Shanklin. Ghosts of the Isle of Wight, with Margo Williams.

Shanklin Chine is one of the scenic wonders of Wight. Great poets almost oded about it, and probably would have if the ghost of Keats Cottage guest-house hadn't stolen the poet's best lines before he died.
Photo image of Shanklin Chine and Fisherman's Cottage Inn, Shanklin, Isle of Wight.
Shanklin Chine and Fisherman's Cottage Inn. Shanklin, Isle of Wight.

Keats Cottage and the Chine

Shanklin is among the Isle of Wight's loveliest beaches and although accommodation has been upgraded for 21st century luxury standards the Old Village's natural charm has changed little.

Among its famous celebrity haunts is the fantastic Keats Cottage hotel. No longer open to the public, for many years it provided lodging for visitors to the Isle of Wight. Among them John Keats for whom the hotel is named. Keats is included among a trio-constellation of literary stars - Shelley and Byron.

Sometimes in the cosy bar room of the famous beach inn, the Fisherman's Cottage someone can recite a verse or two from Ode to a Nightingale. Not so many as in times past but Keats' work stood the test of time. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," is a philosophical quote still heard today.

No one knows why Shanklin Chine didn't acquire an Ode courtesy of Keats. Some Shanklin historians say he was too poorly, despite his age. But he managed a poem entitled "Lamia" and a play featuring Otto the Great.

But not an Ode to Shanklin Chine.

Chine Defined

Governor Sir Richard Worsley in his History of the Isle of Wight published in 1771, defined how the term “chine” is applied “ the backbone of an animal, both in the manege, and culinary language which forms the highest ridge of the body.” “Echine” in the French is used in the same sense and Boyer has the word “chinfreneau” for a great cut or slash.”

“Hence the word “Chine” might be thought peculiarly expressive of a high ridge of land cleft abruptly down.”

Sir Richard had more to add despite Lady Worsley's gasp of despair. “A chine also appears to signify the same as chasm, and both to be derived from the Greek word that is to cleave asunder, so as to form a chasm or chine.” So there it is and thank you Sir Richard.

Sir Richard Worsley may have defined in 1781 how a chine gained that name but not how it came to be. This chine has been worn by the gradual operation of the small stream of water, assisted by frosts, heavy rains and the sea tides to the depth of nearly 200 feet (60.9m) and about a quarter of a mile (400m ) in length.

Most Haunted island

Poet Keats' View of Shanklin.

Spring 1819, poet Keats stayed at Shanklin. Twenty-four years of age and already fearing his own death from consumption (Tuberculosis). He came for the island's milder winter climate, to convalesce and so save his life, but the weather was cold and wet.

Nonetheless he still had an eye for the poetic...

“Shanklin is a most beautiful place;" he wrote. "Sloping wood and meadow ground reach round the chine, which is a cleft between the cliffs of the depth of nearly 500 feet at least. This cleft is filled with trees and bushes in the narrow part, and as it widens becomes bare, if it were not for the primroses on one side, which spread to the very verge of the sea, and some fisherman's huts on the other perched midway in the balustrade of beautiful green hedges along the steps down to the sand.” Source John Keats Life and Letters 1819.
Engraving of Victorian print of Shanklin Chine circa 1850 by Brannon.
Shanklin Chine circa 1850 by Brannon.

Sir Henry Englefield's Chine 1819

"The quantity of water is in general so small that the cascade is scarcely worth viewing, but after great rains it must be very pretty. The sides of the gloomy hollow in which it falls are of the blackish indurated clay, of which the greater part of the soil hereabouts is composed, and the damp of the waters has covered most part of it with shining green lichens and mosses of various shades.

The brushwood which grows on the brow on each side overhangs so as nearly to meet; and the whole scene, though it cannot be considered as magnificent, is certainly striking and grotesque." (Sir H. Englefield.

This stream of drinking water gave Shanklin its name, from the Anglo Saxon “Scenc” or “drinking Cup”. Shanklin Village “The bank by the Drinking Cup”.

The tragedy which befell poet John Keats has caused some Shanklin paranormalists to wonder if the ghost in Keats Cottage hotel in Shanklin's Old Village is the poet himself. A shadowed ghostly figure of an agitated male is seen in the kitchen, and some guess it might be the frustrated poet run out of ink to note for posterity a good line in his contemplation.

More sensitive ghost hunters say the ghost looks too robust to be the ailing poet.

Others say Keats is more likely to be the ghost of the chine sometimes spotted on the steps at the mouth of the ravine, staring out to sea. Others who have seen it more closely describe clothes of 20th century, not 19th. It wears a collar and tie.

And wonder if the ghost of Shanklin Chine is a trapped soul of Shanklin's famous Channel Serpent.

Photo image of section of Pipelien PLUTO. Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight.
Section of Pipelien PLUTO. Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight.

The Shanklin Serpent

In modern times Shanklin Chine is famous for its resident Channel Serpent PLUTO which for the Allied commanders planning the D-Day invasion of Normandy in WW2, was a thing of beauty.

October 1941, Lord Louis Mountbatten received orders to report to the prime minister. Churchill was working on plans for an invasion of Europe to push back the Nazi occupation of France. He asked Lord Louis to coodinate the effort land, sea and air and suggested he think of something Hitler wouldn't.

To land an enormous assault force on the shores of fortress Europe with all those bunkers, guns and wire was difficult but how to keep the force in place, tanks fuelled-up seemed a logistical impossibility. Pumping fuel ashore from tankers anchored off the Normandy coast was certain to fail due to weather, enemy aircraft and U-boat attack.

Those who came up with the genius solution, after months of delicate equations; knew it required coordinated groups of people doing different things in different places. To achieve the impossible Mountbatten feared one thing more than Hitler.


"All's fair in love and war" is a popular saying. Most of us accept this as a cynical truth and wish it wasn't. Maybe it isn't. Some say the ghost of Shanklin Chine is a spy who stayed out in the cold.

Exploring the haunted Isle of Wight

Thank you for your company on this short tour of Isle of Wight mysteries and haunting. If you would like to know more about Margo Williams' investigations in Shanklin and other rogues and royals, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

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Shanklin Chine

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