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

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