Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Ride report: Sunday 24 July – New Forest gravel

Posted by Matt | July 26, 2022 | 13 comments so far

Moles ride New Forest gravel
Yes, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Too much work means no time for writing ‘stuff’, arguably a loss to us all…

For those of us who are time-poor – by which I mean those of us not retired – the priority has been riding. Working, and riding. And we’ve actually done a lot of both; I have over 2,500 miles on the clock so far this year. This was not helped by contracting Covid recently, but fortunately it wasn’t too bad. I’d begun to think I was immune but it turns out I just don’t have the social life I thought I had!

Anyway, it’s summer season. A time to maximise daylight and dry weather of which there has been a lot. The the countryside in general is tinder-dry and has been since before our record-breaking 40° heat last week. Hankley Common has been on fire, a part of Leith Hill has been on fire and the trails are simply dust.

This weekend we managed something a little different to our diet of winch and plummet riding over the Surrey Hills and headed down to the New Forest for a day of gravel riding. This was prompted by an article I read about gravel riding in the New Forest which kick started an idea.

It turned out other Moles shared my curiosity. Some of us have been riding ‘gravel’ mid-week for a while, by which I mean not just gravel bikes but re-purposed MTBs on skinny tyres on a mix of tarmac and tame trails. It’s been fun to explore places on our doorstep that we’ve overlooked in the past and is really an extension of lockdown wanderings from the pandemic.

A bit of a search on RideWithGPS turned up loads of gravel routes around the New Forest and pretty soon we had a plan. A 45 mile pretzel around Lyndhurst as a gravel taster.

Moles in the New Forest

Our plan was to start from the Andrews Mare car park which is just off the A31, so it’s very easy to get to. Within a few hundred yards you are driving down gravel roads and largely that’s how it stayed for the whole day. One thing worth noting perhaps is security – it’s a very quiet spot that’s very easy to get to (and presumably away from), a point re-inforced when we returned hours later to find the police had put ‘no valuables kept in cars’ cards under our windscreen wipers to warn us.

Our ride group consisted of MarkC, MarkJ, Lloyd, Gordon, AndrewK and myself with a late no-show from the Prof and Karlos due to age-related issues back pain. Tony was also away (en France), and others – including JR – were otherwise engaged, but I think all would enjoy this ride and hopefully there will be a next time. The key stats for the group were:

  • 5 out of 6 wore baggy shorts
  • 4 out of 6 were on drop bar bikes
  • 3 out of 6 had bum bags
  • 2 out of 6 rode re-purposed MTBs
  • 1 out of 6 had a pannier

First impressions were that the ground was pretty bumpy. I was thinking 45 miles of this would be quite punishing but it was only a half mile or so to the actual trails after which it was generally pretty good. My gravel bike runs 38c Specialized Pathfinders which were ideal in terms of grip but are a little low in volume. I maintain that the ‘ideal’ gravel tyre is about 42-45c with whatever tread suits the surface you are riding on, a point I will address when these tyres need replacing. But they have done 5,100 miles now and still going strong.

Meeting the ponies

New Forest ponies

The day was mercifully cooler than earlier in the week and with average temperatures of about 21-22° it felt quite comfortable. You spend a good part of the day in full sun though and if the weather is inclement you would be quite exposed with a strong chance of headwinds/tailwinds/crosswinds. Worth bearing in mind. Other parts of the ride take you through deeply wooded areas so that overall the split is probably about 50:50.

The trail surface is mainly compacted gravel, sometimes quite loose and deep on turns so watch out for that. We weren’t attacking the route but higher speeds might catch you out occasionally. We also suffered three punctures on the day, unheard of for MTB in Surrey these days. Admittedly, Andrew had a tube in his gravel bike but both Lloyd and Gordon punctured tubeless tyres so the gravel and paths can be quite sharp. Fatter XC MTB tyres would probably shrug things off quite easily though.

At Brockenhurst we stopped for a coffee and cake and randomly picked The Terrace for our refreshments in the centre of town. This… wasn’t a mistake exactly but…

  1. The staff seemed to think customers were an inconvenience (and splitting the bill even more so),
  2. Portion size was unforgivably small and
  3. One of the other customers got angsty about the noise of our chairs being moved. I pointed out we weren’t in a library and they piped down…

So the moral of the story is plan your stops!

Matt and Mark on New Forest gravel

After our break we continued on, saw more of the New Forest wildlife (ponys of course, plus deer and cows) and I feel we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The day saw us reach a total of about 2,300 feet of climbing which is not a lot over 45 miles, but as I say you could easily exhaust yourself trying to go a lot faster. That just wasn’t our modus operandi to be honest.

The ride finished at The Trusty Servant in Minstead not far from our cars, where we stopped for a pint and late lunch in the sunshine. I could have had two or three quite easily but even so was grateful to Lloyd for driving as I couldn’t stay awake on the journey back to Surrey!

Beer at the Trusty Servant, Minstead

It certainly made a pleasant change to our regular riding and clearly we have only just had a taster of New Forest riding as we should be able to reach the coast quite easily. I’m sure we will be back to explore further.

Cannondale Topstone in the New Forest

Genesis Fortitude gravel

Filed under Rides in July 2022


About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years then a 2016 YT Industries Jeffsy 29er, he now rocks a Bird Aether 9 and a Pace RC-627.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 SE, a much-used 2011 Specialized Secteur and very niche belt drive Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 13 comments on ‘Ride report: Sunday 24 July – New Forest gravel’

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  1. Karl says:

    Sorry to have missed this one. Sounds like it made a nice change, and was a smashing ride. Just a minor correction to your excellent ride report Matt, no age related issues for me, just lift sharing ones, and the poor Prof had enthusiastaclly overdone decorating his new extension. Mind you, despite the obvious bonhomei and variety of your great ride, I see even Mark Jones complained of knackered legs after, so undoubtedly, I would have been complete toast! Next time mayhap!

  2. Elliot says:

    Looks like a nice ride and I would like to partake in a future New Forest adventure! Couldn’t bring myself to do any more travelling for this one, having just got back from the alps.

    BTW I just randomly googled that cafe and found myself scrolling through Tripadvisor…some fairly dire reviews and even worse responses from the proprietor.

  3. Gordo says:

    Thanks for the write up Matt. For me the lasting great memory of the day was the excitedly happy bunch of youths going for a day out on our bikes. I think without the great company yet another mile of gravel track in the woods would have become tiresome.
    I had low expectations of a cafe in a tourist hotspot in holiday season. Although thats no excuse for the cake size.

  4. Mark Chillingworth says:

    Great day and thank you for recording it. Also a big thank you to Gordon for mapping work

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