Autumn's delights

Good weather, good company, good riding… this year’s autumn tour was a cracker. We can’t have been the only cyclists seizing the opportunity to enjoy the lanes of southern England over the weekend, but other than observing from inside a cafe several members of the Swindon Road Club passing through Pewsey, Andy, Simon and I encountered few others. Perhaps the route, chosen as ever to keep us as far from motor traffic as possible, did so for cyclists. On even the quietest of lanes, however, motor vehicles are increasingly to be encountered thanks, presumably, to the ubiquitous sat-nav.

Oddly enough, Sunday’s ride turned out to be the quietest. Day one saw us leave Guildford via Godalming, where we doffed a metaphorical cap to the CTC’s former home at Cotterell House. (The organisation now lives in Guildford, of course). Cycle touring’s spiritual home left behind, we passed to the south of the Hog’s Back to find ourselves on the A31 west of Farnham. Time triallists will know this road from several TT courses including the H25/8 and, suitably inspired, we team time trialled our way to Bentley at a steady 26mph.

From here we found ourselves on Hampshire downlands and, once past Whitchurch, riding alongside the Bourne Rivulet, one of the tributaries of the River Test. If touring with any amount of luggage, it is well worth avoiding steep hills as far as possible and finding a road running alongside a river is one of the best ways to do so. We were climbing, nonetheless, and eventually enjoyed a rapid descent to the Vale of Pewsey. Which is mostly flat if you stick to it.

Luggage left at our accommodation, a stunning 16th century inn south of Devizes with excellent ales, ciders and food, we decided on a loop through the Avon gorge where the river runs from Bradford on Avon, home of Moulton bicycles, to Bath. The sides of the gorge are steep and home to several climbs of 20percent or more. Leaving Limpley Stoke by the ridiculously severe climb towards Winsley, we turned left past Conkwell Grange and took in superb views across the valley from what must be the least-travelled lane in Somerset and Avon.

Having lunched on Cornish pasties at Corsham, we visited Lacock, had a bit of a burn-up with a willing chap on a K-Swiss road bike and wondered at the stunning view from the hamlet of Bowden Hill, with its interesting Rhenish Helm church spire.

For the ride home, the obvious route would have been the reverse of the way out, not least because it was the best of those available then. For variety, however, we took a more southerly road out of Pewsey across the downs towards Everleigh. Halfway there, we noticed a byway leading enticingly off to the east, which is where we were headed. We took it. The first couple of miles were easy enough and descended with enough of a gradient to deter us from turning around when the hard-pack turned to something boggier and less obviously suited to laden road bikes.

Still, they will go pretty well anywhere… Eventually we were obliged to dismount and pick our way around a mud hole of considerable depth. Simon in particular did not enjoy this, encouraging me and Andy to forge ahead. While no more deep mud blocked our way, there were ruts to contend with. One claimed Andy as he was distracted by a pheasant. Inching our way along the grassy ridge between the ruts, we encountered a pair of Land-Rovers. Their drivers did not look too pleased to see road cyclists on what they seemed to think was a pretty taxing green lane. Eventually, after almost an hour of mucking around, we found ourselves back on the Everleigh road, about a mile past the point where we turned off it.

So, when we found the Hatchet Arms, with its extensive lunch menu and well-stocked bar, we piled straight in. The only trouble with such a place is that it can be hard to leave. Which is why it is worth carrying lights on tour at this time of year.

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