With the theme of cyclocross adventures running strong this winter we embarked on part two of our rambles. Like all the best silly rides this one started at 3:30am on a rather chilly (and windy) January morning.
The Isle of Wight is a distant shore made famous for not only having the worlds last remaining regular hovercraft service but also being the dinosaur capital of Great Britain and the scene of Jimi Hendrix's last live performance in the UK before his death three weeks afterwards. We had never before ventured to its shores and the 0715 Red Funnel ferry from Southampton to Cowes was not only loaded with egg, sausage and various other breakfast items, cooked and baked, but also anticipation.
Early beach work.
Our aim was to circumnavigate the island using as much bridalway and small roads as we could ending up back in Cowes, ideally before dark to get the ferry back to the mainland. With a bit of major road, some bridal way and other bits interspersed we had about 70 miles on the route and with a strong westerly blazing in off the Atlantic it was indeed tough going as we turned right off the ferry in Cowes.
The long and not very winding road
Hugging the coast we fought into the breeze until we reached the deserted Thorness Bay Holiday Park. We had reached it from the beach (because there is nothing better for ones drivetrain than a good dose of saltwater and sand) much like the French invasion of 1545, however we had not just sunk the Mary Rose and we weren't fought off by the local militia, they were busy painting holiday homes in preparation for the Spring.
Muddy by ways made up a lot of the early going.
The roads here seem to have been imported from the continent. Ribbons of pristine tarmac are strewn around the island (the roads really are in great condition) but we turned north into muddy woods as soon as we could because we're hardcore. As the northern half of the island consists of mostly clay the woodland seemed more familiar to the heavy Essex soil of home. We were now navigating to Yarmouth, a town reputedly burnt down by the French in 1544 who carried the church bells back to France. Since then Henry VIII built a gun platform to see off invaders to the solent and now hold the biannual Old Gaffers festival. Today however this town briefly boosted its population to 794 as we ground our salty drivetrains through main street and out toward the famed Needles, the most westerly point of the island.
The needles out there in the distance. The wind is pictured but not visible.
The way to the needles was made all the more treacherous when our route took us to the sea wall with nothing but a few feet of concrete separating us from miles and miles of vicious Atlantic fetch. The consequential game of chicken that was played with the waves crashing into the wall was foolish but entertaining with only one of us wearing one full in the face in a half mile run of the gauntlet.
The Needles are famed chalk stacks off the islands most western point. They are less needle like since a storm in 1764 where one of the pillars collapsed and presumable they are ever changing in one form or another. Perhaps more interestingly to those of a non geological background The Needles were used to test Britain's Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles between the 50's and the 70's with missiles built in East Cowes. Now the batteries lie demolished and disused but presumable ready to be resurrected post brexit. We rode as close to the point as we could and then made the turn back east and like those early rockets we took off with the wind now on our backs and our spirits high.
Stunning riding with the breeze and on the top of the downs.
The south of the island was much more pleasant with the wind behind but the route we had chosen was full of pit falls, hoof prints and punctures. The going was slow apart from the odd bit of downhill that wasn't swamped in cow excrement and some of the views spectacular. The highlight being High Down which stands imposing with the monument to Alfred Lord Tennyson towering at the top looking out to the ocean and the surrounding hills. We reached Chale at around half past two. Having navigated the odd hill and a golf course before hitching a ride on a tailwind to eat up some milage. However with six hours behind us and only two hours left of daylight our original route looked less and less likely to be achieved as we were only really half way round the island.
Racing along the downland.
At a well placed garage, like the early inhabitants of this fair isle, we too became hunter gatherers. It became clear there was a supermarket up the road and so it was that we were treated to an array of hot food including chicken curry slices and sausage rolls that were almost certainly fresh that week. At this point the decision was made to crack on using mainly roads. There wasn't a huge amount of mileage left in the day but to get all the way around we would have to stay predominantly on tarmac and cut off the nose of the island at Bembridge, go north from Sandown up to Ryde and back into Cowes from there. We certainly did have a ticket to Ryde. Off we went with the sun setting behind us we embarked upon our reroute. Suddenly the island seemed a lot smaller and we made it into Ryde with enough time in the bag to go to McDonalds for a coffee. It was all getting a bit Audaxy. We had conquered the hills of Ventnor and the south eastern coast and we were moving back toward Cowes after eight hours out on the bike that was soon to move closer to nine before returning back to the ferry terminal.
The south side of the island as the shadows grew longer.
The roads at this stage made our journey an awful lot quicker. A lap of the island solely on the road would be a relatively straightforward affair although doubtless a great day out. Today the road gave us the way to the exit and we had been defeated, by heavy ground and fading light. We also missed the ferry by an hour and had to thaw out over a round of Guinness before being served a cup of tea on the ferry by the same guy who did our breakfast.
"Good day?" He asked.
"Well we had a ferry good time!"
*most puns and gags courtesy of @tomikain & @dave_ellis16 (by most we mean all).