For the second year I led the Fleet UK Cycling Group for a Thursday ride around The Isle Of Wight. Six members, Ed, Bob, Barry, John, Kaye and yours truly accepted the invitation of 65 miles around the Island and met at Lymington for the 08-45 sailing to Yarmouth. The on board cafe provided coffee so we were able to roll off the ferry at 09-30 and straight onto the Island’s roads and what good surfaces they are. The council has undertaken a programme of road resurfacing and the majority of roads and lanes are now new smooth tarmac, no chippings just flat, smooth tarmac.
The weather was overcast and the roads still damp from recent rain but with a temperature of 17 C it was perfect for cycling.
We were going to follow the Island Randonnee Cycle Route in a clockwise direction so after heading East out of Yarmouth we turned south to Thorley and Wellow. At Newbridge progress came to a halt as we came across a road closure, yet more resurfacing so we could not complain but a request to walk past the works was turned down on “Health and Safety “ grounds so after some local advice we diverted to Chessell and Calbourne before returning to the route on the road to Shalfleet. At Newtown Creek the Spring tide was definitely out exposing that poetic smell that comes from acres of seaweed and mud.
Gurnard was our next waypoint where there seemed to be lots of houses undergoing refurbishment suggesting a positive Island economy and again a new surface on the seafront road to Cowes. At this point East and West Solent meet and result in a very busy stretch of water, several very large yachts were going through their paces and many small boats and dinghies mixing it with commercial traffic. The town was getting ready for this weekends Round The Island sailing race.
A first short steep climb into Cowes before rolling down to the New Chain Ferry to connect us to East Cowes. At this point Kaye was leaving us to take a short cut through Newport to meet us later at the lunch stop so five of us took the ferry and to “Yorkshire Ed’s” delight it was free. This was a goodwill gesture by the company until 2nd July to compensate for the troubles the new vessel has encountered, the problem is still not completely solved as cars were still grounding on the low Spring tide.
Leaving East Cowes the road climbs to Whippingham before descending again to Wotton and then undulating roads all the way to Bembridge where an eclectic mix of of quirky houseboats line the harbour edge. Our coffee stop was The Tollgate Cafe overlooking the bay where coffee and cake was plentiful and very good value although our outside seats found us competing with Jackdaws for the cake, very tame and seemingly encouraged by the cafe staff throwing them titbits !!
Suitably refueled and more climbing out of Bembridge, a good view of Bembridge Windmill and the Airport before Gander Down and winding roads to Alverstone. As we were climbing the cloud was lowering over the downs and visibility was decreasing At Wroxall the drizzle started but at least it saved us from overheating on the climbs
Approaching Ventnor and another road closed sign but this time it did not affect progress, the mist had thickened and the sea had dissapeared, drizzle had become rain and at Blackgang a brief stop for a Kodak moment. I had made a rash statement last year that the lunch stop was from this point only a mile or so away at Brighstone and you could shout your lunch order in. It was considerably further and I was not going to be allowed to forget it so a photo of the spot for posterity.
From Blackgang there was a nice long downhill run to Chale before we turned inland to run parallel to the coast but on secondary roads.
At Little Atherfield my phone rang and it was Kaye who was already at the Three Bishops pub, the kitchen was closing shortly so if we wanted food it needed to be ordered so the “Fleet Food Of Champions”, Blackberry and Apple Crumble and Custard was ordered for all and the pace visibly quickened.
Walking into the pub out of the rain with your lunch on the table is very satisfying and it certainly hit the spot. Fed, watered and rested the peloton were ready for the final climbs up to the top of the Military Road and Compton Down before the fast downhill to Freshwater where the rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to break.
Through the village and a short run north up Pixley Hill from where it was a downhill freewheel all the way back to the ferry at Yarmouth.
A great day out in good company on the best roads I have cycled on in UK, drivers were patient, friendly and gave way to us cyclists and I cannot praise enough the effort the Island has gone to attract cyclists and walkers it is must for your cycling calendar.
We will be back next year and ride the route anti-clockwise as well as hopefully arranging a night-ride around The Island..