To Ride a White Horse

Bratton Camp, Westbury

Bratton Camp, Westbury

Sunday last, and of course the clocks here in the UK leapt forwards an hour, making the the 0745 start for the ride all the more painful. Mike fancied heading out towards Westbury, but he needed to be in Frome for a football match by 10:30. This certainly meant we would be riding at least 25 miles. I had thought that in preparation for our Belgian/French cycle ride, we would be riding with full panniers, so I stacked mine to the maximum and even carried the track pump. Mike of course had completely forgotten, so he just had a single pannier with a flask of coffee in.

We rode out through Rudge, turning left at the Full Moon pub, then passing the Kicking Donkey. Even with the full panniers I was able to ride at a pretty reasonable pace. We shot through Westbury Leigh then headed for Bratton, passing underneath the mighty Westbury White Horse. This is one of the oldest of the white horses cut into the hillsides of Wiltshire. We don’t really know what the original horse looked like, but we do know that in 1778 someone called George Gee decided that it didn’t really look like a horse so he had it recut and reshaped until he was satisfied that it did. Towards the end of the 18th century it was recut again, then in the 20th century someone thought it would be a hell of a lot less work if the thing was concreted over and painted white. So what you are seeing as you take the road beneath Westbury Hill, is not a horse made of chalk, like say Cherhill or Uffington, but a load of painted concrete. The concrete horse drifted out of sight behind us as we continued along the road. The tarmac was beautifully smooth and there was barely a vehicle about. As we entered Bratton, we swung hard right up the promisingly named Castle Road. This turned out to be a very long hill. Mike switched on his legs and pulled far in front, leaving me wobbling up with my now extremely heavy panniers. I passed some other cyclists on MTBs, they had dismounted and were walking up. I was barely going much faster than them, and I was relieved to see that Mike had stopped at the summit and was sittting on the ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort Bratton Camp. I propped the bike up against a fence and wheezed over a gate to join Mike. As we sat and surveyed the counryside a skylark drifted past trilling and warbling it’s beautiful liquid song. The sky had clouded over, but a strong shaft of sunlight struck a yellow freight train causing it to glow as if alight. It was the most glorious and luminescent colour.

At the summit of the camp, the car park was full of vehicles brought up here by people who were now walking their dogs. Electing not to go past the red flag denoting that the army was shooting stuff on Warminster plain, we instead dived down the hill next to the White Horse and found ourselves catapulted into Westbury at speed. We now needed to get to Frome, so we took the road to Dilton Marsh then carried on to the A36. Thankfully we were only on that hellish road for a couple of hundred yards before we turned off onto a ghost road that led to Frome. For the first mile or so it still had the worn out cats eyes that told of its glory days as a main route. Now it was reduced to carrying tractors and us. It didn’t take us long to reach Frome, we struggled up the main hill in the town centre and thought about getting some bacon in the cafe at the top, but Mike was going to be late for his son’s football match so we passed up the porcine goodness.

By the time I got back to the house I had completed just over thirty miles with full panniers. Great training for Belgium, I hope.

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 10:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Will sprint for tea

Signs

Crossing the A36 was a matter of cycling twenty yards and signaling right in front of a near blind corner, John almost came a cropper when a barely in control Range Rover hurtled round the bend while he was side on to the traffic. It was close, too close, and cycling up the tiny lane towards Laverton we hastily made small talk about mountain biking on order to quickly forget the near miss. Ten minutes beforehand, John, fresh back from mountain biking in North Wales, had turned up at the gate early that Tuesday evening, I was eager to show him the roads out towards Lullington so we ambled out of the village towards Woolverton and took that nasty right turn. We needn’t have bothered with the blase chit-chat, the leafy lanes themselves soothed us and drew us gently into the comfort of the Somerset countryside. The roads were so quiet that when we were set upon by a couple of over excited farm dogs, their noisome barking and yelping seemed explosively loud in the calm of the evening. We were in no danger, but we hastened away, standing up to put in some acceleration up the hill until the dogs receded into the distance, last seen standing in the middle of the road yapping madly. We dropped down into Lullington, cycling at a gentle enough pace to talk Tour de France, North Wales and a blow by blow account of John’s holiday. A gentle pace became a snails pace, then we stopped for a spot of photography:

Trundling slowly past the dairy, John took over the navigation as we crossed into what looked like someone’s drive, but turned out to be a tiny lane pointing towards Standerwick. We eased ourselves up the hill as the road became thinner and thinner. We were in lanes even John had not visited in his extensive bicycle travels. Over a small bridge and… we were suddenly confronted by what was without doubt one of the most appalling cases of fly-tipping I had ever seen:

This had clearly been hastily thrown off the back of a van. Big plastic crates with ‘corrosive!’ written all over them, stacked full of junk, old trackies, soggy books, plastic toys. It looked like the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a village jumble sale.

Over the A36 again, with a considerably better line of vision to get across safely. Then we trickled amicably towards Rudge, having only gone about seven miles and wondering if perhaps we ought to think about doing some proper cycling. In an attempt to scupper that particular train of thought, I suggested ringing our friends Lou and Rob and seeing if they might put the kettle on. John did the honours and, yes, the kettle would be switched on for when we arrived. Unfortunately this had the opposite effect from what I expected. John suddenly turned into Eddy Merckx and started sprinting. Right, if he’s Eddy Merckx, then Je Suis Bernard Hinault et tant que je respire j’attaque! (as it says on my t-shirt).

So we dueled through the lanes until we reached Westbury, opting to take the old road. We arrived dripping with sweat, which was altogether pretty unpleasant for Lou who greeted us at the door and guided us round the back of the house, and through to Rob who handed us a steaming beverage each. Later on, having had a tour of the the work going on in the house and garden, we set off for home. Having had a nice combination of gentle bicycling and hell for leather cycling. Here is a short poor quality film from the pootling bit – sorry for the abrupt cut off, still getting used to the iMovie/youtube crossover. The music is Wind Forest from one of my favourite films, My Neighbor Totoro – but played by Grooploop – who I know nothing about.

Wednesday Ride III – against the zephyrs

I was pushed all the way to John’s house in Trowbridge by an insistent tailwind, this did not bode well for this week’s Wednesday Ride. I dismounted and pushed the bike past the wheelie bin in the narrow alley leading to John’s secret garden. Not long after I arrived, the sound of someone squeezing past that same bin announced Brad’s arrival. He had been suffering from a ‘dodgy tum’ for the whole week, it was my secret hope that this would scrub some speed from the super-fit whippet, of course I would barely notice any dip in performance as his form is lightyears ahead of mine.

We set off in a row into some fierce winds, but on turning towards Melksham the wind moved behind us and sent us speeding down the road with considerable urgency. Then into Melksham itself, via the bikes and buses only route, which as it was devoid of traffic, saw us cycling three abreast. This fine stretch of tarmac is crying out for some bike activities under the cover of darkness, something like Sprint Club in Richmond Virginia.

Past the Waney Edge Cafe and over the roundabout, we hurtled through the outer edge of Melksham, until we pulled over to await another of John’s friends, Damian, who arrived almost as soon as we pulled up. The new addition duly linked into the chain, we set off again towards Seend and Devizes. I led off the front, pulling 21mph into a headwind. This proved to be utterly foolish, I was expecting Brad to come hurtling past and take over pulling at any second, but he never came. Then, even worse, we hung a right and smacked straight into a hell of a hill. I sat on the back behind John and just pushed and pulled my way through it, coming up a long time after the others. From then on in, it was a war of attrition with the wind. Damian was proving that he could keep up with Brad no trouble, and as usual it was up to John and myself to keep nightwatchman on the rear of the group. Then we turned directly into the headwind and the group started to break up. Brad was on the front and I hung onto his wheel for a few minutes, then fell off, unable to sustain 19-20mph uphill and into the wind (even with the shelter Brad was providing as I drafted him). I sat up to take a drink and Damian shot past, I watched them disappear around the first of many torturous switchbacks and double bends, before clamping down and digging in. My concentration was split between two things, maintaining an even, steady cadence and keeping breathing. The road got narrower and narrower, winding it’s way through tiny hamlets and villages. The verges became grassy, unfenced areas of common land, strewn with wildflowers, single cottages with beautifully looked after gardens unfolded from around blind corners. Eventually I stopped seeing glimpses of the two out front in the distance, and I was left alone with the roar of the wind and the sound of my own ragged panting.

The final straw came as the rain spattered down and I met a bus in the lane, the compulsory sudden stop as it squeezed past me, left my legs shocked into paralysis and I could barely turn the cranks. Luckily there was a junction for the main road and Brad and Damian were waiting there. Also luckily, John was a way behind and experiencing an enforced stop of his own with the bus, a white van and an old lady who had to reverse down the lane to allow the bus past.

All of this gave me time to recover and watch a Eurofighter screaming repeatedly overhead. John soon arrived, and we all took a bit of a rest and had a chat before stringing out again on the road into Westbury. One more stop at Westbury and I was wrongfooted, or wrongwheeled. When John caught up he just sailed past and the others shot off in hot pursuit. As I was the only one without clipless pedals, it took me a while to get clipped up, then there was a seemingly endless stream of traffic. By the time I got onto the road I had lost sight of them and took a wrong turn towards the Trowbridge road. Immediately I knew I had gone the wrong way as there was a long straight stretch down which I couldn’t see any cyclists. Cursing, I spun back round the mini roundabout and headed towards Westbury Leigh. This time they were waiting for me.

Finally, we got some tailwind as we turned towards Brokerswood at Dilton Marsh, the going became much easier from then on in, but the rain was starting to become a little more serious. Up through Rudge, I managed to bounce my foot out of a clip during a too fast gear change, leaving me pedalling slowly up the hill, with the odd scraping of metal on tarmac as the inverted clip hit the road. I was off the back again, and only caught up as we turned towards the village.

We bid each other farewell and I rode back to the house, the others rode the tailwind back to Trowbridge and Melksham. Total mileage 32 miles, soaked up the back, and legs pummeled into jelly. Now, in retrospect at 23:54, I say it was a good ride. It didn’t feel that way at first.

wet roads