Feeling a thrill of excitement rather than furious resentment when a 7am alarm trills in your ear can only mean one thing: you’re going on an adventure! Having loaded our panniers and cheerfully dismissed all reports of impending storms the night before, Richard and I got up early on Friday morning to make our way to the Isle of Wight for our first overseas cycling adventure. Boarding the train to Southampton Central from Clapham Junction couldn’t have been more straightforward, and after a little more than an hour on the train and a quick ten minute pedal through Southampton, we were boarding the Red Funnel ferry to East Cowes. Just one hour later and we were first off the ferry and up the first of many hills. Having lived on the Isle of Wight for much of my childhood, I thought that I had a fairly accurate mental picture of the place. In most respects, this is true, but I do remember it as a far flatter place than it really is.
Concerned not to look a fool in what should be familiar territory to me, I had studied an improbably large and detailed Ordnance Survey map (Outdoor Leisure 29 – excellent, but vast) in an effort to ensure that we didn’t get lost straight away. I needn’t have worried, because the Round the Island cycle route is clearly signposted at every single junction. It’s nearly impossible to go wrong. (Of course, we did manage it at one point, but more of that later.) We’d arrived on the Island at midday without mishap, so naturally we felt that we deserved some form of reward. One of my favourite places growing up was a pub called The Folly Inn in Whippingham, which is situated right by the water on the Medina River. I admit that the bouncy castle that used to be an almost permanent feature around the back might have had something to do with my fondness for the place, but the view and the unmistakable smell of the mudflats are what really sell this place. The bumpy downhill route towards the water was as enticing as I remembered it, and Richard clearly agreed. He hurtled along with such abandon that he didn’t even notice this pannier detaching itself from its rack after a particularly vigorous speed bump. Sitting outside overlooking the boats moored on the pontoons and the occasional bit of pootling activity, it was hard to imagine that we’d been in London only a few hours ago. It was even harder to move from this peaceful spot with our lunch inside us, particularly when we remembered that the lane back to the road was all uphill.
Once we were back on the road though, we felt that our adventure had begun in earnest. Bembridge, on the eastern tip of the Island, was to be our first overnight resting place so we had a comfortable 20km or so distance to cover in the afternoon. There was no need to hurry, so we enjoyed the novelty of cycling on practically traffic free roads and began to appreciate how much of a difference panniers make to climbing hills. I enjoyed recognising the places I thought I’d forgotten, and at one point executed an emergency stop when I realised we were about to cycle past Sharon Orchard, a place I remember visiting with my sister and cousins when we were small. Good ice cream and juice, I remembered. Too good to miss. It was only when we stopped that we noticed how hot and sunny it was. We therefore reasoned that a glass of cold homemade cider and an ice cream were crucial for our health and survival. While Richard enjoyed the Ashey Press cider, which is far less sweet and fizzy than the stuff we are all used to, I discovered a new favourite – spiced cider with lemonade. It tasted like a cross between Christmassy mulled cider and ice cold refreshing Pimm’s. Though tempted to go back for more, I worried it might be the start of a slippery slope, so we saddled up once more and went on our way.
It didn’t take us long to get to Bembridge and finding our bed for the night was mercifully easy, owing in part to the fact the The Pilot House Inn does in fact look like a boat. With our bikes stowed around the back (sadly we couldn’t lock them in the shed as we’d hoped, because the proprietors’ e-bikes now live there) and our luggage unpacked in our fresh little room, we settled down for a few drinks outside. An early evening wander up the hill and along the main little street in Bembridge led us to another pub before we returned to our room and enjoyed much needed showers. After giving our Peloton jerseys a quick wash in the basin with some travel wash, we headed down into the pub dining room to enjoy a tasty dinner of local fresh fish and a very juicy burger. As the last of the wine was washed down, we concluded that it had been an excellent first day. Provided that the promised storms would skilfully manoeuvre their way around us, our big day of cycling along the whole of the south coast of the island promised great things.