September 11 – Cowes to Newport
We did the rounds of the transport today and we rode the island again on two wheels and more.
I started off with a quick run before we left, back along the Esplanade by the water. No fog this morning but a ripper of a wind was blowing, which was great in one direction and a bit of a slog in the other.
We packed up, loaded up and our guest house host commented, “That’s a lot to carry on bikes!” Yep, when it’s all off and sitting in a pile on the ground, it does look like it would never fit on a couple of two wheelers, but with a place for everything and everything in its place, somehow it does. We pedalled down the street then up a street and we were on the old Cowes to Newport rail line. This is another former railway that’s been turned into a walking and cycling path. The railway was opened in 1862 and then in 1879 a brick viaduct was built to cross the River Medina at Newport and that created a railway connection between Cowes and Sandown. The railway finally closed in 1966.
We pedalled along this very nice path, through trees, beside the estuary, of which we only caught an occasional glimpse because of those trees and we wheeled along at a leisurely clip.
Ting-ting-ting came the sound of a bike bell behind me and a lady pedalled alongside, ringing her bell to let us know she was overtaking. As she pedalled past, she looked at my bike. “Is that heavy?” she asked
“Yes!” was my answer.
“I thought so”, she replied.
Yep, there are no optical illusions here, we carry some weight!
We pedalled along merrily, with me on constant squirrel watch, but alas none appeared. Then we passed the old cement kilns. In the 1840’s this site was chosen for cement production and “Medina Cement” won several awards, including a bronze medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Apparently it was quite unpleasant for rail passengers to pass this point of their journey and they needed to close their carriage windows because pollution from the kilns was quite a problem. These problems extended to royalty and it’s said that Queen Victoria specifically asked for cement mills to be included in the Clean Air Act because the pollution from the West Medina Mill reached her residence, Osborne House, at East Cowes.
Into Newport we wheeled just as the weather began to look quite unfriendly. We’d planned to stop here, so it was a very short ride, but Newport was going to give us a convenient and central location for our onward plans. We were just a little early to check in to our accommodation so we made our way to a cafe near the quay and had a cuppa and elevenses while we enjoyed some shelter from the rain that had just started to come down.
A short pedal up the street and we could leave the bikes in their own cosy room, dump all our panniers and then head out for another island experience. Off to the bus station, onto the Number 9 bus and we choofed off again, along the island roads until we were deposited at Wooton Station. The Isle of Wight still has a running steam train so we thought it would be fun to see some more of the island via some transport with a decidedly retro feel.
Wooton Station was built in March 1876, when it consisted of a simple wooden platform with no buildings. Later, wooden buildings and a signal box were built. The land around Wooten Station was very unstable though and continued to be a problem after the buildings were constructed. When the carriages and wagons were moved to Havenstreet in 1971 it was hoped Wooton Station could be reopened but the instability proved to be an insurmountable problem.
We climbed aboard our first class carriage, which we had to ourselves and rattled along the track. The old train was fantastic. It was rattly and clunky and the fields and trees passed by outside at a beautifully sedate pace.
Not far along the track we arrived at Havenstreet Station where got off to have a look around the small railway museum. The little station was buzzing with other people enjoying an outing on the historic railway. I have to say, before this trip I had close to zero interest in trains. Since we’ve ridden along so many paths that have been created from disused rail lines and seen all the lovely old stations and the remnants of the golden age of rail travel along the way, not to mention the amazing viaducts and aqueducts we’ve seen which are just engineering masterpieces, I think my interest has definitely ramped up from zero. The history of this form of transport and what it has meant for small towns and villages, really is very interesting. Oh dear, should I be wearing a duffle coat? Should I have a pair of binoculars around my neck, a notepad and pencil in hand and a woolly beanie on my head? Nope, I don’t think I’m quite at the trainspotter stage, but the whole story of rail has been a fascinating one to learn, see and experience.
Just as we were making our way to the platform, a guard shut the gates to stop people walking across the tracks while the engine was being moved into place. We waited with the small gathering of people waiting to board, but it seemed amongst two of our fellow travellers, the gates had created a separation that had also created a bit of tension.
“Brian! Quick! BRI-AN!!” called a woman from the other side of the track, standing behind the small gate.
“I’m coming!” called Brian, who was sprinting along the fence in a flurry of grey gaberdine, “I’ll come across.”
“No, it’s too late now, you’ll have to stay there, they’re shunting the trains now!”
Brian came to an abrupt halt at the small gate on our side of the track, looking across at his wife who stood rolling her eyes. It seemed Brian had been enjoying his interlude at the station a bit too long!
The engine was put into place, the gates opened and we could all file across the tracks to the platform and Brian was reunited with his punctual wife and we all made it back into our carriages.
Up the line we continued, with more lovely rocking, rolling and rattling as we choofed along quite literally. The plumes of steam shot into the air and the whistle blew as we rattled under arches and then through a long black tunnel. It was brilliant to be experiencing some of the things we’d seen as we pedalled but experiencing them as they were intended. We’ve ridden under arches and through tunnels on the rail trails and now we were doing it, not on a repurposed trail, but on the real thing, as it was meant to be.
We reached Smallbrook Station where we had a brief stop and I hopped out for a look while Steve remained in first class comfort. The line through Smallbrook Junction was in operation in the 1800’s but was at that time, just a junction and there was no actual station at all, just the signal box and the signalman. Even then, there was no public access at Smallbrook and even today, the only way to get there is by train.
Back we went, along the line until we arrived back at Wooton Station. The station was still in its original form with some period signs on the walls and fences and it all looked wonderful. It had all been wonderful, experiencing a little piece of history and seeing some more of the Isle of Wight in a very different way.
We walked back out to the road, caught the next bus and arrived back in the centre of Newport, just in time to gather supplies and call it a day. Another ripper day. A run, a ride (albeit a short one) and then another touch of island life riding the local buses, before riding a piece of island history on that wonderful old train. Fun indeed. Tomorrow we’re hoping to continue exploring the island with an outing on the bikes. We’ve explored on buses we’ve explored on trains and now we’re waiting to see what we can discover on two wheels. I hope the weather forecast is on the money because it’s supposed to be warm, at least I’m sure it’ll be too warm to be measured up for a duffle coat!
Distance ridden: 8 km
Time in the saddle: 42 minutes
Distance run: 7 km
Weather: grey, windy, a bit chilly “17C feels like 13C”