Marlborough to Fleet : 76 miles
Another gloomy start to the day with mist and rain in the air whilst we packed up in relative silence. Overnight we’d learnt a couple of valuable lessons. Pitching near the toilet block is a good thing…..if you want to hear the hand drier going off all night. What the hell were people doing that they needed to wash their hands at 3AM. I barely wash mine once a week, let alone after a dozey walk at 3AM to point in hope at a halogen lit urinal.
Who am I kidding, I pee’d behind my tent like everyone else.
Lesson 2, ear plugs.
Onwards to the third and final day.
Look at that delicious flat finish……look at that horrible start. We packed up and rolled down the hill into Marlborough and after a few wrong turns including riding through a foyer and a set of double doors which I’m sure wasn’t on the route. Apologies to the Jubilee Center in Marlborough.
An early run up a short sharp hill and onto the disused railway which was absolute bliss. Long, flat and some good speed to waken the muscles and get everyone ready for the day. The early breezy conversation was soon replaced with wheezy procrastination as we hit the first cat 4 of the day and what a beast it was. As usual passing comments from local dog walkers telling us we were nearly there were absolute lies but we did appreciate the encouragement. Ultimately popping out onto the top of the ridgeway to what would have been stunning views if it wasn’t for the low hanging mist.
Now is the time I apologise as the last instalment of this pile of words will have a few less personal pictures and a few more stolen ones, as the cameras took a back seat for the making progress as we closed in on completion.
Riding along the Ridgeway was amazing and intimidating in equal measure, the tracks opened up into sweeping trails with overhanging greenery and then into rutted balancing acts where the effort of concentration was debilitating. I took another handlebar dismount albeit at slower speed, a result of the ruts and a lack of balance on the high points. Not being able to see the dips in the grass was ridiculously unnerving, only exasperated by the 2 days of riding and accidents already in the legs. Martin also took a spill on the hardened chalk doing some damage to his shoulder which I think was the final warning for us all, so we wound the speed down and proceeded with caution.
Riding past the gallops and down toward Streatley a particularly bitter old chap stood to the side and let us pass then vocally complained none of us had bells (even though he’d seen us, stepped aside and there was no danger at all). I took great pleasure in ringing my bell for the next hundred yards like a deranged leper cycling off into the bushes.
We left the rolling hills and span down into Goring for the most welcome hot sandwich and coffee near the river. The staff in Pierreponts couldn’t have been nicer and holy Jesus the peanut flapjack was incredible.
Running through Goring and following the Thames down to Caversham and Reading through in a few tricky climbs and some fairly hard looking drops as we paralleled the river. Nothing too testing based on the previous rut dodging, but tricky nonetheless.
The one thing that did stand out as we drifted down another quiet lane was a chap and his wife overtaking us in a Micra. There was plenty of room and no oncoming cars but that didn’t stop him drifting too far right, bouncing over a ditch and something snapped….something fundamental like an axle. The car ground to a halt and we couldn’t do anything but wave in what we hoped was sympathy and ride on.
Upsetting was 500yd further on was the garden center and end of the road we assumed he was heading for. I take no pleasure in his misfortune but for the sake of 30 seconds he’s probably still trapped in the car with his wife staring coldly at him, saying nothing.
As we popped out of the trees and spotted the wind turbine in Reading we felt like the rest was a simple Sunday bimble through our local patch. For those that aren’t blessed with being in the home stretch, the route parallels the A33 down some easily rideable trails. The refreshing sting of a nettle was never far away as the trail cut through Wellington Country Park, Hartley Wintney and into the back end of Fleet.
I’ll add at this point we’d been watching the miles tick by but there was no way that the mileage on the GPS was the mileage to get to the start point. Local knowledge made us lean toward local known routes but we doggedly stuck to the GPX plan whilst meandering in wider circuitous routes to get back to the start point and the thought of a pint.
It’s only when you know the roads you realise what a marvellous job the planners have done, avoiding towns and busy roads, winding you down long forgotten trails and byways and mixing the hard packed fire tracks with overgrown hedgerows and torturous climbs.
I’ll follow up this final post with a meandering ‘notes to self’ for when I do this kind of thing again and hope it helps someone find their own adventure.
For someone who doesn’t like camping and did minimal training I had a wonderful time. It was hard, rewarding and ultimately exhausting. Same again next year?