Topography and Geology

The southern border of Freshwater parish is fringed by a long, high ridge of chalk which extends east from the Needles through Freshwater Bay to Culver Cliff near Bembridge. The eastern boundary of the parish is formed by the River Yar that rises at Freshwater Bay in the south and proceeds in a northerly direction before joining the Solent at Yarmouth. The western edge is represented by cliffs that run from the Needles to Cliff End, while the northern boundary is the low slumping cliffs of Norton.

The Freshwater region is very nearly an island, separated by a river estuary that extends northwards from Freshwater Gate on the southern shore of the island as far as Yarmouth in the north. This tidal estuary or creek derives from the River Yar, and effectively cuts the Freshwater peninsula off from the rest of the Island. The Yar is tidal as far as Freshwater causeway, south of which it becomes marsh wetland.

The southern half of the parish is dominated by the long, narrow ridge of the chalk downland that runs from east (at Freshwater Bay) to west (at The Needles) along the southern border of this parish. This down is 137 metres at the western end, rises to 147 metres at Tennyson Monument (the site of a former beacon), and then slopes down to almost sea level at Freshwater Bay. This stretch of downs forms a natural barrier, offering shelter from southerly winds. Otherwise, the landscape is characterised by gently sloping land terminating in low slumping cliffs on the west, and a gentle slope down to the reed beds and mudflats of the Yar estuary on the east.

The geological formation which forms the bedrock of most of the southern area north of the chalk belongs to the Barton, Bracklesham, Thames and Lambeth Groups (H.J.O. White. A Short Account of the Geology of the Isle of Wight. London, 1921). The Thames and Lambeth Groups consist mainly of muds. Because of the action of folding on the island, the strata that make up the formations of these groups have been forced into vertical alignments. This means that the Thames and Lambeth formations only form two very thin bands adjoining the north side of the chalk. The formations of the Bracklesham group form a wider band, which starts to broaden out to the west of Home Farm, extending itself north-eastwards towards Freshwater parish church. As a whole, the Bracklesham group consists of sand bodies, which alternate with heterolithic units consisting of finely interbedded muds, silts and sands. It is from the sand bodies within this part of the succession that most of the famous ‘coloured sands’ derive. In the Barton group, there are four formations: fine-grained Boscombe sand; Barton clay, comprising various types of muds – some sandy, some laminated; Chama sand, composed of blue sandy clays; and fine-grained Becton sand, which is white and pale yellow in colour. Farringford and its grounds thus lie predominantly on vertically-aligned sandy strata, although these are interspersed here and there with thin layers of muds, sandy clays and silts.

The topography of the area is characterised by land that gently slopes down away from Farringford to the north, west and east. On its north-east side, there is a small knoll at 30 metres. Farringford itself is located on a small plateau of ground at 35 metres; the land rises gently away on its south side, while on its west, east and north sides the land gently falls away.

The area is watered by several small watercourses, that have helped to shape field boundaries, roads and paths. The main watercourse in the area is the River Yar that flows northwards from Freshwater Bay. The main stream in the area joins the Yar at Bow Bridge and runs west alongside the main street, School Green Road. This stream is fed by two small watercourses that originate in the southwest of the area. One derives from a spring source, situated near Stonewind Farm, and flows alongside Summers Lane, before turning northeast alongside a footpath to King’s Bridge near Freshwater Green. The other source is a spring south of Moon’s Hill at the foot of the downs. This stream flows north to Old Bay Road, and then follows this road east, before turning alongside Summers Lane to join the other watercourse at Sheepwash farm. To the south east of Farringford, beside a path known as Green Lane, a small stream runs in a north easterly direction towards St. Agnes’ church.

The parish of Freshwater…is fortified by those stupendous promontories of Chalk, known by the name of Freshwater Cliffs. The height of these cliffs is indeed prodigious; being in some places six hundred feet above the level of the sea. To form a just conception of their magnitude, they should be viewed from the sea, at the distance of about a quarter of a mile; when the most lofty and magnificent fabrics of art, compared with these stupendous works of nature, shrink in idea to Lilliputian size…The cliffs are in some places perpendicular, in others they project and hang over in a tremendous manner; the several strata form many shelves, these serve as lodgments for the birds, where they sit in rows…There are many chasms and deep caverns that seem to enter a great way into the rocks, and in many places the issuing of springs form small cascades of rippling water, down to the sea; sheep and lambs are seen grazing in the lower parts of the cliff, near the margin of the sea…

(History of the Isle of Wight by Sir Richard Worsley. London, 1781)


folding: Folding occurs when one or a stack of originally flat surfaces, such as sedimentary strata, are permanently deformed to become bent or curved.

heterolithic: Heterolithic bedding is where a sedimentary structure is made up of deposits of sand and mud that are interbedded (embedded among or between each other). It is formed mainly in tidal flats.

slumping: Slumping occurs when a mass of loosely consolidated materials or rock layers moves a short distance down a slope.

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