Shakedown Ride, Day 3 – Litton Cheney back to Ashurst

The heavy rain yesterday followed by the warm sunshine this morning, meant that the air was full of flies and bugs today,which I kept accidentally swallowing as I cycled through clouds of them. It’s a bit of a shame, isn’t it? Such a short life these creatures have, then they spend their first and only day on earth being washed down my throat with a swig of Litton Cheney tap water.

  • Today’s Distance (miles/km): 72 / 116
  • Time in saddle: 6h 50
  • Max/min temp – in sun (°c): 34°/10°
  • Climb/descend (feet) : 2,270 / 2,125
  • Calories used: 4,756
  • Cafe time: 2h 55

I started my day as the only person up in the campground, doing all of the usual packing, but also keeping an eye out for Craig, who runs Litton Lakes. They only take cash when the cafe’s closed, I discovered last night when Sarah at reception asked if I’d mind paying in the morning when the man with the machine arrived. He never did arrive, but it’s such a relaxed place that I was allowed to leave on the promise that I’d pay online or pop back in the next time I’m in the village, which will be very soon.

I retraced my ride back up the Bride Valley, stopping just before the big climb back up to the Monument begins to take a photo of the particularly nice church of St. Michael & All Angels (all of them?), which nestles in a steep dip along with the rest of Littlebredy

Up at the summit several minutes later I was greeted by such a different atmosphere from last night. The sun shone and the tower looked like just a big friendly old pile of bricks, rather than the gateway to the valley of the apocalypse.

You don’t fool me, Hardy’s Monument. I know what you can be like when the mood takes you.

The long, high-speed descent was the best possible way to dry off my cycling shoes, which were still sodden from yesterday. As I approached the turn in Martinstown where I should have headed into Dorchester, I had a thought. I stopped, typed ‘Wool’ as a destination into google maps (cycling route) and took my chances. I’m so glad I did, because it led me straight to a stunning valley road only just wide enough for a car, but perfect for bikes. It may even be part of Cycle Route 2, I’d have to check that. Not a single car passed me the whole time I was there.

As I followed the totally unfamiliar valley road alongside the South Winterborne River, I stopped briefly to admire a grand country house. When I looked behind me, I suddenly got the impression from my fluttering flags that my bike was a fine sailboat cruising steadily through the Dorset countryside, and leaving behind it a wide wake of foaming cow parsley.

When my mum was doing such an amazing job of helping me edit my book, Crossing Canada, she would always use her pen to circle round paragraphs I’d written like this one, saying, ‘Ah, it’s another one of your purple prose passages!’. If anyone has read the very funny book Cold Comfort Farm, a book my mum adored, they’ll know about the system the author Stella Gibbons used to mark especially flowery bits of writing, employing a scale of one, two or three asterixes. Mum would try to decide, as we sat by the fireplace going through page after page of the draft manuscript, if the section in question was a 1, 2 or a 3. I thought about her a lot today in the peace of West Dorset.

A grand country house, hosting a wedding today. Even at this distance I could hear some of the guests playing badminton in front of the house – that’s how quiet the valley was this morning.

I didn’t mention the picturesque market town of Wareham yesterday, which is bang on this route. Avoiding any more colourful prose I’ll simply say that the view from the bridge of the Saturday market by the river, is the kind of scene that just makes me think ‘jigsaw puzzle’.

Jigsaw review: ‘A lot of river and way too much boring sky

I’m a big fan of a fairly new type of cycle lane, where clear wide sections of the road on either side are marked out for bikes, leaving a single wide lane in the middle which cars must negotiate for themselves. There was a great example of it on the long road into Poole.

I think the reason it works so well is that it stops drivers assuming that they own the road and that the bikes are just in the way. They have to have agency about considering bikes, and are very aware when they infringe on the bike borders. I think it’s a Dutch innovation, but I might be wrong. The main effect is to calm everything down in a situation where drivers often get really angry with bikes that are unable to go at 40-50mph like they do. Of course, the type of road makes a huge difference.

Same cafe in Poole for brunch, but the vegan option. I am trying.

Poole is a funny old town, and never fails to surprise me. Today, it was the ‘Magic of Thailand Festival’, taking place in Batter Park.

There was loud amplified music playing, which didn’t strike me as having anything much to do with Thailand, but as I rode past it suddenly stopped. A very excited announcer took the mic, and shouted: ‘Are you ready, Poole? Are you ready for…The LadyBoy Festival?’, followed by deafening prerecorded cheering and applause. I looked over the fence, and it looked to me as though people were mostly just eating and drinking beer, like every other fair. There was the smell of some Thai food wafting around though.

After circuiting the whole of the bay again, picking a careful route through the heaving crowds, I stopped for a cornetto because my trip computer said 50 miles exactly and I thought I should celebrate. Plus I was running low on water and there was a convenient public water fountain right there.

I really have tried to like the New Forest more, but for some reason I find I just can’t. Maybe it’s the contrast with West Dorset earlier today, but there’s a strange atmosphere that I can’t quite put my finger on. And then there are those spooky ponies and donkeys everywhere, acting as if we’ve all been wiped out in some devastating disaster and they now rule the planet. The roads between the towns are horrible, with cars driving much too fast. The whole area is crying out for proper bike lanes, not just narrow strips of poorly-maintained raised tarmac (aka crap pavements) that are not smooth enough to cycle comfortably on for more that about a foot at a time. I’ll probably be shot down by those of you who adore it, but I’ve had to come down on the ‘looks pretty but feels a bit odd’ side of the fence.

I managed to successfully complete the stage today, but only with the help of a large bottle of chocolate milk. I was running on vapours at this point.

(Oh, and a snickers)

And now I’m ending the day in the time-honoured way, with a pint and typing up the blog. Live music begins in 10 minutes, provided by a band called ‘Jester’. That’s all I’m saying. (Gets on bike and rides quickly back across the grass to the campsite to cook pasta with pesto again, the last of the food supplies)

More pony mayhem in the New Forest this evening.

Here’s today’s modest haul of amusing signage:

This struck me as funny because I’d been swaying around cycling into a headwind for about 62 miles at this point. I t was only when I turned off to Sway that it became a tailwind and I stopped all the swaying. Seemed funny at the time.
Yes, I know it’s been featured on the blog before, but I wanted to get my bike in shot this time just to make a point.

6 thoughts on “Shakedown Ride, Day 3 – Litton Cheney back to Ashurst

  1. When I was at 6th form, my friend Aleks used to complain that every time his dad drove them through the New Forest (twice a week), upon seeing the sign for Sway he would begin swerving their camper van from side to side of the road. I think he felt it was the ultimate Dad joke! As a semi native of the area I’m ok with your take on the NF. It does look nice and it does often feel a bit weird. Plus the roads are AWFUL!!

    I second Susie on the brilliant jigsaw and cow parsley wake elements!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice one Dad! How did the Litton Lakes campsite compare to our usuals? And I’m very impressed how much like the real thing that vegan fried egg looks…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Litton Lakes – the jury is still out. I think Home Farm is still first choice even tho the lakes has a nice cafe. Showers at the lakes are well below HF too.
      I thought the same about the eggs but couldn’t be bothered to either ask or explain. I just ate it as usual.


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