Storm Brian was in full force as our ferry crossed the Solent. This was an inauspicious start to our holiday on the Isle of Wight.
It was October half term and we’d journeyed south in search of better weather and to explore a new area of the country. Cycling was part of the plan when we booked a stay in Yarmouth and, after a couple days exploring locally while Brian blew out, we hired bikes and set off along the old railway path towards Freshwater.
With J and me on mountain bikes and G, aged four, pedalling his tagalong, we soon completed the three or so gentle miles to Freshwater. This wasn’t our final destination, though; we were aiming for the beach at Compton Bay. Playing on the unusual ink-black sand was to be G’s reward for his efforts.
The second half of the route was tougher. As we followed the Tennyson Trail up to Compton Down a thick sea mist engulfed us. We puffed our way through the fret until, finally, we saw the Freshwater Way leaving our path to the right. Following it, we descended to the main road, swooping downhill around a bend until we could pull off and leave our bikes at the top of the steps down to the beach.
We’d made it. But little did we know the adventure was only just beginning.
On the beach, sandwiches and drinks came out of the bags – along with Benji the class bear from G’s school, who was accompanying us on the holiday. Benji looked on as G and J finished off their picnic and began a series of races along the beach. Then came the big wave.
G’s feet were soaked. We didn’t have spare socks for him with us, so I gave him mine. It turns out adult socks work okay on a child, you just pull them up further. Crisis averted, we finished off our beach games by making contrasting pictures and patters with the white pebbles on the black sand.
As we climbed back on the bikes, the mist was thicker than ever and we didn’t fancy mixing with traffic on the uphill drag along the road. Instead we took the byway opposite that led back onto the down past Compton Farm. Before long we were slipping and sliding as we pushed the bikes up a farm track, my sockless feet oozing in the ankle-deep mud.
Eventually, at the eastern end of the down, we met the Tennyson Trail again and turned west – into the wind. As G and I battled uphill, we looked behind us for J. She wasn’t there. We got off and waited, growing increasingly cold and just a bit worried. Finally, she appeared – pushing her bike. This wasn’t a good sign. Her chain had slipped off the largest cog and become firmly wedged between the cassette and the wheel.
With limited hire-bike tools we couldn’t free it, and we couldn’t hang around in the cold for long. We decided that the best option was for her to push her bike up the rest of the hill then use a mix of scooting and freewheeling to descend to Freshwater. It worked well enough, and we were soon inside a warm cafe eating cake while the bike hire company came and swapped J’s bike for the final few miles riding back to Yarmouth.
Benji would certainly have a few stories to tell when he returned to school.
17.71km | 280m ascent