Two midweek meanderers go mad on the Isle of Wight!!
Shortly after the epic trip around Brittany in August 2012, MM Tom suggested to fellow MM Pete T. that they should consider a circular ride around the Isle of Wight in late October. As (bad) luck would have it, Tom came off his bike on 30 September, which resulted in surgery for detached ligaments in his left hand. So, the idea of an IOW trip got mothballed, only to be resurrected post-Xmas. Following advice from a cycling acquaintance of Tom’s to avoid the IOW tourist season, because ‘coach drivers don’t take any prisoners’, Tom and Pete settled provisionally on 18/19 March, weather permitting. In the middle of the previous week, with a forecast for cloudy but dry weather, ferry and accommodation bookings were made; cycle route maps downloaded, panniers packed, mobile phones charged, etc.
8.30 a.m. Tuesday 18th. saw the dynamic duo set off for Lymington, Hants. – departure point for the ferry. Arriving somewhat early for the 10.45 boat, some R&R was had courtesy of the port’s Costa coffee franchise. The ‘voyage’ proceeded at a snail’s pace slightly faster than swimming, and we disembarked at Yarmouth – a lovely little port at the far western end of the island at 11.30 a.m.
Pete had done a fabulous job of downloading and printing off sectional maps of the island’s coastline, so all we had to do was follow them. However, we immediately went slightly off-piste in order to visit the Needles rock outcrop and lighthouse (see pics.). In the interests of sticking to a loose timetable for the day’s riding, we forewent a side trip to Freshwater Bay – scene of a number of Tom’s 1950’s childhood holidays – when paddle steamer ferries still made the crossings!
We soon got into our stride, averaging around 10 miles per hour over heavily potholed roads – as we would find out the following day, the IOW is a place of two halves, with the south of the island being the poorer relation. Soon we began encountering flooded roads – the result of both recent rain, but also snow melt from the blizzards that hammered the south of the island a week previously. From time to time we came across the remains of snowdrifts still clinging to the roadsides (see pic.).
Much of the south IOW is quite like rural Dorset – much agriculture, many small villages, a few towns – e.g. Ventnor – and with terrain that was mostly gently undulating rather than outright hilly – that would come on Day 2!
Arriving at Shanklin, our overnight destination, we realised that the combined effect of floods, rain, road dirt, etc. had led to us resembling a pair of war-weary fugitives, so we set off to find a pressure washer facility with which we might smarten ourselves and our steeds up before heading for the B&B. Several false leads confirmed no such facility was to be found in the town, so having been advised that there were free showers available on the beach we headed there ‘toot sweet’. Yes the showers were there – securely locked up for the winter!
Adopting a Baldrick-like pose, I put to Pete my cunning plan – i.e. that we should fill our empty drinking bottles with seawater and pour the contents over our bikes and selves. So, much to the amusement of the few hardy souls sheltering from the now steady rainfall, we did just that. The operation was successful enough to render us almost human in appearance, so we pedaled off to find ‘The Swiss Cottage’, our resting place for the night.
We’d booked our one night stay by phone; although initially reluctant to accept a one-night booking out of season, when we arrived our hosts Keith and Christine could not have been more welcoming. We had an en-suite room that was wonderfully warm after a day spent in near-zero temperatures, with plenty of hot water for showers and kit washing. Later they recommended a fabulous pub close by – The Crab Inn -, with a great Monday night meal deal and locally-brewed real ale – bliss! After a very comfortable night’s sleep we enjoyed an excellent freshly cooked full English breakfast. All for the princely sum of £36 each!
10.00 a.m. Tuesday morning saw us heading due east then north through Sandown, Ryde and Cowes. With a deadline of 3.30 p.m. for re-arriving at Yarmouth to catch our homewards ferry, this was not a day for meandering. However, as we skirted Bembridge our curiosity got the better of us as we spotted an ancient windmill. As luck would have it, Pete had his National Trust card with him so he was swiftly dispatched to climb the mill’s interior and take pics from its highest viewing point. Sadly, he couldn’t find it, so all we have is a shot of the wonderful old windmill taken from its base (see pic).
As the morning turned to early afternoon, we began to realise that the northern half of the island is both much hillier than the south, much more built-up, and thus home to an awful lot of traffic. Our attempts in West Cowes to get away from the latter came to nothing, and we agreed to keep to the main roads in the interest of both speed and not getting lost. Several buses attempted to take us out with barely disguised side-wipes at our panniers; however, the Brittany trip had ensured we were up to avoiding such dastardly tactics, and soon we were on less busy roads. Hill after hill came and went, leaving us wondering if we would ever have more than 200 metres of flat road to ride. Then, suddenly we were on the home stretch, finally seeing road signs giving mileages, and on good, gently rolling surfaces. The last eight miles into Yarmouth was probably the easiest and most enjoyable of the whole trip, made better only by arriving at the quaint little port in brilliant sunshine.
We had originally planned to change out of our sweat-soaked cycling clothes on the ferry, but once again adopting a Baldrick persona, Tom blagged us into the visiting yachties facilities, where for the sum of £1.30 each we enjoyed steaming hot showers. Emerging feeling – if not looking – like a million dollars, we headed to a harbourside pub, where we had what Pete dubbed a ‘Bloke Lunch’ – i.e. a pint of real ale and a giant bag of crisps each! Later this was topped off with a local ice cream before we set sail for Lymington and eventually a 6.30 p.m. re-entry to Poundland. A spiffing trip all round.