We visited this historic treasure in the summer of 2014. Not sure what was the original purpose behind the construction of the Oratory but there is an interesting story and it goes like this: It was built by a local landowner named Walter de Godeton, in 1328 who was punished by the Church for stealing casks of wine from a shipwreck occurred in 1314 off Chale Bay. That ship was part of a fleet carrying a cargo of wine for the monastery of Livers in Picardy, France. In fear of excommunication from the church, Godeton built a lighthouse above the scene of the shipwreck together with an oratory. There was already an oratory on the top of the hill, dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. This would have possibly expanded to build the new one, hence it retained the original name of the patron saint. Later on, a priest was appointed to tend the light and to say masses for the souls lost at sea. Apparently, this was carried out until 16th Century. The lighthouse, known locally as the ‘Pepperpot’ which formed the western tower of St Catherine’s Oratory, is all that still stands of the original building. (See photos below for the drawing of the original structure). It is stone made, octagonal in structure and 4 stories high with 8 windows on top.
About 15 metres to the south-east of the tower, a Bronze Age barrow was excavated in 1925. It is believed to be a burial mound which is thought to have constructed on this hilltop about 4,000 years ago!
Hence this monument and St.Catherine’s Hill marks its roles as a medieval light house, chapel and possibly a pre-historic burial ground. This site is now maintained by National Trust in association with English Heritage so please visit either of their site for more information.
Entry: Free access and its open during day light hours. I would recommend not to leave it late in the evening as it can be very windy walking up the hill hence very cold as well.
Address: St Catherine’s Oratory, CHALE, Isle Of Wight, PO38 2NZ
- There is a car park at the bottom of the hill, near the fields- have your change ready for couple of hours of parking (RingGo cashless parking app can also be used)
- Wear comfortable clothing and footwear as the oratory is located nearly 1/4 mile across field, up the hill which can be uneven and steep
- Carry snacks and water if needed. There was a small cafe/sandwich bar in the car park at the time we visited, but not sure if its temporary.
- Bear in mind that this is a cliff-top therefore monitor children at all times.
- Dogs are allowed provided that they are on leads
- Please be aware that farm animals may be present nearby