It was like the hare and the tortoise. Unbeknown to me, my superfit cyclist pal shot up a very steep, rough bridleway out of sight.
I, the e-bike tortoise with the map, remembered we were meant to turn left on the level through the huge Freemantle Gate to visit Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight. But Neil had the momentum and kept going.
Seeing him on the crest of the hill, I doubted myself and tried getting to the top. But even with the marvellous assistance of the battery, I barely managed halfway. After trudging to the top, we examined the map again and realised left at the bottom was correct. Now we knew why it’s called Godshill!
It was our first day on the e-bikes – hired from Routefifty7 (routefifty7.com) – and we’d cycled from our fantastic boutique Haven Hall hotel on the Shanklin clifftop along the footpath, with superb views all the way to Sandown’s beachfront.
Here we found the Red Squirrel trail… a safe, generally flat cycling route on a former railway track. It’s a circular part of the route linking Cowes and Sandown.
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We were doing 15 miles to end up in Ventnor. Along the way, you can pop in to Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve to spot birds and red squirrels from the viewing hide (but those 5,000 tufty reds left on the isle are very shy).
A little on from there is Pedallers Cafe in Newchurch, a lovely stop-off for a light lunch and drink.
We were following the Slow Wight guide to the island, which is encouraging us all to park up the car and use pedal power or the hobnail express (feet) to take in more of the beautiful views on offer and discover this island that Queen Victoria loved so much.
After a short stop to re-enact visits as a child and father to Godshill’s quaint model village and a refreshing ice cream we hit that b****y hill.
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We ended up at the Smoking Lobster, an excellent beachside restaurant in Victorian Ventnor. With the sea breeze wafting in, we enjoyed seared scallops, Szechuan king prawns and baked sea bass washed down with muscadet.
Meanwhile we rang Routefifty7’s Kevin, who offers a hotel drop with the bikes but also picks them up where you leave them… in this case right outside the Smoking Lobster.
We took a taxi back to Shanklin as we’d spotted a tribute band playing at the lovely local theatre. The old joke is put your watch back 40 years when you visit the Isle of Wight – well we did just that catching Jive Talking, a superb nod to the Bee Gees from the 60s folky numbers to their massive disco hits Staying Alive and Tragedy.
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Next day saw us head off on a 32-mile ride through Sandown, via Brading and its Roman villa, to stop off at Bembridge windmill, the last remaining of 60, beautifully restored by the National Trust.
A swift downhill took us to Bembridge’s eccentric collection of boathouses for refuelling at The Best Dressed Crab In Town, a popular boat restaurant off a pontoon for baguette and beer. Delicious.
Refreshed, we followed the coast through smart village Seaview and rode the seafront to Ryde taking in the sights with the e-bikes making the ups a sea breeze and the downs a rolling joy.
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We wended our way to Fishbourne, near the ferry terminal we arrived at from Portsmouth, to visit Quarr Abbey, home to a small band of Benedictine monks.
Heading back to Shanklin via Newport, we joined the Red Squirrel route, encountering an old station platform at Merstone.
That night we drove to the hip and happening restaurant The Hut in Colwell Bay and feasted on chicken Caesar salad, pil pil prawns, haddock fillet and sea bream accompanied by splendid locally brewed Yates beers.
The Hut is open six months a year (from April) and draws customers from afar to enjoy the top food and watch the sunset.
Having returned our e-bikes, we drove next day to Freshwater Bay, close to the site of the biggest pop festival ever at Afton Down in 1970, where Joan Baez, Mungo Jerry, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, the Moody Blues, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Chicago and the Doors were among the acts. Hendrix died just three weeks later and he is immortalised with a statue outside Dimbola Museum.
It is two houses knocked together by Victorian photographic pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron. She more or less invented portraiture and you can see her work and the huge camera she used there (£6 adults, £15 family ticket).
Next task was to use our feet for three miles to Yarmouth along another disused railway for coffee and cake at the PO41 Coffee House by the ferry to Lymington. Owner Aiden Hollins teaches young offenders at Feltham to roast and grind his bean blends.
From the nearby bus station we took the Needles Breezer, an open-top bus with commentary as it takes you to the picturesque spot (called the Breezer as winds whip your breath away).
Next day, we visited Newtown Nature Reserve and the Old Town Hall, dating from 1699. When it was threatened with demolition in the 1930s the masked Ferguson Gang, with fake names like Bill Stickers and Sister Agatha, raised money to save it. It’s now National Trust (£4.30 adult, £10.75 family).
Our final stop was Cowes, home of the regatta, and tapas in the delightful Gastronomy restaurant.
Feeling well fed and well exercised, Neil and I headed back to Portsmouth with Bee Gees music playing on the car radio. Yes, we’d managed to avoid tragedy and were definitely staying alive!
- ROOMS at Haven Hall hotel in Shanklin, Isle of Wight, start at £420 a night on B&B. Opens Mar 20. HavenHallHotel.com
Wightlink runs returns from Portsmouth and Lymington to Isle of Wight from £70.50 for a car with four passengers. wightlink.co.uk
More info at visitisleofwight.co.uk , slowwighttravelguide.co.uk
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