Shakedown Ride to West Dorset, Day 1 – Chipperfield to The New Forest

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:

No idea what I’ll do after supper this evening

16 thoughts on “Shakedown Ride to West Dorset, Day 1 – Chipperfield to The New Forest

  1. must be great to be finally testing it all out. How were the legs??

    Two things: firstly the bike does look classy, excellent work there.

    Secondly, Southampton IS grim. You could have taken pretty much any route and come to the same conclusion. Although you would have had the opportunity to see a proper stadium in St. Mary’s…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, and I think I did a fair bit of that Grange park damage as I spent every evening trying to improve on my 45 minute record back to Twickenham… I was working on the theory that the faster you go the less you feel the potholes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks John! I tried to text you to see if there was a better route but my phone died (charger cable came out, first lesson of many).
    Legs good thanks – just a twinge of cramp putting up the tent!
    Currently having a pint before facing the wild ponies.


    1. Ah shame. I could have helped you polish he proverbial round Southampton!

      Watch those Ponies, they had my Minstrels out of my tent once. Tricksy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brilliant to do a trial run that feels and looks real, minus bears and mountains.And with Queen Victoria keeping an eye out for you. Great to see the equipment in action. Thinking of you at Puncknowle tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s great, Ben! Lovely blog and pics. Your little tent looks so little! Still, I’m sure you’ll be all cosy in there. What are you eating tonight?

    I’m having pasta and veggie sauce and watching Grand Designs.

    Emb or Tmb XXXXXXXXXXXXX I love you! >

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great blog. I didn’t realize you would have panniers on the front wheels too- very impressive. You are creating a wonderful sense of freedom and free spirit. I’m loving reading all the entries. Oxox

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just been catching up with your story Ben and all the blog posts… inspiring and so exciting!! (just realised my keyboard won’t type x’s) Hope you’re enjoying the reccy trip. Looking forward to tracking your trip and hearing all the stories! What an adventure xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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