The Isle of Wight: a treasure trove for the active traveller

With a wealth of impressive walking and cycling routes on offer

The Isle of Wight looks like a squashed diamond on the map, with its northerly point northernmost tip pointing aimed at Southampton and its bevelled edges facing off out across the Solent at towards Lymington on the western side and Portsmouth respectively on the eastern side. The island is a compact jewel to visit, too: there’s a breathtaking amount to do and see here, most famously in the surrounding waters (Cowes Week is the oldest and largest regatta in the world), but also on the wonderfully diverse green bit in the middle.

I use breathtaking advisedly. The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, who lived here for 40 years, declared the air to be “worth sixpence a pint”. In the short time I spent on the island, I think I sucked down enough of the stuff to warrant a second mortgage.

Summer in the Isle of Wight is bookended by a walking festival (the largest of its kind in Europe) in May, and a cycling festival in September. I based myself at The West Bay Club, in Hallett’s Shute, just outside Yarmouth. It has tasteful New England-style self-catering cabins, set within nearly 30 acres of grounds, and offers both mountain biking and hiking excursions among its many activities. I decided to have a go at both.

TURN SOME PEDALS

The West Bay Club’s Steve Holloway led the ride. I like mountain biking, and go often, but I was still intimidated by Steve’s legs. I needn’t have been. Not because they didn’t work as impressively as their size intimated, but because Steve was in charge of them, and he was careful to turn his pedals slowly enough for me to catch up every now and then.

Our three-hour ride took a big slice out of the western, more rugged end of the island. It criss-crossed the Tennyson trail, a walking route which runs from the Needles in the west to Carisbrooke Castle in the east, along the spine of Compton and Brighstone Downs. I tried to pay attention to the map as we went, but we rode hard and, if I’m honest, I was mostly preoccupied with taking in the scenery, breathing and not falling off.

It was an exhilarating ride through forests and over the downs, a combination of challenging, rock-and-root-entangled singletrack, huffing climbs and slashing descents. We ground up firebreaks. We churned across flint and mud. Every now and then, the cloud broke to reveal spectacular views: luminous cliffs, pewter sea, a sweep of escarpment pebble-dashed with sheep. Ripping through the flock, with Steve yodelling the sheep out of the way up ahead, and my heart hammering to the beat of the pedals, it was impossible to concentrate on anything other than the ride itself, which is what an “active break” should be about, surely.

There are dozens of gentler off-road rides to try, as well as more than 200 miles of road-biking routes. You can hire bikes for all types of rider at White Cycle Hire in Yarmouth. All bikes come with helmets, lights, mobile support and high-visibility jacket. You don’t have to go with a guide, but if you want to head off the beaten track, I recommend it: during our entire (peak season) ride, Steve and I didn’t see another mountain biker.

STRIKE A BALL

With some time to kill before hitting a trail without a bike, I found myself looking at the loungers by the pool. But I’d booked a tennis lesson before I went biking (the club has something for everyone, with a pool, gym, squash courts, badminton, and wide-open kickabout spaces), so I went on court beneath a newly rinsed blue sky with Will Newnham, The West Bay Club’s tennis coach. I liked Will. He was patient, specific in his advice, and honest. At the start of the lesson, after he’d told me that the best bit about being a coach was seeing people progress from lesson to lesson, I asked him if there was anything he didn’t like about it. “Hitting the ball in the net,” he said.

I could relate to that. It turns out that to avoid the Mary Rose feeling (the ship sank north of the island in 1545) I needed to do about eight things. I won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty here; but it’s enough to point out not only that Will managed to make the list seem manageable, but that by the end of the lesson, some of his advice had actually worked. So had I, and I was exhausted.

I retreated to the nearby Red Lion (Isle of Wight pub of the year 2010) for a delicious helping of Dover sole with a liquid side order, and from the comfort of the bar marvelled at the pluck of the red squirrel. It may have been decimated by the grey invader on the mainland, but out here on the Isle of Wight it’s alive and nibbling.

HIKE A TRAIL

With more than half of the island designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, the Isle of Wight is a favourite with walkers and cyclists. I’ve already said that each group has its own festival, but this year the ramblers have two. Those who attended the fortnight of events on offer this May had more than 300 walks to choose from, so some of them will no doubt be back for the Autumn Walking Weekend from 22 to 25 October to cover a few of the miles they missed.

Many of the established walking routes take in sections of the island’s 64-mile coastline, more than half of which is classed as heritage coast. And given that you’re never more than a few miles inland, even those sections that have not been awarded that distinction still offer glimpses of the sea.

I walked for three hours along the north-western side of the diamond, from Fort Victoria through Yarmouth and on to Hampstead Point, before ducking back inland to finish up at the Horse and Groom pub in Ningwood. What struck me most, taking in the scenery at a more leisurely pace, was the variety of landscapes in so compressed a space. One minute I was on a flinty beach, the next I was in a grove of oaks; then I was crossing farmland, ducking past a stand of pines, and emerging in picturesque marshland, criss-crossed with wooden boardwalks.

Yarmouth itself sits at the head of a stunning estuary pricked full of masts. During my walk the Solent was alive with sails canted over by the breeze, and across the water more white streaks glinted in Lymington harbour. It’s only 10 miles from Cowes to Southampton, and you can make the crossing in under an hour on the Red Funnel car ferry, but the island feels very different – a glittering jewel set apart from the busy mainland.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Getting there

* Red Funnel (08448 449988; redfunnel.co.uk). For ferry-inclusive accommodation deals, visit redfunnel.co.uk/holidays .

Staying there

* The West Bay Club, Halletts Shute, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight (01983 760 355; westbayclub.co.uk ).

Visiting there

* The Red Lion, Church Place, Freshwater, Isle of Wight (01983 754925)

* Wight Cycle Hire, Station Rd, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight (01983 761800, wightcycle hire.co.uk ). Rental prices: £8 for four hours, £18 for 24 hours.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform