The Isle of Wight has gained plaudits aplenty for its ability to entertain walkers and cyclists. Lonely Planet has described it as one of the top cycling destinations in the world, while the Sunday Telegraph includes it in its top ten for family cycling routes and day cycling routes. And for walkers, the Island has more footpaths per square mile than any other English county (over 500 miles of signposted, well-maintained paths) and hosts the largest walking festival of its kind in the UK. So, whether you’re a seasoned adventurer, or venturing out for the first time, it’s clear you’re in the right place.
The Island offers walks to suit all abilities: short family strolls where red squirrels abound; seven-day excursions encompassing the Round the Island coastal path; spooky ghost walks; fossil discovery walks; guided literary trails; and self-guided local history walks. With so much to see and so many guides to choose from, deciding where to start can be a tad confusing With this in mind, we’ve compiled a ‘guide to the guides’ to help you on your way.
Taking a stroll
Wightlink produces three good guides to get you started. First up is Pub Walks, which features four rural and four coastal walks, all between one to eight miles in length, and all featuring a welcoming hostelry along the route. Next, 10,000 Steps details a number of slightly more difficult walks, each of which is themed, with names such as Literary Walk, Dog and Dinosaur Walk and The Great British Seaside Walk. Lastly, Wight Safaris showcases a collection of eight adventure walks that provide walkers with new ideas for exploring the Island.
The Ramblers have produced four great guides to the Island: The Vectis Trail, Twelve Country Walks, Twelve Favourite Walks and Twelve More Favourite Walks (all £2.60, including post and packaging). Island conservationists Gift to Nature, meanwhile, produce a fantastic Map Pack (£2.50), comprised of a set of five short circular walks, including the Red Squirrel Safari, a particular favourite with families. The Isle of Wight Council has produced booklets on two excellent circular walks around the Western Yar Estuary and the Medina Estuary, while Jarrold Short Walks (£5.99) is a handy-sized guide to 20 leisure walks that are suitable for all ages.
There are all sorts of walks online: the National Trust site features eight wonderful walks full of wildlife and history (follow the links from nationaltrust.org.uk), while the Isle of Wight Ramblers website (iowramblers.com) has links to numerous downloadable walks on the Island.
On the march
There are also a number of guides if you’re thinking of tackling more challenging walks. The four routes in Wightlink Walking, for instance, are designed for the confident and energetic rambler, and feature walks through some of the Island’s most dramatic scenery. Isle of Wight Coastal Paths and Inland Trails (£4), available to order or download from Isle of Wight Tourism, features the famous 67 miles of the Coastal Path, which it breaks down into six manageable sections, and describes an additional eight inland walks from eight to 14 miles in length. One of these is the Tennyson Trail, stretching from the Needles to Carisbrooke, which is often cited as one of the top ten walks in the country.
The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust produces the excellent Wight Summer Walks, featuring a variety of walks for all abilities and covering themes such as wildlife, botany and local history. Dinosaur Isle, meanwhile, runs palaeontologist-led fossil walks throughout the year, while the Ramblers website includes a calendar of guided walks. And for the ultimate in chilling wanders, join Marc Tuckey of the Isle of Wight Ghost Experience (ghostisland.com) for a spooky ghost walk. Marc has been doing these guided walks for 20 years now and knows all the stories that abound on what is said to be the world’s most haunted island.
With over 200 miles of well-maintained and signposted trails, many in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the choice and variety of cycle routes on the Island is simply staggering. From safe family trails, picturesque country lanes and routes following the spectacular heritage coastline to the scorching descents, lungbursting climbs and breathtaking skyline ridge rides, the Island has it all.
Wightlink’s Easy Peasy Pedalling and Gift to Nature’s Rail Rides (£2) focus on family friendly cycling routes around the Island, varying in length and difficulty from five to 16 miles. Both feature the Freshwater/Yarmouth route and the Troll Trail, which are superb family cycle routes. Isle of Wight Cycle Routes (£4.99) describes ten routes from easy to challenging, while Isle of Wight Tourism’s 12 suggested routes are available for download on their website (islandbreaks.co.uk). All of the rides featured in the latter are circular routes, varying in distance from five to 15 miles. They are all presented as a PDF download, featuring a map, gradient chart and route description. Cyclewight.org.uk, meanwhile, features a variety of rides, while wightcyclehire.co.uk suggests three fairly challenging routes in West Wight and has information on guided rides.
The 62-mile Round the Island route is a spectacular ride through some of the Island’s best scenery. Mainly using quieter lanes, it’s a moderately hilly route, signposted with a white bike clockwise, and a blue bike anti-clockwise. Some look to complete it in a day, while others opt for a more leisurely pace and finish it over two or three. Other great Island road-routes are featured on cycleisland. co.uk, the Wayfarer Cycle Touring Club’s website. These are all between 20 and 40 miles in length. Off-roaders, finally, are utterly spoilt for choice here. The Tennyson Trail between Freshwater Bay and Carisbrooke, cited as one of the best off-road cycle routes in the country, offers a classic rollercoaster downland ride of between ten and 20 miles depending on your choice of route. Mountain bike club The Extremists, meanwhile, consider the Isle of Wight as ‘one of the best-kept secrets in UK mountain biking’, and recommend Brighstone Forest as great terrain and suggest a host of other trails on their website, extremists.co.uk.
EVENTS & FESTIVALS
For a small island, there are some major walking and cycling events held each year. May sees both the Walking Festival (the largest event of its kind in Europe) and the Randonnee; September has the Cycling Festival; while October has the Walking Weekend. ‘Walk the Wight’ and ‘Cycle the Wight’, major charity events, are held during both festivals.
AWAY YOU GO
Wightlink offers special rates for foot passengers, and cyclists can take their bikes across the Solent free of charge. So, whether you are on foot or wheels, pick up a map, grab a leaflet, go online or visit a bookshop and take your pick from the many superb guides available to enrich your time on the Island. Wightlink publications are available onboard, at terminals and online. All other publications are available online or from Tourist Information Centres, ferry terminals, libraries or bookshops.