Serendipity on the Ridgeway

Last year whilst riding home to Godalming from Holyhead I came across Avebury Ring, somewhere I’d never visited before. As I left there I crossed a path with a sign to indicate it was the Ridgeway Long Distance Trail, it was at that moment I decided to ride the footpath and visit Avebury with a bit more time to spare.

Move on 9 months and a winter planning the route. It’s 06:30 and we’re outside my house getting the bikes ready with Rob, my buddy for the weekend, and with who I rode the North Downs last year.  10 minutes later were at the station buying tickets, then it’s on the train final destination Tring via Clapham Junction. Clapham Junction arrives just time to to raid the hole in the wall as well as to get some coffee before the next train. Debit card in machine, details entered, transaction complete, card returned but no cash to follow. Damn, do I try again or try elsewhere? a quick phone call confirms account not debited so decide to go for coffee and think about money later. A prudent quick chat with platform attendant confirms there are no trains from here to Tring, I point to the map which shows the route and realise its all to do with engineering works. We’ll have to get back on the train to Waterloo, ride across London and catch the train from Euston. This early on a sunny spring Saturday morning the roads are a joy, we arrive at Euston with five minutes to spare and all is good.

cafeNext stop Tring, thoughts of coffee and money return but the station is in the middle of nowhere, so we head for the start point of the ride Ivinghoe Beacon. Passing through Ivinghoe there time to stop for coffee and cake at the community café where we sit outside basking in the sunshine. After getting money from the nearby Post Office were good to go.


Ivinghoe BeaconIvinghoe Beacon gave a great panoramic view,  a few moments for a photo and whee the descent begins. I don’t think we’d gone more than a few kilometres before Rob’s and my routes diverged (a continuing them of the first day due to prohibited cycling routes). Before long we’re back passing Tring and truly on our way.

The route was amazingly dry and easy to cover ground, we were doing so well we decided to treat ourselves to a cheeky pub lunch. We stopped at the Plough at Cadsden entering the place it felt familiar as did the landlord, eventually a realised why spotting the picture of Cameron and President Xi on the wall, I’d seen it on the news before. Couldn’t help thinking the they should have had a picture of Cameron and the pig on the other side of the fireplace for balance.

The afternoon continued dropping down towards the Thames with glorious sunshine and views with the ever present Easterly winds on our backs. Crossing the Thames as we passed through Goring we then began the climb back on to the Ridgeway. The clear skies and travelling westward provided a spectacular sunset to head towards. Once the sun finally disappeared so did its’ warmth, stopping to add an extra layer a plan for food we settled on, head for a pub off the route at Childrey. The descent to Childrey in the dark was exhillerating, not so was the thought of having to climb back up to find somewhere to sleep for the night. Arriving in the village there was no pub to be found, we were told it had closed sometime ago and the nearest pub was miles away. Time to refer to the OS map which showed a pub in the next village, Sparshalt. All ready to get going at which point my Garmin runs out of puff, time to commit the route to memory and head off.

Arriving at the pub and peering through the window the restaurant all looks very posh, entering the bar all tables are taken, only the restaurant has free tables. Luckily we got a space they cleared all the fine glassware and other settings to allow us to sit in our cycling gear amongst the other diners. The food was excellent but a not enough to satisfy the hunger of 10 hours riding. Food and a few beers later it was back on the bikes back up the hill to look for somewhere to sleep.

On reaching the ridge we headed off in the direction Uffington Castle fort to find somewhere to sleep for the night. Home for the night was just off the track with a bank providing shelter from the breeze. Having been clear all day the sky remained that way all night providing a great view of the stars. Whilst the bank had provided shelter from the wind it also blocked the early rising sun and its’ warmth, so it was porridge and coffee made and eaten without leaving our bivvy bags.

By 8am we’d packed and started to continue our journey west first stop was a kilometre or two later to admire Wayland’s Smithy a Neolithic Chamberlong barrow and chamber tomb. From there it was on to Liddington Castle fort which involved a short detour to reach. It’s only now writing this I realise we missed the iconic White Horse at Uffington due to it being dark as we passed. The final castle we passed was Barbury Castle from where we headed down to our end of the route 140km later at the base of Overton Hill. From there we headed to Avebury via the Avenue a passageway of paired stones leading to the stone circles and the pub for a celebratory beer.

Having planned to catch a train from Pewsey to home we plotted a route that would give us plenty of time, this was probably the worst off road conditions of the ride steep downhill on muddy chalk and just muddy along the bottom. Arriving at the station to buy tickets we were confronted by a sign saying there were no trains stopping due to engineering works – uh oh what was Plan B? ride home? Luckily the help point worked and we discovered the 16:11 would be running which left an hour or two to kill drinking beer in the sun. No more drama until the change at Reading where at 5pm it said the last train to Guildford had gone for the night – engineering works. The woman at the ticket office said there were bus replacements and we could try our luck to try and get the bikes on board. Finding the bus, which was in fact a coach, was easy. The next bit was to negotiate the guy with the clipboard, “well we shouldn’t really….”, “it’s the driver’s discretion….”, “we can put them underneath if it’s not too busy”, etc. We loaded the bikes and at this point the beers were making themselves felt on Rob’s bladder who asked the driver if there was a loo on board – “there is but it’s locked we leave in 6 minutes if you want to run back to the platform” clipboard man chips in you need to be back in three minutes. The risk of separation from the bike was too high so Rob climbed on board and crossed his legs.

The rest of the journey passed without event, Rob got off at his stop and I carried on to Guildford. Despite the efforts of the train companies to throw a spanner in the works it went to plan more or less. It had been two days of clear skies and tailwinds to ease journey, some great views and above all great fun, just need to plan the next one.


February’s French Fluke

Sunday 26th February it’s drizzling with high winds forecast and we’re planning to camp on the top of ridge in a clump of pine trees.

Walking in to the pub where we planned to meet there’s no one at the bar, not surprising for a Sunday evening but the restaurant area was packed and everyone was speaking French, loudly. It was like having been transported to an après-ski bar in the Alps. Before long I’m joined by Blakey for a few pints, before long I’ve been mistaken for one of the French women’s mates and then treated to drunkenly related potted life story.  Time to drink up and escape to the hills.


Packing up

Outside it’s still drizzling but after couple of miles walking by head torch we reach the top of the ridge. We  find a couple of suitable pine trees in the lee of the wind put the tarps up quickly followed by the hammocks and we’re set for the night. Quite an uneventful one at that except for the noise of some heavy showers.


Before sunrise the first dog walker passes by without noticing we’re there, but by the time it’s light it proves quite a popular spot probably due to the car park nearby at the bottom of the hill. Most pass either not noticing us or taking no interest. So time to pack up, whilst doing so we get a quick brew on before heading back to the pub to pick up the cars and get on with the rest of the day.