Into the Valley of The Wylye

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Many years ago, while I worked for Ottakar’s books, all the staff took part in a company wide effort to raise money for the children of Deogarh in India. One of things I did was a sixty mile cycle ride to our head office in Salisbury from Trowbridge, and back again. Considering how unfit I was at the time, it was an epic undertaking. John (who I still ride with on the Wednesday rides) was our guide, taking us into Salisbury via the beautiful Wylye Valley, rather than the hell that would have been the A36. At the top of this post you can see the front and rear of the T-shirt I made for the ride. I made one for everyone with the rider’s name on the back and their number, 1-4 on the front and sleeve. Below are some more pics from the ride.

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On Saturday I took a ride out from the village and ended up retracing some of the route we took on the sponsored cycle ride. We had been promised foul weather, but although it was very gusty, there was no rain in the air. I headed for Dilton Marsh, then took the road up The Hollow. This was the steep hill that saw one member of the group simply exclaim “Oh F*** off!” and dismounting to walk up as soon as he saw the gradient. I remember cycling up behind John, but being unable to breathe at the top as we waited for the other two to walk it. This time I took it with ease, crossed over the road and headed for Upton Scudamore. On the way I passed the layby and bridge where in April I had seen a seriously filthy amount of flytipped rubbish. I’m happy to say that someone has tidied it up. here’s a before and after for you:

Rubbish! Little or no rubbish!

Through Upton and over the main road to another ghost road. A fragmented old stretch of tarmac overgrown and crow-haunted, it deposited me almost by the Warminster sign, next to a crab apple tree by the side of the road. The back roads of Warminster saw me wondering if I was taking the right route. It seemed to me that in retrospect, the sponsored riders appeared to have stopped off at every grocery shop on the way. I crossed Imber Road and sped down long stretches of tarmac dotted with speed bumps, still not 100% sure of where I was going, sat up in the saddle with one hand on the handlebars I drifted towards Bishopstrow with the vague recollection that we had at some point crossed the A36 via a bridge. The only way that could have happened was if we had gone over the Warminster bypass. So I headed that way, tacking my back a little like a sail to allow the tail wind to push me through Bishopstrow village and, yes, over the A36. There was little traffic on the road and I crossed the bubbling Wylye river in peace. Here on the backroads I simply turned the cranks and enjoyed bicycling, cow parsley brushed my shins as I rode close to the verge. A myriad range of birds, swallows, buntings, finches and sparrows, dipped and sped across the road at head height. Sometimes they stalled into the wind, flapping wildly but unable to make headway as the gusts rose and fell. Across the tall grass in the field, the wind blew in eddies and currents; where the evening sun struck the seedheads the ripples of light moved over the surface of the field, tracking the path of the zephyrs like waves on water.

Rather like when fishing, cycling connects you intimately to the movements of the breeze. On the banks of a pool or lake, with the bait in the water, you notice that the wind rarely moves in one direction. You will see your float drift one way, then another. After a while you learn the subtle changes that signal a change of wind direction. So it is on the bike, the wind is moving around you all the time, a gust will almost stop you in your tracks, but then as it dies it creates a sort of patch of pressure where the wind seems to be sucked back the other way, suddenly driving you forwards. On such days it can feel as though you are being pushed and pulled along, you can ride on the drops when the wind is against you, but sit up tall to take advantage of a sudden tailwind. When the sun is out, it can be quite enjoyable, so much more than sheer, baking heat and still air.

At Sutton Veny I decided I had gone far enough and turned towards the Warminster bypass roundabout. It was a brief ride into the wind, then left, leaving the wind mainly on my right. By the time I got to the lead up to the crest of Black Dog Hill, I was glad of the lorries and using them to draft up the gradient. I arrived back at the house having notched up twenty six miles. Leaving me only twenty to thirty miles in order to rack up 1000 miles on the Lemond Etape since Feb 2007.

Cycling through a gale in search of a cup of tea


A distinct lack of teabags in the house saw me venturing out in the high winds in search of the magic leaves for a brew-up. The fact that I was freewheeling uphill suggested to me that the return trip, into the wind, might be a little difficult. I hurtled out of the village with a whirlwind of leaves, grass and twigs blowing around the road, onto the Wingfield Straight with the wind pushing against my left side. Luckily I presented a thin profile to the raging gusts and I kept my line on the road. Turning right at the shrine, I had the wind behind me and was blown along the road to Trowbridge itself. I raced past the roundabout for Broadmead and continued to where the Bradford road joins up, going all the way round the church that sits on a traffic island. My right pedal grounded slightly with an audible scraping sound as I leant hard into the bend, still pedalling. I cut across a no through road and took a hard left onto the bike path. Over another main road, avoiding the massive roundabout by the large Tesco’s, now I was in the backstreets.

Here the wind was less steady, less predictable; gargantuan gusts howled round corners of 1930s red brick houses. Frequent patches of waste ground spewed out clumps of dried, white, grass which skittered and raced about the hammered tarmac, Wiltshire tumbleweed. A scally crested the railway bridge in front of me on a full-sus mtb, his eyes alert, looking round intently, for what? Escape routes? Opportunities? On seeing me he looked down, spitting hard onto the ground  and rose from his saddle to pump the cranks before passing, eyes flicking up once, wolfish, then he was round the corner and away.

The bridge was in poor repair, crushed kerbstones and chipped caps that spoke of wide loads and tight-squeezes, back a bit, left hand down, steady, woah woah WOAAH! On the other side the road just gave up, disintegrating into gravel and bramble. Lamposts leant into the wind, which sang its banshee cry through sagging telephone wires. By the side of the tracks a trolley was choked in brambles, obviously it had been there much longer than the brand new, spike-tipped, galvenized steel fence dividing the walkway from the trainline. No one had thought to pull the trolley out while putting the fence up. An avenue of stunted blackthorns festooned with ripped plastic bags; tattered fruits, noisily flapping, funneled me into the maze of roads backing onto Tesco’s. White paint was splashed over the asphalt, a decorator’s accident, now etched into the surface of the road, white tyre prints radiated out thirty yards or so before fading to grey.

Into the relative calm of the store, emptier than usual. I had the Brompton and  the front bag in the trolley together, no need for a bike lock. Pretty soon I was back outside, the bag laden with groceries including some excellent quality tea. The return journey promised to be hard work, I spent as much time as possible weaving through the backstreets and houses while the wind probed at me where it could.

Finally, Trowbridge spat me out onto the A361 to face the gale, now at last the wind had me where it wanted me. Three miles of agonisingly pushing the pedals, moving forward slowly, almost down to walking pace. I kept with it, a steaming hot mug of tea appearing in my mind’s eye like some sort of grailquest vision. I guess I am a hardcore cyclist, not in the traditional sense of putting in lots of hours or miles on the bike, but I am hardcore in the sense that I will take on the A361 in a force 7-8 gale. The light over the fields appeared silvery where the grass was blown flat in waves, exposing the pale underleaves momentarily so that the landscape appeared liminal, even unreal. It kept my mind from over-thinking the sluglike pace I was crawling home at. Indeed, it seemed that soon I was slipping into the lowest gear and trickling steadily up Rode Hill.

You can be certain that the first thing I did on arrival back at base, was to switch on the kettle. Never, and I mean never, did a cup of tea taste so damn good.

Published in: on March 11, 2008 at 11:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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