Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A solo trip: Camping & Cycling in The Chilterns, Day 2

Another early start when the birds woke me bright and early after a comfy night's sleep in the tent. 
I was to head south of the hills. My original plan had been a 70 mile ride into London, but I wasnt sure if I'd be able to get my bike back on the train without booking, so I amended the plan for the day to pootle around Buckinghamshire and do some touristy stuff since I'd never visited before.

Much of the day's riding followed National Cycle Route 4 so the only time I consulted the map was to help a gentleman who was cycling into London and trying to get on track. 

I cycled out from Maidenhead and the route was completely flat except for one hill.  
An easy saunter alongside river tracks towards the pretty village of Bray then following the Thames towards Eton. It felt like no time at all before Windsor Castle appeared. I had been riding for over an hour, but it was effortless cycling.

I sat in the shade of a quiet lane for breakfast and watched tourists beetle around. The lady at the cafe told me that the Changing of the Guard would take place at 11. I actually had no idea that this happens at Windsor as well as Buckingham Palace, so I decided to check it out.

I waited opposite the castle gates and used my bike as a barrier to ensure that I got a good vantage point (the pedals meant nobody could stand directly in front of me. At 5foot1 this is important!)

The road is closed off as soldiers march from the barracks through the streets. At first all I could hear was what sounded like the stomping of a thousand boots. It was a formidable sound and one that I could imagine sounds pretty intimidating in battle. But as the stomps got closer, I could make out other sounds of flutes and I realised that it was drums I had heard. Two groups of soldiers rounded the corner; the first playing instruments, the second carrying bayonets. They vanished into the castle and the road re-opened. Although twenty minutes later another set would leave the castle and head the opposite way.

I ventured round Windsor Great Park - a flat expanse that reaches out as far as you can see. Bikes are not permitted on this long stretch, and since there would likely be security everywhere, I obeyed the rule and pushed my bike along until I was permitted back on.

After cycling through Runnymead and passing the place where the Magna Carta was sealed, I chatted with a gentleman on a barge who advised me to head up the only hill here to see the view of London & The Shard. NCN4 took me up here anyway it turned out and it was a hot climb through the trees to the RAF memorial. Sadly the hazey hot day meant the skyline of London was an ethereal blur, but the view to the castle was ok.

I retraced my way back to Bray and headed for a place dear to my heart for many years. I had decided to have a late lunch at a wonderful building, now a hotel, but once the setting of many a hammer horror film, not to mention scenes from St Trinians and of course The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The driveway brought me to the unspectacular rear of the building (which I had not expected), but once round the corner, I was greeted by the familiar griffins guarding the doorway.

I didnt get to see the full glory of the gothic architecture until after my lunch when I finally got to run out across the lawn to turn and finally fulfil my excitement.

After lounging in luxurious surroundings beside the river for a couple of hours, I recommenced the hours ride back and enjoyed the cottages of Bray just before the end of the day's riding.

The evening brought heavy rain which lasted all night long, although it didnt stop me sleeping.

Next day I packed up my tent and headed for Oxford to visit my friend.

I enjoyed quirky knitting on street lights, the intregues of Pitt Rivers museum with its dinosaur bones, stuffed ancient animals, gigantic totem pole & other anthropological treasures as well as meeting some of my friend's colleagues & friends who I have known of but never met in all these years.
A brilliant trip!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

A solo trip: Camping & Cycling in The Chilterns, Day 1

My camping trip down south provided me with two days of amazing cycling. Both days completely contrasting each other.

Arriving late afternoon on Monday, I managed to pitch my tent for 5 (yes that translates as a tent for 2) on my own to enjoy a beautiful and typical Chiltern view. I was worried that the tent may blow down; the campsite was lovely, but stones underneath the top soil meant that nobody on site had managed to get their tent pegs in properly - most of them sticking a good few cms above ground. Thankfully the forecast was for little wind, so I hoped the tent would stay upright, but I tied some guide-ropes onto the fence where I pitched just incase. The tent was still standing when I awoke to pigeon coo sounds at 6am.

By 7am I was ready for my first day's pedalling and I whizzed round some empty lanes down to the bottom of the valley... ten minutes later I started the climb up the other side via wooded bridleways beside fields. A sharp climb out of the woods led me to yet another quick descent on dry, technical chalky ground and I arrived at The Ridgeway (an 87 mile trail that has been used for thousands of years as a traders route).

This stretch follows a disused railway through the chalk quarries of the region. I glimpsed parts of the working quarry, but they are fenced off - probably to stop cyclists who on hot summer days think that the waters there look like a good swimming spot (I certainly thought so).

The route took me under the noisy beast of the M4 - it seemed that all the people must have been in their cars there because I'd not seen another person anywhere.


My map showed a chevron along a road, so of course, I took that route! This led to a wonderful gentle swooping down through Queen Wood, where I successfully avoided all the nettles!  I headed in a general southerly direction on as many bridleways and farm tracks as I could find that would take me into Henley-on-Thames (my intended lunch stop) at 10.30.
I enjoyed a couple of hours beetling around and eventually picnic-ing by the River Thames in the sunshine before recommencing my ride along the pretty Thames path.

At Hambleden Locks I saw a sign which prompted me to take a detour from the original route plan. I had seen something not mentioned on the map... something beyond another chevron climb!

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a bit of a wine-o, so a sign for a Winery & Brewery was always going to be a sign I would follow. As I climbed the steep lane in the hot sunshine, I hoped that they would sell glasses to drink rather than bottles to take away (which would not fit in my stuffed pannier).

A tour had just finished and I waited in the cool cellar shop as half a dozen couples purchased cases of booze.
I read the labels and saw that this place has an Appointment of Her Majesty, so I assumed that the Chiltern Valley Winery & Brewery must produce some half decent plonk!

When the tour emptied, I happily discovered that yes I could buy a glass and would I also like some water and crackers to keep me going on my ride!! Usually I'm indecisive, but one glance at the wine list and I knew which I was to drink. This turned out to be their big award winner. And yes, it was very nice. I sat out in the courtyard enjoying my sup and consulting the map after my detour.
The tours here (2 a day) are booked up weeks in advance. Nice to see an independent place doing such good trade these days. I picked up a leaflet about their b&b and a copy of their wine list and headed back into the woods; down into another valley before a double chevron climb up to the next tiny village.

I decided to head back to the campsite rather than extend the ride further. I had a steady 5 miles left over some undulating hills and was tiring with the heat of the day.

Back at the tent; a coffee and slice of bklawa whilst reading Alistair Humphries account of his cycle round the world. Ultimate relaxation.
In the evening I had an hour & a half trek to the shop for some wine before settling in for the night. The tent had stayed up right! I was out like a light by 9.30.

The ride was top notch. Outside Henley-on-Thames I'd seen very few people anywhere. The bridleways were all deserted despite being really good tracks to use. It's a route I'd recommend highly and would love to do it again. 36 miles, 3000ft of ascent with a good mix of off road and lanes.  
The gpx file for the route can be found here 

Day 2 to follow. Nothing like day 1, but still brilliant fun

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Friday night post-work bike date

I've been meaning to head up to The Halo during the evening for a while now. It's a panopticon which lights up its tiny blue l.e.d.s every night to resemble a UFO that landed on a hill over Haslingden.  Last night we finally made it.

Working on the outskirts of Rossendale means you're never far from hills and bridleways, so after work S & I pedalled from one side of the valley to the other for a pub tea at The Whitchaff.

We followed the NCN6 before climbing a stoney track from Irwell Vale. As we stopped to take some photos, a mountain biker passed us with a big smile, a great track to be riding on, but possibly also amusement that I was in my work clothes tackling the off road - pencil dress & heels.

I knew the route back would involve some serious climbing, but still polished off a huge plate of enchilladas & wedges. I was very full. 

The approach to the Halo was pretty dramatic as we snaked up Cribden side.
Sadly the sunset wasnt up to as much as we'd hoped, but it was still great to be up there.

13.5 roller-coaster miles, which for an evening ride with dinner in between was just right. 

Spicing up the working week

The new route home from work is amazing. Off road, right over the hill. It takes a little longer than by road, but I have sheep instead of cars to contend with (for the most part), beautiful views and the countryside to myself.
The King's Highway

It's 32 miles as the crow flies from this point to the coast, but you can see the sea & Blackpool tower as you climb the hill.

It's a rough old track up to the summit of Great Hameldon, beautiful views down the Rossendale Valley and over Clowbridge Reservoir. From this point it's 3 miles to descent 885feet to my front door (that's a good downhill). 

I love freewheeling downhill - I imagine it's what it must feel like when a dog sticks its head out of a car window as it zooms along.

I'm looking forward to trying this out in different seasons, though not sure it will be a viable commute in the ice or when the days are short (but I'm going to try!)