Back of the Wight is an area on the Isle of Wight in England. The area has a distinct historical and social background and geographically isolated by the chalk hills immediately to the North and until recently, poor transport infrastructure. Primarily agricultural, the Back of the Wight is made up of small villages spread out along the coast, including Brighstone, Shorwell and Mottistone.
The geographical boundaries of the Back of the Wight are imprecise and vary according to interpretation, however roughly speaking it comprises all the land located South of the Downs and East of Freshwater Bay until the curve in the Downs meets the sea near St. Catherine's Point. The main part of the Back of the Wight is formed of a large bay 18 miles long. The shore is edged by cliffs averaging around 300 feet high from Freshwater to Compton, broken at two points, Grange Chine and Brook Chine, which provide the only easy, natural access to the sea through steep gorges. Stretching out from this coast are three ledges of resistant rock, the Brook, Brighstone and Atherfield ledges, on which many ships have been wrecked over the years.
Past Compton and Brighstone, the coast is wild and there are only four access points inland, Whale, Walpen and Ladder Chine and the greatest of them all, Blackgang Chine, which was once a home of smugglers and experienced a massive landslide during the early-20th century, leaving a much larger chine in its place. Blackgang Chine is home to a theme park of the same name, which was the first theme park to be constructed in the United Kingdom.
The most obvious natural features on land are the downs that enclose the area and cut it off from the rest of the island; parts of these are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and large stretches owned by the National Trust. Brighstone Forest, which covers the top of Brighstone Down, is the largest on the island.
At St. Catherine's Point, the Back of the Wight ends and the Undercliff of Ventnor begins.
Like the Geology of the Isle of Wight as a whole the geology of the area is varied; at Freshwater the Upper Cretaceous Chalk is exposed resulting in substantial cliffs until Compton, at this point other geological types begin to occur including clays, these formations are unique for the way the layers have been tilted exposing ancient, fossil bearing strata of the Vectis Formation overlaid with the Wessex Formation. These Wealden rocks date from around 120 million years ago, thus younger than similar rocks elsewhere in the UK.
Most of the settlements in the area are villages or hamlets that have evolved around farms or water courses. Settlement in the area has never been great and the villages are mostly old in construction. Many exist because of medieval churches and manors such as Mottistone Manor. The main settlements are:
There is little evidence of the region having been settled in pre-history; apart from the Longstone at Mottistone there are few artefacts. That there were once dinosaurs is proved by the numerous types of bones and fossils that have been excavated from the cliffs, including some species unique to the island. At the time the fossils were laid down, between 125 and 110 million years ago, the island was at a latitude similar to that of North Africa. There is an abundance of fossils on the island, especially of crustaceans and nautiloids such as Trilobites and Ammonites.
In AD 43 the Romans invaded the island, which they called Vectis. Although most of their presence was elsewhere, they did built a villa at Rock, Brighstone to make use of the clean waters of the Buddle Brook. During the 4th century the Empire broke up and the coast began to suffer from raids by Vikings and Germanic tribes, which repeatedly laid waste to the area.
In Saxon times the island was colonised by Jutes until 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. Saint Wilfred and the church were given large parts and converted the survivors. The island had been the last pagan part of England.
The Back of the Wight had a meagre and fragile economy at the time so this increased the hardships on the area by killing many of the population.
During medieval times the people of the Back of the Wight were very poor, particularly compared to 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 the ship was carrying. When King Edward II 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 incident, the first lighthouse on Wight was built at Chale, the St Catherine's Oratory, where the lord's 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, and a half-built later lighthouse nearby is known as the Salt Shaker. From this period onwards the area lived in fear of French invasions.
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 were combined 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 commander 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 first lifeboats were put in place at Brighstone and Brook; they took part in many famous rescues and are commemorated in Brighstone Museum, which has many artefacts of the era.
On 18 December 2014, A Boeing 767 carrying United Airlines Flight UA28 suffered an engine failure while travelling towards Los Angeles from London Heathrow Airport, and entered a holding pattern over the Back of the Wight for several hours while it dumped fuel, eventually returning to Heathrow some hours later. 
The Back of Wight has very little in the way of suitable shelter for sailing vessels and prevailing storm winds often forced ships onto the coast. The three ledges of rock that extend underwater at Atherfeild, Brighstone and Brooke can cause unpredictable water conditions. As a result of the high volume of shipwrecks that occurred RNLI lifeboat stations were established, one at each of these locations. Several local books include detailed accounts of the lifeboat and coastguard rescues of the sailors of the many ships that have been wrecked on the area's dangerous coast. Some of the more high-profile vessels include:
Today the region is popular with 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 ("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 have made the bus service more infrequent.
Agriculture is still the dominant economic activity of the land. Many residents of the area have Newport as their centre of commerce and culture, using the road over the down to reach it.
There is some strain in the area because of the strong East-West rivalry on the island and the fact that there has been little investment recently. The roads vary greatly in condition with many being poor, in contrast to the mainly good quality of Eastern infrastructure. The recent proposals to split the island into two constituencies could result in the West having a separate MP.
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.
Atherfield Ledge is a rocky outcrop extending from the coast of the Back of the Wight, Isle of Wight. This is a famous shipwreck location. Along with Brook Ledge and Brighstone Ledge it is one of the area's main shipping hazards.Blackgang
Blackgang is a village on the south-western coast of the Isle of Wight. It is best known as the location of the Blackgang Chine amusement park which sits to the south of St Catherine's Down.
Blackgang forms the west end of the Ventnor Undercliff region, which extends for 12 kilometres from Blackgang to Luccombe, also encompassing the town of Ventnor and the villages of Bonchurch, St Lawrence, and Niton. It also marks the edge of the Back of the Wight.Brighstone
Brighstone is a village and civil parish on the Isle of Wight, 6 miles southwest of Newport on the B3399 road. Brighstone was previously known as "Brixton". The name derives from the Saxon name "Ecgbert's Tun".
Brighstone is the largest village in the area locally known as the Back of the Wight and extends toward Limerstone and Mottistone.
In Roman times a villa was built to the north, to take advantage of the clean waters of the Buddle Brook.Brighstone Bay
Brighstone Bay is a bay on the south west coast of the Isle of Wight, England. It lies to the south and west of the village of Brighstone from which it takes its name. It faces south west towards the English Channel, its shoreline is 7 km in length and is gently curving. It stretches from Sudmoor Point in the north west to Artherfield Point in the south east.
Several chines, some with streams like the Buddle Brook (Grange Chine) lie along this coast.
Like most of the coast along the South-West of the Island, Brighstone Bay is suffering from coastal erosion.
Projecting out from this coast is one several ledges along the Back of the Wight. Brighstone Ledge has been the site of many shipwrecks as storms drive ships onto the hidden rocks. The seabed is a mixture of mud, sand and shells. The beach is predominantly shingle.
The bay is best viewed from along the Isle of Wight Coastal Path which follows the whole bay along the cliff top.Brighstone Down
Brighstone Down is a chalk down on the Isle of Wight. It is located close to the village of Brighstone, in the southwest of the island (the Back of the Wight), and rises to 214 metres (702 ft) at its highest point, northeast of the village of Mottistone.
Towards the west part is called Mottistone Down, to the East, Shorwell Down.
The Northern part is covered by Brighstone Forest the largest forest on the Island.Brookgreen
Brook Green is a small hamlet on the Isle of Wight located at Brook on the Back of the Wight. It is owned by the National Trust.Buddle Brook
Buddle Brook a small river on the Isle of Wight, England. The Brook drains water from the southern side of Brighstone Down and as far to the east as the village of Shorwell. Its flow is the greatest of the streams in the South-West of the Island (the Back of the Wight). Near the village of Brighstone its body is split into a series of mill ponds built to power Yafford Mill and Brighstone Mill, and controlled ways passing through the village and under the noted local landmark, the Dragon Tree Brighstone. Beyond the village the stream is re-connected into one and flows into Grange/Marsh Chine. These are heavily vegetated and are the largest chine on the Island. The Brook runs all the way to the beach where its mouth is at least 4m wide. Once the stream reaches the pebble beach it soaks in and disappears.
The Romans built a villa near Brighstone to make use of the brook's fresh water.Chale
Chale is a village and civil parish on the Isle of Wight of England, in the United Kingdom. It is located three kilometres from Niton in the south of the Island in the area known as the Back of the Wight. The village of Chale lies at the foot of St. Catherine's Down.Chessell
Chessell is a hamlet on the Isle of Wight, England, towards the west in an area known as the Back of the Wight on the B3401 road. Public transport used to be provided by Southern Vectis on route 1. It is the location of the Chessell Pottery Barns, a popular tourist attraction.Freshwater, Isle of Wight
Freshwater is a large village and civil parish at the western end of the Isle of Wight, England. Freshwater Bay is a small cove on the south coast of the Island which also gives its name to the nearby part of Freshwater.
Freshwater sits at the western end of the region known as the Back of the Wight or the West Wight which is a popular tourist area.Freshwater is close to steep chalk cliffs. It was the birthplace of physicist Robert Hooke and was the home of Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson.Kingston, Isle of Wight
Kingston is a small settlement on the Isle of Wight, United Kingdom, located five miles southwest of Newport in the southwest of the island, an area known as the Back of the Wight. It is in the civil parish of Shorwell.
Formerly a separate Anglican parish, with its own parish church, St. James' Church, Kingston is now amalgamated with the adjacent Anglican parish of Shorwell, as Shorwell with Kingston.Ladder Chine
Ladder Chine is a geological feature on the south west coast of the Isle of Wight, England ( the Back of the Wight). It is west of the village of Chale. It is a sandy coastal ravine, one of a number of such chines on the island created by stream erosion of soft Cretaceous rocks. It leads from the 190 foot high clifftop to a knickpoint approximately halfway down the cliff face above Chale Bay beach.
The Chine is the first and largest of three chines that have been eroded by a small unnamed brook that descends from Chale that drains rainwater from the west side of St. Catherine's Hill. The other two chines are Walpen Chine and New Chine. The brook initially wound its way to the cliff face and its descent over the edge created Ladder chine. As the cliff eroded, the brook found a shorter path to the sea, creating the two other chines to the east of Ladder chine. Ladder Chine is now dry.
The Isle of Wight Coastal Path runs along the cliff top above this chine.
Many Southern Vectis buses carry names that relate to coastal features around the Isle of Wight and Mini Pointer Dart 316, registered SN03LDU, carried the name Ladder Chine before being sold. Coach 590 now carries the name following repaint in Island Coaster livery for a route that operates along the Military Road, close to Ladder Chine.Little Atherfield
Little Atherfield is a small settlement on the Isle of Wight. It is near the coast in the Back of the Wight. The Isle of Wight is situated off the south coast of England. According to the Post Office the 2011 Census population of the village was listed in the civil parish of Niton and Whitwell.Moortown, Isle of Wight
Moortown is a part of Brighstone on the west side of the Isle of Wight. The area is known as the Back of the Wight. Previously, the only form of public transport to pass through the village is infrequent Wightbus service 36, connecting the village with Newport and Brighstone. However, this service was discontinued by the Council in September 2011.Mottistone
Mottistone is a village on the Isle of Wight, located in the popular tourist area the Back of the Wight. It is located 8 Miles southwest of Newport in the southwest of the island, and is home to the National Trust's Mottistone Manor.New Chine
New Chine is a geological feature on the south west coast of the Isle of Wight, England ( the Back of the Wight). It is west of the village of Chale. It is a sandy coastal ravine, one of a number of such chines on the island created by stream erosion of soft Cretaceous rocks. It leads from the 190 foot high clifftop to a knickpoint approximately one third of way down the cliff face above Chale Bay beach.
The Chine is one of three chines that have been eroded by a small unnamed brook that descends from Chale that drains rainwater from the west side of St. Catherine's Hill. The other two chines are Ladder Chine and Walpen Chine. The brook initially wound its way to the cliff face and its descent over the edge created Ladder chine. As the cliff eroded, the brook found a shorter path to the sea and started creating Walpen Chine to the east of Ladder chine. As the cliff eroded further, the brook moved east again and is currently eroding an unnamed chine labelled New Chine.
New Chine consists of two small narrow ravines that feed the same knickpoint. The main ravine has the brook running through it for all but the driest parts of the summer. The smaller more westerly ravine is eroded when the brook overflows during flash flooding and the excess water finds a second route to the cliff edge.
The Isle of Wight Coastal Path runs alongside the top of the chine and part of the brook.St Catherine's Point
St. Catherine's Point is the southernmost point on the Isle of Wight. It is close to the village of Niton and the point where the Back of the Wight changes to the Undercliff of Ventnor.
On nearby St. Catherine's Down is St. Catherine's Oratory, locally known as the "Pepperpot", a stone lighthouse built in the 1323 by Walter De Godeton. It is Britain's oldest medieval lighthouse.Reportedly, de Godeton felt guilty for having scavenged wine, destined for a monastery from the wreck of the St. Marie of Bayonne in Chale Bay. He was ordered, on pain of excommunication, to make amends by building this lighthouse. Fires were lit in the lighthouse tower to warn ships at sea of the presence of the coast.
There was an attached chapel at one time, but it has been long demolished. There is a Bronze Age barrow nearby which was excavated in the 1920s.
A replacement lighthouse was begun in 1785. However it was never completed. Locally this half finished building is known as the "salt pot".
St. Catherine's point is often foggy, so it is not the best location for a lighthouse, but as a weather station the location is fairly suitable. The weather station is one of the 22 locations whose reports are included in the BBC Shipping Forecast.Thorncross
Thorncross is a small hamlet in the South West of the Isle of Wight, England. (The Back of the Wight). It is located near the hamlet of Yafford and the village of Brighstone.Yafford
Yafford is a hamlet on the Isle of Wight. It is located 6 miles (9.7 km) southwest from Newport in an area known as the Back of the Wight between Brighstone and Niton. It is in the civil parish of Shorwell. It has a non-operational water mill, which was working until 1970 and is now a listed building. The mill was a grist mill, working to grind corn (wheat, oats, barley) to create animal feed; it did not have the machinery to produce fine flour for people. It has an overshot water wheel, powered by the flow of water from a millpond. The pond is fed by a stream from the nearby village of Shorwell, part of the Buddle Brook. The name Yafford derives from the Anglo-Saxon word "hæcc" meaning a hatch or sluice and the word "ford"; probably referring to grating used to stop animals being carried away by the current in a river.