Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Razmabaz - The Author!

Many years ago now I was much fitter (much younger), keen on Cycling, living on the Isle of Wight and a whole host of other things! I once wrote an article for, then, a fairly new (now defunct) magazine called "The Bicycle Times". It was mainly concerned with a more leisurely form of cycling rather racing (which was my passion). I even got paid for it ~ the writing, not the cycling!

Anyway, I found some of these articles in an old archive. I thought I should share them with you... not all at once though.


Barry Cant 1984

About two decades ago a song, written and sung locally, recorded and described the happenings of a holiday isle. If I remember correctly it went something like this:-

Just off the coast of England,

You’ll see a charming sight,

A little pile of mud and sand

They call the Isle of Wight!

If you have ever been there you will, perhaps, recall that those words are somewhat of an understatement and can be considered a little bit misleading.

To start with, from east to west the Island measures 22 miles and from north to south l3 miles. Far from being a pile of mud and sand it is mainly chalk down and hard rock, luxuriantly carpeted with forests and rich, green meadows. Set, as its boundary some 60 miles of coastline, comprising of chalk cliffs and sandy beaches, are contained approximately 500 miles of roads just waiting to be explored and discovered. Some of these miles are easy to ride others are, well, not so easy! For such a small place the Island seems to be richly supplied with an abundance of hills, some climbing to well over 600 feet. From the tops of these hills one can enjoy a vast array of views that will, like they have in mine, remain in your memory for a lifetime.

Access to the Island is via car ferry, there being in fact three different routes from the mainland, departing from Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington. These services are run by Sealink and Red Funnel Steamers but they both offer regular sailings and, more importantly, convey bicycles free of charge. As soon as you place your wheels on the ferry you seem to cut yourself off from the mad hum-drum way of life, the way of life that, to me, is generated by cars being driven furiously around cities. Once on your voyage to discovery you will soon begin to see the coastline of the Isle of Wight and you will also feel that tinge of excitement that you had when you completed your first ride, to that point on the map that you had never been before. Talking of maps, the Island is an excellent place to start your touring career as, if you ever find yourself misplaced and are having difficulty in establishing your whereabouts; just keep pedalling in any direction your nose takes you, knowing that eventually you will come to the sea.

One thing the tourist has in his favour is the fact that there is always plenty of accommodation available, ranging from camp sites to hotels. There are also three Youth Hostels, situated at Totland in the west, Whitwell in the south and Sandown in the south east. During the months of July, August and the early part of September the Island tends to become rather busy as this period is the peak of the holiday season. I, therefore, suggest that you make your visit at other times of the year when the roads are less busy: although most holiday motorists seem to respect the fact the Island is a beautiful place and drive with particular care. Perhaps this is due to the campaign waged by the Isle of Wight's Tourist Board which has successfully managed to obtain for the Isle of Wight the title of "Bicycle Island". In line with such a promotion the Board has produced a small brochure for cyclists which not only lists cycling shops and facilities, but also has several maps detailing rides ranging from 5 to 20 miles around different localities of the Island. Also listed at various places are interesting haunts which cyclists seem to just relish, the enjoyment probably being in actually finding them.

At the centre of the Island is the town of Newport, an old town which, until quite recently, had a market where all the Island's farmers would come with their stock to the auctions held there every Tuesday. Nowadays they have to travel to Salisbury. A stall market exists now on the same day, but for me it hasn't the same appeal. Just to the west of Newport is the village of Carisbrooke which is famous for it's castle; dating from Roman times but more recognisable from it's Norman stonework. It is well worth a visit, taking time to reflect upon some of the things that have taken place here down through the centuries, notably the exploits of King Charles I, supposedly getting himself stuck in one of the windows whilst trying to effect an escape. From Carisbrooke, continuing south, watching the hedges and fields speed by for a few miles is the quaint village of Gatcombe, a location which time seems to have forgotten. Abiding a while longer upon this road and, after ascending the hill out of Chillerton, a swift descent brings the traveller to Chale Green. From there a turn to the left and then, wheeling your way past the Hermitage (worth exploring) brings you to crossroads alongside the Wilderness.

Carrying straight on, the road then narrows and the trees grow to meet each other at their tips, making nightime appear to fall early. This beautiful little avenue is known locally as Beacon Alley. A further mile or so, making sure that you stay on the minor road at the next junction, brings you to Godshill. Here you will find, placed on the only hill in the village, probably the most photographed church in the whole of England. Godshill seems to attract visitors from all over perhaps because of the "Shell Museum", a fine museum dedicated to fossils and precious stones. Magnificent, too, is the display of the Crown Jewels, not the real ones I hasten to add, but the only replicas in the Country.

Picking up the A3050 in the direction of Shanklin it is worth pedalling to a minor turn to the right, a narrow lane that takes you to ruins of Appuldurcombe House, just on the outskirts of Wroxall. This house belonged to a famous family Islanders, the Worsleys. Unfortunately, only the shell of this once magnificent house remains. Dating from 1710 it once exhibited a fine example of regal architecture with it's Corinthian Facades.

Upon leaving Wroxall, turning right onto the B3327, a short climb will bring you to Upper Ventnor which supplies a vista of Mediterranean quality and the impression that you have just arrived at a town in the south of France. Ventnor was once regarded as the "Tropical Corner of England" and was frequently used as a suitable place to convalesce after any convenient malaise, especially by those who needed an excuse to get away from it all. To give Ventnor an added French flavour this town became host to the first "Michelin Classic", a road race for professionals covering a distance of 126 miles, an exciting event, the winning margin being a fraction of a second by Sean Yates from the Falcon team rider. Bill Nickson. Another is being held this year, again centred around the town of Ventnor, though taking in much of the rest of the Island. This is due to occur during the Whitsun holidays. Why not try to get your visit to coincide with this spectacular event and enjoy the hospitality of the Island's cycling fraternity? For the racing enthusiast why not consider riding the "Round the Island Time Trial" course? Starting at West Cowes on the Victoria Parade then proceeding in an anti-clockwise direction, following the coastline as much as possible finishing opposite Osborne House at East Cowes, a distance of 100 kilometres: then reflect that Sean Yates holds the record for this with the time of 2hrs 30mlns 31secs (phew!).

Out to the western extremity lies Yarmouth which boasts it's castle, one that was built by Henry VIII to assist the coastal defence scheme of the period. If you are interested in marine history try and find the, now retired, harbour master Charlie Attrill, himself a keen cyclist, he will be only too willing to relate to you the affairs of this splendid western gateway to the Island. Crossing over the, 100 year old Swing Bridge which spans the River Yar, continue on the A3054 up Hallett's

Shute; to arrive at the town of Freshwater.

Touring cyclists like, to my knowledge, ruminating over things of the past, those forgotten eras. Freshwater is famous for this on at least two counts. Firstly, an imposing house which is now an hotel, the Farringford, which used to be owned by the poet, Lord Alfred Tennyson. You can find this hotel not far from Freshwater Bay. Secondly, about 1/2 a mile from the hotel are two guest houses, Dimbola and Cameron House; these were once one house and owned by Julia Margaret Cameron, a pioneer of photography. It was only a few years ago that some of her work was found in this house, the discovery included a portrait of the Poet himself. Wheeling further westward the wayfarer will arrive at Alum Bay, renowned for it's coloured sands and, of course, the Needles lighthouse. Just recently the Gun battery has been restored by enthusiasts and from this site, on a good day, you can see the Purbeck Hills, and distant Swanage.

If the wind is set in the west make good use of it and return from Alum Bay along the A 3055 the coast road, known as the "Military Road". This road takes the rider along some of the most beautiful scenery the Island possesses. Ride over the Downs of Afton, along past Compton Chine, then the Bay itself. At this point you can enjoy the tremendous sights of the forest of Brighstone, the downs to the north of Shorwell and the fields of Atherfield. After cycling 10 miles from Freshwater Bay the intrepid explorer is faced with an awesome climb to St. Catherine’s Down, a climb of some 600 feet in about 3/4 of a mile. As a tourist you can take advantage of the rest Nature, and Man's ingenuity, has supplied half way up; this takes the form of Blackgang Chine. Sadly, this is falling back into the sea and bears no resemblance to the pictures of 100 years ago. It forms quite a tourist attraction with many interesting objects that formed the rural scenery in a bygone age. From the top of St. Catherine’s Down the view to the west is something I will treasure all my days. It really does defy description.

One of the most enjoyable things about climbing hills is the phenomenon of, once having reached the top, there is usually one to come down the other side. The experience from St. Catherine's Down is no exception, a brisk free-wheel of about of a mile into the village of Niton. From here, especially if you time your visit to coincide with lunchtime, a trip to St. Catherine's lighthouse takes the rider past a 16th century inn, The Buddle. A good meal to satisfy the appetite of any cyclist can be obtained; liquids can be taken on too!

Having managed to sustain body and soul a ride along the Undercliff is one that will be well rewarded. On your left are tall walls of rock. The roadside walls themselves being built from the rocks that have fallen from these cliffs. Trees abound all along this road, the full impact being made on a slightly misty-morning, the sun sinking shafts into the tableaux. Meandering all the while the road finally emerges alongside the Botanical Gardens, as if from a tunnel, at Ventnor. This is a splendid spot to sit and think; to reminisce over how some of the most wonderful things in life are free.

Running along the Island from east to west is a ridge of chalk downs, the views that can be had from these at various points is quite breath-taking. The best way of enjoying these is to start from the eastern side, at the town of Bembridge. Making your way to Newport via Brading and it's associated Down necessitates climbing some more of the Island's ubiquitous hills, starting from the Angler's Inn at Brading with a gradient of 1 in 6. At the top of this point you will receive as compensation, a panorama that includes the Yaverland, Sandown, Shanklin, St. Boniface Down, the whole of the Arreton Valley (regarded as one of the most fertile in the country), then further across to the Downs of Chillerton and Rowridge. About 6 miles further on towards Newport you will come to the pleasant hostelry of the Hare and Hounds. Turning left and a speedy descent will bring you onto the A5056 at the village of Arreton, this village being the proud custodian of a fine 17th century manor house, it itself housing an elegant collection of period furniture.

Wending your way back to Newport, then tracking along the B3401 you reach the inspiring, rustic location of Calbourne, The Mill there, which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, has a museum which is splendid example of rural life down through the ages. The chalk downs, particularly on the western side, are liberally covered with rich, green forest, a peaceful place to reflect upon the many enthralling miles that you have ridden; again a host of marvellous sights awaits you. The wild life that greets you if you are patient enough is amazing, from finches to hawks, from foxes to red squirrels. The Island even has it's own butterfly, the Glanville Fritillary, it's only other habitat being on the European Continent.

All in all there is plenty for young and old to see and do, the roads to be traversed are unmatched, seemingly enticing you to ride further than you had intended. A superb spot for touring because whatever the location you chose as your base you can never be more than 20 or so miles away from it. A word of warning though, make sure you chose the right ratio of gear for the occasion, I suggest a bottom gear of at least 40 inches unless, of course, you are feeling fit!

Having finished your holiday then the time comes to depart, a sad time where ever you have been for your vacation. Leaving the Island seems to round out the occasion, wrapping everything up as it were, especially as you make that move to get back on the ferry. Standing on the deck or sitting in the lounge as the ferry leaves the harbour, trailing behind it a whole squadron of seagulls, you immediately think of making the arrangements for your next visit.

I have lived on the Island all my life, and as yet, never grown weary of the hills, never feeling cut off, but continually being enthralled by the scenery. Living on an island obviously has it's drawbacks, but the advantages are untold, best found out for one's self. Why not go "abroad" this year for your touring holiday? You will not be disappointed; neither will you have to learn a foreign language, although the Island dialect does take some deciphering. (Nammit – mid morning snack)

Returning to that local folk song:-

It’s the Island, the Island

The Isle of Wight for me

Where the people are born crazy

But the atmosphere is free!

For a copy of the brochure mentioned in the text, please contact:---

The Isle of Wight Tourist Board,

Tourist Information Centre,

You made it this far? My hero and thank you!

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