With the prospect of another knee arthroscopy later in the summer, I was keen to do as much cycling as possible beforehand. I had already prepared an outline plan for touring the Isle of Wight the previous year so it would be an easy, short first tour of the year. I know the island quite well and as a teenager had cycled there from London but never around the island; I had quite a serious accident on the way home so it’s all become a bit of a blur in my memory today. I studied in Portsmouth from 1969 to 1972 and occasionally popped over on the ferry and had attended the infamous Isle of Wight rock festival in 1969 (the UK’s answer to Woodstock). The island lends itself well to cycling, although there are some steep hills towards Ventnor and the wind can be brutal along the south coast. As a result it has become a popular destination for touring and day cyclists, though it was early season at the time we went and I can’t remember seeing any other cycle tourists whilst we were there – six to eight weeks later and I expect it would be heaving with them.
Day-1 Redhill to Sandown: 25 miles
There is a fast, direct train service from Redhill to Portsmouth, which makes the ferry port very accessible either to Europe or the IOW. In the case of the IOW ferry you just turn up at the terminal and catch the first available ferry which run regularly; they go to either Ryde or Fishbourne, we chose Fishbourne as it is the main vehicle ferry making boarding easy and it just seemed to fit in with the route.
Arriving at about lunchtime meant that we had a few hours to ride eastwards through Nettlestone-St Helens-Bembridge-Yardbridge before heading south to stay at the C&CC campsite at Adgestone, situated on the southern outskirts of Sandown in the countryside. The site is excellent and at this time of the year was very quiet. I have been to Sandown many times in the past but, it has to be said, the town has seen better times – though as ever the beach is fantastic and (I think it’s still true?) it is the sunniest pace in the UK.
Day-2 Sandown-Ventnor-Brightstone: 28.50 miles
Seeing the potential of cycling on the IOW the council has made considerable efforts to improve facilities and publish attractive routes. Foremost amongst these is the Sunshine Track, an old railway line that connects Sandown with Newport some 7 miles away, that has been refurbished for use by cyclists. The track passes close to the Adgestone campsite so we initially took it for a few miles before joining the road to Ventnor. Situated on the south east edge of the IOW, Ventnor is situated on the high ground with wonderful views over the sea, as such it is a bit of a climb but worth it. Established in the Victorian era Ventnor is an attractive town but with a fatal flaw. Located within what is called the Undercliff, the land on which Ventnor is built is inexorably sliding downwards, causing major damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Turning west out of Ventnor the ride is pleasant with outstanding sea always on your left shoulder. Rounding St Catherine’s Point the coast turns north east and provides an even more spectacular views as far as the eye can see. Apart from the views, this section of coast is perhaps best known for two reasons.
- First, the wind comes predominantly from the south west along the English Channel and is therefore usually very strong. As a result the trees and bushes are all inclined at a 45o angle to the north east and cycling westwards into the wind is therefore hard.
- Secondly, this coastal section contains some of the best dinosaur remains in Europe; always a bonus for geologists like Mrs G and I.
We therefore struggled west into the wind towards our overnight stop at the Grange Farm campsite in Brightstone. It is an adequate, flat site located on the cliff top just outside Brightstone, so comes with great sea views and a strong wind; erecting the tent was no easy matter. The day finished with a decent pub dinner in Brightstone and Morris dancing outside afterwards!
Day-3 Brightstone-Freshwater-Yarmouth-West Cowes: 28 miles
The next day we woke up to grey but thankfully dry weather. Of course the south west wind was still blowing and our progress to Freshwater was therefore slow. However, this section is probably the most attractive of all along the south coast as the road takes the form of a roller-coaster along the tops of massive chalk cliffs, with a beautiful view across Freshwater Bay to The Needles and in the distance Poole Bay and the Purbeck Isle. Notwithstanding, Freshwater was not a place to hang around today, so we headed for Yarmouth on the north coast for brunch at a pleasant waterside café.
As usual with cycling the objective is, (a) to make the riding as easy as possible (b) make it as interesting as possible and (c) with the aforementioned in mind, stay on minor roads. We therefore doubled back on the Freshwater road before taking a series of minor roads east, crossing the main Yarmouth-Cowes road and finding a very interesting and attractive section through Newtown, a previously thriving Medieval borough.
From my precious research there were few campsites in Cowes. It has to be said that the one we chose in West Cowes was not good: on a hill, very long grass, unattractive site and grubby wash facilities. As it was also starting to rain by the time we arrived it was clear this was not going to be a good stop. Surviving therefore requires a different mind-set, which worked well this night: pitch tent, go to the nearest pub, have dinner, drink beer, go to bed. It worked well.
Day-4 West Cowes-Fishbourne-Redhill: 11 miles
Another day and this morning and the sun was shining, so who cares about last night? It was literally downhill into Cowes and a after a decent coffee and cake all was well. After a brief look around we needed to find the ferry across the river to take us to the other side and subsequently back to Fishbourne. It is a very regular ferry that connects both sides of Cowes across the River Medina, the more celubrious, yachty West Cowes with the more basic east Cowes but east Cowes has a Waitrose, so all is not lost.
As Cowes basically sits in a deeply incised river valley it was an immediate climb out on the other side and short ride to Saint Mildred’s Church in the village of Whippingham, not far from the country home of Queen Victoria, Osborne House. This time we were on a quest to find the grave great, great grandmother of Mrs G who had worked in the service of Queen Victoria. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful and afterwards we biked a short way down the road to see where we believed she had subsequently lived in a farmhouse.
From here it’s a short rise back to Fishbourne to catch the ferry back to Redhill and the train home.
All-in-all the tour had gone well and, despite my prior knowledge and experience of the Island, as ever we discovered new places by touring on a bike. I would recommend the ride for a sort break or even combined with a South Coast tour and am sure we’ll return again to discover more about the Oil of Woyt (Hampshire pronunciation!).
STATS – MAPS – STUFF
Tour: 22nd to 25th May 2013
Mileage: 92.5 miles
Maps: OS 1/50,000 196