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

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National Cycle Route 23: Part 1 – Introduction |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 2 - Sandown to East Cowes, Isle of Wight |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 3 - Southampton to Eastleigh, Hampshire |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 4 - Eastleigh to Alresford, Hampshire via Winchester |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 5 - Alresford to Basingstoke, Hampshire |
National Cycle Route 23: Part 6 - 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 National Cycle Network. It takes cyclists from the picturesque seaside resort of Sandown on the Isle of Wight to Reading in Berkshire, the route taking 80 miles in total. This, the first section of the route is 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 on 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 1545-1901, the town really developed in the Victorian era after the construction of the railway. Having 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, crazy golf and putting greens, sticks of rock. It is also popular for the Isle of Wight Zoo built in the former Sandown Fort and a second Victorian fort, Sandown Barracks 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 that cyclists wishing to stay in Sandown before their journey can book in to.

Getting To Sandown With A Bike

To get to the Isle of Wight there are six ferry routes available; three of which are car ferries, two are pedestrian ferries and there is a pedestrian hovercraft. These take passengers to, from West to East:

  • Yarmouth – This is the car and pedestrian ferry from Lymington.
  • Cowes – The destination of the pedestrian ferry from Southampton.
  • East Cowes – This is the car and pedestrian ferry from Southampton.
  • Fishbourne – This is the car and pedestrian ferry from Portsmouth.
  • Ryde Pier Head – This is where the pedestrian ferry from Portsmouth docks.
  • Ryde Esplanade – This is where the high-speed pedestrian hovercraft from Southsea lands.

The only ferry route that does not permit the carriage of bicycles is the Southampton to Cowes passenger ferry1. On all other ferry routes bicycles can be carried for the same fee as a pedestrian.

The easiest way to get to Sandown from the mainland with a bicycle, other than through 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 Randonée, 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 Isle of Wight offers breathtaking coastal scenery for cyclists to enjoy.

The Isle of Wight has long been a popular destination for cyclists. Since the early 1980s in May the Isle of Wight Randonnée takes place. 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 Isle of Wight. In September the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival2 has been held for many years and contains a wide number of different bike rides that cyclists can enjoy3.

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. A shorter, 49-mile route avoiding many of the steeper hills as well as the busier towns is Regional Cycle Route 67.

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 Survey4 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, tourist information and book shops or ordered online in advance. On an up-to-date ordnance survey map the route is included as a red/orange5 circular dotted line clearly labelled with '23' in a rectangle.

The Isle of Wight 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. It had been hoped by the Isle of Wight Council when they implemented this system that these footpath numbers would appear on Ordnance Survey maps. Inexplicably the Ordnance Survey have chosen not to print this extremely useful information on their maps, with no answer as to why not provided.

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.

Cycleway Regulations

Below is the list of regulations that cyclists using this section of National Cycle Route 23 are asked to abide by.

  • Please show consideration and share the path
  • Pass other people slowly
  • Allow other people to pass you
  • Use your bell to warn of your approach
  • Take your litter home
  • Clear up after your dog
  • Respect wildlife and adjacent farmland
  • Some sections of cycleway are bridleways. Horses are permitted on other sections, except where otherwise stated, but please keep to walking pace.
  • It is an offence to cycle carelessly or inconsiderably.
  • Cyclists should keep their speed down when close to other users and give warning of their approach to walkers and horseriders.
  • The Isle of Wight Council thanks farmers and other landowners who have agreed to dedicate former railway land to the public for cycleways.

Attractions On Route:

The route of National Cycle Route travels close to several points of interest. These include:

The Route

The route starts in Sandown on the Isle of Wight and ends in Reading, Berkshire. The route travels via the towns of Newport, Cowes and over the floating bridge to East Cowes on the Isle of Wight to the ferry to Southampton in Hampshire.

The National Cycle Route cuts through the heart of the Island. Although this route is flat, it does avoid the Island's spectacularly scenic coastal cliffs but does pass through the countryside.

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 down the ramp to Perowne Way. From the trains to Shanklin South platform 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.

Next to the holiday park entrance and running next to it heading west is the beginning of the National Cycle Route following 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 East River Yar6 in a local nature reserve. This is popular with wildlife including water voles, herons, swans and kingfishers and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This section is also popular with many rare species of butterfly. 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 whose precise origins are unknown that has grown in the area. 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 nammet7, threw his apple core out of the window, completely unaware of the ecological consequences that this simple act would create. In time this apple core grew into a tree and planted other trees in the area, creating the Alverstone Apple variety.

Follow the National Cycle Route west, following the course of the River Yar and crossing it over 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 floodplane 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 continuation of the cycle route through the white gate on the other side. Between 1876 and 1956 Alverstone was the site of a railway station, the platform and station building remains. 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, a wood that encloses the nearby but hidden Alvestone Garden Village. This section still is 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, but continues across the minor road, The Shute, through a gap near the familiar style white gate which is slightly south (left) of the exit from the section from Alverstone. 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 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. The route continues close to the eastern Yar and is also part of the River Yar trail as well as the Sunshine Trail. The Eastern Yar is the Island's longest river, and flows from Niton on the south-east 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 crossing 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 slippy when wet. When cycling this section it is advisable to keep your speed down due to the slippy 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 as the route rises over 60 feet before returning to head north and heading to Merstone. Before Merstone the former railway line passes beneath Merstone bridge. This marks the end of the Sunshine Trail, 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, a family friendly cycle route. This is dedicated to improve 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 the river Medina, the river in the middle of the Island, although 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 Medina.

The route soon arrives 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 continues on the former railway track with the river Medina flowing on both sides of the track, so this section should be avoided in the dark. This section 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, however these are not as readily available for collection as would be wished.

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 north-west 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 cyclepath 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 A3054 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 which is very popular in June, especially when the Isle of Wight Festival is held in Seaclose Park on the opposite side of the River Medina, 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 cyclepath 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, and 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 country for unemployment.12

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 carrying the large wind turbines lowered them onto the deck of the 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 over 500 staff, despite the Government announcing it was planning to build more off-shore wind farms. As one of the Island's major employers, several employees, knowing 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 a slope arises 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 continues north, crossing another narrow lane and continuing North close to the Medina. Shortly after passing the distinctive storage containers of the Isle of Wight Grain Storage Ltd company the cycle path comes to an end. Head left 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) to the B3320 Bridge Road, keeping a good hold on the brakes. Follow Bridge Road to the end and turn right onto Medina Road, the A302015. The Floating Bridge is a short distance away. When the floating bridge is on the East Cowes side, walk your bike onto the bridge's deck (bicycles are free on this ferry) and disembark on the other side. 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.

National Cycle Route 23: Part 1 – Introduction
1With the exception of folding bicycles that collapse into bags.2Not to be confused with the Isle of Wight Festival.3For instance, in 2011 there were 70 different rides. These ranged from bike rides for toddlers around the Isle of Wight shaped paddling pool at Ventnor, included short family rides up to the Round the Island route, bicycle treasure hunts as well as the Hills Killer challenge, the 52-mile route including 14 of the Island's steepest hills.4Ordnance 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.5The 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.6Yar is a word that originally meant 'river'. There are several rivers called Yar in Britain, including two on the Isle of Wight, the West and East Yar.7Nammet 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.8A toucan crossing is a crossing similar to a pelican crossing but designed for both cyclists as well as pedestrians, and so is wider than a normal pelican crossing and has a picture of a bicycle in either red or green. Unlike pelican or zebra crossings, cyclists are legally allowed to use toucan crossings. An equestrian crossing is a crossing 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 button on a normal pelican or toucan 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.10This will take you along the wrong side of the river Medina. The next bridge is the Floating Bridge 11The dominant brewery on the Island between 1814-1965, when it was taken over by Strong's Brewery which itself was taken over in 1969 by Whitbread. Mews invented the beer can at the end of the nineteenth century for the Royal Naval base in Portsmouth; India Pale Ale was stored in cans rather than bottles in order to survive the journey to India and stay fresh.12Large manufacturing companies do not open on the Island as anything made on the Island has to be exported off to be sold, and the prohibitive cost of the ferries makes that uneconomical. This did not matter to the shipbuilding and aircraft industries, and until recently for the wind turbine for off-shore wind farms, yet for any other company this has prevented work from being created on the Island. Unlike other parts of the UK, commuting to nearby cities is prohibitively expensive and all but uneconomical. The Island's economy is therefore reliant on seasonal tourist and agricultural work.13Blade Runner and Blade Runner II.14This had the full backing of environmental protesters, wishing to retain an environmentally friendly company and the Rail Maritime and Transport Union organised a series of nationwide protests and demonstrations. Despite this overwhelming support, the workers valiant attempts to keep their jobs failed. Vestas closed their factory. Appeals to the Government to nationalise the factory as part of the Government's promise to increase spending on renewable energy, fell on deaf ears. Some of the workers who lost their jobs later founded their own wind turbine company, Sureblades.15Cyclists using folding bicycles that can fit inside a bag are allowed to use the passenger ferry from Cowes. This is faster, typically 25 minutes, departs more regularly, but is more expensive. To get to the passenger ferry instead of turning right, turn left and head up Medina Road up the steep hill, then turn right onto Birmingham Road and, at the end of the road, descending Shooters Hill on foot, following the pedestrianised area as it curves left, following the High Street, until reaching the Cowes to Southampton high-speed passenger terminal on your right.

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