Isle of Wight
Sometimes I like more challenging cycle tours, 'Land's End to John o' Groats', 'Channel to the Mediterranean' and 'Mizen Head to Malin Head' are three that I've ridden that spring to mind. Other years, for a variety of reasons I have not had the opportunity, or time, to undertake these lengthier challenging tours. So, when time is precious and I still need to get my 'cycling fix', a short break or two is the order of the day, rides like the 'Dieppe Raid' and this short trip over to the Isle of Wight are the perfect destinations.
Now I've been on cycle holidays to the 'Isle of Wight' a few times, for many years it was the 'Surrey Road Cycling club's' annual Easter Tour, I recalled those times with such fond memories that I decided that a revisit was overdue, so bikes packed, off we went to catch the IOW Ferry for this short trip abroad...always feels like it's abroad to me for some reason! My girlfriend Louisa and I effectively had two days worth of cycling to explore the Island, as out Hotel was in the seaside resort of Sandown this allowed most of the important sights to be visited.
The First day we did a small loop from Sandown-Bembridge-Ryde, then down to Godshill before looping back to Sandown. First point of call was Bembridge Harbour, which it has to be said is a quaint sleepy little place, it's like time has stood still, every time I go there nothing seems to be happening, nothing seems to change, nothing, just nothing! Even the seagulls seem to shriek in a more relaxing fashion; think more chilled out vultures in the 'Jungle Book' "Hey, Flaps, what we gonna do?", than the stressful shrieks of "Mine Mine Mine" from the seagulls in 'Saving Nemo'! Yes yes the first lot aren't even seagulls, but don't be picky, you get the picture! In an every changing world I have to say there is something rather comforting about places like Bembridge, for all it's nothing is happening-ness, I have to say, well, I simply adore it!
We were there 10 minutes and those three birds never moved!
A short coastal ride from Bembridge is the pretty town of Ryde, now when I say coastal ride to Ryde, check out that picture below at the appropriately named 'Seaview' with superb views across the Solent back to the mainland, any more coastal than that and we'd had needed clip-less flippers! It is one of the best rides, anywhere, proving that you simply don't have visit far flung shores to experience magnificent cycling, when that very shore, on that very day, in that weather, rivals any, any that you will ever do; absolutely superb.
One advantage of these shorter holiday breaks as opposed to challenging tours is that you can use the bike far as more as a sight seeing tool, rather than something to achieve personal goals. Which is my way of saying, "do you fancy visiting a Vineyard Louisa", which to be fair it didn't exactly take much persuading, seeing as the excellent 'Rosemary Vineyard' with free tour and tasting was just a short ride for Ryde! So off we went for a sample or two of their excellent wines, juices, liqueurs and ciders, well worth a visit.
Rosemary VineyardAfter what was quite a lengthy stay at Rosemary Vineyard, we rode back down through the leafy lanes to one of the Islands most famous tourist destinations. Godshill boasts some of the oldest architecture on the Island, with its delightful medieval church, on top of the hill (Godshill?), charming thatched-roofed cottages and a winding main-street lined with traditional tearooms and attractions like the 'model village', Godshill is charmingly twee and picturesque; as a result, extremely popular, with far more souvenir shops and tea rooms than I recall. Popular it may be, with many a coach party visiting, but it was none the less worth stopping by for lunch on our route back round to Sandown.
The Island has numerous cycle paths including the disused railway line that makes up part of the 'Sustrans-route-23'. Although the Island is not exactly suburban busy and to be fair it is quite easy to keep to quite lanes as opposed to the busier 'A' and 'B' roads, it was still lovely to leave the roads behind and switch off completely and meander back to Sandown on 'Route 23'. Well I say "switch off completely", but the track does have some "kiss me quick" face plant tree roots that have bubbled up the tarmac, that to be fair were hard to spot in the dappled sunlight. A few of these caught Louisa out, she had one of those moments when with one hand off the bars she hit a few roots and promptly lost control, then spent the subsequent eternity yo-yoing between falling off, then not, only to then start falling off again as she bounced from saddle, to cross bar, then back again, before finally bouncing to a stop, still upright, about 17 fields away! Fortunately, the bike, was fine!
One the second day we cycled across the island to 'Freshwater' via the pretty coastal town of Ventnor with it's legendary steep descents and climbs in and out of the esplanade; something the picture below simply doesn't convey, although in the first descending shot the soundtrack was far more "weeeeee" than the comments made when climbing in the second shot; comments made not befitting a lady from near Croydon that's for sure! Even steeper climbs were to follow, sadly the ground around Ventnor is notoriously unstable, many buildings and amenities have been lost to subsidence or cliff-falls due to serious landslip. A few short miles out of the Ventnor this was indeed the case, in spite of literally millions being invested with preventative measures and repeated repairs the road had still collapsed; which required an extremely steep detour, that made the famous climb out of the esplanade seem like the Fens!
In and out of Ventnor
Once back on route we headed through Blackgang and Chale, a quick glance from the road confirmed that a B&B I visited on a previous tour was now no more, another victim of coastal erosion. For me it's this area around Blackgang and Chale that has made the largest impression when it comes to how much impact, how devastating and how powerful coastal erosion can be. This area has changed so much since my childhood, the contrast is absolutely staggering. On previous tours I've always cycled out to Freshwater and this was to be no exception, along the famous 'Military' road from Chale, much of this ten mile route follows the coastline, affording lovely clifftop views of the bays and the ocean with glimpses of the 'Needles' on the horizon. Every time I've ridden this route I grovel into a headwind, but it's always been a highlight of riding on the Island, enjoying the views, gentle rolling climbs and descents with a tea room or two thrown in for good measure, are for me what cycling is all about.
Military Road on route to Freshwater
Lunch at Freshwater fueled us for the ride back to Newport, where we once again picked up 'Route 23' for the gentle ride back into Sandown. Yes we only had two days worth of cycling, but we packed a lot in and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Isle of Wight is often called the 'Bicycle-island' with many 'listed routes', a title it richly deserves; if you get the opportunity, even for a short break then it's well worth a visit; highly recommended.