"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Filton to Portsmouth - 160k
I was excited to get started after all the waiting, but at the same time nervous, primarily about my injured knee. I started out as if it was my long commute that I do as a training ride. The ring road was busy and frantic but much of the cycle path is set back behind a narrow band of woodland. The sun began to shine through the trees as I reached old Mangotsfield Station and as I'd worked out by then that my knee was not going to be a showstopper, I relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
The views from the cycleway were more gorgeous than I remembered. Hardly anyone was out there, as it was just after rush hour. Just a few parents with strollers, a dog walker here and there and some adventurers on bikes, of whom I was one.
A tough series of climbs took me around the fringes of Bath, past Midford Castle and out to the lanes around Upton Scudamore, where the birds were singing for all they were worth and the air was filled with the powerful, chlorophyl scent of freshly trimmed hedgerows.
Warminster was my first stop, a bakery serving up my first San Pellegrino limonata of the trip along with a surprisingly delicious cheesey breadstick. Then I was heading into Sutton Veny and the start of one of my favourite roads. The back lane through the Wylye valley passes through several villages; Boyton, Sherrington, the Langfords, great and little Wishford; and it finishes at Wilton with its spectacular towering church. Every part of the lane is exquisite, from thatched cottages to ancient somnolent churches to lush hedgerows and tranquil meadows. It's full of memories for me and riding it seems to take me into a kind of timeless state.
From Wilton I forgot to check my routesheet and ended up on the A36, but fortunately there was cycleway for much of it. One-way streets and pedestrian zones made Salisbury tricky, but I persevered and made it to the cathedral. I was taking the pace pretty easy as it was the first day of 5 and I really didn't want to risk burning out, so I took half an hour out for tea and an immense piece of carrot cake served up with a view of the incredible spire.
Out of Salisbury I was back in the lanes and soon feeling the different vibration of Hampshire's countryside compared to Wiltshire. I was riding down a beautiful valley between low, chalk ridges of smooth fields and forest, the horizon dominated by microwave towers and the golf ball structure of a radar station. Wiltshire had been all about immersion in the past but now I felt as if I'd ridden into a future landscape.
All through the ride it was mild with only a light breeze and I had only a few drops of light blessing-rain, not even enough to make it worth putting on a gilet. Some of the time I sang Sri Chinmoy's songs as I rode, in particular the Panchash song he wrote for his own 50th birthday. There were special moments, such as when I stopped in a gateway by a tall oak and listened to the breeze making whispered music in its leaves, or saw a kestrel hovering over the hedge or a buzzard serenely circling overhead. There were bound to be challenging times and those came as I headed out of Romsey, hoping I'd picked a scenic route around Chandler's Ford and Eastleigh. Sadly it was a frantic and tortuous succession of snarled up commuter routes and continuous urban/suburban fabric. Eventually it ended and I was on a fast, wide B road up the dip slope of the downs, with a few seconds to enjoy a panorama of Portsmouth and Southsea in the late afternoon sun before I descended the 10% hill into the town.
I had plenty of time so I headed to Gunwharf Quay and had pizza at pizza express where I could keep a close eye on my bike locked to the harbour rail. Boarding was late and we sailed a little late too, so as I wanted to be up for 6am meditation on my landmark birthday it meant a third short night's sleep in a row. I fell asleep quickly as the boat began to ease out of its berth in Portsmouth Harbour, satisfied that I'd completed day 1 of my 5 day challenge.
Sacred Steps Home