From Dave Gilchrist
Late May and once again time for the Round Isle of Wight cycle ride. Only this year the challenge was to complete the whole circumnavigation rather than just the eastern ‘half’ which was the route last year.To have any chance of achieving this we all had to assemble at the Lymington ferry by 08h30 on Monday morning. A very early start for Richard Williams, Andy Lacy, John Ellis and Dave Gilchrist whilst Joe Coulson wisely opted for driving down the day prior and checking in to the Lymington Premier Inn overnight! Sadly our 6th member, Kerry Hastings, had to cancel at the last minute due to, yes you’ve guessed it ---C...d!!!
09h30 saw us all depart from Yarmouth ferry terminal led by our very capable and IOW veteran Richard who once again led and navigated the group without making a single wrong turning throughout the 2 days. Late coffee on the promenade at Cowes followed by walking our trusty steeds through the charming and interesting centre of Cowes which was buzzing with tourist life in the sunshine, culminates in our crossing the river Medina by the chain ferry. This quaint mode of travel still provides a most valuable service in connecting the 2 halves of Cowes. A change of scenery for the next hour or so saw us heading inland, passing Osborne House (Queen Victoria’s favourite abode in the latter years of her reign), cycling through Ryde where we regained the coast then stopping for lunch at our favourite spot with lovely views north across Spithead to the Solent forts and Portsmouth in the distance.
The afternoon saw us taking in Seaview, St Helens and the picturesque harbour at Bembridge before finally heading west in a cool SW breeze. Several fairly steep hills (given our mileage they certainly felt that way) now had to be ‘beaten’ before we made a timely 16h00 arrival at Sandown where we had our overnight resting place booked. Our hoped for round of the putting green sadly wasn’t to be achieved due to the early closing but we nevertheless enjoyed our well-earned ice cream before finding our hotel. There isn’t space here to relate an account of the ensuing evening’s activities but suffice to say a pleasant time was spent by all!! Just to whet your appetite, a few games of pool were played in a local hostelry. Richard and Dave being the novices were respectively coached by John and Andy. The challenge match that followed was entertaining, even nail-biting (for some!) and is history, no doubt going to be repeatedly brought up in the future by the victors. Say no more!
Tuesday dawned and and after an excellent breakfast we resumed our westerly cycle along the south coast of the island. Richard had briefed us that today’s ride wouldn’t be as hilly as yesterday’s! Well, we shall see! Initially heading inland along the disused railway line meant we avoided the busy town of Shanklin but the country lanes did mean one or two or more hills! Regaining the coast at Ventnor we continued making a long-awaited and much needed coffee break at Niton thereby rou ding St Catherines Point, the most southerly part of the island. The long and grinding Blackgang road climb was rewarded with amazing views west towards Freshwater and beyond. There followed a further venture inland with yet another change of scenery taking us through rustic hamlets and back lanes to Yafford and Brightstone where we enjoyed the hospitality and lunch cuisine of ‘The Three Bishops’. Revitalised and refreshed (much needed energy for the tiring and aching legs!) we continued ever westward with of course the occasional hill to keep us company. To be fair it must be impossible to avoid them especially in the SW corner of the island.
Richard had casually mentioned in his Informal briefings that there would be a point during this section where we had a choice of 3 different routes back to Yarmouth! Two were via metalled roads with the third an adventurous off-road option with sensational views! You can imagine no doubt at this point that we were suckered into taking the final route with the promise of incredible land and seascape views! The off-road turned out to be very challenging with a severe uphill steep section of rutted chalk track amusingly named ‘Tennyson’s Way’. We all dismounted and pushed our loaded cycles up what seemed at the time to be, a track which ended in the sky!! Credit where due, the stunning views from the top made the toil worthwhile,....we think? Highdown Cliffs revealed themselves ( hiding the NW facing ‘Needles’) in all their splendour, very steep chalk cliffs which must surely challenge the White Cliffs of Dover? Beyond on the mainland the Purbecks of Dorset with St Albans Head a distant 25 miles away.
Our goal of Yarmouth lay tantalisingly only 2-3 miles to the north -but that of course was as the crow flies! Our route would be at least 3 times that but happily at long last we had a fast downhill stretch past the golf course to Freshwater Bay. Here, again happily for aching muscles, we turned North and out of the challenging head-on westerly . Our final stretch followed the disused Freshwater-Yarmouth railway line giving us a by now most welcome flat section allowing us to arrive at the ferry terminal in good time for, yes you’ve guessed, time to enjoy another ice cream before boarding the ferry for Lymington.
A very big thankyou to Richard for managing and organising an amazing and hugely enjoyable cycle ride. He even sorted the weather for us all with hardly a drop of rain falling despite all the forecasts to the contrary!