Portsmouth – Ryde ferry: gateway to the 1950s

I woke up early today, and so decided to get the hovercraft to the Isle of Wight.

People have been holding me back from travelling by hovercraft for too long. It’s time I ignored the haters and lived my best life.

I arrived at the hoverport to find it closed.

Google had told me the hovercrafts were running; but google is an interactive cathedral of lies.

The Wimpy next to Southsea Hoverport: also closed.

I cycled on towards my alternative gambit, through Portsmouth Old Town, and then around the weird outlet shopping centre that congeals around the base of Blairite folly The Spinnaker Tower.


Having successfully avoided [1] some left-hooking drivers in a hurry for Boxing Day bargains, I arrived at the ferry port at the end of Portsmouth Harbour station.

The Royal Dockyard from the station.

The Man might have thwarted my hover dreams, but the ferry was an acceptable substitute.

My paternal grandfather worked on the railways, and in retirement he’d often take child-me for a day trip to the Isle of Wight and its delightfully dinky old-tube-train rail line via this very route.

This was liquid nostalgia. I can still remember the excitement of getting off the train and seeing the sea between the wooden planks of the harbour station.

The ferry was excellent, if a little expensive. The lady in the cafe had just enjoyed her first Christmas Day off in fifteen years – she used to work in social care. She served me coffee and the insight that the crew were expecting a pretty quiet day.

The staff on board were nice, there was plenty of bike capacity, the toilets were progressively labelled. All good.

Solent forts.

Ryde Pier Head is delightful in the winter sun, with its twee station cafe specifically catering to seagulls, and one of the few surviving pier-length railway lines in Britain.

Heading down the wooden pier to The Island, there are lots of signs warning cyclists not to travel faster then 10mph, presumably because of grumpy drivers complaining they keep getting overtaken [2].

I pootled very slowly down, enjoying the sight of the tankers looming in the channel and the infuriatingly non-operating hovercrafts sat on the beach like patriotic beached whales.

These hovercrafts would look better with a different flag.

I only had a couple of hours to kill, so I hurried inland and uphill, in search of the island’s cycle loop.

The Isle of Wight is still very 1960s in its attitude to infrastructure, a good ten years ahead of its attitude to most other things; the car remains king.

And so, when I found the cycle route, it was, as expected, completely impassible to all but the hardiest (and muddiest) of mountain bikers.

Thanks, Sustrans.

How much sustainable tourism would a well-surfaced, well-maintained off-road cycle loop bring to the island?


How wonderful would such a route be for the ageing locals, many of whom use mobility scooters, and as electric bikes come down in price?


Do the council care?

It does not appear so.

I found a tea room by the sea, and enjoyed a late breakfast next to an old man in a Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas jumper [3].

From here, it was a gentle cycle back along a shared use path to Ryde; past beaches, cafes, duck ponds, and abandoned bowling alleys and ice rinks.

[1] They were turning across me into the aforementioned weird outlet shopping centre, a spiritual cousin to Bicester Outlet Village, another zany Late Capitalism innovation.

[2] Speed limits don’t apply to cyclists, but in situations like this I’m happy to obey. I know I’d be busting boomer forehead veins otherwise.

[3] To quote NLS co-producer Paul, “an excellent short horror story”.

Back on the mainland.


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