Southern England Bicycle tour

Ridley Bike setup for touring

I had a bit more time off this year. So I decided for better or worse to go on a ten day tour, compared to last years five day. Being out on the road for longer could potentially be a bit tiring so when I was route planning I tried to bring the daily mileage down to compensate. And that combined with staying hostels made route planning straight forward. A loop going down to the south coast to Devon then back up through Somerset and returning via Wiltshire.

In terms of bike set up I changed a few things from last year. A touring triple 26/36/46 to make the hills a little easier, bar end shifters to get the gear cables away from the bar bag (the cables cleared in the normal set up but kinked and failed after a couple hundred miles pushed against the bag last trip). I fitted a front rack to provide a bit more support to the bar bag and increase storage and on the back fitted a Bagman support to better stabilise the saddlebag. The set up rolled well on the one and only test ride I got around to giving it, nothing like last minute prep.

So one my first day I had a 40mile run south through the Chilterns along some of my normal riding routes which dropped me into the Thames valley to finish at Streatley. It was a warm day but generally grey and cloudy.

Chiltern hills

A friend came over to meet me for dinner and we had fish and chips at the Miller of Mansfield in Goring across the river, enjoyed with a pint of Rebellion IPA

The next day started with a bang, a one mile 17% incline out of the valley, not great on cold legs, with an autumnal chill in the air. So even with a 26/27 bottom gear walking was easier. That was the worst of it for the day and the road flowed for 55miles to Salisbury. Through Beech woods

Beech woods

and farmland

Farmland West Berkshire

Farmland West Berkshire

and churches

Country church

I did suffer one puncture and an old patch failed as well which slowed me down a little. Tired after 57miles I had a nice big plate of pasta at the hostel for dinner with a bottle of local bitter.

As one of the hostels had closed on me I had ended up with a rest day in Salisbury so took some time to sight see, pick up a travel towel and dry bag to extend my storage and a couple more spares from the local bike shop, the forgotten spare straddle cable and an other spare tube after the previous days patch failure. And seeing the state of my hair with out the attention of home comforts I got my hair cut nice and short too. Turned out the barber was a cyclist too so we had a good chat, it was a more than pleasant experience.

With some more free time I went and had a look round the Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

and the sculpture exhibition

Sculpture Salisbury Cathedral

From a friends recommendation I went to the Avon Brewery Inn for a steak and a pint of Ringwood bitter that evening.

After my rest day I had a short 35mile ride to Burley. Coming from the north west I passed through the heathland of the new forest where I saw lots of the New Forest Ponies.

New Forest Ponies

Dropping of the high heathland took me back through pine and beech forrest into what you would expect the new forest to look like.

New Forest

New Forest

I had a nice afternoon in the hostel reading my book in the shade of some trees chilling out followed by burger and beer.

The next day I was headed to Lulworth cove on the coast and it was a nice sunny day for it as well. Rather than take the direct route via the busy coastal road and Bournemouth I headed inland. My first town of the day was Ringwood, then I went further west to Blandford. At Blanford I stopped in on one of my favourite breweries Badger for a quick half of First Gold.

Badger First Gold

I was tempted to have a couple but once I hit the hilly coast roads to Lulworth I was glad I’d abstained. I also had to pass some of the military training areas too.

Tanks

Tanks

By the time I hit the coast and Lulworth the fog had rolled in of the sea and the temp had dropped too. After a walk down to the harbour (some disappointing fish and chips) I had a couple of nice pints.

I had a schedule the following day, as I was meeting a friend at Dorchester train station. The 17mile ride to Dorchester was straight forward following a national cycle route. My friend arrived with bike and we set off for the rest of the days ride. From Dorchester we rode down to Abbotsbury where we stopped for food, a good Dorset dream tea for me. Climbing/walking out of the town was arduous as it was a long 17% climb up into the fog that was rolling in from the Channel.

Abbotsbury

Abbotsbury

We hugged the coast and Chesil beach for an hour or so of top gear descents, followed by bottom gear climbs. After Bridgeport we headed inland for some slightly more rolling countryside before we split just outside Axminster, me for Seaton and my friend for his car at Axminster station and the drive home. By myself again I swung back to the coast along country lanes desccending into Seaton.

Seaton

After a quick walk down the prom, I dragged myself up and down the last couple of hills to Beer and my evening stop. Hearing some good reports I tried the local fish and chip shop. Now here the fish was obviously fresh and it was a much nicer dinner. Topped of by a nice beer in beer, well deserved after 60 hilly miles.

The next day I headed north to Street in Somerset, via some of the roads next weeks Tour is to take. It will be fun to see guys racing up the hills I was grinding up in my granny ring.

Tour of Britain

Street is the oldest hostel in England and is in a nice forest south of Glastonbury. It’s reasonably isolated so I was making use of the self catering facilities and a bag of fresh ravioli. Instant porridge was the order of the day in the morning before I hit the road. My first stop was Glastonbury, before picking up the route (in reverse) I’d done previously two years ago to take me to Bath. Climbing over the Mendips was as hard in this direction as the other, with the added bonus this time of gusting crosswinds and rain. A hard wet 45miles in the end.

I’d not stopped at Bath previously as had been on a tight time schedule so I enjoyed mooching about in search of the Hornblower book I was after (having finished the previous book at Street) to no avail.

I left Bath the next day along side the Avon canal, taking the tow path for 30 odd miles. With a bit more rain I got well and truly covered in mud despite mudguards. Still a flat 30 miles was pleasant and the tow path was reasonably well surfaced so I made good time. And coming up to Devizes I passed the engineering feat of Caen Hill Locks, a full 29 locks in a row.

Caen Hill Locks

At some point on the rough canal path the brake bridge bracket for the front rack decided enough was enough and snapped it self. The handle bar bag wasn’t particularly putting a lot of weight into the rack so it was an odd failure. The remaining two supports seemed strong so I wasn’t too bothered at my lack of tools or parts to repair it. So after a quick 5 mile run from the canal I was at that nights stop. As a change from Hostels I’d booked a B&B I’d found on the CTC touring site. It was a welcome change. The place was a 17th Century farmhouse, so I was able to stash my bike in the stables and take a modern shower, welcome after the cold wet day. Apres shower I was able to relax in front of the open fire with tea and cake, very civilised. More great food followed that evening and the following morning for breakfast so I was refuelled the next day on my way back to Streatley my first stop.

The days was a cool grey rolling ride through Wiltshire and West Berkshire, but my legs were feeling the weeks riding so even this 45miles was a challenge. I was able though to keep away from all the major towns and pick up some lunch in a village bakery.

Church West Berkshire

So I was back in Streatley again for an evening at the same pub and a nice burger.

I took a slightly different route home to the outward leg just to try some new roads and avoid the steeper hills. Having got home I gave the bike a quick clean oiled the chain, put ten days of dirty washing in the machine and collapsed. In the end I did 450 miles and just over 14,000ft of climbing and survived ten days on the road.

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Topsy Turville Mountain bike ride

Had a free day in late October so went out with one of my mates for a longer mountain bike ride. He had a ride route from a magazine which we decided to follow. The starting point was a little village not far from my home town, a place called Turville. You may not of heard of the village but if you’ve seen the BBC show The Vicar of Dibley you’d know it as the show is filmed there. After the usual faf of getting gear together and into the car we got there at eleven and the weather was grey but dry and 9degC. Being good weather for October there were a lot of horses riding through the village. The area is a popular for hacking and we would be riding a lot of the same bridleways on our route. We’d got lucky and were parked on the high street by the Bull and Butcher pub, so we road off out the village.

Turville - Village high street and hills to climb later.

Village high street and hills to climb later.

After a quarter a mile of road we swung of onto the first bridleway and up the hill.

Stopping to gather bearings

Once clear of the farmers fields we climbed into the woods

Beech woods

They are old Beech wood mostly and looking good with the change to Autumn colour.

We climbed up to Turville Heath slow going on the slippery leaves. Then dropped back into some more woods for a rocky descent hidden beneath fallen leaves. Which was fast bumpy and fun. We then had a slightly longer road section back into Turville after missing our turning to Ibstone. Rather than back track we carried up the steep hill to the windmill and rejoined the bridleway we’d meant to be on.

Looking back to Turville

Looking back to Turville

Cobstone Windmill

From the top of the ridge we dropped down through more woods on an other bridleway, caught an other road briefly before more woods.

I was having a great time in the woods

I was having a great time in the woods

We took a wrong turning in the woods at somepoint so lost and a bit hungry just stopped for lunch at Bolters end.

Pint

Pint

Feed and watered we had a good road descent to regain our route. Which was a long slow road climb to the next bridleway pleasent in the sunshine though. We saw half a dozen deer in the woods across the valley including a Stag which was bellowing away.

There's deer in them there woods

Back on the bridleway through the woods two deer went flying across the trail 10ft ahead of me and scooted through the hedge. It was a bit of wild life day as saw a number of Red kites in the air, squirrels on the ground and pheasant’s just all over. Despite seeing loads of horses in the village at the beginning we didn’t see any out on the trails and only cam across one group of walkers all day.

More woods

More woods

We spent an other hour of more of the same, country lanes and wooded bridleways. it was not the route we set out to do but was fun. After the last batch of woods there was one last bridleway across some fields to Turville. You can just see the windmill on the ridge we passed earlier.

Turville

Turville

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Winter mountain bike ride

I’ve started riding off road regularly this year after purchasing a cheap mountain bike, which is a story for an other day. Our weekly ride last week was icy and snowy and I managed a few good photos with my camera phone. We went round one of our regular normal off road loops but just a lot slower in the cold conditions. Most of the snow had gone but plenty of icy patches remained and it just started to thaw as we went round and the temperatures went above freezing.

Car park at the beginning, the fog lifted later in the ride.

Riding buddies, stoked after a good bit of single track

This was better than it looked, the ice/snow was crunchy/loose like sand.

Fog hung in the woods, was very Narnia

Great scenery and a fairly good surface to ride on in most places.

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Heart of England Bicycle Tour

Seven days up through the Cotswolds and the Heart of England was the plan for my holiday. I had looked at France and Ireland for a tour but decided with only a week off I wanted to maximise riding time and minimise cost and use of public transport. So I decided on a local tour. I joined the YHA and strung a route together based on their locations. I tried to make the daily mileages lower than my last tour as that had ended up being a bit arduous. A bed in a shared dorm and full cooked breakfast averaged out at £20 a night for the trip with the YHA.

First day on the road I’d set myself an easy Sunday pootle, only a 36mile leg to Oxford. It was grey and cloudy when I left and preceded to drizzle of and on for the whole ride.


Winding through the back lanes of Prestwood spits of rain started to fall, more concerned with the drop in temperature I stopped to don some arm warmers. Passing through forests which I normally ride on a mountain bike my legs had warmed up and I was finding the ride pleasant despite the rain.

Flying down the end of the Chilterns into Princes Risborough was great fun but the steep descent was instantly marked in my mind as a killer climb for my return leg but was enjoyable at the time.

Through Princes Risborough I picked up the Phoenix Trail which was full of families on Sunday riders and pleasantly flat. But being an old railway line the trail was straight and boring otherwise.  The trail was part of the Sustrans route which I was following that day, which would take me all the way to Oxford following the blue signs.

Phoenix Trail

Being a flat run into Oxford I made good time getting to my first nights stop at two o’clock. Showered I went out for a Sunday afternoon walk round Oxford. Lot’s of old buildings and history of course and an empty fun fair. Some food and a couple of pints of Whitehorse later and Iput my head down for an early night.

Day two I was headed north to a village just three miles from Stratford upon Avon, it was again largely on Sustrans trails which makes navigation easy as long as the little blue direction signs are not overgrown. Leaving Oxford the route took me out via the canal tow-path.

Then through the village of Woodstock, just missing Blenheim Palace and then of on to bridleways again. Being a Crossbike it was perfectly happy on these trails even with my ten kilo’s (ish) of luggage.

It was a dry mornings riding, not overly hot and I was making good time. So mid-morning I made a bit of a diversion to look at some old Abbey ruins. It was marked on the OS map and only a mile of my planned route. So I headed to Steeple Barton and had a look at the modern church first.

Steeple Barton Church

Then dropped down the dirt road to visit the ruined abbey, the road was bumpy, but I then realised the increasing bumpiness was down to a flat rear tyre. I rolled to a halt just by a little bridge over the stream running down the valley. The sun was shinning at this point so fixing the flat was no hardship. It turned out to be a snake bite puncture, carrying luggage on rough roads and my neglect in not topping the tyres up that morning causing the problem. The Conti Gaterskins that had not punctured was a pain getting back on the rim after replacing the tube and I managed too pinch the fresh tube, so of it came again. More careful with the second tube I got mobile again after a 45min stop. No time for Abbey ruins I headed of again.

Feeling a bit befuddled and in need of lunch I then managed to get lost between the villages of Over Worton, Worton and Nether Worton. But a friendly farmer gave me directions through the pretty hamlets. I’d got well into the  Cotswolds at this point and all the buildings were in their signature golden sandstone.

Cotswold cottage

After getting past the Worton’s I had an unmemorable lunch from some local shop and continued on my way to Stratford feeling revived. The signed route took me off-road again on to a trail across some farmers fields, which my map told me was an old Roman road. It had the archetypal straightness that they are famous for, which places no concession to gradient, so I ended up pushing a couple of the steeper rockier sections.

Roman road

Roman road

Back on the lanes I did enjoy crossing my first ford, only four inches deep so no great adventure.

A few more miles of empty lanes and I got to the Monarch Way which is a shared bicycle path in places. The leg I was riding was an old railway line so I had a flat 20mile run to Stratford. Which was welcome as the sky was looking blacker and blacker and I’d been slower than I would have liked on the off-road sections. The heavens opened not long after I crossed the river Avon on an old railway bridge. The pouring rain was no time to be sight seeing so I headed straight to my hostel and bunked down for the night. The 48mile day had gone well with some good scenery and I slept well.

Day three was a 68mile leg to Leominster and there was no Sustrans routes so I was on my own with the navigation. I should have planned a rest day at this point in hindsight as I had no time to look around Stratford in my rush to get going logging the miles. After negotiating roundabout’s and the town bypass I finally got out of the town and the sun came out as well which lifted my spirits for the long day ahead.

The route for the day was largely on country lanes but I did have to make my way through Worcester where I got drenched in a massive thunderstorm while getting lost. But back out in the countryside the hills went up and the sun came out.

The hills were getting steeper though and with fifty miles in my legs I couldn’t keep on-top of the relativity high geared compact up the steeper hills. So it was a slow afternoon pushing up the 10% plus hills. Rolling into Leominster I was shattered. The Hostel was in the old church priory and run by a couple of cyclist so I had a good chat with them.

After a good shower I headed out on rubbery legs to the local pub for a good meal and a couple of pints of Hobsons bitter. An other early night and I slept like a log.

Day four I got away to an early start as I knew I had a hilly ride ahead of me with 55miles to cover and I was feeling the last three days of riding in my legs. The day started very foggy which was eerie and serene at the same time.

The first couple of hours went well and I made good time to Hereford where the sun came out. I stopped for an early lunch then got lost leaving the town as seems to be the norm for me touring (stopping early for lunch and getting lost in large towns). I took the wrong bridge out of town but had a good view of the old bridge as a consolation.

Having the map easily seen on your handle bar bag has one draw back, you can see how steep the road is getting further along. So the route from Hereford to Monmouth and beyond to St Briavels was worrying me a lot as my legs were feeling battered at the start of the day. Having left Hereford behind the road soon kicked up and down on the country lanes. Not great big climbs but just plenty of short kickers to keep the blood pumping. I got to Monmouth after a bit of a slog and not feeling in great shape. Over a second lunch I examined the maps again. To avoid the busy main road I’d planned to ride up into the hills on the English/Welsh border to take the quite route to St Briavels. I was feeling exhausted and ready to just book into a B&B and the closely packed contour lines on the map weren’t appealing. I realised the hills would slow me down too much and I’d be stuck navigating in the dark, not a great idea (must pack head torch next time) But I’m not one to give up so I grabbed a local taxi firms number as a back up and headed out down the main road I’d been trying to avoid (the A466 from Monmouth to Chepstow). The road was gridlocked due to road works so I walked a mile to get of town and past the worst of the standing traffic.

Now the A466 follows the Wye river down the Wye valley and is relatively flat. Yay! The road hangs onto the side of the hills above the narrow river valley and is just the two lanes wide with no hard shoulder a lot of the time. The traffic was light though thankfully, with only the big tourist coaches giving me worry. I fairly flew down the six mile section of road to the turn of to St Briavels, which was in stark contrast to the slow progress I’d been making all day in the hills. It was also a lot more fun than the 15 miles of hills I’d planned on originally.

I turned of the A466 just before it crossed the river into Wales.

I was only two miles from my destination for the evening St Briavels Castle, which being a castle was on top of a hill. And so feeling every 53 miles I’d ridden I continued up this hill.

I was soon pushing again but the scenery was so great I didn’t really care. As the road climb from farmland to forestry it flattened out again and I was back riding.

The road split at a Y junction as I got to the village of St Briavels and the map was not clear were the castle was but as the roads joined up later so I took the less step one. It turned out to be the wrong one but only by a few hundred yards.

After a hard nine hour day it was great to sit in the courtyard of the 12th century Norman castle and relax.

St Briavels Courtyard

I checked into my room which was the old debtors’ prison and still had some Dutch graffiti from the 18th century on the walls. I was sharing the room with two guys celebrating their 50th by riding the JOGLE. So felt suitably humbled. A wander round the village revealed that thay had two great country pubs that were both fully booked for dinner, so I had a very good dinner at the hostel with some local ale.

Feeling rested and feed. I’d taken advantage of the full English that all YHA hostel’s offer. Bacon, sausage, egg, hash brown, mushrooms, tomato and toast. I made my way out for more hills yay. The first part of day five was to ride across the Forest of Dean.

Being only one road through the forest there were a lot of trucks driving through. This was less of an issue in the first two miles as it was all down hill and fast. But struggling up the other side it was annoying more than anything. The forest is a great place and one I want to go back to and explore with a mountain bike.

Coming out of the forest there were great views of the Severn estuary.

The sun then came out for the rest of the day, this was the most sun I’d see for the whole trip it turns out. This sun did spur me on and I made good time to Gloucester. I lunched by the Gloucester Cathedral and enjoyed the sculpture display.

While lunching I was approached by an old boy asking if I was touring and he gave me some good route ideas for getting out of Gloucester and past nearby Cheltenham. After lunch I followed his directions out of town without getting lost. Clearing town I went along a bridleway through a quiet beech forest.

I did then have to slog it out with the traffic down some main roads as a quieter more direct path was not available. Grinding up a hill in bottom gear is no fun when being over taken by lorries. But the scenery was great on the way.

More hills and great views summed up the rest of that days riding. I got to the YHA in Stow-on-the-wold before the rain did finally come. The hostel was a little more modest than the previous evening the period building having been gutted to blandness.

After wandering around for a bit I enjoyed some great fish and chips, followed by a couple of pints of the local bitter.

Day six and I was on my way home via a break in Oxford. This was a shorter day and a bit dull to be honest. Just lot’s of dairy farms and hedge rows. I’d been spoiled by the countryside of the first five days riding I think.

After a quite night in Oxford I headed home. I changed the route on the way home to avoid the steepest of hills and the busier towns and got to see a great windmill too.

Coming to the roads that I cycle every week I started to feel sad my tour was over but rolling home under my own steam not having used any trains or planes felt great. I’m itching to go on my next tour already now with the things I’ve learned and places I’ve seen.

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Packing for a lightweight tour

Every bit of weight and space counts.

Chamois creme

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Planning

Maps out for planning tour

Planning

More soon…

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Tuna and Chickpea salad

Making lunch every day it’s hard to avoid the drudgery of ham sandwiches. So I’m on a constant look out for easy lunch dishes, that travel. This spicy salad has become one of my favourites and CP asked for the recipe this week so I thought I’d share it with you as well.

Ingredients:

Tinned Tuna in olive oil
Tinned chick peas
Parsley
Red onion
Nonpareille capers in brine
Lime
Olive oil
Cumin seeds
Ground coriander
Cayenne pepper
Salt

Method

1. rinse and drain the chick peas well
2. pour the olive oil from the tuna in a heavy fry pan
3. heat the oil
4. add 1tsp of cumin seeds, 2tsp ground coriander and a teaspoon of cayenne pepper fry for a minute
5. add chick peas to pan and toss in the flavoured oil

Fried Chickpeas

Fried Chickpeas

6.fry for a few minutes then add a couple of table spoons of pine nuts
7. cook for a couple more minutes till pine nuts have some colour
8. turn out into a bowl to allow to cool
9. wash and chop parsley, about a third of a bunch
10. dice the red onion

Chopped onion

Chopped onion

11. when the chickpeas are cool add parsley and onion
12. add zest and juice of limes, add salt to taste and a tablespoon of capers

Tuna salad

Tuna salad

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The Ride Journal IV launch party

A good time was had by all at the launch party my full story is on Fixed Gear Gallery. Just a few photo’s here to tease.

Tomato's in the window of Look Mum No Hands

Tomato's in the window of Look Mum No Hands

Ride jersey

Ride jersey

Happy readers in Look Mum No hands

Happy readers in Look Mum No hands

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Anzac biscuits and roast figs

Like most Ozzy kids Anzac biscuits were an integral part of growing up. I particularly liked the overcooked (read burnt) ones that were usually found at the back of the baking tray near the oven hot spot. It must have been a textural thing, as a child I never liked soft food much. Custards and rice pudding were out as was cooked vegetables. So I did miss out on some treats, including the unctuous chewyness of the less burnt Anzac biscuits.

Recently I was cooking biscuits for work and as we have a nut allergy, egg allergy and yeast allergy to consider I was somewhat stuck. It was then I thought of the humble Anzac again. Now I’m sure there is a traditional recipe floating around my family somewhere but I couldn’t find it. So I went searching the ever-helpful BBC and found this recipe. Now I am an inveterate tinkerer so as good a recipe as it is I did play about with it. I added dark Muscavado sugar and treacle making the biscuits that much darker and richer. i particularly liked the affect of chunks of unmixed sugar melting to caramel in the oven.

Conjoined by a delightful use of brown sugar my friend H called recently to ask for a recipe for roast figs. I do get random phone a chef calls from friends which is always satisfying and amusing. Now roast figs are an other of those mushy foods which I wouldn’t have enjoyed as a child but have grown to love now. And so simple they are to cook as well, sliced in half sprinkled with some good brown sugar and butter and roasted till the desired texture is reached served with Mascarpone and vanilla is a particular favourite of mine but ice-cream would take it that little bit further to luxe ness and a couple of overcooked Anzacs would finish it of with some good textural contrast.

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Ride Journal IV launch

I’ll be going to the launch of The Ride Journal IV, should be fun.

Ride Journal IV

Ride Journal IV

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