Following on from previous Favourite Destinations pieces in past issues of Progress, here the Editor reports on one of his favourite destinations – the Isle of Wight (not to be confused with the other Island that hosts a certain motorcycle race). Easily accessible for a day trip (or even better, a weekend away), the Island is just 56 miles, one hour’s ride and a short hop on a ferry from Cobham Services. With fantastic biking roads, unparalleled scenery, seafood like nowhere else and a feeling of “going abroad”, what is there not to enjoy?
There are three car ferry routes to the Island, all of which will cost about £40 or less for a return. One of the ferry companies, Wightlink, offer a 20% discount to bikers who are members of the AA. As part of the United Kingdom you don’t need a passport to visit!
Portsmouth to Fishbourne – probably the most accessible route from where most LAMkins will be starting their journey from. A quick blast down the A3 (around an hour or so depending on where you are starting from) takes you to the Portsmouth Car Ferry Terminal. Booking is advisable, especially in the summer tourist season, Bank Holidays or Christmas and Easter, but you probably won’t have too much problem getting on if you don’t book, especially outside of peak times. Wightlink advise arriving 30 minutes before your scheduled departure, but bikes are given a lot more leeway than cars and you can, if you are lucky, ride straight on to the ferry if you arrive just before it is due to leave.
A short and uncomplicated crossing of 40 minutes (no need to strap your bike down, just leave it in gear) gives time for a cup of coffee and a dose of sea air. www.wightlink.co.uk (or see the other link above for the 20% AA discount which takes a £40 return fare down to £32).
Lymington to Yarmouth – also run by Wightlink, this route is less likely to be favoured by LAMkins given that it starts in Lymington, about 30 minutes further west than Portsmouth (best accessed via the M3 rather than the A3). The Lymington route takes you to the picturesque town of Yarmouth on the west coast of the Island, home to some particularly good places to eat. The Lymington crossing takes approximately the same time as the Portsmouth one.
Southampton to Cowes – Accessed via the M3, the Southampton route takes about an hour. You will arrive in East Cowes, the well-known sailing capital of the world.
If you are lucky you will be directed onto the ferry by Jim O’Reilly, the (and this is not an exaggeration), world renowned “dancing ferry man” who was nominated in Visit England’s Tourism Superstar awards. Rather than nonchalantly point at the ferry to direct you on, Jim will dance, leap and pirouette in order to give you the most interesting and enjoyable directions you have ever had – or indeed will ever have. Here's Jim in action ...
The Island has plenty of scenic areas to enjoy. The diamond shaped Isle of Wight is just 23 miles from East to West and 13.25 miles North to South. As such, nowhere takes too long to get to. However, don’t let the small size of the Island put you off – there are plenty of roads and destinations to keep you entertained for a day, or even a weekend.
Some of these include –
The Military Road – the Chale to Freshwater section of the A3055. Built in around 1860 as part of the Island’s defence network to facilitate supply lines between various forts and barracks, the Military Road (or “Millie Road” as it is known to locals) is a bikers’ dream road. Lots of challenging twisties mixed with long straights provide fun and enjoyment. The Millie Road has spectacular views out across the English Channel. Unless you go at the very height of summer, it isn’t likely to be too crowded – but be particularly careful with your overtakes (the A3055 was ranked number 5 in a list of “the UK’s most dangerous roads” in 2018).
Zig Zag road – forget the B500 through the Black Forest, the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania or France’s Verdon Gorge, all of these pale into insignificance against the challenge that is Zig Zag Road in Ventnor (entering PO38 1BY into your sat nav will take you there). A ludicrously steep uphill ride with some tight turns might not sound like much of a challenge, but the sheer angle of this piece of tarmac will surprise, delight and frustrate you. You will marvel at how this road suddenly turns into what feels like a sheer cliff face.
Middle Road – as the name suggests this road cuts through the centre of the Island, and takes you down some of its most scenic roads. Head from the town of Newport, out towards Carisbrooke (a stop off at Carisbrooke Castle is recommended for history buffs), before heading towards the picturesque village of Calbourne. From here head onwards to Shalcombe then either pick up the Military Road (see above), or head to Freshwater for refreshment.
Fish and chips by the sea – no visit to the Island is complete without Fish and Chips by the sea. Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin esplanades are the Island’s version of Blackpool (just much smaller) where you can find candy floss, ice cream and chip shops galore. Bembridge and Seaview are somewhat more refined (and quieter) seaside destinations with more formal restaurants and stunning views. Both are well worth a visit.
Culver and Tennyson Downs - these two areas of elevated downland (in different parts of the Island), provide excellent views of the Island as well as various areas of historical attraction.
Osborne House – Queen Victoria’s holiday home on the Island, now run by English Heritage.
Godshill – everybody’s idea of a “chocolate box village”. Tea rooms, fudge, a model village and some of the prettiest historical buildings you will ever see
The Needles – worth visiting not only for the destination, but also the journey there. The Needles are three chalk stacks in the sea with a lighthouse. It was from here in 1897 that Marconi first began sending the world’s first radio transmissions. Take the chairlift down from the cliff top to the beach at the bottom.
www.visitisleofwight.co.uk – the official tourist information guide, particularly useful for finding places to stay. Use the “What’s on” page to avoid the cycling and running festivals when the roads will be less enjoyable for bikers.
Would you like to nominate your favourite destination? It can be anything – a place, a route, or even just a specific road. Why not let fellow LAMkins know of where you like to ride and why – is it the thrill of the ride, a set of jaw-droppingly good twisties, a breath-taking view, a challenging road to test your advanced riding techniques on – or maybe just somewhere with devilishly good cake or bacon sarnies. Whatever the reason, please send your nominations and reasons why to editor@L-A-M.org
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