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Plan your cycle ride around the Isle of Wight

26 September 2011

We've had a wonderful weekend cycling around the island. The hilly terrain has been slightly more challenging than we had anticipated but the signposting has been very good, save one exception.

We detoured from the official Round the Island route a couple of times, to visit the Needles and the town of Ryde. Without those detours, the route is 100 km long, and could even be completed by a fit cyclist in one day. Alternatively, there are shortcuts on either side of the island, allowing you to shave the eastern and western extremities off your ride.

The route is signposted in both directions and can easily be reached from the Fishbourne and Yarmouth ferry terminals. Here are some additional details to help you plan your own ride around the island.

Passenger services to the Isle of Wight

  • All services are operated by WightLink.
  • Car ferries run from Portsmouth to Fishbourne (that's the service we used) and from Lymington (in the New Forest) to Yarmouth.
  • Portsmouth to Fishbourne takes about 45 minutes while Lymington to Yarmouth takes about 35 minutes. There is usually at least one sailing per hour on each of these routers.
  • A return foot passenger ticket costs £16.60 (September 2011) and allows travel on any inbound crossing within 90 days of the outbound sailing. Foot passengers can take their bike for free.
  • There is also a frequent catamaran service from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier. However, due to space constraints, bicycles cannot be carried on board the catamaran.

Route and accommodation

  • Due to (mostly) clear signposting, the route requires almost no preparation. A map of the Round the Island route can be downloaded from the local council's website.
  • The route around the island includes two official shortcuts. One on the eastern side, between Newbridge and Mottistone, and the other on the western side, between Alverstone and Havenstreet.
  • The former will skip the quaint town of Yarmouth and the beautiful Freshwater Bay. The latter avoids Bembridge and St. Helens. These are some of the most scenic parts of the route so I highly recommend against using the shortcuts.
  • However, the "shortcuts" can instead be used to make mini loops on either extremity of the island. For example, from Fishbourne, head to Newchurch, then round the anticlockwise route through Yarbridge, Bembridge, St. Helens and Nettlestone, and back to Havenstreet. This is ideal for inexperienced cyclists who do not want to commit to touring the island.
  • In addition, there are a number of much shorter cycle routes on the island. These are listed on the CycleWight website and are also shown on the "Round the Island" map.
  • There are a number of websites offering accommodation on the island. Island Breaks is the official provider and WightLink also offer a directory of hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs, as well as a list of campsites on the island.
  • We booked Chale Bay Farm directly. This B&B is almost exactly half way around the route and is conveniently located across the road from a large country pub.
  • If you're planning to stay overnight (and especially if you're going to finish quite late), make sure that your accommodation is near to a pub or restaurant. There can be many miles in between eateries and the roads usually lack street lighting, making them very dangerous to cycle on at night.

Suggestions

  • If you're travelling down to the coast by car, park up a little way from the ferry terminal to avoid parking charges. Many roads in Southsea do not have restrictions at weekends, and it will only take about 10 minutes to cycle from there to the port of Portsmouth.
  • The port is also served by Portsmouth Harbour railway station, offering direct trains to London Waterloo (3 per hour), London Victoria (1 per hour), Brighton (1 per hour) and Cardiff Central via Bristol (1 per hour).
  • Foot passenger fares on WightLink do not increase in price as the travel date approaches. So there is no need to book in advance (although you may avoid queues at the port if you do book online).
  • In addition, the return foot passenger ticket is valid on any crossing in the 90 days following your outward journey. You do not need to book a specific return time, just take the next available ferry when you arrive back in Fishbourne.
  • The cycle route is signposted both clockwise and anticlockwise. We chose the latter for our tour, but I plan to try the opposite direction at a later date.
  • The route uses a combination of quiet country lanes, moderately-busy roads and dirt tracks. Unsurprisingly, we found the heaviest traffic was on the northern section near Fishbourne.
  • The route is often rural, with few shops and restaurants. Plan your lunch stop ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
  • Avoid travelling to the island during the Isle of Wight Festival, held each June. The event attracts about 60,000 revellers, causing congestion on the island and a lack of available accommodation.
  • If you have time, I highly recommend deviating from the route to see the Needles, on the far western tip of the island. It's also worth visiting Ventnor, on the southern coast, and the seaside town of Ryde, to the east of Fishbourne.

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