Day out: St Catherine’s Oratory, Isle of Wight

If it wasn’t for a boat-full of wine, the iconic tower of St Catherine’s Oratory – nicknamed the ‘pepperpot’ by Isle of Wight locals – may never have been built

St Catherine’s Oratory, Isle of Wight

Some 700 years ago, it is said, the opportunistic Lord Walter de Godeton found a shipwreck off his land, and duly helped himself to the casks of wine on board. But what he didn’t realise was that the wine belonged to the Church. 

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As penance, Lord Walter was ordered to build a lighthouse above the wreck on the site of an oratory: a small chapel not connected to a parish church dedicated for prayer and celebrating Mass. 

Isle of Wight
St Catherine’s Oratory resembles The Needles on the far west of the Isle of Wight ©Getty

Today, his little octagonal hilltop tower is all that remains of the oratory and is Britain’s only surviving medieval lighthouse, standing firm against everything the elements can throw at it.

The oratory is accessed via a steep scramble, but it’s a worthy hike with breathtaking views across the island and beyond. Just remember to wrap up warm and pack a flask of hot coffee to stave off any chills. 

St. Catherine’s Oratory and coastal view
St. Catherine’s Oratory and coastal view © Chris Downer

Step inside the tower’s hollow chamber and feel the weight of history in those rough stones before heading back down to the main road to find a cosy pub to warm up in.

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Main image ©Alamy