If you want to find out if you’re ready to leave, leave. So at 5.30am this morning I rolled out of our village in Hertfordshire with full panniers and a good weather forecast, including the wind at my back all day, on a ride to see what needs improving before I head for Canada in a couple of weeks.
The idea was to cycle the 90-odd miles down to Hampshire and camp overnight in the New Forest, then pack up and ride the rest of the way down to a campsite we’ve often stayed at in Puncknowle, near Bridport in West Dorset. I’d be taking pretty much all the gear I’ll have for the real 3-month trip, but probably not using half of it. I’ve been riding around with gravel in my panniers for weeks, much to the amusement of anyone I was stupid enough to tell, so the bike felt almost normal fully-loaded. My friend Doug Coleman described it the other day as “a bit of a Land Rover”, and I’ll take that comparison even though I had something a bit more classy in mind when I was building it last year.
The route took me right through Eton, over the Thames, and through the middle of Windsor, where I got some very helpful directions from a local:
There were many miles of great cycling roads, as well as a few tough hills, but in the middle of nowhere in Hampshire I started to get the feeling that I was recognising crossroads and hills, but put it down to biker’s brain. Then I stumbled upon this newly-laid driveway and sign in the forest:
This was the newly-improved exit for Grange Park Opera. The old one was probably worn out by the acceleration of orchestra members’ cars heading home after another night of high art. I’ve spent several happy seasons playing at Grange Park with The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (and occasionally the English Chamber Orchestra ), but somehow the route was less familiar by bike, and I found myself thinking about how much you miss from inside a car.
Next stop was Winchester, also a regular venue for concerts, so I negotiated the winding streets without any difficulty. I ate a huge lunch at a nice cafe near the cathedral, and set off for the last leg of 20 miles to the campsite. As I said, most of the route was lovely, but Southampton was grim. I’m sure there’s a better way through it, but I was sticking mostly to cycle paths by the big roads to keep in a straight line. Noisy, terrible surface, impatient Friday drivers, but mostly downhill at least.
The campsite was very quiet when I arrived, but as it’s Friday people are starting to turn up for a weekend away. The New Forest is famous for its wild ponies of course, and they’re very keen on camping food apparently. The lady at reception, whom I’d told about my trip to Canada, said “they’re worse than bears”. I hope that doesn’t mean there are bears too. Time for a cuppa: