Monday, June 18, 2007


Some time back in April I decided to begin to push the boundaries of what I consider an acceptable distance for my own legs to take me in a day. In doing so, I joined TSK in achieving one of his targets for getting back to England (It has been more than a year).

He had been making noises about returning to Audax riding (or Randonneuring if you're in Canada). Whilst there was nothing stopping him, there was no push either so I grappled with t'interweb in between the new company scanning my surreptitious and obviously highly risky cycling-web-pages and found us a 200km ride. The furthest I've ever ridden being 164km in the Quebecois Verundrey.

A venue was picked, Bedford on 29th April - a 212.7km ride called "The Fenland Flyer" seemed a perfect starting point as there are no real hill-ranges worth sniffing-at within 100 circular miles of Bedford.

Easter weekend had been 50 miles a day. The difference between 212km and 50 miles being approximately 95 miles. So that's the pre-Audax training ride we set out to achieve on the sunny weekend of 19th April.

Fancying a trip to the seaside in such sunshine, Bournemouth was chosen as a suitable destination to aim for from Wiltshire (the other house, DAHLING!) with a train-ride home to spend time soaking in our achievement.

Saturday morning after a faltering start around coffee in Malborough we set off, laden with nothing but food. First we arrived in Amesbury and studied the beautiful Monastery then following the path of the river Avon to Salisbury, more religious contemplation at the cathedral, Fordingbridge and, beyond Salisbury, the villages around Fordingbridge stand out.

Initially for the cattle grid into a village which seemed to be keeping 3 very contented looking cattle in the village and cattle grids or gates to keep them out of most driveways.

Beyond that, the increasing numbers of wild ponies wandering randomly through villages, fields and gardens. Everything from sprightly young stallions to frail old mares and so traffic aware, few drivers flinched at passing by except for us, still slightly nervous and ever so much more vulnerable to a swift kick than the average steel-box car.

We mused that the phrase, “mummy mummy I want a pony” is rarely murmured here for the fear that mummy might one day come home with a free bag-of-bones on a string, or worse, an un-broken stallion and a challenging air of “Let me know how you get on with that”

Finally we cut around the South of Christchurch where we catch a passenger ferry to Hengistbury Head, a spit of sandy trails leading to colourfully painted beach huts, inhabited only by almost off-season surfer types, young enough and strong enough and enthusiastic enough to haul crates of beer to the vehicle-inaccessible huts a mile down the sand. Of course beer-drinking is not essential but the feel of the place in the sunshine makes it seem damn-close to compulsory.

By the time we reach dry land, there’s a distinct feeling that everyone’s just getting up after a very late night followed by riding the early morning surf and then taking a nap.

Our weary legs turn their backs on the white cliffs of the Isle of Wight and take us the extra 6 miles we need to achieve our target and into Bournemouth where the biggest hazard to our progress is avoiding drunken people. There has, it seems, been a match on.

We’re too preoccupied, now, with securing a route home to enjoy much of Bournemouth but it seems a more lively, bustling place than the retirement-haven image of my preconceptions.

A taxi-driver kindly directs our tired, confused asses to the station where a less-helpful rail employee is adamant we won’t be able to get home before midnight as there’s a replacement bus service on our direct (one change) route and instead we need to go via Southampton and Bath to make the last train which will get us in by… midnight. Should we miss this service we'll be left in Bath trying to find somewhere to stay cheaply (not likely) after 10pm (also less likely).

It confuses me why the replacement bus services contracted to replace rail services can not be contracted to provide a similar replacement. An extra trailer for bikes is not a difficult thing to achieve.

Southampton, y’say. Not likely. A soon as she mentions Southampton I am pondering calling Uncle Tom and within 5 minutes the draw of tea, toast and a comfy bed before midnight is too tempting. Text messaged directions and last minute phone clarifications take us straight to the door, the teacup and the comfy bed interspersed with some serious catching up. I'm just sorry I missed the two other cuzes.

On Sunday morning, our ride took us from Southampton to Winchester and on to the village of North Alresford to catch a steam train, yes a steam train, to the start of the national rail network. Steam trains only run three times a day so it’s nearly a miracle that we arrived with 15 minutes to spare before the next service.

A 10 minute delay was no hassle in the sunshine, especially as they proudly declared they would take the bikes, leaving us highly amused by the massive guards carriage just for us.

The next hour was spent gleefully peering out the sliding windows on the slam-shut doors at the line of men admiring the countryside passing by and the huff huff huff of steam engine smoke that we perpetually caught up with.

Insider knowledge got us onto the train to Reading quickly where we joined three other cyclists cramming their bikes into the clearly-displayed, limited three-bike space. Two gentlemen disembarked and we all happily made space for new cyclists to cram-in only to be berated by a pissed football fan, standing at the clearly-displayed, limited three-bike space door.

It’s springtime, I think, bikes have urges too and I'm afraid we just can’t keep them off each other.

1 comment:

Silver Lining said...

Wow. What a fantastic weekend! Sometimes the best things happen when the plans go astray...