The Wight Prestige 2021 – A Weekend of Gravel & Garlic

In late September 2021, I welcomed an exclusive group of 20 enthusiastic gravel riders from across the country to my home soil on the Isle of Wight. The Wight Prestige #1 would be a weekend of fantastic food, countless laughs, and the best gravel bike riding that can be found on this little emerald Island off the South Coast of the UK…

The click of freehubs, clink of beer bottles, and sound of Rory's Boom Pod signals the arrival of the first of the guests for the inaugural Wight Prestige. As they roll off the ferry at Ryde Pier, handing their bags to the e-cargo bike bag transfer riders, it is a relaxed and jubilant atmosphere as the sun shines down on the late September evening.

We spin down the pier and along the seafront, sneaking out of town on hidden bridleways as the Friday afternoon 'rush hour' descends. Before long we are out on the Downs, and I am leading the small group up over the hill and down to the calm surrounds of the Garlic Farm on the southern side of the Island's central ridgeline.

After the groups of four have found their cosy yurts, prepared their bikes for tomorrow, and sampled the keg of Isle of Wight beer that has been stationed in the BBQ area, it is time for the first of many meals at the beautiful Garlic Farm Restaurant.

After welcome drinks, the group settles down to plates loaded with locally farmed salted beef burgers, fresh fish, or sumptuous vegan dishes; all served with local beer and wine. Filled to bursting point by dessert, and feeling quite merry after some Dark and Stormy tasting, the group retires to the yurts ahead of the next day's big ride.

The next morning a low cloud hangs over the Island, but spirits are not dampened as riders sit down to a (Garlicky!) full english breakfast and pots of coffee in the restaurant—fuelling up for the 100 kilometres of Isle of Wight gravel that lie ahead.

As we roll out onto the sandy trails and take in the first rocky climbs of the Island, the group of riders begins to settle into a comfortable pace; chatting and joking as they discover new trails, roads and friends.

The 20 riders have been split into two groups—one with a more casual pace on a slightly shorter route; so that we cater for all preferences of speed and stamina levels.

By lunchtime we have ridden hills, forests, open downland and wooded single-track. We are ready for a bite to eat. Pulling into Chessell Pottery Café, plates of burgers and hot drinks rekindle our engines, and we are ready for the second half of the adventurous ride.

On emerging from the café, the sun has broken through and distant views of the mainland and the southwest coastline of the Island provide a welcome distraction as the group grinds their way up to the top of Brook Down.

A whooping descent down to Freshwater and then a fast paced ride through to Yarmouth and Wellow sees the efforts of the climb long forgotten. It is then a charge into Parkhurst Forest on the wide gravel tracks; stones pinging off carbon frames and wheels thrumming as the Prestige peloton passes the 70 kilometre mark.

Back over the Tennyson Trail, and a treat is instore for all the riders; both groups converge on a special target in the sleepy hamlet of Gatcombe…

David is a close friend of mine, and a cycling fanatic (I bought my first two (steel) road bikes from him some 20+ years ago). He welcomes us into his sun soaked garden and presents a spread of beautiful cakes and warm sausage rolls, fresh from his wife Jane's Aga. A surprise treat that leaves every one of the Prestige riders with glistening eyes, and very contented stomachs not long after…

For the longer group, I throw in one last climb as the sun sets on day one of the Wight Prestige. The 'Gatcombe Gut Buster', as it is lovingly called by locals, comes dangerously close to bringing some riders' cake consumption back up for a second digestion; but the views from the top are spectacular, and the sweeping gully descent leaves a smile on every face.

Back at the farm, with 100 kilometres in the legs, riders head straight to the beer keg to "start their recovery". The wood fired hot tubs and showers help ease the legs too, and wash the mud off some ruddy looking faces—ready for dinner.

Another sumptuous meal is served in the Garlic Farm Restaurant, and tales of riding are shared between friends old and new. There is that feeling of companionship brought about only by a long day in the saddle together.

Sunday is a new day, and another ride beckons—shorter this time, but just as punchy.

The route head south to the big hills of St Boniface Down and Ventnor. Slippery climbs give way to swooping descents. Sandy forest floors transition into chalky ridgelines. Variety is the spice of life, and the Isle of Wight has it in abundance.

With another 50 kilometres in the legs before noon, the two groups arrive back at The Garlic Farm with smiling mud-splattered faces. It is time for a final farewell supper, and a toast of our bottles and glasses to a wonderful weekend.

Then there is nothing left but for a very gentle spin back over the hill to catch the ferry home from Ryde.

As I stand on the pier waving them off, I know that the little Isle of Wight has come up trumps once again… I am sure many of those smiling faces will be back next year.



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