microscopic plankton and algae. Further up the chain come creatures of the open sea including the fish which feed on life in the sea and below the sea bed. Feeding on the fish and a variety of food on the seashore are the sea birds. You may be lucky enough to observe a black cormorant returning to roost at the Needles or some gulls resting on the surface.