UK National Cycle Route 23: Part 2 - Sandown to East Cowes, Isle of Wight Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

UK National Cycle Route 23: Part 2 - Sandown to East Cowes, Isle of Wight

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UK National Cycle Route 23
Introduction | Sandown to East Cowes, Isle of Wight
Southampton to Eastleigh, Hampshire | Eastleigh to Alresford, Hampshire via Winchester
Alresford to Basingstoke, Hampshire | Basingstoke, Hampshire to Reading, Berkshire

Signs showing how far Sandown and Newport are along National Cycle Route 23

National Cycle Route 23 is part of the UK's National Cycle Network. It takes cyclists from the picturesque seaside resort of Sandown on the Isle of Wight to Reading in Berkshire, covering 80 miles in total. This Entry describes the first section of the route, an easy, fairly flat and quiet 15-mile trip to East Cowes via the towns of Newport and Cowes along the bed of a former railway line, ending at the car ferry to Southampton, Hampshire. It can easily be cycled in an hour and a half at a leisurely speed of 10mph, although time should be allowed for the crossing of the Medina on the floating bridge.


The route starts at the coastal resort of Sandown. Although the site of a fishing village and a castle between 1545 and 1901, the town really developed in the Victorian era after the construction of the railway. With five miles of golden sand on offer, Sandown is one of the Island's main beach resorts and has many of the typical seaside attractions such as a pier, sticks of rock, crazy golf and putting greens. It is also popular for the Isle of Wight Zoo, built in the former Sandown Fort, and for a second Victorian fort, Sandown Barrack Battery which is now a park. Its most recent attraction is Dinosaur Isle, a Pterosaur-shaped dinosaur museum.

Sandown has numerous hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts and holiday chalets, so it is a good place for cyclists wishing to stay there before their journey.

Getting to Sandown With a Bike

Obviously, to start the cycle route at Sandown, you must somehow get there. If you live in Sandown, or have already arrived there, you can skip this section!

To get to the Isle of Wight there are six ferry routes available. Five of these allow the transport of bicycles:

  • Lymington to Yarmouth – cars and pedestrians
  • Southampton to East Cowes – cars and pedestrians
  • Portsmouth to Fishbourne – cars and pedestrians
  • Portsmouth to Ryde Pier Head – pedestrians only
  • Southsea to Ryde Esplanade – pedestrians only

On all of these, bicycles can be carried for the same fee as a pedestrian. The Southampton to Cowes passenger ferry, not listed above, does not permit the carriage of bicycles, with the exception of folding bicycles that collapse into bags.

Once on the Island, the easiest way to get yourself and your bicycle to Sandown, other than by cycling, is by train. Although most of the Isle of Wight's railways were demolished by the end of the 1960s, the route from Ryde to Sandown still exists. It is possible to take bicycles on the Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier Head high speed passenger ferry. The hovercraft from Southsea also carries bicycles free of charge to Ryde Esplanade. Both Ryde Pier Head and Ryde Esplanade have train stations, and cyclists are allowed to take bikes on the train to Sandown.

Please note, however, that there is a limit to the number of bicycles that the passenger ferry, hovercraft and train can carry. Although there is not normally a problem, in busy times such as during the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival and Randonnée the carriage of bicycles on these vehicles is often on a first come, first served basis.

Bicycles can of course be carried in cars on the car ferries and it is easy to drive to Sandown. Similarly Sandown can be cycled to from anywhere on the Isle of Wight.

Cycling on the Isle of Wight

Despite being only 23 miles by 13 miles at its widest points, the diamond-shaped Isle of Wight has over 200 miles of well maintained cycle paths and bridleways, not to mention the countless quiet country roads perfect for cyclists to enjoy. As an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Island offers breathtaking coastal scenery for cyclists to enjoy, although National Route 23 avoids the coast.

The Isle of Wight has long been a popular destination for cyclists. Since the early 1980s, the Isle of Wight Randonnée takes place every May. Over 2,000 cyclists participate in either a 100km Round-the-Island Route or the smaller 55km ride that covers the East side of the Island. In September, the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival1 has been held for many years and features a wide number of different bike rides that cyclists can enjoy2.

The Isle of Wight boasts the popular 62-mile Round-the-Island Cycle Route. This can be cycled in either direction, although it is often recommended that cyclists travel clockwise to avoid the most strenuous sections of hill. Regional Cycle Route 67 is a shorter, 49-mile route avoiding many of the steeper hills as well as the busier towns.

Maps and Footpaths

Although you can follow the signs, it is possible that you will need to divert from the established path. Similarly, in places the signs are difficult to spot, and so it is recommended that you take an up-to-date Ordnance Survey3 map with you.

For the Isle of Wight section, you should ideally carry 1:25,000-scale OS Outdoor Leisure Map 29, although 1:50,000-scale OS Landranger Map 196 is also acceptable, though less detailed. These can be found in outdoor pursuits shops, tourist information and book shops or ordered online in advance. On the maps, the route is indicated by a red or orange4 dotted line clearly labelled with '23' in a rectangle.

Much of the route takes place on footpaths which were part of the Isle of Wight's network of classified footpaths before becoming Cycle Route 23. The Island boasts a unique footpath classification system. Every footpath, bridleway and cycleway on the Island has its own number relating to the parish in which it is located. So footpaths in Cowes have numbers beginning CS, footpaths in Newport begin N etc, which helps guide hikers to the right footpath. Signs along the way will show the footpath number as well as the '23' representing the cycle route. Unfortunately, these numbers are not shown on the Ordnance Survey maps.

National Cycle Route 23 is easily followed and it is generally well signed, with almost all signs displaying the route's 23 logo on a blue background.

Attractions En Route

The Route travels close to several points of interest:

  • Sandown Pier  – a typical seaside pier, built in 1879
  • Sandown Beach  – five miles of golden sand
  • Sandown Battery Gardens  – a park in the remains of a Victorian fort
  • Amazon World, Arreton – indoor zoo specialising in tropical animals and plants
  • The Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty  – over half the island is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which can be explored by bicycle
  • Carisbrooke Castle  – famous for being the prison of Charles I and for its donkey-powered well
  • Newport Roman Villa – a typical Roman home
  • Museum of Island History – a museum dedicated to the Isle of Wight from earliest history to today
  • Quay Arts Centre – the Island's premiere art gallery
  • Cowes Castle  – home of the Royal Yacht Squadron
  • Floating Bridge  – one of only five floating bridges still in service in the UK
  • Osborne House  – Queen Victoria's Royal Palace

The Route

This section of the route starts in Sandown and ends at the ferry to Southampton, via the towns of Newport, Cowes and over the floating bridge to East Cowes.

The National Cycle Route cuts through the countryside at the heart of the Island, in a flat route which avoids the Island's spectacularly scenic coastal cliffs.

Sandown to Alverstone

To cycle National Cycle Route 23, perhaps the best starting point is Sandown Railway Station. This is easily located and signposted from the beach. From the station's North platform for trains to Ryde simply descend the ramp to Perowne Way. From the South platform for trains to Shanklin, you can either use the subway at the station or follow Station Lane west and use the subway at the bottom of the slope, which will take you to Perowne Way. Follow Perowne Way through the outskirts of Sandown northwest, following the traffic calming measures, away from Sandown & Shanklin Rugby Football Club's grounds until you pass the Fairway Holiday Park, a holiday camp full of chalets.

Just beyond the holiday park entrance, the route turns left and leaves the road, almost immediately joining the route of the old railway line from Sandown to Merstone and Newport. This section is off-road and a dedicated cycleway and footpath. It leads downhill, passing the holiday park and the Southern Water Supply Works, close to the Sandown and Shanklin Golf Club. This section is part of the Sunshine Trail, a 12-mile cycle trail aimed at families, and is labelled with a yellow sun emblem on a black background.

Cross Golf Links Road to the continuation of the National Cycle Route. A blue signpost informs you that Newport is seven miles away. This area is the start of the Wetland Walk which branches off the National Cycle Route. The Wetland Walk, an area restored in 2003, follows the wetlands of the River Yar5 in a local nature reserve. This is popular with wildlife including water voles, herons, swans, kingfishers and many rare species of butterfly, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It also has a picnic area and community orchard from which scrumping is encouraged.

Among the trees planted in the orchard are Isle of Wight varieties including the Alverstone Apple. This is an otherwise unidentified species of apple growing in the area whose precise origins are unknown. The most popular theory on the origin of this apple is that when this was a railway line, a Victorian commuter on the train, having finished his nammet6, threw his apple core out of the window, completely unaware of the ecological consequences. In time, this apple core grew into a tree. Soon there were a number of trees in the area, creating the Alverstone Apple variety.

Follow the National Cycle Route west along the course of the River Yar and crossing over it on a footbridge, to the small village of Alverstone. The route enters Alverstone after the Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve. This is part of the River Yar's flood plain and is home to many rare species of flora and fauna.

Alverstone to Newchurch

Exit through the white gate, cross Alverstone Road, a minor road, in the small village of Alverstone and head through the white gate on the other side for the continuation of the cycle route. Between 1876 and 1956, Alverstone was the site of a railway station: the platform and station building remain. Shortly after the station, the cycle path enters a section that is wooded and quite bumpy due to tree roots pushing up the path. This is Youngwoods Copse; it encloses the nearby but hidden Alverstone Garden Village. This section is still part of the Sunshine Trail.

The path soon crosses the River Yar over a slightly raised bridge and continues through the copse before entering the outskirts of fields and eventually reaching Langbridge, a small outcrop at the bottom of the hill that is part of the village of Newchurch. Langbridge is the site of the award-winning Yates' Brewery, one of three local breweries still existing on the Island.

The cycle path narrows as the former railway track has been built on, and emerges onto the minor road, the Shute. The pleasant village of Newchurch, named after the church that was first built in 1087, is at the top of the steep hill on the left and has a shop and pub.

Newchurch to Horringford

Cross the road and pass to the right of the familiar-style white gate, which is clearly visible next to a sign listing the cycleway regulations. From Newchurch, the route continues south-south west along the former railway track, close to the Yar. This is also part of both the River Yar Trail and the Sunshine Trail. The River Yar, also known as the Eastern Yar to distinguish it from the other Yar in the West, is the Island's longest river, and flows from Niton on the southeast of the Island. The Yar Trail is 19 miles long and follows the Yar from its source to the sea at Bembridge Harbour.

This section of the route passes close to Haseley Manor, a Grade II* Listed Building in Arreton mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Although the house was open to the public throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, when it was an outstanding visitor attraction especially for children, a change of ownership has sadly meant that this historic site is now a private residence.

The route soon comes to the busiest road on the route, the A3056 Newport Road, at Horringford, a small hamlet near the historic village of Arreton. As the name suggests, this is the main Sandown to Newport road.

Horringford to Merstone

Cross the A3056 Newport Road. This should be done by turning right as the cycle path reaches the pavement, staying on the pavement on the clearly-labelled cycleway for a few yards until reaching the toucan crossing7 behind the Arreton sign, and then using the combined toucan/equestrian crossing8. Having crossed the road, enter the narrow lane near the crossing, which is clearly labelled with a blue sign, and then take the cycle route on your left.

This section of the route is the most likely to flood as it zig-zags over the River Yar, and signs warn that the duckboards that this section rides on can be slippery when wet. When cycling this section it is advisable to keep your speed down due to the slippery surface and blind turns. Fortunately the route soon returns to the railway line and leaves the River Yar behind.

This section of the route loops south to avoid the downs yet, despite this, for over a third of a mile the route is all uphill, with a rise of over 60 feet before returning to head north towards the village of Merstone. Before the village, the former railway line passes beneath Merstone bridge. Our Route leaves the Sunshine Trail here as this family-friendly bike ride then heads south towards Godshill and Shanklin, along the former Merstone to Ventnor West railway branch line9.

The section from the bridge marks the beginning of the Troll Trail, another family-friendly cycle route. This is dedicated to improving the wildlife in the area, from flora and birds to rare butterflies and dragonflies as well as habitats for red squirrels. Along the route, notice points provide information about the rare species that can be spotted.

Shortly after the bridge, the route reaches Newlands Lane, a minor access-only road, before reaching and crossing Merstone Lane. Follow the well-signposted trail into the car park area by the white gates, which again is marked with a sign listing the cycling regulations. This car park area marks the site of the former Merstone Station.

Merstone to Blackwater

The platform of the former Merstone Station still exists and has artwork commemorating its former use as well as its new-found role as a nature reserve. With picnic benches and an engraved chalk maze, Merstone Station is a nice place to take a short break.

From Merstone, the cycle route follows a tributary of the River Medina, the river in the middle of the Island. After a shaded section beneath the trees, the route leaves the former railway line and is diverted left to a bumpy country track running roughly parallel to the railway on the right. Follow this bumpy track as it soon develops into a concrete road and, after a short journey, signs lead cyclists back to the cycle path and a shaded tree-lined avenue next to the river.

You will soon arrive at Blackwater, where care should be taken when crossing the busy A3020 Blackwater Road.

Blackwater to Newport

Having crossed the road and passing through the familiar-styled white gate, the route now joins the River Medina itself, and follows it more-or-less for the rest of the journey. Continue on the former railway track with branches of the Medina flowing on both sides of the track - this section should be avoided in the dark. The route soon arrives at the district of Newport known as Shide, on Shide Road.

Although the railway line continues across Shide Road, this section of the route follows the roads of Newport as the railway line is now a dedicated footpath and unsuitable for cyclists. The Newport town centre section is the poorest labelled part of the cycle route. Points where cyclists can collect a free cycle map of Newport are provided; these are not as readily available as would be wished, however.

Follow the B3401 Shide Road west (right) until you see Medina Avenue on the North (left). Take Medina Avenue along to the very end of the road, passing close to Newport Roman Villa. At the end, St George's Approach, turn left into what continues to be Medina Avenue, followed by a sharp right when traffic lights allow into Church Litten, passing two supermarkets. Church Litten was the former graveyard of St Thomas Minster, Newport and among the dead buried there is Valentine Gray, a 10-year-old chimney sweep who died in 1822.

At the end of Church Litten, turn left (west) into South Street, and at the T-Junction at the end, turn right (north) into St James' Street. Continue along St James' Street, crossing Pyle Street and after passing the Queen Victoria Memorial turn right (east) into the High Street. Continue along High Street until the second road on the left (north), Quay Street. Take Quay Street northeast downhill. This road is opposite St Thomas Square, the location of St Thomas Minster, shortly before the Museum of Island History located in the distinctive Newport Guildhall.

At the end of Quay Street turn left (west) into Sea Street. Ignore signs pointing towards East Cowes at Sea Close10 and after passing the Quay Arts Centre turn right (north) into Little London. Along here follow the official contraflow cycle path on the left hand side of the road – this is a one way street and only cyclists are allowed in this direction. Little London is the site of the former dock warehouses here at the edge of the River Medina, when Newport was a busy port. The Quay Arts Centre is housed in former Mews Brewery11 warehouses.

Continue along Little London and pass beneath the bridge. Above is the A3020 Medina Way; this one-mile section of dual carriageway is the only dual carriageway on the Island and is popularly nicknamed 'The Motorway'. Follow the road as it curves right and continue along Little London until the very end. On the left, take a new shared-use unsegregated footpath and cycleway, which was constructed in Summer 2011 and may not show on older cycle maps. This bypasses Newport's Industrial Estate and emerges near the track of the former Newport to Cowes railway, now the Newport to Cowes cycle path. Medina Riverside Park Nature Reserve is next to the cycle route and is very popular in June, especially when the Isle of Wight Festival is held in Seaclose Park on the opposite side of the river, as people here are able to hear the festival for free. Head north through the white gates near the familiar sign listing the cycle route's regulations.

Newport to Cowes

Continue along the cycle path between Newport and Cowes. This is part of the Optional Stage 0 of the Isle of Wight Coastal Path and was the Newport to Cowes railway line. It is a pleasant, shaded woodland path which is cool in summer and a variety of colours in autumn. When the railway existed, Cowes had a thriving shipbuilding and aircraft industry. Now though, the shipyards and the jobs that they provided are gone, leaving the Island as one of the worst hit areas in the UK for unemployment12.

Shortly after entering the cycle path, the route crosses the grounds of former wind turbine company Vestas. On the right is the distinctive dock where cranes lowered the large wind turbines onto the decks of the equally distinctive solar-powered wind-turbine-carrying vessels13. The Vestas factory made the headlines in summer 2009 when the faceless multi-national company announced it was closing its Isle of Wight branch and firing its staff of over 500, despite the Government plan to build more off-shore wind farms. Several employees, knowing that finding another job would be difficult, took refuge in the factory for a peaceful sit-in throughout July and August: a fight for the right to work hard to earn a living14.

Continue along the cycle path and, as the route starts to slope upwards, head right to avoid the metal railing and gate before the road. Cross Dodnor Lane and continue to head north, following the signs and avoiding the metal railing on the other side of the lane. Continue north and you will soon cross Stag Lane. Continue along the shaded wood path and cross a viaduct, entering the area of the Dodnor Creek Nature Reserve. The river-bed of the Medina between Newport and Cowes is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its popularity with birds and rare species, such as red squirrels.

The cycle path crosses another narrow lane and continues north close to the Medina. Shortly after passing the distinctive storage containers of the Isle of Wight Grain Storage company, the cycle path comes to an end. Head slowly down the slope before turning right (downhill) into Arctic Road and Cowes.

Cowes to East Cowes & Ferry

Having entered Cowes, this section is all on roads, and the hilliest part of the journey. Follow the road downhill to the small roundabout and turn left, following Arctic Road parallel to the River Medina. Continue along Arctic Road, passing the UK Sailing Academy on your right, heading uphill before reaching a small painted roundabout. Here turn right (downhill) into Bridge Road (B3320), keeping a good hold on the brakes. Follow Bridge Road to the end.

Here you have a choice - if you have a folding bike which can be stored in a bag, you have the option of using the fast passenger ferry to Southampton: follow the instructions below. Otherwise proceed as follows. Turn right onto Medina Road, the A3020. The Floating Bridge is a short distance away. Cross the river using the Floating Bridge (bicycles are free on this ferry). Turn left onto Castle Street, the A3021, a one-way street, and when you reach the Red Funnel ferry, turn left. If you have already purchased a ticket, show it to the person in the booth; if not, continue along the road to the roundabout and turn left into Dover Road. A short journey will take you to the Red Funnel office on the right where you can purchase tickets.

Once tickets have been purchased, you can board the ferry as directed. Cyclists are asked to walk their bikes onto the car decks and store them at the very front of the ship. Car ferries depart hourly in the summer peak periods and less frequently, typically every hour and a half, during the winter. The journey to Southampton takes approximately an hour.

Taking the Fast Passenger Ferry

As mentioned earlier, cyclists using folding bicycles that can fit inside a bag are allowed to use the passenger ferry from Cowes to Southampton. This is faster, typically 25 minutes, departs more regularly, but is more expensive. To get to the passenger ferry, instead of turning right at the end of Bridge Road, turn left and head up Medina Road up the steep hill. Turn right onto Birmingham Road and, at the end of the road, descend Shooters Hill on foot, following the pedestrianised area as it curves left. Follow the High Street until you reach the Cowes to Southampton high-speed passenger terminal on your right.

Read about the next section - National Cycle Route 23: Part 3 - Southampton to Eastleigh, Hampshire

UK National Cycle Route 23
Introduction | Sandown to East Cowes, Isle of Wight
Southampton to Eastleigh, Hampshire | Eastleigh to Alresford, Hampshire via Winchester
Alresford to Basingstoke, Hampshire | Basingstoke, Hampshire to Reading, Berkshire
1Not to be confused with the Isle of Wight Festival.2For instance, in 2011 there were 70 different rides. These ranged from bike rides for toddlers around the Isle-of-Wight-shaped paddling pool all the way up to the Hills Killer challenge, a 52-mile route including 14 of the Island's steepest hills.3Ordnance Survey is the official British mapping organisation. They have been mapping the UK since 1790, initially for military purposes for the Board of Ordnance, the equivalent of the Ministry of Defence, to assist the defence of Britain in case of an enemy invasion.4The colour of the dotted line depends on the type of map. It is usually red on Landranger maps, orange on Outdoor Leisure and Explorer maps. See the key on the relevant OS map.5Yar is a word that originally meant 'river'. There are several rivers called Yar in Britain, including two on the Isle of Wight.6Nammet is an Isle of Wight word for lunch. Originally used to refer to meals including bread and cheese consumed by farmworkers, it is now commonly applied to any meal involving sandwiches or similar portable snacks not eaten formally at a table.7In the UK, a toucan crossing is one for both pedestrians and cyclists; the two can cross at the same time.8An equestrian crossing is for horse riders. It has a picture of a horse rider in either red or green and the button to activate it is substantially higher than the one on a normal crossing, to make it easier for a horse rider to press.9This line, calling at Godshill, Whitwell, St Lawrence and Ventnor West was the last railway line to open on the Island.10Although East Cowes is our final destination, the route doesn't go there just yet.11The dominant brewery on the Island between 1814 and 1965, when it was taken over by Strong's Brewery and later, in 1969, by Whitbread. Mews invented the beer can at the end of the 19th Century to ship India Pale Ale to India.12The cost of shipping makes most manufacturing uneconomical on the Island, although this didn't matter in the past for the shipbuilding and aircraft industries, and until recently for the wind turbines for off-shore wind farms. The Island therefore relies on seasonal tourist and agricultural work.13Blade Runner and Blade Runner II.14The workers' valiant attempts to keep their jobs failed: Vestas closed their factory. Some of the workers later founded their own wind turbine company, Sureblades.

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