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Leg 2: Freshwater Bay to Cowes

26 km (16 miles), about 1 hour

Quite a fast run through mainly wooded countryside, mostly on back roads, bringing you to the Chain Ferry at Cowes.

Remaining on rippled and uneven surfaces, follow the leftward arc of Afton Road past a garden centre and supermarket to a pair of mini-roundabouts, turning right at the first and left at the second to ride through the small town centre of Freshwater (toilets by the Leisure Centre).

Follow the signs for the main route to Yarmouth, turning left at a T junction, right at a roundabout to join the A3054, and then on past Colwell. A brief climb of 30 m in 0.75 km takes you past Golden Hill Fort, and over more poor and potholed surfaces to a left hand bend at the top of the fast descent past Norton towards Yarmouth. Take it steady during that descent, as it ends in a sharp right-hand bend, after which you cross the River Yar - and this bridge is sometimes raised to allow yachts to pass through.

You can pause at the large roundabout by Yarmouth Harbour and ferry (crossings to Lymington), with convenient toilets nearby (35.8 km, 22.2 miles, elapsed). Yarmouth has a useful range of shops and places to eat, drink, and stay. Although there is no cycle shop, Harwoods the chandlers offer a wide range of hardware, tools, clothing, and other products, mainly for small boats and watersports enthusiasts.

Those with more rugged tyres can enjoy the old railway track from Afton to Yarmouth.

Remain on the A3054 heading east out of Yarmouth towards Newport. Although this road carries heavy traffic, its surface is generally good and should give a quick ride to reach the village of Shalfleet, where traffic lights control access to a single-track section of road. Immediately after the lights, turn left towards Newtown, leaving a garage on your right.

Newtown was once the thriving capital, and its old town hall and estuary are worth visiting.

These quieter back roads are generally well maintained and offer a fine ride through mixed farmland and woods to reach Cowes. Stay on this road through the hamlet of Porchfield, turning left with the road at Little Whitehouses, then right at the next bend, to the staggered crossroads at Hillis Corner. There turn left and right to maintain your north-easterly trend, climbing steadily to reach Northwood. Although none of the hills is high, the greatest only being 50 m of ascent over 1.2 km, gradients can reach 6%, particularly up the final section as you reach Northwood.

At the crossroads with the B3325, go straight on towards Cowes, passing a radar works on your right. At the northern end of those works, move into the right turn lane and ride along Three Gates Road, which brings you to Somerton roundabout on the A3020. Turn left, and you will soon start to descend into Cowes town. Take this steadily, as you reach a T junction where you turn right, followed by a sharp right hand bend towards the Cowes Chain Ferry, which is free to cyclists (55.1 km, 34.2 miles, elapsed).

With many shops, pubs, and other attractions, Cowes is primarily a yachting town, although its chandlers and hardware store can be useful. The Red Jet high-speed passenger ferry to Southampton is excellent but does not carry bicycles.

Variations: you can easily pass straight through Freshwater Bay towards Alum Bay, then turn back north past Totland, although this uses a single-track road that gets busy in the summer and great care is needed with other traffic. From Shalfleet there are several variations possible along backroads, taking in Newtown hamlet, or passing north to Gurnard before rounding the coast to Cowes. However the town centre in Cowes is a pedestrian precinct, and you will either have to walk through that or thread your way through the houses to reach the Chain Ferry.


  © 2005-2007 EHN & DIJ Oakley