I don’t know about you but over the years I have acquired a healthy stash of magazines that, having been once well thumbed for around the same week every month, now sit partially hidden in the garage where they can be dipped into periodically.
Old copies of my MTB magazines on the other hand, or at least the content of such titles, have been somewhat anally filed into various categories such as workshop guides, rides and route cards. It’s in the latter where I recently found a little ‘up and downer’ that rather conveniently could be combined with a recent visit to one of my firm’s offices.
We’ve all done it though, haven’t we? I mean kept those nice enticing route cards for some Peaks killer loop or High Street classic saying ‘one day I’ll do that’. Just more recently though I am having to seriously rethink how I find the time to ride on my own doorstep let alone in far flung corners of our beautiful country.
I do a fair amount of travelling with work (though sadly not to any nice exotic locations), meaning I miss my fair share of midweek rides, and so I’ve been searching for a way of combining both work and pleasure.
After a bit of thumbing through my anally ordered stash (easy AndyC!) there it was, a quick blast up and over the North Hampshire Downs starting not 15 minutes from our Newbury office. Perfect.
Starting out in the village of Kingsclere on the Berks/Hants border, this circular route has at its centre a series of climbs (and descents!) up and over the hills that form the main ridge-line so evident a few hundred yards beyond the village boundaries. One of them, Watership Down, being the influence of the much loved children’s book and film.
Rolling out of the village, crossing a gin-clear chalk stream, the downs rise magnificently before you, sort of like a huge green conveyor belt moving you towards ‘downhill’ heaven. Though before there’s any real off road action it’s a fairly undulating 3.5 mile stint on tarmac which largely tracks a line parallel with the ridge and gives you a sense for what might well be next.
Soon, though, the first bridleway is in sight, effectively cutting a scar through a long narrow copse tracking up the hillside. It’s a well-worn path by cyclists as well as horse riders judging by the mix or tracks, and though incredibly rutted it’s thankfully baked dry.
It’s a steady climb; one side eventually affording views over miles of patchwork farmland and the humming A34 in the distance, the other side a wall of green that provides the reminder there’s still a little more climbing to do. At the top you break cover from the trees and spill out onto windswept farmland with 360 degree views of I don’t know how many counties, as the bridleway skirts around the remains of an Iron Age hill fort.
From here its a mile or so of sweeping chalk farm tracks that criss cross crop fields until the flow is halted by a brief road crossing.
It’s then another short climb, this time up to the top of Watership Down where, naturally, there were a few obliging rabbits on view. Again a sweeping chalk track speeds you along a relatively flat gradient, with great all-round views, though with headlights from distant cars piercing through the gloom it was certainly time to think about my own lighting requirements.
Knowing I wasn’t going to get rolling until 8pm at the earliest (in fact it was 8.15) I had thankfully thrown a set of the Ay Ups in my pack. With illumination now shed on the trail (and my rabbit friends), the trail turned markedly downward as I approached Cannon Heath Down but I was soon breaking again as the road I had earlier ‘seen’ made itself apparent (well it looked like a road really, simples!).
I picked up the next trail directly on the other side of this Roman legacy, which cut straight though a large field of rape, the lights picking up the emerging yellow flowers of the crop. It was actually steeper than I thought but quite manageable in the middle chainring if not firmly rooted to the saddle.
At the top of the field the path funnelled me into a much narrower gully strewn with ‘White Down-esque’ lumps of flint, before emerging onto a quiet lane resulting in a half mile or so spin on an altogether much easier surface.
From the road I picked up the next bridleway which skirted around what I could roughly see as ploughed fields before a really nice rollercoaster of lumps and bumps pretty much took me in a straight line across a series of crop fields. For a few seconds a Barn Owl flew close which was a real treat.
Wide open space turned quickly into dense cover as I sped down a hedge-tunnelled bridleway which pretty much took me back to the outskirts of Kingsclere, just above the stream I had crossed at the beginning of the ride.
So all in, 12.5 miles travelled in four minutes over one hour of actual riding time, which bodes well for knocking a few seconds off my D2D lap times come October. I did feel markedly quicker last night compared to recent efforts, but that might just be down to the Torq energy drink I’m trying at the moment.
Not perhaps the most challenging of rides (or offroad in places), but the right sort of length mid week and post a long day in work mode. I’d also rather spend an hour riding than sitting on the M25 in rush hour. And if I’m going to try and keep getting the miles in just now I’ll take what ever it is I can find, wherever it happens to be.