Despite being only 23 miles long by 13 miles wide, the diamond-shaped Isle of Wight has over 200 miles of cycle paths and bridleways, not to mention countless quiet country roads perfect for cyclists. Offering breathtaking coastal scenery, the Island has long been a popular destination for cyclists. For instance, September sees the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival. This contains a wide number of different bike rides that cyclists can enjoy, from rides for toddlers around the Isle-of-Wight-shaped paddling pool at Ventnor, to the Hill Killer Challenge, a 52-mile route including 14 of the Island's steepest hills. There are also cycling trails, such as the Troll Trail and Sunshine Trail, designed to attract young families into cycling together. Yet of all the cycling opportunities offered, the Round the Island Route is the undisputed jewel in the crown.
The Round the Island Route
The Isle of Wight's Round the Island Route is a 62-mile (100km) cycling route designed to circumnavigate the Island along quiet roads and narrow country lanes, although there are occasions when the route uses B-roads and even short distances on A-roads. This means that, on the whole, the cyclist rarely encounters traffic1, but usually is free to enjoy a relaxing bike ride through the Isle of Wight's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Though the Round the Island Route is often coastal, its priority is to use quiet roads rather than coastal ones. There are long stretches in which the route diverts away from the coast, especially in the Island's built-up areas such as the towns of Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin.
As a 62-mile bike ride, this can be easily completed in a day by experienced cyclists. The route undulates, but is not gruelling, with the uphill sections balanced by downhill stretches. Although the route is designed to bypass busy roads, and thus skirts the main towns on the Island, there are plenty of places to stop to purchase food and drink along the way. Other places to eat can be found in the larger villages and towns that the route passes, especially Cowes and East Cowes, Ventnor and Yarmouth, with Freshwater, Bembridge, Niton and Brighstone also having a range of pubs, cafés and restaurants.
Following the Route
The route is clearly signposted with the Round the Island Route signs. The clockwise route signs show a white bicycle on a blue Isle of Wight in front of a white background, and a blue arrow showing direction. The anti-clockwise route shows a blue bicycle on a white Isle of Wight in front of a blue background and a white arrow showing direction.
You may wish to take an up-to-date Ordnance Survey map with you. These can be found in outdoor pursuits shops, tourist information centres and book shops, or ordered online in advance. The relevant maps are:
- Outdoor Leisure 29 – Isle of Wight (highly detailed 1:25,000 scale)
- Landranger 196 – The Solent & Isle of Wight, Southampton & Portsmouth (less detailed 1:50,000 scale)
It is also possible to use Online Cycle Maps, maps provided by local civic authorities, or road maps. It is even possible to download cycle route apps for mobile phones. These, though, are no real substitute for a proper Ordnance Survey map. The best of both can perhaps be found in using GPS devices. These are becoming increasingly popular as they have a longer battery life than mobile phones and can even contain Ordnance Survey maps covering the whole of the UK.
The Round the Island Route has previously been Regional Cycle Route 67; however, at present the Regional Cycle Network is being reclassified to use a three-digit numbering system, with parts of the route numbered 231 and others 235.
The Round the Island Randonnée
The most popular time to attempt the Round the Island Route is during the Isle of Wight Randonnée2. The Randonnée was established by the Isle of Wight Wayfarer Cycletouring Club in 1985, and is an annual, free to enter bike ride that follows the route and takes place on the early May Bank Holiday weekend. The randonnée used to alternate in direction each year, but it no longer does so. It was found that a large proportion of entrants, up to a thousand cyclists, came across on the 8am car ferry from Southampton. They would then cycle the short distance to the floating bridge at the start of the anticlockwise circuit. Arriving in such a large group caused chaos and confusion. By ensuring the randonnée follows a clockwise route, the number of cyclists using the floating bridge at any one crossing are dramatically reduced as the cyclists spread out considerably by the end of the circuit.
Cycling the Round the Island Route during the Randonnée
Though the Round the Island Route can be enjoyed at any time of year, doing it as part of the annual randonnée has added benefits. Firstly, there are additional organised rest points where you can re-fuel with cheap food and drink, the proceeds of which go to charity. You are also provided with a free map of the route and a personalised Check Card, with which you can earn the Randonnée certificate. You are then entitled to purchase an Isle of Wight Randonnée badge, which you can wear with pride as a souvenir of the ride.
To earn the certificate, simply carry the card to the six Checkpoints, where an official volunteer will stamp the card's appropriate section. Once all six sections have been stamped, you are presented with the certificate. The Randonnée checkpoints are located at:
Just like anyone else attempting the Round the Island Route, you can start at any point and will earn the certificate provided you reach all six stops. The most popular starting points are at the Island's ferry terminals of Yarmouth, East Cowes, Fishbourne and Ryde. There is also a mini-Randonnée 55k route, which follows the path of the main Randonnée from East Cowes to Alverstone, before following National Cycle Route 23 from Alverstone to Cowes.
In order to take part in the Randonnée, ensure that you register and take the registration confirmation e-mail along with you on the day. See the Randonnée website for more information, as well as the rules and guidance.
East Cowes to Bembridge (15 miles)
Perhaps the most common starting point is East Cowes. This is at the north of the Island and is easily accessible from the mainland via the Red Funnel car ferry from Southampton. From the car ferry simply follow the A road up and southeast. You will soon pass the entrance to Osborne House on your left and shortly after will reach the village of Whippingham. Turn left and head along the country lane. This section uniquely follows the path of the Isle of Wight Coastal Path. You will soon cycle by Brocks Copse and Woodhouse Copse, as the road undulates up and down various small hills.
After a short while you will emerge in Wootton a short distance from the Isle of Wight Steam Railway's station.
The route then descends Wootton Hill to cross Wootton Creek. Shortly after crossing the bridge, turn right into Firestone Copse Road. This is a short journey away from Fishbourne, where the Wightlink car ferry to Portsmouth docks.
After passing Firestone Copse the route skirts close to Havenstreet and then heads uphill to Upton. From there the road dips down, passing near to Smallbrook Stadium, over the humpback railway bridge and then uphill on the other side. The villages of Pondwell, Nettlestone and St Helens are passed one after the other. At St Helens turn left at the green close to Sophie Dawes' cottage. Head down and follow the road around Bembridge Harbour by all the houseboats and into Bembridge itself. The route heads uphill, passing Bembridge High Street and the Grade II Listed K1 Telephone Box. This is one of the oldest telephone boxes in Britain and dates from 1921 - there are only three others in England. The route then follows the High Street, turning sharply at Bembridge Windmill, which is the Island's only surviving windmill and now owned by the National Trust.
Bembridge to Whitwell (15 Miles)
From Bembridge the route zigzags uphill, passing Bembridge School and Bembridge Airport, where the Islander aircraft were designed and built. The route rounds the bottom of Bembridge Down, where Bembridge Fort is located, before passing close by Yaverland and a field where the team of archaeologists from the television programme Time Team once hunted for a Roman villa. After that the road descends rapidly to Yarbridge, the crossing still guarded by a Second World War pillbox, and up through the bottom of Brading and across the other side, passing close by Morton Manor and Brading Roman Villa then taking a sharp left turn by Adgestone Vineyard. The roads here are very narrow country lanes fenced on either side by very tall hedges and banks as the route follows the Upper Road from Adgestone into Alverstone. It is at Alverstone that the route crosses National Cycle Route 23, which here heads north-west to Newport or south-east to Sandown.
Uphill from Alverstone the route passes Borthwood Copse and into the heart of the hamlet of Queen's Bower, the only secular settlement on the Island beginning with a Q. After Queen's Bower turn right into Winford. You will pass Amazon World before reaching the Fighting Cocks Cross and a busy junction. Cross the A3056 road and continue down the hedge-hugging Bathingbourne Lane, passing the Isle of Wight Observatory, through Sandford, near the Donkey Sanctuary.
You will emerge close to the famous Appuldurcombe House, an English Heritage property where mankind fought its last major battle against Triffids3 and site of an Owl and Falconry Centre. Ascend to Wroxall and follow the route as it ascends gradually to Ventnor.
Turn right into Whitwell Road. The route will follow the coast before soon heading inland towards the village of Whitwell.
Whitwell to Yarmouth (20 Miles)
From Whitwell, turn left at the Church of St Mary and St Radegund into Kemming Road, heading towards Niton. From Niton follow the one way system and the route will soon join the busy A3055 and the Military Road, one of the Island's principal highways and most scenic routes. Follow the road uphill towards Chale. The route will round a bend, and after the summit, dip down, passing Blackgang Chine, England's oldest theme park which first opened in 1843. After the roundabout head down through Chale and after a short distance leave the Military Road on the right along Southdown Lane, heading inland, towards Atherfield. The hamlet of Atherfield can perhaps be summarised with these words from the old Southern Vectis Bus song;
It really doesn't matter if you live out in the sticks
You can always get to Atherfield on the number 36
Three times a day!
The area has found long-term fame as it has a species of dinosaur named after it - the Iguanodon atherfieldensis, after the first specimen was discovered in the area in 1917. Recently there has been much debate by palaeontologists over whether this species is a true Iguanodon or different enough to warrant its own genus4. After cycling through Atherfield, head left to Yafford and pass by Yafford Mill.
From Yafford the road passes Thorncross Farm and into Brighstone, the Back of the Wight's largest village, passing the Three Bishops Pub, which is named after the three rectors of Brighstone who went on to become bishop5.
From Brighstone the route heads by Mottistone Manor and Hulverstone before turning downhill through Brook to rejoin the Military Road.
This section of the route is one of the most picturesque, following as it does the Tennyson Heritage Coast as well as ascending two coastal downs; Compton Down and Afton Down. Much of this area is owned by the National Trust. After Afton Down the route descends into Freshwater Gate, where the clockwise route through Freshwater takes a different loop to the anti-clockwise way, passing Dimbola Lodge, the statue of Jimi Hendrix and the Norman All Saints Church, before joining the former railway track between Freshwater and Yarmouth, adjacent to the west river Yar. This is part of National Cycle Route 22. After a very pleasant ride along the flat, gravelly ground beneath a canopy of trees you soon arrive at Yarmouth's former railway station, where the route turns left along Station Road away from the railway track and heads into the town of Yarmouth itself.
Yarmouth is one of the smallest towns in England, a fraction of the size of the neighbouring village of Freshwater. It does, however, boast a castle, pier and the only cash machine in the West Wight, as well as ferries to Lymington.
Yarmouth to Cowes (16 Miles)
At Yarmouth, the route heads east, initially along the coastal Tennyson Road before turning inland, passing through the hamlets of Thorley, Wellow and Newbridge by the crossing over the Caul Borne, before turning north towards Shalfleet. After passing Corf Camp, the Cub Scout's campsite since 1937, the route heads straight towards the 'town' of Newtown, which now consists of the National Trust-owned town hall.
From Newtown the long and winding road heads uphill to Porchfield and turns left at Little Whitehouse6 north to Gurnard. Pass Gurnard Marsh and cross where the stream known as the Luck meets the Solent. Follow the coastal Esplanade round to Egypt Point and the beacon-shaped lighthouse that marks the Island's northernmost point. Continue along the Parade and you will pass Princes Green. It was here in 1873 that Jennie Jerome met Randolph Churchill, who soon proposed, leading to the birth of future Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
After passing the back of Cowes Castle, the home of the Royal Yacht Squadron, turn right up Castle Hill and at the top, next to Northwood Park, turn right into Baring Road followed by the first left up Ward Avenue. At the end cross Park Road and zig-zag into Victoria Road ahead until reaching Mill Hill Road. Descend and follow the road as it curves right into Medina Road, at the end of which lies the floating bridge which will transport you back to East Cowes. That is where this description of the Round the Island Route started.
If you have enjoyed circumnavigating the Isle of Wight by cycling, why not try walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path, or even sailing around the Island? Another Round the Island event evolved into the America's Cup yacht race.