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Cycle from Chale to Fishbourne (counter-clockwise)

25 September 2011

I cannot remember what time we had planned to get up this morning. At 7:40, we're woken by the fire alarm, which I first assume to be Gareth's alarm clock. It is silenced fairly promptly, but sounds again at 8:00. At 8:30, we head to a substantial breakfast of cereal, fruit, toast and the full English.

It's another fine day, sunshine and mild, as we eventually depart at about 10:15. There's a large car boot sale happening in the field next door, attracting many oncoming coaches as we head east towards Ventnor on the second leg of our counter-clockwise tour of the island. Almost immediately, we begin a long climb, rising above Blackgang and the town of Ventor.

Ventnor is a notable seaside resort on the Isle of Wight, with its sheltered location providing a microclimate which affords it more sunshine than most of the UK. While we would love to explore this intriguing town, our route takes us along the top of the cliffs and we're not inclined to go all the way down to the centre only to have to return back up.

The views from this part of the route are extraordinary. However, just after Ventnor, the cycle route takes us further inland, on to undulating country lanes. Although we miss the sea views, the roads here are fun and fast.

At Wroxall, we struggle for the first time with signage. It would emerge later that the "Round the Island" sign is badly placed here. We've missed a turn and accidentally ended up on the "Sunshine Trail" route instead, which leads us to the Falconry Centre at Appuldurcombe House.

We enquire for directions at the Falconry Centre. We're not the first cyclists to end up here, and the best way forward is apparently to persist on the farm tracks, which will eventually lead us back on to the "Round the Island" route.

We pass a local man on his bike as we head away again and, shortly after, we're confronted by an oncoming motorist. The track is narrow, but this woman is making no effort to allow us to pass. It becomes apparent why.

As we struggle up the embankment and out of her way, she winds down her window. Not for a courteous "thank you", but to announce that cycling is not permitted here. Apparently we're on her land and she's prepared to call the police.

She is clearly unwilling to enter in to any discussion on the matter so we dismiss her as a grumpy old hag and continue on our way, as she does on hers. After passing through an imposing gate, we're on a narrow downhill stretch through dense forest.

Although we are considerate of many walkers coming in the opposite direction, some evil stares suggest to me that they share the earlier motorist's opinion of cyclists.

Our slower pace has allowed the old man that we passed earlier to catch up with us. He explains that he cycles this way every single day and every day he is told off by the "wicked witch of Appuldurcombe", as she is affectionately known locally. Apparently she's something of a local celebrity.

So we can safely laugh off her threats of police intervention as we continue to the end of the track. It leads us on to a road at last, where we are relieved to once again find the familiar blue and white sign-posting that we've grown so fond of since yesterday.

We've been aiming for lunch in Bembridge, on the easternmost point of the island but, upon reaching the village, find no place open. We continue round the bay, along the cycle route towards St Helens, a small village based around a huge central green. There are few restaurants but, as we begin to lose hope, we spot a sign for the Bay Watch Café, located on the beach below the village.

The road down to the beach is frustratingly long (after all, we're going to have to come back up here shortly). And, with no one around, we're beginning to doubt whether the café is even open. But moments later, we arrive at the bay and find a bustling little place, surrounded by some scattered picnic tables behind a wide beach.

I order fish and chips while Gareth opts for a sandwich. Both meals are tasty, portions are good and the bill is reasonable. This isolated place was certainly worth the detour. After a leisurely hour on the water front, the weather begins to turn and we must make a move.

From St Helens, the "Round the Island" route goes inland again all the way to Cowes, where we took the chain ferry yesterday. The port of Fishbourne, our destination today, is not on the route itself but is signposted from just before Wooton Bridge.

Just after the village of Nettlestone, for the second time today, we get in to difficulty with the signage. Ever since the beginning, we've struggled a little bit to differentiate the blue-on-white and white-on-blue signs from each other.

At the top of a long hill lined with single-storey suburban houses (Gregory Avenue), we're dismayed to find a counter-clockwise arrow pointing us right back down where we came from. So we reluctantly descend to re-examine the sign that led us up there.

Back down at the bottom of the hill, we are reassured that the counter-clockwise arrow is clearly pointing upwards and therefore the signage at the top must somehow have been reversed. So up we go again, and continue on the route.

A further sign confirms we're on the right track. As we reach the Elmfield neighbourhood of Ryde, we decide to break away from the "Round the Island" route for the last time. The official route bypasses the town of Ryde but we're going to break away and head in to the largest town of the island and then along the coast to Fishbourne.

We eventually roll in to central Ryde at 15:00, along a long downhill avenue lined by large Victoria houses. The town seems eerily quiet and feels a bit like suburban America. There is no public transport in evidence and few pedestrians. As we reach the esplanade, we're in for another surprise, as the tide is out and the sea is barely visible beyond the expansive sandy beach.

We continue along the sea front to Ryde pier (the fourth longest in the UK). It's a timber structure, opened in 1814, and now features a parallel railway pier, for trains to reach Ryde Pier Head station, where the two piers come together at a catamaran port. Due to a low tunnel on the Island Line, which links Ryde Pier Head to Shanklin, old London Underground stock is used. We cycle to the end of the pier to catch a glimpse of the trains, currently refurbished 1938 units.

There are also good views of the Portsmouth skyline from Ryde, as we continue towards the west and out of the town. It's a half hour ride to Fishbourne, where we arrive just in time to join the 16:30 ferry, which is about to sail.


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Isle of Wight by bike

Article location

View from above Blackgang

Isle of Wight Owl and Falconry Centre

Freemantle Gate

A deisgnated "quiet road"

Lunch in St Helens

Sands in Ryde, Portsmouth skyline on horizon

Ryde Pier

Old London Underground train on Island Line