Three of the best cycling routes in the South Downs
Whether you're looking for family friendly rides or challenging endurance rides, there's something for everyone in the stunning South Downs National Park.
Steven Rittey, from Wheel2Wheel Holidays based in Manchester, is back with a ride around the Isle of Wight...
I have lived in Manchester for over ten years, but my ‘family home’ is Gosport on England’s South Coast. As I have grown older, I can clearly see the benefits of growing up there - A beachside school, lots of open green spaces and one of the most nicest harbours in the country to watch the ships pass by. It is also a peninsula and has a proud Naval heritage with close links to Portsmouth.
However, one place that always seemed strangely distant and very different to the ‘mainland’ was the Isle of Wight. Less than ten miles from Portsmouth by catamaran or hovercraft and clearly visible right across the Solent area, the island has always felt like another place altogether.With this thought in mind, I had decided to take my bike home with me over the May Bank Holiday weekend. I planned to spend a good day following much of the 100km ‘Taste Around the Island’ route interspersed with deviations on the busier ‘A’ roads which I knew offered the long hilly drags that I enjoy
I set off on an overcast Saturday on the Wightlink catamaran from Portsmouth Harbour. The Solent was fairly choppy and standing on the top deck with SPD shoes on is not advised! There were a couple of other cyclists on-board heading over for the official CTC Wayfarer Randonnee on the Sunday. I reached Ryde about 20 minutes later and rode along the pier to ‘land’. I decided to head west towards Cowes via Newport before working my way down to Alum Bay and the iconic Needles. The Isle of Wight is a great place for walking too and as I approached Cowes, the home of the famous sailing regatta, there were many walkers taking part in a walk around the island. Hats off if you took part! There is also a steam railway and a short railway that uses original rolling stock from the London Underground that forms the ‘Island Line’.
One of the most iconic sights on the island is Alum Bay and the Needles. This cliff outcrop is where the famous coloured sand originates from and is National Trust property. I stopped for a drink up here as the view from the road to the former rocket testing and radar station is awesome. The hardest stretch on the ‘Around the Island’ route is from Freshwater Bay to Ventnor. Unfortunately, I had a strong headwind to contend with, so could not admire the views as much as I would have liked, but it was great riding so close to the sea before stopping off in the seaside Ventnor for lunch.
The Isle of Wight is known to be one of the sunniest places in the U.K and I was not let down as I approached Ryde. The golden sands glistened in the sun as scores of motorbikers, Lambretta riders and Triumph vintage car owners passed me on one of their annual Bank Holiday pilgrimages at the end of the ride.
I decided to head back to the ‘mainland’ on the Car Ferry from Fishbourne which takes slightly longer with my bike perched on the bow door, but is more of a leisurely cruise into Old Portsmouth across the Solent. You also get a great view of Portsmouth’s iconic Spinnaker Tower from the upper deck, Southsea Common and the new Ben Ainslie America’s Cup sailing centre.
The Isle of Wight is described as ‘England in miniature’ and I think this is a perfectly apt title. If you live in the South East and are looking for a cycling day trip, then going to the Isle of Wight should be at the top of your list. You could also do a detour to visit my hometown of Gosport too. There is over 24 miles of coastline, a few old railway lines that are now cycle paths and the sunset over Stokes Bay is one that always sticks in my mind.