A cycle ride on the Isle of Wight
A cycling trip we'd looked forward to since February came around last weekend, with my cousin Sally and her husband Jimmy who live in Hampshire. The plan was to cycle from their house and stay two nights in B&Bs but it was only a couple of weeks ago we'd decided on the Isle of Wight. Sandra managed to find some rooms at Medlars bed and breakfast near Yarmouth and Weston Manor at a place called on Moon's Hill. Lucky, at such short notice in the holiday season.
On Friday we cycled from St Leonards (near Ringwood) through the New Forest to Lymington and caught a ferry across the Solent to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. We left the panniers at Medlars back door and set off up the hills in the afternoon sunshine. Jimmy and I rode to the top of Tennyson Down while the others waited a little lower. The southern edge of the Down is a 100 metre high vertical chalk cliff that drops to the sea, and to the west it drops to the Needles, iconic stacks of chalk that mark the westernmost end of the island. The spot would be even more gorgeous were it not for some ramshackle concrete buildings and chainlink fencing by the top. The views are superb in all directions, especially on a fine day such as this.
On the way back it was time for cake and we happened upon Warren Farm and the second best traditional cream tea in Britain (according to The Guardian's Dea Birkett). It was indeed excellent and in a different class to the scones we'd eaten earlier in the day as we passed through the New Forest.
The next day Jimmy (our tour leader) debated whether the loop to cycle should be clockwise or anti-clockwise. Clockwise was the best choice and by lunch time we were eating scones in Cowes, the heart of British yachting. The Royal Yacht Squadron's Officers of the Day were debating which flag to hoist as the boats came up to the start line. I like Cowes – what little we saw of it (actually West Cowes). The town rises up from the Solent with views to the English mainland across the water. A luxury apartment on the sea front would be nice.
We cycled away up a hill, then down again to follow the River Medina inland to the town of Newport in the centre of the island. Unfortunately you don't see very much of the river as the cycle path is enclosed by bushes, but it's popular with families because it's flat. We'd arranged a rendezvous with Hilary and Dennis to return the saddle, pedals, and bottle she'd used on Sandra's bike for our ride in Yorkshire the previous weekend. Hilary had suggested the Café at Chale Green Stores and we rode there over some hills in very pleasant countryside.
The café garden is indeed lovely with elevated views of the hills in the east of the island. After a snack in the sunshine and "cheerio" to Hilary and Dennis we headed down to the Military Road, a scenic route that runs on the clifftops of the south coast. In places the road is close to the cliff edge and is threatened with closure unless something is done to prevent it collapsing into the sea (the cliffs are mud and much less stable than the solid chalk cliffs further west).
The B&B at Weston Manor is interesting. It was recently opened in part of what must at one time have been a grand country house. The poet Tennyson (who lived close by) was apparently friendly with the original owners and it has its own chapel attached. The chapel actually faces the wrong way – more to the north than the east. Although one assumes the manor's splendour became neglected during its time as a care home, the inside is now luxurious. Someone has spent a lot of money. The rest of it is now the almost completed residence of an English yachtsman and the grounds – not yet restored – have superb views northwards over the Solent. The ambience of this place should especially appeal to visitors from the United States.
But then the same could be said of the Isle of Wight itself. I've never been there before and was struck by its olde English charm: winding lanes, high thick hedges, traditional cottages, and the smell of the sea – a reminder of our maritime history. There's a difference in scale of agriculture on the island and the broader sweeping downs of Hampshire, separated only by a narrow strip of sea. Sally mentioned Enid Blyton and I know what she means. Islands tend to possess a special magic.
On Monday morning we set off back to the English mainland and cycled via the picturesque village of Beaulieu through the New Forest again (lunch at Steff's Kitchen). Temperature about 26 degrees. Over the long weekend we'd cycled 122 sunny miles so we cooled off in Jimmy and Sally's swimming pool. Jimmy showed us his Tour de France bike. As Sandra and I drove home to the north the following day, the temperature fell one degree for every hundred miles, and the heavens opened exactly when we pulled into the driveway.