Saddle Sore – Reviews, Rides & Rablings – Cycling Blog

Category - Adventures

The South Downs Way

For those of you (assuming somebody is actually reading this rubbish) from Hampshire or Sussex you’ll probably be aware of the South Downs Way and have probably walked, run or cycled some part of it. If you’re from further afield you may not have heard of it: The SDW is a 100-mile National Trail that runs from Winchester to Eastbourne.

I caught the 12:08 train from Fratton, collecting Tim at Fareham en-route to Winchester for a 13:00 start.

The weather for the weekend was set good; 26°c, some cloud, no rain and little wind. I bit too hot for me to be doing this but I can’t really complain.

My new Mason BokehTi with Apidura bar and saddle pack was carrying me along while Tim was on a undersized Specialised something-or-rather MTB with an Alpkit bar pack and a small back pack.

Within 2 miles we were out of Winchester and on our first climb – a combined effort of ascension between Telegraph Hill and Cheesefoot Head. There started the relentless climbing and descending for the next 95 miles; SDW is like a 100-mile-long sine wave with gates. Tim got a puncture just after Cheesefoot Head and we started to wonder if we should have left more time for mechanicals.

I don’t know if it was because I was fresh but I think those early tracks were some of the most enjoyable, simple, smooth chalk paths.

Beacon Hill (13 miles) was the next point of note for us, from 261 metres up we could see the Spinnaker Tower at home. Shortly after we rolled to Exton and The Shoe Inn for refreshments – highly recommended.

View from Beacon Hill trig point

View from Beacon Hill trig point

For the next 23 miles we criss-crossed roads we regularly frequented on our Sunday rides, taking in Old Winchester Hill (18 miles).

I had couple of Cateye Omni 3 lights on the Apidura packs and hacked the little belt clips a bit so they wouldn’t fly off when off-road. Basically, I just use the Dremel to grind a notch either side of the clip that would locate a rubber o-ring. This did stop me losing the lights but didn’t stop the lens and 2 AAA batteries coming loose and flying off into a bush via my eye socket. Quite a shock but no lasting pain. Perhaps a little sticky tape next time.

At 271 metres, Butser Hill is the highest point on the SDW and provided the best downhill – a smooth uninterrupted descent into QE Country Park. Also, a mere 15 demoralising miles from home. QECP has a good café, water, and tool station. The tubeless tyres proved there worth as we climbed out of QECP when I was briefly sprayed with latex while a sizeable gash was sealed and we carried on without even needing to top up the air.

It was unnotable (not in a bad way, breathtaking views are a given) from QECP until just after Harting Down (32 miles) where we encountered the first sizeable get-off-and-push of the ride in the 19% climb that Strava labels as Knight’s Field Climb.

47 miles in and the sun was getting low, we needed to get to Storrington by 21:30 as that’s when The Moon stopped serving food, we were beginning to think we might not make it. Though only 10 miles left and only 1 major climb.

The top of Rackham Hill looking east

The top of Rackham Hill looking east

As we reached the top of the climb (Rackham Hill) it was 21:00 with 5 miles to go and 15 minutes ’til sunset (we didn’t have any lights that would make night riding practical). The descent into Storrington took us past our planned bivvy spot and think we both decided there and then that we weren’t going to be cycling back up there after dinner – it was 25% in places on loose chalk.

We arrived at the bar with 3 minutes to spare. One pint of beer, one pint of water, a Moon Burger and a trip to One Stop later and we were on our way to the nearest quiet field; head torch strapped to the Apidura accessory pack in lieu of a front light.

Lucky for us the sky was clear, the moon was waxing gibbous and 1 day (or night) away from full, it lit the field beautifully and we could settle down for the night without the need for attention attracting torch light.

Day 2 below the Strava and relive embeds.

Keep scrolling down for day 2…

We woke naturally on the Sunday about 05:45 and were on our way at 06:00. We tracked back to Storrington then headed east and re-joined the SDW at Washington. We had a little breakfast in the carpark, hoping we would find something more substantial along the path.

Of course we were greeted with a climb, up to Chanctonbury Ring (242 metres) but then a lovely long descent down to Botolphs and the river Adur, where if it wasn’t 07:15 on a Sunday we would have headed south to visit Mason Cycles. However, it was 07:15 on Sunday morning so we just kept going.

11 miles in (68 miles overall) we came across YHA Trueleigh Hill, they had a café but no one seemed to want to serve us so after 10 minutes of hanging around we stropped off without breakfast.

On day 1 I don’t think we met any other cyclists heading east and only few heading west, today we met a few and tagged along with a couple for a while. There was a cyclist (let’s call him Steve) who alerted us to the prospect of an ice cream van at the Ditchling Beacon car park (19 miles for the day, 76 miles overall). Our interest peaked and our expectations swelling we raced up the hill only to find the van was nowhere to be seen. We pushed Steve down the Beacon for ruining our morning and carried on. Five miles later we came across Housedean Farm campsite and at the reception shop they sold ice creams. Here we also met a solo cyclist from London who was riding similarly to us and had camped in Amberley – he had a Magnum and buggered off, I didn’t catch his name so let’s call him John.

We passed through Southease and over the Ouse to start a near 5-mile climb (with great views out to Newhaven) up to Firle Beacon – this was probably the hardest rideable climb for me.

It was then another lovely, long, downhill into Alfriston where we had an unplanned stop with a couple of door stop cheese and ham sandwiches. John was there filling up with water and reading the notice boards, he left before us. Re-joining the SDW from Alfriston is not obvious and if it weren’t for the Garmin we would have been bumbling around for some time.

On the hill out of Alfriston (the penultimate climb of note) I felt terrible, I don’t know if it was the pink lemonade, the iced coffee, the cheese and ham sandwich, the Polos (Spearmint) or the midday sun but I had to have a moment in a tiny bit of shade.

So just Willingdon Hill left, with its great views over Eastbourne. We saw John again and he raced of downhill. The approach to Eastbourne was fast and open, a pleasing end to two days hard but enjoyable riding.

I gained 70 Explorer Squares on VeloViewer too, and expanded my max square from 7×7 to 9×9. See more about Explorer Squares here.

There may be a 1 day assault of the SDW in the offing…

You can view and down the route (GPX) here, it’s from Winchester station to Eastbourne station and has the water tap/sources added at POIs.

See how I got on my only other major off-road outing on the Dorset Gravel Dash.

Dorset Gravel Dash 2017

Dorset Gravel Dash 2017

I arrived in Swanage around 20:30, parked up on the Seafront and headed straight out to find food. All the pubs, including the Red Lion (the start/finish of the ride) seemed to have live music on and were buzzing – not so good for someone looking for a table for one. I tried the new Harry Ramsden’s that had popped up since the last time I was there – closed. I ended up ordering a cheeseburger and cheesy chips from Dino’s.

Back at the van and the wind was buffeting, I decided not to stay on the seafront and headed up the hill into the side roads to find a place to sleep.

I was awake at 05:00 and feeling grotty. I started to have doubts about starting but ultimately I wasn’t going to drive all that way and not at least try. Let’s see how far I could get.

Despite not being a race we were given race numbers, my first race number ever in fact.

Registration was at 07:00. I arrived a few minutes early and was the first there, followed shortly by Andy who had bivvi’d in the woods nearby.

I was off my bike (because of my gearing issue) at the first climb, Nine Barrow Down and lost the group (Andy, Jez and Tony). I saw them again briefly in the near distance at Swyre Head but they disappeared as I stopped to take a photo.

Time and miles passed slowly; when I expected to be about 30 miles in the GPS unit said 14. I hadn’t banked on how much more involved off-road was compared to tarmac. To some degree you can autopilot on the road, not so on tracks and paths.

During every ride on a route I don’t know, I experience GPS paranoia, this time it happened on the longest (still relatively short) road section of the route, approaching and departing Lulworth. It felt like I was on tarmac for ages and I could see no other riders around so quite (un)reasonably I believed the GPS unit had magically switched route or rerouted me for no apparent reason – but as always there was no need to doubt.

The view from Swyre Head.

The view from Swyre Head.

At around 38 miles in, just after Puddletown Forest at Higher Bockhampton the route was very close to Dorchester, had I known this I may well have bailed out of the ride in favour of a taxi back to Swanage. I later learned that the other guys had stopped here for beans-on-toast and I had passed them.

12 miles later while climbing the 881ft feet of Bulbarrow Hill the group caught me and we pedalled to the half way check point together. It was fortuitous as I was feeling worse and ready to bail but they kept me going.

As well as the up hills that required dismounting there were also a couple of descents that needed a walk. Of those descents that looked just safe enough to stay on the bike these 2 nearly had me over the bars:

  • Nutcombe Wood Down is a -16%er that on its day is probably a fun descent but on this day, where the showers had made the chalk dust into a thick grease that dragged your rear wheel sideways it was difficult and once it had you committed, it then added deep gulleys each side of the greasy track that you couldn’t risk slipping into. Disappointingly for this account, everybody made it down safely. The KOM for this is 34 secs, we made it down in 3:29 secs.
  • Lanchards Lane is another -16% single track that temps you in with Bluebells and Primroses then smacks you with branches, roots and rocks. I ended up going first into this once and not wanting to hold anyone up I went as fast as I could, on the verge of death, speeding down the mud track until my hands were shaking off the brakes and was forced to safely escape into the Bluebells where I turned around to see people tentatively nursing their bikes down!

Another location of note would be Hambledon Hill, an Iron Age fort just outside Child Okeford. I can’t imagine anyone could cycle up this even on a dry day let alone after rain. I almost lost it a few times just pushing my bike up.

From there all I remember are some nice trails on old railways all the way to Blandford Forum. At some traffic lights at BF I mentioned to Jez I heard hissing, a few minutes later Jez had a flat; our only ‘mechanical’ bar Andy’s constant adjustment of his front disc calliper.

After that I remember a pleasant 5 miles through Wareham Forest and feeling homeward bound, I could get back to Swanage without any guidance from here and that psychologically felt good.

That good feeling dispersed in the later stages of the Arne RSPB nature reserve (Springwatch has been filmed there), I don’t know if I bonked (though I felt I had eaten and drunk well) or if the illness was taking hold but I had to get off and walk for a couple of hundred metres, the other chaps waited and got me back on the bike.

At the Finish!

At the Finish!

Then it was around Old Harry Rocks (a ride I had done in reverse a few years back while on holiday) then a final climb up to Studland Hill and Ballard Down with views Swanage. The last descent was scary but mainly rideable with the MTBers racing past us on our adventure\gravel bikes.

Back along the seafront and through the High Street to the Red Lion where more goodies awaited us from Charlie the Bike Monger and luckily a vacant table in the restaurant.

As it turns out I was feeling unwell because I had caught Hand Foot and Mouth Disease from my disgusting little girls and the next day it took hold good and proper.

There is talk of a Devon Gravel Dash, currently planned for one of the first weekends in October 2017. Keep an eye on Charlie’s site for details.

Cycle Up Snowdon

It had been a while in planning and I’d fallen out of cycling a bit while my bike was out of action with a broken ‘brifter’ but we’d set a date and although I wasn’t really up for it we left Gosport at 18:00, Friday evening (25/07/2015) on a 2 stop strategy to Snowdonia.

The bike I chose was the only bike I have, my Kinesis Decade Tripster ATR. I did swap the tyres from Marathons to Sam Plus.

First stop was Cherwell Servives on the M40/A43 north of Bicester. We had it our way at BK.

Second was an industrail estate near Oswestry about 11:50. We had KFC.

It was raining on and off all the way and that combined with various diversions and in a campervan that isn’t happy going faster than 60mph meant we were well behind schedule.

We finally hit Llanberis at 01:30 and found the 24 hour car park closed so we back tracked to a nearby layby and went to bed around 02:00.

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It rained most of the night and the sheep were bleeting from the earliest hours. We were due up at 05:00 but I think it was more like 06:00 by the time were fully awake.

Breakfast was those prepacked porridge pots and Weetabix breakfast drinks. Tim pissed about with his bike (a hardtail MTB) for an inordinately long amount of time.

It was 06:50 by the time we got on the road as we cycled the road from the layby to Llanberis village.

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Tim needed the toilet, all the public conveniences were locked but as luck would have it there was a bank of portaloos lined up for an event that weekend.

With the portaloo suitably destroyed we finally got climbing at 07:15.

It starts on a tarmac lane that gets pretty steep pretty quick and I struggled even on my wide range cassette. Tim on his MTB gearing seemed to be ok.

After the tarmac you pass through a gate and start on the Llanberis route proper (07:30).

All research on the route beforehand suggested that around 70-80% is rideable, and despite some early pushing this proved to be about right.

My ‘road bike’ gearing was not ideal but it was just about workable, while Tim on his MTB was naturally more suited.

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On the way up we passed a few walkers and a single cyclist decesending.

The weather was alright until the Halfway House at which point the mist rolled in and we lost the sun. It got a bit cold and as always I hadn’t taken gloves (take gloves!).

We summited about 09:20 which meant we only had 40 minutes to get back down before the voluntary bike ban between 10:00 and 17:00.

After photos and putting my spare socks on my hands we set off down the mountain. The mist was beginning to clear and breaks in the cloud allowed for beautiful photo opportunities that was disappear as soon as you got the camera out.

The path was filling up walkers and the decent was slow. It was no easier going down than coming up, I still couldn’t cycle the parts I couldn’t cycle when ascending. I sensed it was a little easier for Tim; though having said that he did come off his bike.

By 10:00 the track was full of feet and even parts that we could’ve cycle we couldn’t because of the shear number of people. It took about 1hr 15 mins to get to the bottom.

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I’d been to Pete’s Eats on a previous Snowdon visit and had fond memories so I forced Tim there and was a little disappointed. Maybe I had romanticised my last visit but this time we had over an hours wait for average food. I’d still go back.

Back at the van we loaded up and were on our way home by 13:00. We took a different route home taking in the views across the Menai Strait to Anglesey from the North Wales Express Way (A55). We didn’t get back until about 19:30.

The Tripster ATR did itself proud again, going where it shouldn’t really go and doing it well.

The cycle up…

The cycle down…

 

Day 10: LEJOG A Field to John o’Groats

So last night I cycled as far as I wanted then found a flat farmer’s field to camp in for the night. I must have gone to sleep straight away, woke up a few time, but got up at 05:30.

Yesterday’s effort of 140 miles only left me 13 miles to go today and it was easy terrain.

It was misty but the view over Sinclair’s Bay and Castles Sinclair and Girnigoe was still impressive.

Near Freswick I saw a big stag with huge antlers standing in a field. I took a small detour to take a pic and it turned out to be Reindeer, not bad but not the impressive stag I had hoped for but nice.

By 7 I was approaching JOG and the mist had mosty cleared, I could see across to Stroma and some of the other smaller islands.

NO ROADKILL TODAY!

I thought about cycling the mile or so to Duncansby Head (the most easterly point) then I thought bollocks to it.

I didn’t get any punctures, mechanical problems, I didn’t fall off, I didn’t get hit and no near misses so I’d say that’s a pretty successful trip. I just watched a girl with her feet clipped in to her pedals fall over sideways – probably the highlight of my trip!

It feels like I have blisters on my hands (I don’t), it feels like my behind is covered in boils (it may be, I dare not look) and my body has given up (it knows it’s over).

I don’t feel like I’ve lost any weight, I was 83kg with clothes on when I left so I’ll let you know tomorrow – I know you’re interested.

Got a taxi from JOG back to Wick and the driver asked what I so for a living, I made something suitably impressive up (breeding turtles) and then said “how about you?” doh, what a dick.

Too save lugging all my stuff on and off the trains and around the stations I’ve sent it all home. I popped into PoundStretcher bought some rubble bags and gaffer tape then away they went. They’ll probably get home before me.

On the train from Wick to Inverness (almost 5 hours) there was a girl about 5 I’d guess. She stuck her head between the seats and blew a raspberry at me, this took me a back as I’m normally the raspberryer not the raspberryee: I like to blow raspberries at children in the ultimate hope that the child will raspberry back, the parent will see/hear it and then hit the child – I have achieved this pinnacle twice. Anyway I ignored her raspberry (which was very hard) and briefly considered accidently trapping her fingers in the folding tray in the back of the seat – too much crying.

Tomorrow is London Euston and home.

Day 9: LEJOG Aviemore to a Field

Left the B&B by 5 and felt good, I was going home – even if I was cycling north.

Loads of animals today, some dead, some live. Dead: 3 deer, birds of pray, gulls, corvids, black bird, pheasant, hedgehogs, rabbits and fox. Alive: Deer, 3 lapwings, curlews, 2 hares, and 4 domestic cats.

There were a lot of nice tracks today and a few horrible bits of A9, going past Inverness for example – not advised but couldn’t see a better route.

I mainly got my head down to knock out the miles but I did see a man in a kilt, I smiled at him, he scowled at me.

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After dinner at Helmsdale there are 2 terrible hills. The worse of the 2 began with B, maybe Berriedale – look it up.

I’m now in a farmer’s field just outside Wick overlooking Sinclair’s Bay. There’s not a whisp of wind and the clouds are clearing.

I’m tired, it was a 140 mile day, I need to sleep.

Rest Day 2: LEJOG Aviemore

Something I forgot to mention yesterday, I heard a Scottish man say to his mate, about his small child sitting on the cross bar of his bike – “Argh nae! She’s sheeet herself!”. Maybe you had to be there.

At breakfast there was an American family who’s son (probably about 8) would only talk to the waitress in squeaks unless reminded by his parents to “use your talking voice”. He was very annoying.

Got the bus to the Cairngorm Mountains and took the funicular railway to the top. I’d have liked to have walked or cycled up but that’s no the idea of a rest day is it? Squeak boy turned up on the bloody train.

Tomorrow the idea is to get as far as possible with Helmsdale being minimum, hoping to get at least 10 miles beyond that. It will leave me less to do on the last day, I need to get to John o’Groats by 10:30 on Thursday to allow me to get back to Wick to get the train to Inverness.

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Only 2 days cycling and the sleeper train left before I’m home – whoop!

I feel like rest days are bit of a waste but I guess I need them.

Day 8: LEJOG Scone to Aviemore

Considering it was on a foam egg box mattress it was a good night’s sleep but I still couldn’t get up as early as I’d hoped. Luckily some arguing Oyster Catchers had over ideas and I away by 7.

There aren’t many places in Scotland and the map has changed scale, so every square is 6 miles rather than 3. It makes me feel like I’m making less progess and I get to throw less pages away.

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There is the NCN 7 from Calvine to Inverness and I took this route on and off depending on the surface of the track. They have a habit of tarmacing cycle routes as far as the eye can see then gravelling the rest.

A bloke on a photography trip started talking me at Dalwinnie (which smells of cat food), and as he left he gave me £10 (Scottish mind you) for the charity – I just spent it on dinner, unlucky dieing children!

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Roadkill: another mole! Several bunnies, loads of various birds (at least one bird of prey), a fox, a deer, and I think a dog.

Aviemore isn’t the place for someone who likes to waste money on outdoor crap, every second shop is an Ellis Bingham or even better a local outdoor activities shop. Sorry Charly, no food shopping this month.

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There are some parents at the pub trying to get their children (twins I think) to pole dance on a parasol on a pub table while shouting woo-woo, it’s not all bad though, one just got stung by a wasp (I assume wasp, could have been the less malicious bee). Let’s hope they aren’t allergic.

Yesterday I wished I saw a snake and today I did! I think is was a young Adder but it was back in the grass before I could say Cowboy Boots.

When planning this ride I was ready for headwinds, rain and snow in Scotland but not for 27.4 degrees in the Highlands?! If it wasn’t for my cycling shorts I’d have been in the river multiple times today. I can still see snow on the Cairngorm mountains (I might go up there tomorrow).