Saddle Sore – Reviews, Rides & Rablings – Cycling Blog

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.

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  • Good write up. I am considering signing up this year as it looks a great laugh and a lot less full of idiots than the road sportives. Did the smart sam tyres work well?

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