Chalk Ridge Extreme Trail

Total Length: 53.16 miles.

Duration: Riders can choose to complete the circuit in a day or take things at a slower pace, stopping to drink in the fabulous scenery.

Classification: Hard. Steep slippery muddy sections. Mainly on bridleways and byways with around 25% on roads.

For the more adventurous cyclist looking for superlative cycling, the newly waymarked Chalk Ridge Extreme Trail is the Island’s most challenging trail due to its gradients and the variety of track surfaces, ranging from bridleways and byways to gravel and chalk.

It will test rider’s endurance along a trail which climbs the steep chalk ridges of the Isle of Wight’s three major downs, opening up to some of the most spectacular views on the island. The route cruises along sections of the Tennyson Trail, where you will will hear the water lapping the cliffs as they rise to 150 metres above sea level as you witness some of the Isle of Wight’s most stunning scenery. Included are sections of the ‘7 Hills Killer route’ (an event that makes up part of the Isle of Wight Cycling Festival) described as ‘probably the best chalk trail in the UK’. The eponymous poet lived near here and said the fresh air was worth “sixpence a pint”.

Pedal over the stunning chalk ridges and cliffs and you will see ancient forests, wooded bridleways, bronze age burial sites, and fantastic views over to the north coast of France on a clear day.

There are also breath-taking views along the spine of the island, rural farmland of Arreton Valley and the Islands wooded Northern claylands.

Although some may find this route difficult, along the way there are some relatively easy sections to give your legs a bit of a rest and those who tackle it will certainly be rewarded with the best the Isle of Wight has to offer.

Start your journey by leaving routefifty7 and join the first section of track. After a short while you will see some white gates on your left. Go through the gates and follow the pathway to Wroxall. After half a mile turn left on to the pathway to Wroxall. At the end of this you will be on the narrow track Castle Road. At the Worsley Pub head right along a short stretch of road taking a sign to the Appuldurcombe estate where the English Heritage managed house, said to be the most haunted in England, is worth a visit. Here you will also see signs for the ‘Round the Island Taste trail.’

At Appuldurcome pick up the Worsley Trail (GL44)/Sunshine Trail, (Route 23) so called because of the record amounts of sunshine this part of the Island receives. Follow the trail across the fields, go through through the spectacular Freemantle Gate. Turn left towards Stenbury Down.

Stenbury Down is located close to the town of Ventnor, and rises to 226 metres at its highest point. Ventnor is well worth a visit. Or if you fancy it, stop off at Ventnor Botanic Garden and Steephill Cove one of the best hidden treasures on the IoW. It is called Steephill for a reason and is only accessible by foot. Tip: take cash for the beach shack as card readers do not work under the cliff.

From there go on to Whitwell. Cross the road and pick up Ashknowle Lane and on to Niton. Go past the White Lion and down Pan Lane next to the church.

Follow signs to Hoy Memorial on St Catherine’s Down, visible for miles the memorial has a fascinating link to Tsar Alexander I of Russia who dealt a serious blow to Napoleon’s ambitions to dominate Europe.

From there you can pick up the Tennyson Trail (named after the eponymous poet who lived on the island) this makes up a good section of the Chalk Ridge Extreme and is extremely popular with local and visiting cyclists. The Good Mountain Biking Guide describes the Tennyson Trail as ‘probably the best chalk trail in the UK’.

Pick up Public Footpath C33/SW56 through Kingston Copse and go through Shorwell (pronounced Shorel) and then on to Limerston Down locally called the ‘Back o’ the Wight’, it is one of the most remote parts of the island. Landward it is cut off from the rest of the Island by a ridge of chalk downs, seawards the 18 miles of sheer chalk cliffs from the Needles to Compton Bay averaging 300 ft high make it virtually inaccessible.

Cross Lynch Lane and will go through Brightstone Forest. if your legs aren’t to dead take the short trip to see Mottistone Manor where the real ‘War Horse’ lived and the Mottistone Longstone, two Iron sandstone pillars where St Catherine and the Devil had a throwing contest to see who should control the Isle of Wight*. It is actually a Neolithic communal long barrow where they buried the dead 6,000 years ago.

This part of The Isle of Wight, as well as being designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, also has sites of Special Scientific Interest and Designated Special Areas of Conservation.

Off Compton Bay you can still see the remains of the tug boat ‘Carbon’ that hit the rocks in 1947 when the towing line snapped while she was being towed from Portland to Southampton for salvage. And at Freshwater Bay you can also get to meet Jimi Hendrix (or at least a statue of him erected in memory of the IoW festival on Afton Down in 1970).

Go through Afton Nature Reserve. Yellow loosestrife, marsh fern, greater birds-foot trefoil can all be found there. Southern marsh orchid is found in wetter areas whereas drier areas contain greater pond sedge tied with meadowsweet, hemp agrimony, hemlock water dropwork and water mint. Animals use the marsh to breed, they include reed warbler and sedge warbler. Butterflies include wall, small tortoiseshell, peacock, red admiral, orange tip and three species of whites (large, small and green-veined).

From there you will find yourself cycling along the River Yar, part of the Isle of Wight’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with it’s important habitats of saltmarsh, reedbeds, mud flats and sand dunes, and these in turn host a rich abundance of wildlife, particularly over-wintering wildfowl and waders. Oddly there are two River Yar’s on the Isle of Wight.

The River Yar terrain alternates between slippery mud and even more slippery chalk. The challenge pays off, though – the northern claylands and the island’s woodlands bear a similarity to the New Forest, and provide shade and scenery for the trail’s final eastward stretch.

From Yarmouth head home via Brightstone Forest. Be prepared as here is some of the juiciest mountain biking on the island. If you haven’t already, you might now realise why this route is called ‘Extreme’.

Next stop, the quintessential romantic motte-and-bailey castle, Carisbrooke at the heart of the island and the very heart of the Isle of Wight’s history is well worth a visit.

After that head to Combley Great Wood near Havenstreet, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway’s focal point.

Most of the woodland is designated as an Ancient Woodland site. Red squirrels are present in the woods, as are Bechstein’s Bats, a rare tree-dwelling bat.

Heading back home on the flatlands to Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve with its bird and squirrel hide. The red squirrels there are used to visitors, so take them some snacks to get really close and take a selfie! Keep your eyes out for the red admirals on the nettles, listen to birds, and marvel at geese in the field, flapping away with chests puffed out. The Isle of Wight is also one of the few places in England where you can still see a Glanville Fritillary butterfly so keep your eyes out for them too. At Alverstone you will find yourself travelling along the ‘other’ River Yar and then on to Borthwood Copse which used to be part of a much larger hunting forest. Queen Isabella de Fortibus, the medieval Queen of the Isle of Wight, is said to have watched the deer from here. Whilst you may not see deer but this is a fantastic atmospheric walk which takes you through woods that are home to the red squirrel. It is a particularly beautiful place to be when the trees take on their autumn colours in October and early November. Dormice are also prevalent here, although rarely seen.

The final push of your stamina and determination is through America Wood on the outskirts of Shanklin named after the American War of Independence. While much of the wood is thought to be ancient woodland, the northern section has a mixture of conifers, broadleaves and lots of holly.

Once through America Wood are now two minutes away from the routefifty7 and  a well earnt drink.

*(St Catherine won just in case you were wondering!)

Chalk ridge extreme trail

Start here. Go anywhere.

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