Island Roads are different, and the council have put such signs up at the ferry ports warning visitors what to expect! Why are our roads different? 

It is probably the fact that our Island population did not expand until recent times, and also we are not on a “through route.” 

Most people lived in rural conditions and were self-sufficient. 

Rough tracks developed to link small settlements together.  There was no need to travel.   

Isle of Wight County Press: Cooke's 1808 map of the Isle of WightCooke's 1808 map of the Isle of Wight (Image: IW Society)

The Back of the Wight originally only had a minor road linking small settlements, such as Yafford, Little Atherfield and Pyle, sometimes almost a mile inland. 

The Military Road, now the A3055, was not created until the mid 1800s, to allow troops from Freshwater Fort to rapidly reach any part of the coast in the event of an invasion from France. 

It links Freshwater directly with Chale, avoiding any villages. 

In the 1930s the road was improved through a government scheme to help the unemployed. 

Today, because of erosion, sections of the Military Road are about to disappear. 

In a few years, the road will become impassable.  This “through route” will become a dead end, like others in the south of the Island, due to landslips. 

Much of West Wight is in the National Landscape – the new name for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

Isle of Wight County Press: The sparsely populated Back of the WightThe sparsely populated Back of the Wight (Image: IW Society)

Some 50 per cent of the Island is in this rural National Landscape, but only six per cent of our Island population lives there. 

There is little incentive, or desire, to upgrade the original road network. It is part of the character of our Island which is appreciated by tourists who visit it. 

Historically walkers chose the easiest and driest route. Rivers and streams were obstacles. Therefore, tracks kept to higher and level routes (highways), and crossed streams at their narrowest. 

A shallow gravel stream bed could be forded. The Wootton to Newport road was only via Wooton Common and Staplers, now passing Butterfly World, where today the stream is bridged. 

The main road of today linking Lushington and Fairlee was not built until the mid 1900s.   

Roads expanded from Newport, market centre of the Island, and at the limit of the tidal flow of the Medina River. 

Pyle means ford, so before the first bridge was built, people could cross the river Medina here at low tide, hence Pyle Street. 

Ancient “hollow lanes” were for men or pack horses, and unsuitable for carts. 

Carts would harm tracks, whether soft clay or stone, so alternative highways were made for wheeled vehicles. 

The Highways Commissioners were responsible in the 1700s for making sure that landowners repaired public highways. 

Gravel was dug to improve the roads. An Act of 1813 enabled unemployed men to be paid to work on the roads in the winter, when there was little work on the farms. 

Tarmac was invented in 1907, but it was not until the mid 1920s that a few Island roads first received Tarmac. 

Isle of Wight County Press: High friction surface on the Tarmac at Cowleaze, ShanklinHigh friction surface on the Tarmac at Cowleaze, Shanklin (Image: Newsquest)

Traffic is now considerable on Island roads designed just for horses and carts!   

Today, we are pleased when fresh Tarmac appears covering roads and filling potholes in the old gravel, sometimes only two inches below the surface.

Global warming will increase rainfall. Traffic causes the water filled potholes to deepen and keep the road menders busy!

Isle of Wight County Press: A photo of a pothole near Mottistone, in a picture from 2019A photo of a pothole near Mottistone, in a picture from 2019