The Isle of Adventure: A Bike Overnight on the U.K.'s Isle of Wight

A taster into cycle touring in the south of the United Kingdom, channeling the Famous Five with bikes and tents ...

Bicycle Adventurers: Worrybomb and Worrybomb’s Dad

When: June 2017

Accommodations: Camping: Ninham Country Holidays Cafes: Pedallers Cafe and Quay Arts

Distance: 40 miles, 20 each way

Bonus tip for this adventure:

  • Cycling out of the campsite to get to the Morrisons supermarket can be hairy on the busy A3056 highway, but there is a bridleway/equestrian route which runs from the campsite west and then north — only partially metalled/paved tracks, but very passable after a few days sun.
  • Sun cream! Remember to put it on yourself as well as your kids. If you don’t, you get interesting sunburn lines!

Day One

We traveled south by train from our home in Basingstoke to the port city of Southampton. The trip is easy and most trains have some cycle storage — not as good as the old guards wagons, but it’s a start, err?

A ten-minute cycle from the train station through the West Quay shops, all off road on cycle tracks, got us to the Red Funnel terminal, Dock Gate 7. Crossing to the Isle of Wight by this ferry is pretty cheap, costing £28 for return tickets for us both. Cycles normally board first and exit first, so it’s nice and easy. We dropped off the bikes on the car deck and went upstairs to get something to eat and have a look around.

The weather was bright, a little cloudy, but a nice, late spring day, ideal for cycling. The crossing was calm and easy and we were soon in the Isle of Wight’s seaport town of Cowes. We were to follow the Red Squirrel Trail. Most of it is along the route of an old railway line. It starts on the other side of the Medina River in Cowes, so after a short hop over the river in the chain ferry or the little water shuttle, and we were off.

The first mile or so is a quiet residential area of West Cowes, but very soon, you turn off the roads and onto a good tarmacked track. Once you are on the trail, the riding is easy. You will see lots of people using the route for work and for leisure. It’s wide enough to ride side by side and is straight and pretty flat. You get occasional glimpses of the river on your left as you go. It’s lovely, easy riding.

After about five miles, you reach the town of Newport. The route in is a bit industrial, but it’s pretty quiet out of rush hour times. We passed a nice looking pub The Bargeman’s Rest, and stopped very briefly outside Quay Arts, but didn’t go in to either as we ate on the ferry coming out, but we filed the locations away for the trip home.

From here, it’s an easy ride, crossing lots of roads in the town center, but all marked with a wide cycle lane and sign posted route towards the next section of the old railway. As you leave the town the trail is a little narrower, but it’s well paved and easy riding still. Several pieces of trackside art can be seen. The scary eel is very good.

It’s about four miles crisscrossing the river and in one section, a bit of bridleway track. It’s not too rough, but needs careful riding if you have a light or fragile bike. The smooth tarmac soon reappears and the section ends at the site of Merstone Station. All that’s left of this once busy intersection is one of the platforms. It’s a lovely place to stop, and you can sit on the old platform next to a few bits of stone luggage to enjoy a snack.

Although you don’t really feel it, this area is the end of the Medina River and its watershed and the start of the River Yar's drainage. So it’s a very gentle downward ride for a few miles. We stopped at the wonderful Pedallers Cafe in Langbridge. It’s a great little place with a good range of local food and beer. It has bike tools to tinker, if needed, and a loo. We ate here, and rested for the climb to come. You can get to the campsite on a flatter route, but it misses this cafe and having been here before I wanted to go back to this good place to stop.

We carried on along the old railway to Alverstone. From here, we were on small roads. We headed up the hill towards Winford. It’s steep in places, but shaded in parts. After Winford, the busy junction at Apse Heath is easy if you use the crossing near to the corner shop, Rajs Premier.

From here, it’s downhill. You can use the A3056 highway, but it’s not very wide and looked pretty fast, not ideal for an eight year old and my well-packed bike, so we went south on Ventnor Road and took the bridleway east to the campsite. It’s a bit rough in places, but traffic free. The descent down to the campsite is a little steep, but we coped easily. It’s sandy and seems to dry quickly.

We checked in to the reception, much better rates if you’re on foot or bike compared to car, and for the small fee, you get to make use of the outdoor heated pool, play areas, climbing wall, and wonderfully clean showers and loos. There is wifi in and around the pool, TV, and games room. The only thing they don't have is a shop, but as the supermarket Morrisons is just a mile away, this isn’t too much of a hardship.

The campsite is big and well spaced out. It’s a family site, not noisy and not overly regimented. We loved it and had great fun in the pool winding down.

Day Two

We stayed for two nights here, costing about 30 pounds I think, for the two of us. The site is very keen on recycling and uses rainwater for the loos and gives you bags to help with recycling when you arrive. It’s all kept very clean and the loos and showers look brand new. They are not. They are just well maintained.

Day Three

The route back was the reverse of the one we came in on. The push up to the bridleway from the campsite was hard, but over quickly and by the time we had passed Winford it was all downhill from there. We were too early to pop into Pedallers again, (it opens at 10:00, I think ), so we kept going to Newport where we stopped, taking our bikes into the riverside courtyard, at the cafe at Quay Arts. We ate and had a drink there (with ice cream) before heading back down the Medina to Cowes and the ferry home to Southampton and train back home.

Your favorite local bike shop? There are lots of bike shops and hire places on the island.

Bike overnight tips and tricks? Always take your Flossie! You can’t go wrong with your favorite stuffed sheep to keep you company.


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