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Leg 1: Wroxall to Freshwater Bay

30 km (18 miles), about 1 hour

A spectacular and brisk ride with a good mixture of fast roads and some challenging climbs, all in the relative isolation of the West Wight coastal landscape. Exposed in south-westerly winds.

Start near St John’s Church, Wroxall, with a gentle downhill to the Post Office on the B3327.

Unfortunately there follows a steady climb of 50 m over the next 1 km, reaching 9% gradient at times, as you pass through the southern traffic pinch point onto the road to Ventnor. On reaching Upper Ventnor (Lowtherville), shortly after the road starts to descend steeply and sweep round hairpin bends, turn right at the fish and chip shop to head towards Whitwell. After the first descent, take the right turn again to traverse the cliffs above western Ventnor and St Lawrence, heading towards Whitwell on the Whitwell Road, a rough and pot-holed route.

Shortly after entering the 30 mph speed limit in Whitwell, turn left towards Niton, passing between the church and post office. Here the road descends steadily, and a brisk ride along a good surface takes you to the outskirts of Niton. At the junction with the main road, turn left (7.6 km, 4.7 miles elapsed). Start the long ascent, turning right very soon towards Blackgang and Freshwater, along the A3055. There are toilets carefully concealed here to the west of the central pub car park, best approached from the Church on the Blackgang to Newport side of the one way system.

Stay on the A3055 as it passes west out of Niton, and wends its way up a total of 100 m over the next 3 km, maximum gradient 6%, to cross Niton Down, just below St Catherine's Hill. At 170 m, 570 feet, above sea level, this is the highest point on the route. Shortly after starting the descent after that, stop for a short break and to admire the view at the viewpoint car park on the left, perched above Blackgang Chine.

An ice cream and refreshment van is often found here, together with many bikers on dry days.

The ‘Back of the Wight’: the south-west coast from the viewpoint above Blackgang Chine.

Descend carefully, taking the right turn at the roundabout half way down the 150 m descent, and over deteriorating surfaces through Chale village. This descent averages 3% but reaches 10% in places, and is a good test of braking or handling at speed, or both!

Follow the Military Road (A3055) along its general slight descent, with a couple of hills on the way, until you reach the Shippards Chine, Hanover Point, car park at the southern end of Compton Bay, where there are toilets open during the tourist season, and usually an ice cream van too. Although the Military Road goes very briskly, the surface is generally atrocious and you will need to concentrate to avoid hitting kerb-sized joints between the concrete strips making up much of its distance. In other parts, aged patches give the surface the feel of cobbles, and on wet and muddy days in the spring it could sometimes be mistaken from pavé from the Paris-Roubaix race.

Immediately after Hanover Point, a new road with much improved surface leads up an ascent of 40 m over 0.75 km, reaching 9% at its worst. The crest cuts through a ridge, leading to a sweeping S bend that needs care if you use this brief respite from climbing to gather some speed. The second part of the S sees the road climb again, another 40 m over the next 1 km, reaching 7%, along a stunning section cut part way up the crumbling chalk sea cliff with views down over Freshwater Bay.

View from the Military Road over Freshwater Bay to West High Down beyond.

Once over the crest of this section, there is a steep descent down to sea level which must be taken slowly towards the bottom, if you are to make the sharp right turn at Freshwater Bay (29.3 km, 18.2 miles elapsed) towards Afton and Freshwater town centre. If you cannot turn safely, you can run straight on towards Alum Bay (past toilets on the left, shortly after the Albion Hotel in Freshwater Bay) and then cut your way back to the right to rejoin the route.

Variation: for the seriously fit, try dropping down to Ventnor and riding along the coastal road (the Undercliff) through St Lawrence, which adds another 50 m or so to the already stiff ascent from Niton.

Freshwater Bay.


  © 2005-2007 EHN & DIJ Oakley