The Isle of Wight has, since the dawn of time, been a land of mystery and intrigue. Prehistoric mainlanders often stood on Hampshire's shores in envy and wonder at the Island across the Solent. Poets and artists have tried to capture its indefinable, yet undeniable, spirit. Even today the very existence of the Isle of Wight raises numerous questions. Questions such as,
- How much is the ferry?
- Can you really fit every person on Earth onto the Isle of Wight?
- I'm sorry, how much did you say the ferry was?
- How can the Isle of Wight feel like the whole of England1 in miniature?
- How much?!?!?!? oH
- Would you have believed that sand could be so many different colours?
- Do you seriously expect me to pay all that just to travel on the ferry...?!
And so on. One question that has never, ever been asked about the Isle of Wight is, 'Is it possibly to cycle around the Isle of Wight whilst wearing a Daisy Chain?' The very idea anyone would be bothered about the result is, of course, completely and utterly ludicrous.
This, then, is the answer.When we last left Bluebottle, he had cycled on the Isle of Wight Randonee as far as Alverstone, where his bike was being held together by a rubber band2.
Alverstone, Alverstone, Alverstone Pie
A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly
So there I was, in Alverstone's village hall, drinking a cup of orange squash with the same wrist that was wearing both a cycle glove and a daisy chain3 when I had realised that there was nothing for it but to continue the journey. So while many cyclists left the route here to follow the Sunshine Trail and National Cycle Route 23 to Newport and Cowes as part of the 55k mini-Randonee just passed the former railway station, I headed up the hill. I passed Borthwood Copse, the closest wood to my home town and another place full of childhood memories, by the hamlet of Queen's Bower4 and into Winford.
The route passed Amazon World, the plethora of tomato greenhouses where I once had a summer job for Wight Salads before reaching the Fighting Cocks Cross and a busy junction5. The route crossed the A road and continued down the hedge-hugging Bathingbourne Lane, passing the Isle of Wight Observatory, through Sandford, by the Donkey Sanctuary. The route emerged close to the famous Appuldurcombe House, an English Heritage property where mankind fought its last, major battle against Triffids6. Ascending to Wroxall and passing a fine Victorian wall box postbox, the route ascended gradually to Ventnor near Steephill.
From Steephill the route followed the B road, initially descending, before heading inland towards Whitwell7. The Checkpoint was located in a village hall, and the banks along the road either side were a plethora of people's pedal-powered cycles. For it was noon, nammet time, and I settled down to one cheese and pickle sandwich, one ham and watercress sandwich and a banana.
Go West, Young Man
Picture the Isle of Wight. It is a diamond shape, with a little dip in the middle of the top, where the River Medina separates Cowes from East Cowes. Now imagine a vertical line dividing the Island into two: East and West, following the River Medina. The line is a little squiggly and so Newport and Carisbrooke are on the East of the Wight as is Cowes, but still you have two rough halves. An East Wight, home of sheltered sunshine, sandy beaches, tourist resorts, towns and what is called civilisation. The West Wight, especially the part known as the Back of the Wight, has wind (which it has an awful lot of), cliffs, more wind, villages hidden in dips between the downs to escape the wind, coastal erosion and untamed, tranquil beauty.
It is rather curious that five of the six Checkpoints were located in the East Wight, between 5 and 10 miles apart, whereas only one Checkpoint covered the whole of the West Wight at Yarmouth, a 20 mile ride each way from the previous and next Checkpoints on the route.
From Whitwell I headed back towards the coast and to Niton, where I saw a convoy of Triumph cars. There always seems to be a few Triumph cars around Niton, I never know why8. From Niton the route rejoined the busy A3055 and the Military Road, one of the Island's principle highways and most scenic routes. The road headed uphill and round a bend, and after the summit, dipped down, passing Blackgang Chine, the England's oldest theme park since it first opened in 1843. After ensuring that no cars were approaching I zoomed round the roundabout, down through Chale (where I saw a dinosaur statue at the side of the road) and a short distance later left the Military Road to head 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 over whether this creature is a true Iguanodon or different enough to warrant its own genus9
Despite all this, it didn't take long to cycle through Atherfield, and on to Yafford, passing by Yafford Mill. When I was a child, Yafford Mill was one of my favourite places to visit on the Island. The Mill was a farm open to the public and had many picturesque walks around the grounds, the working mill and even a narrow-gauge railway around the grounds. Sadly by the end of the 20th Century the mill changed hands and it is now a private residence, but cycling past brought back memories of trips here with my grandfather.
From Yafford the road led by Brighstone, the Back of the Wight's largest village, then by Mottistone Manor, Hulverstone and zoomed downhill through Brook, before rejoining the Military Road in time for two killer coastal hills; Compton Down and Afton Down. I am very proud to say that I cycled up both hills10 and was rewarded with one of the splendid views that the Isle of Wight is renowned for on this stretch of Heritage Coastline. Because of the wind and/or thermal currents that this stretch of hilly road is famous for, there are always a plethora of paragliders launching themselves off the Down and over the cliff, flying by close above your head, and today was no exception.
From Afton Down I descended into Freshwater Gate, admiring the UK Border Force vessel which was moored in the bay. I later found out that the new Freshwater Independent Lifeboat, Spirit of the West Wight III, had been officially named there that day.
The clockwise route through Freshwater involved passing the Dimbola Lodge and the statue of Jimi Hendrix before travelling in a loop by the 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, gravely ground beneath a canopy of trees, I soon arrived at Yarmouth's former railway station, where the route left the railway track and headed into the town of Yarmouth itself, and the location of the next Checkpoint. Along the way I passed a bicycle shop, which had placed a giant sign outside their door stating 'Not the Checkpoint!'
Yarmouth is the second smallest town 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. A short ride west opposite the entrance to the ferry was the location of Yarmouth's Primary School, which was hosting the Checkpoint. After a quick bite of a cheese and watercress sandwich, a toilet stop11, the all-important stamp and a top-up of my hydration bladder pack, it was time to head away from the West Wight and back to the twin towns of Cowes and East Cowes. Although because the Floating Bridge was out of action for the first time in 30 years of the Randonnee occurring, there was an 8-mile diversion.
Wellow, Wellow, Wellow Urgh - Tell Me More, Tell Me More
After Yarmouth the route headed inland, passing through the hamlets of Thorley, Wellow and Newbridge, before turning north. After passing Corf Camp, the Cub Scout's Isle of Wight campsite and well known to dib-dib-dibbers nationwide, the route went straight towards the town of Newtown, the former capital of the Isle of Wight. Newtown is the only town on the Isle of Wight to be smaller than Yarmouth, on the ground that it now consists of a town hall, and nothing else. Except a town charter. Over the centuries Newtown has been invaded by Vikings, the French, rats and the Black Death and there is an old local legend associated with Newtown that shares similarities to the famous Pied Piper. Yet Newtown was finally defeated by the silting up of the Newtown River, and nowadays no-one invades the tranquil area except for coachloads of tourists that flock to the RSPB nature reserve in greater numbers than the birds they wish to capture on camera, and then buy scones and tea towels from the National Trust owned Town Hall.
Do Not Pass Cowes, Do Not Collect £200
From Newtown the long and winding road headed uphill to the hamlet of Porchfield. After which on every of the previous 29 years in which the Randonnee has taken place the route headed into Gurnard and then the town of Cowes, followed by a swift crossing on the Floating Bridge into East Cowes and the finish, however sadly on this occasion it was not to be. The Floating Bridge was being repaired. For the first time in the event's history, the unprecedented move of having a diversion to the next crossing was taken. The next bridge over the Medina is located six miles south in Newport, the Island's capital, and so this was quite a long diversion at a time when many cyclists were looking forward to the finish.
The ride turned off the Round the Island route just before Northwood, and headed south, skirting Parkhurst Forest. After a short distance along the A3020 the route headed towards the remains of the Vestas Factory. The Vestas factory had made the national headlines in summer 2009 when the Isle of Wight branch was closed and 500 staff lost their jobs, 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 living which was sadly lost. Just before the Vestas factory the route turned south on the old Newport to Cowes railway line which is now National Cycle Route 23, while the cyclists doing the 55k mini-Randonnee were heading north. National Cycle Route 23 was followed as far south as Little London and the Quay Arts Centre. After crossing the bridge the route followed the Medina north on its east bank by the former Bus and Boat museum sites, passing Seaclose Park where the Isle of Wight Festival has been held since 2002 and along the A3054 towards East Cowes.
Soon I reached the outskirts of Whippingham and began retracing my steps12 back by Osborne House and down the hill into East Cowes where the final Checkpoint was located. After presenting my card for the very last time I was issued with a rather lovely certificate for completing the route, and a badge.
But what about the Daisy Chain?
So, we have learnt how I made it all around the Isle of Wight on the day of the randonnee, but how did the Daisy Chain do?
The truth is that it had begun to dry out around midday, and so as it began to shrivel up it was worn more inside my cycling glove than outside. Here is a picture of the very same daisy chain after I'd finished the randonnee and been issued with my badge (you can just about make it out, but it is very shrivelled, as I mentioned:
So to conclude, both the daisy chain and I thoroughly enjoyed our randonnee ride around the Island. And who knows what the future may bring. Another Round the Island event evolved into the America's Cup yacht race, the oldest race in the world. Perhaps one day riding a bike whilst wearing a daisy chain may even become an Olympic sport. But somehow I thoroughly doubt it.