The Needles

Isle of Wight Journal - Part 2

After the disappointing ending to my first visit to the Isle of Wight when I had a minor accident while driving my mountain bike, I vowed to return to continue my journey. This is the continuation of that story.

Friday, May 19, 2000 - Shanklin, Isle of Wight

It has been 3 weeks since my last visit to the Island. During this time I have been in and out of the doctor's office and local clinics. My stiches have been removed and all that I have on my head now is a small “plaster” (band-aid) covering the bit that looks the worse (none of it hurts). The biggest problem I have been having is with my arms which must have been wrenched during the accident (as I went over the handlebars). Hopefully, this will not prove to be too much of a problem this weekend.

My return to the Island has been well gauged. I have been taking it easy over the past few weeks, biding my time for the return. I wanted to be sure that the forecast made no mention of rain at least for one of the days of the weekend. The forecast for the coming weekend is just that – partly cloudy on Saturday with rain later on Sunday. After hearing the forecast today I made a phone call to the hotel I visited previously and made a reservation. I have been lucky – they have put me in a double room instead of the rather tiny single room of last time.

Getting to the island was a bit problematic as it meant I had to get moving quite quickly, driving home from work at a quarter to five. I caught the train from Woking (my home town) at 6:20 the only problem being that it was the slower train (stopped MANY times) to Portsmouth. It was quite nice though a bit crowded with commuters returning home for the weekend. We passed through Hampshire, stopping at Basingstoke, and then headed south(ish) through Winchester, Fareham and Portchester. It took about 2 hours, finally arriving at Portsmouth just after eight. I caught the ferry from the end of the platform and continued on to land at the Isle of Wight. The ticket I have is very good as it is a return ticket right to Shanklin (where I am staying), including travel on the train, ferry and island train line, allowing be to return within five days.

The ferry crossing was a bit wavy but I was able to gobble down some chips (french fries) that I had picked up in the ten minutes waiting for the ferry to leave. It was a bit early for the train to depart from the ferry terminal on the island so I relaxed for a few minutes before getting on board, only to find that we were waiting for a few minutes for the next ferry to arrive before the train would leave (eventually, 10 minutes late). I was a bit concerned since I had told the gentleman at the hotel that I would be arriving at 8:30 (it was now 9:10).

Eventually we arrived in Shanklin, where I made a quick call to the hotel to let them know that I had arrived. As I walked from the station the hotelier picked me up in his van and drove me the remaining 2 or 3 blocks.

The hotel has a bunch of roudy guys visiting this weekend but it should not be too much of a problem. If the weather holds tomorrow will be a big day for me.

Saturday, May 20, 2000 - Shanklin, Isle of Wight

It has been a very long day. But I feel a lot better for it (not physically, but mentally, feel REALLY sore physically…).

Breakfast was at my typical eight o'clock though I had to wait until a little later since the hotelier had agreed to drive me to pick up my bike the last time I visited. His wife has just had a child and it is quite something to see that she is still cooking breakfasts, though I think that he is cleaning up the rooms and taking care of pretty much everything else.

I had enough time to walk into town to pick up some sun cream. I don't what it is about the stuff, I ALWAYS forget it and end up having to buy some every time I go travelling. I think this makes about three different containers of the stuff I will have when I get home. Since it is so expensive it is also quite annoying.

At ten we set out to pick up the bike. It was quite something as we drove along for me to realize that I had actually biked the same route three weeks previous. So much has changed since then. Along the way we chatted about life on the island – he is much like many of the people here who prefer to live there instead of nearer to London, or even on the “mainland”. He does have gripes about the transport system – a passtime shared by, it seems, every one that lives in England. But, for the number of people that use it every day and the extent it covers…it is not THAT bad…Getting around on the Island, though, I must admit is a bit awkward by public transport, the train only has a few stops and only on the east side (and not even the far east, for that matter). The bus is the only way to get around but that also does not go everywhere.

We had a bit of trouble finding the place where my bike was being kept. At first we left the road right at the roundabout where my accident occurred but could not find it (the address was VERY vague, only the name of the house and town). It is just as well that he had a mobile phone so we gave them a ring and shortly figured out where we had to go (just down on the main road PAST the roundabout). He dropped me off and headed back to the hotel, leaving me to wander around for a few minutes until I found the right house.

The place was certainly not in fantastic repair, with the gardening having been left to Mother Nature and little effort spared on glass in the windows on the porch, though a few panes could be seen covered in dust. I rattled on the door and was greeted by two children (a small boy and girl) who proceeded to show me around to the back where my bike was in a shed. Luckily it did not seem damaged and was well taken care of (though, curiously, the young boy indicated that they took it out during the day and put it back in at night – though this may be because the shed was crowded with other bikes as well). I had a small chat with the children before wheeling my bike back to the road.

The guy from the hotel had suggested that perhaps I should take it easy and simply return back to Shanklin but I knew that I was going to try to finish the trip I had planned earlier – to continue to the Needles and return to Shanklin via Newport (in the middle of the Island).

Starting from Where the First Trip Ended

My first tentative peddling returned me to the roundabout that had cut short my previous visit, allowing me to take a few pictures (causing some interested looks by people driving by). I was surprised to see that my mark was very much in evidence (even seeing some blood stains on the guard rail and the dent where my bike had hit). It was about 10:30 - the same time of day I had my accident one day short of three weeks earlier (this was intentional – I guess I am sentimental!). I braced myself for the big ride and started off west along the coast.

South Isle of Wight Landscape

The biking along the south coast was very straightforward, though I was driving very easily – being sure that I did not get up a lot of speed going down hills for fear of my previous situation. The landscape was quite pleasant with many “chines” (small ravines) all along the way. The area is very sparsely populated with no towns all the way to Freshwater. The sun was out off and on – which made the driving less of an ordeal. The coastline is truly magnificent with the crashing breakers and the wonderful chalk cliffs all the way along. The people that walk along the path that follows the cliffs must have a much better view than I did from the road (I cannot take my bike on hiking trails – only bridleways).

South Shoreline - At the Top of the Hill before Freshwater

I was warned about the hill just prior to Freshwater and the warning turned out to be well founded as I took about half an hour to cover about 1/4 mile, stopping as often as I could in order to relax. Even in the correct gear on the bike it was very hard going. The view from the top was fantastic (a few pictures out of that one!).

(10 3/4 Miles)

I continued down the other end of the hill into Freshwater (brake, brake, brake!), passing through quite quickly on my way to the Needles. The road turned very quickly into a back road with trees threatening the road on both sides. The road steadily climbed upwards, turning to a single track road a few times which made driving quite interesting with traffic coming at you (where do you go? The bushes?).

(12 3/4 Miles)

Shortly thereafter (puff, puff, puff) I arrived at Alum Bay which is the closest you can get driving a motorized vehicle to the Needles themselves (which are another 1/4 mile down the road, well, up the road – a VERY steep incline). At Alum Bay there are a series of (tacky) tourist attractions which I prompted skipped over and took the more scenic (and site-specific) activities – riding the chair lift to the beach below. That was quite fun with the lift running right through the leaves of the tops of trees (a literal tunnel through them) and then steeply falling down the cliff to the beach, ending on a concrete platform on the ocean itself.

The Chairlift at the Needles

The cliff colours are really quite something – bright pinks, the subdued orange of the sandstone, powder blue and all shades in between. Alum Bay is well known for it's coloured sands which are also protected (you cannot remove any sand or damage the cliffs in any way).

Alum Bay - From the Seaside

I took a minor stroll, waiting for the boat to arrive to take a tour of the Needles themselves which are only too obvious, just down the beach. The Needles are a series of jutting pieces of land that cut out of the ocean at the westernmost tip of the Island. The furthest “needle” has a lighthouse on it that is no longer manned (all automated) – yes, these are quite big pieces of real estate.

The Needles - From Close-Up

The cruise was quite good, if not terribly informative (perhaps due to the incessent chatting of a large family/freinds group that got on with us who refused to listen to the gentleman trying to discuss what we were seeing). It was quite windy out on the boat – I had to put on my coat, also keeping the water off as well. We looked up the cliffs just near the Needles themselves where an abandoned military “battery” sits, looking at the holes through which guns could be mounted. The battery is run by the National Trust but was, unfortunately, closed today.

I returned back up the cliff via the chair lift and wandered around, eventually deciding to take the bus to the top of the battery at least to take a look (even if it was not open), deciding to forgo the idea of biking up the VERY steep incline (which also happened to have a fair number of people on it and a STEEP drop off if you make a mistake). The drive in the open-topped bus was quite amusing (if quite short) up the winding NARROW road to the top. Quite windy but quite a view.

Returning to the attractions at Alum Bay, I provisioned up on liquids to continue my journey. I was quite tired even on the first hill outside of Alum Bay, having to stop quite often. The weather was cooler but I took my coat off anyway – if anything to keep me from sweating (it is a rain coat and keeps the water IN as well as out, not good for exercise).

I continued briefly along the north coast and then straight through the middle of the island, passing through Totland, then Yarmouth. I intentionally took this route, even though longer, since it avoided many of the major hills that I had faced in the beginning of this bike ride three weeks earlier (the bottom of one such hill bears my mark on it…). The going was very difficult with a series of smaller hills. I think the biggest issue was that I had not been able to bike for these past few weeks so I was a bit out of “shape”, more so than I would have been if I had been able to continue those few weeks ago (when I had been biking every weekend).

The area was very open with lots of farm land, but not as much pasture land as I had seen on the south of the Island. The views were no where near as spectacular as well. I stopped whenever I felt tired – which was very often. My legs were bothering me a lot more than my arms, though my right arm really hurts which I think is due to the injuries I sustained. Funnily, my left arm which was REALLY hurt in the accident has not really been bothering me.

(26 Miles)

Passing some strawberry fields (pick your own) I arrived at Newport at just after five. The hospital I was brought to is in Newport (the only hospital on the Island). When I visited those weeks ago they loaned me a pajama top to wear back from the hospital indicating that I should return it if I could. I thought this was a good idea and so I returned to the Accident and Emergency that I hastily visited earlier this month and returned my (washed) pyjama top. It made me feel better. Though, physically, it made me feel even better to relax for a few minutes on a bench on the grounds. I was getting REALLY tired, and still a LONG way to go to Shanklin (it was 20 minutes by taxi when I left those weeks ago).

I continued through the busy roads of Newport, causing a few horns to beep at me (how am I supposed to get around a roundabout on a bike? I HAVE to go on the outside lane even if I am not turning left since if I went in the middle it would be SUICIDE – travelling in the middle of the lanes of traffic).

(34 3/4 Miles)

Over the hills I continued, down to Lake on the south coast. The going was getting to be very slow. It was a supreme chore to travel for more than 10 meters or so up very gradual hills, my legs just wanting to stop. At Lake my journey was almost at an end.

(36 1/4 Miles)

I continued up and down a few hills and I was suddenly in Shanklin, much to my relief. Ignoring some silly comments from people drinking in a pub I quickly made my way to the hotel only to find that it was VERY hard to climb the steps to the front door. It was 6:30 – about 8 hours after I had set out biking in the morning. I put my bike inside the sun room and gingerly made my way to my room where I laid on the bed for a few minutes. I knew that I could not just stop and lay down otherwise I would be tremendously stiff tomorrow so I forced myself to rise (“Up from the Dead He Arose!” – a hymn I remember from church) and walk back into town to get something to eat. I had not had anything to really eat since breakfast (which probably also caused me some problems when biking). Fish and chips from the local “chippy” was the order of the day along with a few chocolate bars and the like from the newsagent.

Slowly making my way back to my room, I devoured my meal and relaxed all evening in front of the television (after a 20 minutes shower!). Tomorrow should be interesting to be moving about…

Sunday, May 21, 2000 - Woking, Surrey

The morning was not as bad as I expected – I was able to walk down the stairs for breakfast in a reasonable manner without too much pain. I quickly made my way through breakfast as I wanted to catch an early train out of the town. The weather has been forecast to rainy today so there is little point in staying with a bike since it will be difficult to get around with it (and not get completely soaked) so I decided I might as well take the three hours or so to get home at a reasonable time so I could take care of some things I needed to do at home.

Not riding the bike for any distance certainly seemed to be a good choice since the ride for 5-6 blocks to the train station was very difficult. I have found out that not only are my legs tired my back- side is also EXTREMELY tender from the seat (!).

I continued on the train to catch the ferry and it turns out that my concerns about the weather were well founded since shortly after we left Shanklin the rain started to come down (off and on). I managed to enjoy the view (what could be seen) of the countriside as we returned to Ryde and I caught the ferry to Portsmouth.

As luck would have it I took the same route back to Woking as I had on Friday (in reverse) so I arrived home two hours later, barely managing to pedal back to my flat.

The weekend, though short, has been very good for me. I feel a lot better for having finished the journey I had started those weeks ago. Some people would think that I am stubborn or perhaps even stupid for even attempting such a journey in such a short period of time after such an accident but I need to move on with my life. I hate just sitting around and waiting, I felt well enough to at least attempt this trip – and I proved to myself that I could do it.

It also proved to me that I am on the mend (though need some more mending – at least for my legs – over the next few days) and it allowed me to see a part of the Island that I had missed. It certainly gave me a better impression of the Island and means I will also try to get back to see some of the bits that I have not yet seen – Cowes, for example, where the big sailing regatta is held every year. The Isle of Wight is certainly a wonderful, and relaxing place, though HOW relaxing it is is really up to you…

Once again, I stayed at the Westcoombe Hotel in Shanklin (recently, 2004, demolished). 5 Westhill Road, Shanklin, Isle of Wight.