St. Boniface Down, Isle of Wight

Location: Southeast corner of the Isle of Wight

Nearest town: Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Peak: 241 metres above sea level

Ranks: 37/48

Difficulty: ★★★

Date climbed: 26 March 2022

To reach the next high point on our list we had to achieve something neither of us had done in over two years. We had to leave the island of Great Britain.

This, our twenty-third and most geographically challenging high point to-date, required us to set sail across the ocean, journey beyond the horizon, and to discover lands unknown.

Okay, that may not technically be true. We had to catch a WightLink ferry from Portsmouth to Ryde Pier Head. But for two people whose last trip overseas came pre-pandemic in February 2020, this was a very exciting event.

The ferry was leg three of a train-train-ferry-train journey from home to the seaside town of Shanklin, located in the south-east corner of the Isle of Wight.

On a glorious March morning, we spent the twenty-five minute crossing of the Solent sitting on the sun deck and watching Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower fade away into the haze.

At the sea end of Ryde pier the ferry service connects with the island’s only network railway line, aptly named the Island Line. This short stretch connects just 8 stations – three of them in Ryde itself – and it runs as single track for its entire route, requiring the occasional passing loop to enable more frequent peak-time services.

There are many quaint things that make the Isle of Wight feel olde worlde. For example, being isolated from the mainland network, the Island Line is able to run repurposed tube trains as its rolling stock. Its shiny ‘new’ blue trains, introduced in 2021, are actually former D Stock trains, first introduced to London’s District Line in 1976.

It wasn't long before we found another quaint something tucked away along a side-street in Ryde. The Kandy Box, a traditional sweet shop where you carry your selected sweet jars up to the counter to be weighed. The fudge from there proved a fantastic energy boost when summiting the high point the following day.

We should first explain why we travelled to the Isle of Wight as part of our high point quest. The Isle of Wight is a ceremonial county in and of itself. It hasn’t always been, however. While it first split from Hampshire and obtained its own county council in 1890, it was not until the Local Government Act of 1972 (enacted in 1974) that it gained full county status.

Fun fact: the final official link between the Isle of Wight and Hampshire is their shared police and fire forces. Quite whether this sharing of resources is integral to preventing piracy upon the high seas of the Solent, we sadly never found out.

Our second day on the island was set aside for reaching the high point. This started very well with a cooked breakfast at our lovely bed & breakfast, Bedford Lodge, located in Shanklin’s picture-perfect Old Village. Over breakfast, two fellow guests informed us of a resident red squirrel who liked to visit the nearby bird feeder around breakfast every morning. Sadly, despite how much we kept our eyes peeled, our weekend was entirely squirrel free.

However, the day was to be notable for a different sort of animal friend: donkeys! And lots of them. After breakfast we set off on a roundabout route to the summit, one that first took us west and along the old abandoned railway line that once linked Shanklin to Ventnor - our eventually finishing post for the day. We took this path because it led us straight to the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary. For 35 years this charity has rescued homeless and abandoned donkeys from around the country and provided them with a loving home. It is a very happy place. Every single donkey wears a collar displaying their name. Every single donkey has a history, a profile, and a well-documented personality. We bought a fridge magnet - that was our way of taking a donkey home with us!

On we went, taking a path south-east that required a moderate climb up onto St. Martin's Down, then on to Shanklin Down, before reaching St. Boniface Down and the most south-easterly tip of the island. With a steep drop beneath us we were treated to stunning views of the sea - this being the first high point from which we could see the sea.

Tucked between the hill and the sea is the picturesque Victorian seaside town of Ventnor. The roads zig-zag down to the beach and promenade. Ventnor has its own microclimate that bathes the town in sun more often than other places on the island. Yet on this particular day we didn't need it - it was glorious all over. Benches, beach huts, and ice cream vans were all unseasonably busy for late March.

After a late lunch at the quirky 60s/70s themed Carnaby Tea Rooms, we caught the bus back to Shanklin. One hair-raising journey along winding cliffside roads later and we were back at the B&B, ready to head out for one final meal - The Steamer Inn on Shanklin Promenade.

We raised a glass to completing our goal: summit St. Boniface Down. It was time to head back to the mainland, but we left knowing it wouldn't be too long until we returned. For such a small island there is so much to see, so many secret spots to discover. And, of course, we never did see that red squirrel...

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