Isle of Wight in a day – field trip account by ECE student Sam Lindsay

By ECE 2016-17 student Sam Lindsay

Waves crash on the western side of Freshwater Bay
Waves crash on the western side of Freshwater Bay

A day trip to the lovely Isle of Wight on a still day, visiting sights scattered around one of England’s former premier holiday destinations, what more could you want? This trip presented itself as a chance to see some beautiful sights, whilst learning about how it is going to be protected for the future. The day began with a sleepy sail down the Southampton Water estuary and the Solent, arriving at Cowes and being collected in a rather ‘vintage’ looking bus that would lug us around the island.

After a rather cosy bus journey, our first stop was to Freshwater Bay on the Southwest of the island [Photo: Top]. The beach located here is made of grey flint and chalk pebbles, which presumably comes from the erosion of the cliffs surrounding the beach. This area is the source for the River Yar and is extremely low lying. Although the beach itself provides a form of coastal defence to the land, a sea wall has been placed along the beach in order to help prevent flooding from high water events.

Looking back on the Military Road. The road is precariously perched along the edge of the cliff.

From here we headed east along Military Road, a scenic road running along the south coast of the island. The road has historical importance along with being a route that is fondly remembered by holiday makers. For this reason it is important that the  island maintains and preserves the road allowing it to be used for some time. Unfortunately, mother nature has other ideas, as the south coast is thought to be eroding at approximately 0.5 meters per year. In order to increase the longevity of the road, particular sectors have had concrete pillars inserted in order to allow natural erosion to take place, but leaving the road supported. Interestingly the pillars can have probes inserted in order to measure their movement and make an assessment on how safe the structure is.

We then moved onto Hanover point, which has a line of eroding brown cliffs. The geology of the cliffs here vary to the chalk cliffs to the west, leading to a slightly different composition. The sharp juxtaposition of the contrasting cliff colours makes for a beautiful view. We discussed how both marine and geotechnical processes form the cliffs here. Unlike the pebble beach at Freshwater Bay, the beach here is comprised predominantly of a fine grained sandy sediment. As the cliffs here are eroding at a particularly rapid rate, you might wonder why more coastal defence structures aren’t built in order to prevent further erosion. Building coastal structures is not an easy feat, as it has to be assessed from a social, political and economic standpoint. The sediment budget along the coastline was also addressed; due to the southwest facing nature of the cliff, it runs perpendicular with the approaching waves, leading to minimal littoral drift. This means that the sediment from the eroding cliffs helps to nourish the beach naturally, which is good news as a beach slows down erosional processes of the cliffs.

After a hard morning of driving from site to site, looking a beautiful landscapes and natural structures, it was time to have lunch. We popped into the White Mouse Inn. A great time to reflect on the sites visited and to have a casual chat with our course mates.

After lunch we headed toward the Blackgang area, just beside the southern most tip of the island, where you can find Saint Catherine’s Lighthouse. The land that we stood on was formed due to a huge landslide in 1928. The landslide area has an underlying stratum of gault and clay and it is thought that due to heavy rains the earth became saturated, leading to the underlying stratum losing its strength. This, in turn, lead to the failure of the land and the 60 acre landslide. Slightly unnerved by one of our professors exclaiming: ‘and the land we are on is continually moving!’, we moved onto Saint Catherine’s point.

Perched above St. Catherine’s Lighthouse. Everyone enjoying some of the best views the island has to offer.
Perched above St. Catherine’s Lighthouse. Everyone enjoying some of the best views the island has to offer.

The lighthouse placed at the point is sat on a horizontally sliding apron of chert. As we got closer we noticed that the lighthouse actually had natural rip rap, forming a barrier to the ocean.  Just a few hundred metres east  is an area called Castlehaven. Here Artifically placed rip rap has been placed in order to protect the area. In the late 19th century a rather upmarket retreat/hotel occupied an outcrop of land. Since then the power of the sea  had eroded the area to such an extent that it had been completely claimed by the ocean!

Our final stop was in the town of Cowes, back where we started. Here we discussed the Cowes breakwater: a rather large breakwater designed to protect the harbour from large waves. The project was actually contended by locals after the build had commenced, and demonstrates how many projects are met with social problems. Walking back to the ferry terminal it was noticed that the sea, even on a calm day encroached on the pathways used by the public, emphasising the need for coastal defence strategies in order to protect the people and the island.

Water heading landward, even on a calm day!
Water heading landward, even on a calm day!

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