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Leg 3: Cowes to Bembridge

21 km (13 miles), about 1 hour

A switchback ride along busy major roads provides a series of fast downhill runs followed by long uphill slogs, with Ryde a bustling break-off half way.

Walk off the Chain Ferry on the left hand side, and turn left immediately, into East Cowes. With fewer shops, it may seem less attractive, but its esplanade to the north is an excellent place to stop for lunch, and offers an interesting view over the Cowes waterfront. East Cowes is also the terminal for Red Funnel vehicle services from Southampton, and can get very busy when a ferry is discharging, with a lot of disoriented drivers trying to fathom their way out of the town.

The esplanade to the north of East Cowes is a good place to eat lunch.

The only route out of East Cowes is the 1 km climb up 50 metres along the A3021 past Osbourne House. Although this averages 5% it does reach 8% at times, and is a taste to come of the climbs in store over the rest of this leg. From the crest at Whippingham, the descent is extremely quick on an excellent surface, with no obstructions to fear until you reach the Racecourse roundabout junction with the A3054. As the maximum incline reaches 10% briefly, you will very quickly be turning left at that roundabout, heading towards Ryde.

There follows a succession of climbs and descents: Lushington Hill (30 m over 0.75 km, up to 6%), down to sea level over Wootton Bridge (62.3 km, 38.7 miles, elapsed), then Kite Hill (40 m in 1 km with a breather half way up it, up to 9% with traffic lights at the top - make for the right hand lane), Quarr Hill (20 m in 0.3 km, up to 12%), and finally the run up to the top of Ryde (20 m in 1 km, up to 7%).

As you enter Ryde, take the left turn at the first traffic lights to reach another set of lights by the inspiring All Saints Church, where you again turn left. Now keep to the right lane, turning with it into the town centre. Pass the Town Hall on your left (toilets available at the far end), keeping in the left lane now, and turn left to descend through Rydeʼs shopping centre with views straight ahead of the Solent to Portsmouth. Be extremely careful down here, as few motorists will notice or care about you, and will double-park, pull out, or stop suddenly in their quest to shop.

At the foot of the hill, turn left with the road and you are on a roundabout on the sea front, just by Ryde Pier. This is an excellent place for a stop, with seats, toilets, and the roar of hovercraft leaving the terminal just the other side of the pier. You have now completed 67.6 km, or 42 miles, since leaving Wroxall.

Rydeʼs hovercraft service to Southsea can sometimes accommodate bikes.

Leave Ryde along the sea front road (A3055), and after an S bend climb 40 m in 0.75 km at gradients of up to 9% to reach another S bend and mini-roundabout at the top. There go half left (left of straight on) rather than staying with the main road towards Brading, and follow the B3330 through to St Helens. This road twists and turns, and there are several bumps and dips that require careful speed control and remaining leg strength.

You emerge with St Helens village green on your left, and at the mini-roundabout turn left down the B3395 for Bembridge. After a short descent, the ride is on the flat around Bembridge Harbour, at the far end of which the road turns sharply right and starts ascending. During the tourist season a beach store sells everything from ice creams to cooked meals, and there are toilets just on the inside of the bend (76.6 km, 47.6 miles, elapsed).

Variations: there is a fairly flat back road from Whippingham to Wootton Bridge that you might prefer to the main roads. After Ryde, it is possible to hug the north east coast more, passing through Seaview, although the roads are narrow and twisty.

Bembridge Harbour has some extraordinary houseboats, one of which functions as a hotel.


  © 2005-2007 EHN & DIJ Oakley