Longstone at Mottistone, megalithic monument.

Back of the Wight (South West)

is an area that has a unique history and social background. Part of this stretches from the fact that the area was and still is very cut off from the rest of the island and is made up of small villages strung out along the coast like Brighstone, Shorwell and Mottistone).[1]


The main part of the Back of the Wight is formed of a large bay 18 miles long. The shore is edged by chalk cliffs averaging around 300 feet high from Freshwater to Compton bay, broken at two points, Grange Chine and Brook Chine which provide the only natural access to the sea, for many years locals have launched their boats at those spots. Stretching out from this coast are three ledges of resistant rock, the Brook, Brighstone and Atherfield Ledges, which have claimed many ships over the years including some recently and been the scene of many a valiant lifeboat rescue. Past Brighstone the coast is wild and inspiring , the greatest chine of them all, Blackgang Chine was once a home of smugglers. The most obvious natural features on land are the ridge of high downs that enclose the area and cut it off from the rest of the island, parts of these are inclosed in a Site of Special Scientific Interest and large stetches owned by the National Trust. Brighstone Forest which covers the top of Brighstone Down is the largest on the island and has wonderful walks for visitors.

At St Catherines point the Back of the Wight changes into the Undercliff of Ventnor and round to the Wight Rivera..

Due to erosion revealing huge chunks of ancient rock and a unique formation, this area is one of the most abbundent in Dinosaur fossils including sereval species unique to the Island. This can be veiwed at Compton Bay, where footprints are revealed with the tide and at several local museums.


In prehistoric times, like today the area was sparcely populated, thankfully they left some interesting landmarks such as the Longstone and Castle Hill, both near Mottistone.There was once Dinosaurs proved by the rumorous types of bones and fossil that have been excavated from the cliffs including some species unique to the island. (See Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight)

Romans.In A.D 43 the romans invaded the island, which they called Vectis, although most of there presence was elsewhere they did built a villa at Rock, Brighstone in order to make use of the clean waters of the Buddle Brook. During the Fourth Century the Empire broke up and the coast began to suffer the raids of VIking and Germanic tribes, which repeatedly laid waste to the area.

Saxons. In saxon times the island was colonized by Jutes until in the reign of king Arwald who died in battle when the kingdom of Wessex invaded and converted the island at sword point by killing the inhabitants and re-settling it with saxons, When Saint Wilfred converted the survivors the island was the last pagan place in britain.

The Back of the Wight had a meagre and fragile economy at the time so this increased the hardships on the area.

Medieval Wight.During medieval times the peoples of the Back of the Wight where very poor, particularly when considering the new prosperity of towns such as Yarmouth, Newtown and Brading. The people lived a harsh existence exposed to the elements and pirates. They scraped a livelihood from fishing, farming and salvage. Shipwrecks were a great help to these people and some say that the emphasis was on cargo not people. There has never been any proof of islanders wrecking but given how harsh their lives were it would not be surprising. In 1313 in a famous case the St Mary of Bayonne, from Gascony ran ashore at Chale Bay. The lord of Chale raised some men and demanded the 53 barrels of wine it was carrying. When king Edward the Second found out he summoned them to Southampton and had them fined. The wine was destined for a monastery and the church cried sacrilege as a result of this the 1st lighthouse on the Wight was built at Chale, the St Catherine's Oratory where the lords family paid for a light and prayers for his soul, this is the oldest medieval lighthouse in England , its ruins are now known as the Pepperpot, A half built later attempt stands nearby, this is known as the Salt Shacker. During this period onwards the area has lived in fear of french invasions.

18 century and beyond.In the 18th century there were a succession of stormy winters that increased the number of wrecks on the Back's coast. Salvage and theft weaved in with thriving local smuggling. Many buildings in the area are formed of parts of these ships. The Coastguard were established on the Island at this time, they were hated because they fought the smuggling trade, although they were hardly saints, there is an interesting local tale about the comandder of the Yarmouth station who "couldn't hear" the sounds of a raging gun battle going on at Alum Bay between smugglers and Coastguard. In 1859 the 1st lifeboats were put in place at Brighstone and Brook, they took part in many famous and daring rescues and are commemorated in Brighstone Museum which has many artifacts of the era. When in 1892 the SS Eider (a german liner) came ashore on the Atherfield Ledge, it took "virtually the whole of the sparse human population of the "Back of the Wight" to get then to sea".

Mottistone Manor and Garden, Isle of WightIn this time the area first became popular to visit and some noted figures established home here, like Mottistone Manor for the noted architects, the Seelys. [12]

Noted ShipwrecksEdit

There are detailed acounts of the lifeboat and coastguard rescues of the sailors of the many ships have been wrecked on the area's dangerous coast in several local books. Some of the more high profile vessels include.

Needles. SS Irex, HMS Pomone (1805) , HMS Assurance (1747) and SS Varvassi.

The South West MV Ice Prince, French corvette Vénus (1794), SS Eider, the Sirenia and the Cedrine, whose timbers form part of Mottistone church.


.Today the region is popular which tourists with attractions such as Blackgang Chine, Isle of Wight Pearl and the picture-postcard villages. The area hosts several events over the year including the Brighstone Christmas Tree Festival,Brighstone Show and Chale Show. The area is still poorly connected, particularly as erosion threatens the A3055 Military Road[13] ("Millie" to locals) which runs along the coast connecting them. Compton bay and beach are popular with surfers due to waves that come across the Atlantic. Recent cuts means that the bus service has become more infrequent.The people are friendly to visitors and respectful of the old times.


The economy of the area is largely agricultural and rural with farming using most of the land area, despite the long coastline there is little or no local fishing. Tourism provides a significant part of local income and many sites in the area are popular sites.