Winchester to Marlborough : 76 miles

Day 2 started with an early wake up and a relatively quiet packing session in the drizzle. I think all of us were beginning to realise that this was a big route for 3 people who had done precious little training and had practically no sleep. Water bottles filled, determined not to gas early we set off looking for breakfast. What we hadn’t factored is that most places aren’t open in sleepy villages on a Saturday morning at 7AM. I don’t think we saw a single soul for a couple of hours of generally easy road riding. It continued to drizzle but wasn’t cold and we were happily racking up some miles before we turned into a cul de sac.

By now we’d figured out that cul de sac meant there was a trail coming and experience had shown us that trail meant nettles, brambles and all exaserpated by the rain weighing everythign into the the path. Cue an hour or so of slogging through cut throughs punctuated by the odd blasphemous call as a bramble dug into the same spot on the same arm every single time.

We’d got ourselves into a pattern of waiting for each other at each major intersection or route choice, partly to ensure nobody had got lost but to also ensure nobody wandered off into the unknown. With my Garmin smashed we were down to Skip’s Wahoo (great bit of kit for the navigation) and Rix powering up his iPhone intermittently to check we were on track. Pausing at the end of one single track section we waited for what felt like a long time. With hindsight one of us should have retraced to check Rix was ok, but we took the opportunity to have some flapjack and have a breather. Rix emerged after a long 5 minutes and explained he’d lost his front wheel and dragged his bum along a barbed wire fence, not enough to damage him irreparably but enough to hang him like a Laurel and Hardy sketch from the fence unable to move. After some wrestling he’d unhooked himself but left a nice hole in his pants and another reminder that it could have been a lot worse.

After a few reasonably flat fields and trails we hit some significant lumps. The washed away topsoil left hard rutted chalk which was almost impossible to ride leaving us a few cleat walks up unforgiving inclines around Broughton Down. There’s something demoralising about walking on cleats pushing a heavy laden bike, especially when you get to the top and there’s always one more hump. We erred on the side of caution around the slicker areas and on a personal level having been shaken up already with skinny’ish tyres I’m not sure I could have been any more tense on the downhills.

What started as a quick spin then breakfast turned into a 20 mile desperate bonkfest culminating in a google search for a co-op or a corner shop. Having identified a likely candidate we took off at warp 1 up the hill toward old Sarum and from behind I hear a moan. Carried by the breeze the noises became more guttural so I turned to see Rix, out of his seat, actively sniffing the air, like a sweaty meerkat if meerkats rode bikes. He’d caught a whiff of bacon. 5 minutes later after the message had been passed up the ride line we were sat in a Harvester, out of the rain gorging on a full cooked breakfast the likes of which has never been more welcome.

Stomachs filled and coffee imbided it recharged us for a much more enjoyable second half to the day, riding through delightlful villages, pushing through Amesbury and up past the army presence at Larchill before crossing Salisbury plain. The long drag to the top of the hill was manageable as we all hit our own pace. The isolation was incredible. It’s recommended in the guide to take food as there is little by the way of shops but I could have ridden the tops of those hills for days, fed only by the views. Not for the first time I was struck by how utterly stunning this country can be. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Clearly the last one of the dashing chap in the helmet is the most stunning of all.

Running down off the plains we had to shower the bikes at a jet wash and stock up on carbs before taking on another grinding hill. The only reason it was enjoyable was hearing Rix shout something from the back, turning round and seeing him stop and then calling him because neither of us wanted to go back down after him. Pointless really as he was shouting because he’d left his phone at the garage, thankfully realising before we’d got too far. Reunited we pressed on through a lot more forgiving trails before hitting the campsite in Marlborough, which as luck would have it was at the top of the steepest hill of the day, an absolute beast. A close second in the disappointment stakes was no showers and four sinks for the whole site. Standing in my pants wiping myself down with a wet t-shirt whilst a drunken Irish camper got far too close for comfort was somewhat disturbing although not as disturbing as the view as I finished the job in the tent with a wipe and move known in yoga circles as the “dead beetle legs akimbo wipe down”.

Another taxi into town and a carb fest before retiring for the night, in the rain….again. Determined to make use of the stove I’d bought along, a quick hot chocolate whilst listening to various bodily evacuations from my camping colleagues 3 ft away was a refreshing break.