BROMPTON ISLAND: THE ISLE OF WIGHT

There it is simply 'The Island'. Elsewhere it is called the Isle of Wight. Some see it purely as a holiday playground, but people live and work there. For cyclists, there is the Wayfarers' Cycle Touring Club. Each year, generally during the Mayday weekend, they host a Randonee: two events of 55 or 100 km with multiple starting/finishing points. 

 

Intending to ride this for the first time, Mark Jacobson, decided to combine it with completion of the Wight clues on the British Cycle Quest, so arrived several days ahead of the main event.

Did you know that the ferry price is included in the train ticket price, as a free extra? The train fare to Southampton from home is exactly the same as to Cowes. With the chain bridge over the Medina, between East and West Cowes inoperable, I chose to purchase my ticket for East Cowes, and to start my Sunday's Randonee at Wootton, where there is an excellent camp site at Kite Hill farm.

 

After an uneventful train journey, even quicker as a result of cycling to the ferry for a sailing an hour ahead of the proscribed time, I soon rode the 5 miles to Kite Hill. Gladly I found a secluded pitch. Once set up, tea was called for, so I tried the nearby Haven Street Railway: here I was allowed to access the cafe without paying the entrance fee!

 

Next day I decided to try for the remaining five Quests, which would entail riding from east to west, starting at Culver Down, from where the view over Sandown Bay is superb. Between there and Godshill one uses the Adgestone Quiet Road, where motorists are requested to take care and keep below 15 mph. The irony is that not far beyond this sign is an end of speed limit one.

 

This narrow lane passes a farm with Highland cattle grazing, while further on are sheep. Very little traffic was encountered, and I have to record that during the whole of my time on The Island I had no issues with drivers, who behaved very considerately. Having set off very early, I reached Godshill before 10 am and felt in need of sustenance. Apparently, apart from the Old Smithy Cafe, off to the side of a car park, the other cafes, of which there are many, only open at 10:30 am or even later.

The Red Squirrel Trail took me northwards towards Newport. Mostly a good hard-packed surface, this off-road route had two difficult places, one with new-laid, deep gravel, the other an area of soft sand, both of which would be very difficult to navigate by cycle, thinking of the riders who would use this on Sunday as it forms part of the 55 km Randonee route.

 

Newport itself is a traffic jam! I eventually found my way out through Carisbrooke to Calbourne for another Quest. En route the road passes through a deep cutting, the banks of which were ablaze with white garlic flowers, repeated a little further on where a woodland floor was a mass of white. Earlier in the day there had been a profusion of deep blue English bluebells, and, if it's not a contradiction, some white bluebells. Rarely, I also saw one or two pink bluebells. Another wayside flower in evidence was red campion, and plenty of small white flowers which I did not identify. The umbellifers where only just developing the floral buds.

Calbourne is just off the Freshwater road, and boasts a narrow lane, houses to one side, stream to the other, called 'Winkle Lane'. Leaving there, the steep hills behind me and the rolling countryside led me to Freshwater, at the western extremity of The Island, just south of The Needles. I had visited all this some 27 years ago. Now the traffic appeared far kinder to cyclists, but the hills seemed to have steepened! Perhaps the valleys have subsided.

 

Between Freshwater and Yarmouth the cycle route follows a former rail bed. In the Railway Cafe at Freshwater, a poster advertising a week's travel on all the Island tracks showed the price of 8/- (40p)! Unfortunately this did not give the date.

 

My ride to West Cowes was interrupted by a road closure: the PC at the point of closure allowed me through, despite there being an accident ahead, as there was no suitable alternative cycling route: the investigating officer was not best pleased, but allowed me through under escort.

 

With the chain ferry absent on the Medina between West and East Cowes, the only direct connection is the passenger ferry, which takes bikes despite being a fairly small vessel. I folded the Brompton but there were four other bikes on board, so it was a bit of a crush!

 

Having had quite a hard day's riding, next day I simply took a short ride to Ryde, via little lanes. Once there I found an open cafe and then used the coastal route to Seaview, and back again, a very pleasant potter. The tide was out. Did you know that the Solent has a double high tide? These come with the flood and the ebb in the Channel. However, this is of no consequence to the hover ferry from Portsmouth, which merely has a differing length of beach to surmount after flying over the water.

 

The Randonee attracts many riders but, fortunately, has a number of different starting points around the route, helping to spread the crowds somewhat. I started at Wootton, the checkpoint being on our camping field. This was ideal for me, since, instead of waiting to start at 9 am, I was able to obtain my brevet card early, and so was off at 7:45 am! By the time I reached Bembridge, other, faster, riders were catching me up. Further on, beyond Godshill, I came upon an accident scene: approaching downhill to an intersection, a cyclist had ridden into the rear of a car.

 

The wind was strongly out of the east, so from Upper Ventnor, when not down in a deep valley, this aided our westward riding. This was a long stretch between checkpoints, 20 miles to Yarmouth, with one long climb, but not steep as in the eastern side of the island. Groups of 'roadies' kept passing me again and again: they were stopping for stragglers or else for chats, so I gained on them, from time to time.

 

The rain began at 1 pm. Having caped up I then followed the diversion through Newport (the chain ferry not being available, as previously mentioned), passing an elderly rider close to the finish. He turned out to be the oldest Wayfarer Club member at 84, and had started almost an hour before me, doing well to complete the full 66 mile circuit. The Island is not easy cycling terrain with short sharp inclines everywhere.

Next day I disembarked from the ferry in Southampton and, more or less, followed NCN236 until close to Netley Marsh, from where I gained access to the New Forest for the Rufus Stone, site of the death of William Rufus in a hunting accident - supposedly. Lanes due north took me on to Danebury Hill before I turned eastward for Winchester. The town centre was packed: pedestrians everywhere, earlier Triathlon, town walks, and something about a May Day Countryside Day. Vintage buses took passengers out to view the countryside through glass windows. Sorry, not my style.

 

After camping at Morn Hill Caravan Club site (yes, they take non-members and tents!) I proceeded along the Itchen Valley to Alresford and then Selbourne. The former is at one end of the Watercress Line and is noted for both watercress beds and mistletoe garlands decorating the trees! The latter is the last resting place of Gilbert White, regarded as the first British naturalist, who both lived and worked in Selbourne. Lanes then took me to Basingstoke and my train home. I had succeeded in revisiting The Island, completing the Randonee, and toting up another eleven Quests.

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