July’s ride came hard on the heels of June’s, with the week that fell in between a tough and tiring one (combination of intensity at work, leafleting before work for a concert, helping organise 2 races, yada yada….).
Tired before I even got started I decided not to aim for a time, just to get myself round. As this was a “permanent” done on my day off, I had a choice of start points and opted for Burbage, as the control there was a garage open from 6.30 to 9.00. Plenty of scope for a receipt to prove my start/finish. Maybe I should have gone for the alternative of starting at Westbury though, as I hit a huge traffic jam on the A road down from the M4 to Marlborough and spent 2 hours in the car before I even got going! So it was 8.30 by the time I bought some Lucozade in the garage and headed down the B road into the Vale of Pewsey.
It was a cool morning and the scenery was fantastic – rolling Salisbury Plain with fields, chalk tracks, white horses cut into the hillside, patches of deep green woodland. I passed through Pewsey and then Edington (a road I’d ridden before on my ride from Bristol to Stonehenge) before a jiggle around Westbury to the first control at a college café. Beans on toast and hot chocolate after roughly 2 hours and then I was on my way again on another familiar stage – the Wylye Valley. I first came here in 1986, on the Stonehenge Walk, and riding the valley in high summer, with the high hedgerows and warm sunshine brought memories flooding back. Although the road follows a river, it’s quite lumpy, climbing away from the valley floor every so often. The villages are idyllic, so much thatch, old walls, ancient churches, so little traffic… At the end of that revery I woke up to find myself in Wilton and then found Café Blend, the recommended second control, where a panini came quickly and fuelled me ready for the second half. So far I had made good time without having to push myself hard but I was only at around 85-90k with another 120 ish to go.
The next section was a tricky route through Salisbury centre – the directions led me right up to the awesome tower of the gothic Cathedral, then round the back of it on quiet roads out of town towards the far south of Wiltshire. I was tired and not managing much of a pace but that often happens after a food stop and I was confident the mojo would return sooner or later. There was lots of woodland, a level crossing where I had to wait for 2 trains, a succession of enchanting villages with yet more acres of thatched roofs, sagging half-timbered walls, coach houses and roses round the door. Legs were tiring despite constant fuelling with bars and bananas, then my feet started to hurt. I stopped and loosed the straps on my shoes in case it helped and surprisingly it did, the pain going completely. Then I felt the unmistakable sensation of a softening tyre and looked down to see a semi-flat on the back wheel. I could have pumped it up and hoped for the best but I could see that leading to stop after stop, so I bit the bullet and pulled over. Not one but two spicules of glass came out of the tyre and I soon had it back up to a decent pressure with a new tube – with a healthy covering of oil and road dirt on legs and hands from handling the wheel and the bike. Fortunately the 3rd control, the Fishers Pond pub, was only a few k away and I was able to clean up in there before ordering a pepsi (£2.10J) which revived me enough to head out on the last 72k leg back to Burbage.
The last stage was in many ways the most beautiful – the Bourne Valley was new territory for me and as the narrow lane wound its way along the vale I felt wave after wave of soft, southern beauty washing over me from the landscape. The regular lines of a brick and flint wall contrasted with the smooth curves of the fields, every shade of gold and green was woven into the valley sides. I was exhausted and not feeling strong enough to digest any solid foods so I just had a soft banana and at Alresford I got myself a litre of apple and elderflower to top up both bike bottles.
The landscape changed suddenly at the Wiltshire border, the gentle beauty of the valley suddenly touched with bleakness as the valley head approached and I climbed on to higher ground. Eventually I was at the last turn, classic Salisbury Plain scenery greeting me as I got that second wind that always comes when the finish is in sight (not literally in sight, but you know it’s less than 10k away). Finally I came to Burbage again and clocked in at 10 hours 40 minutes, buying the obligatory ice cream to cool myself down at the end of a long hot ride. 7 down, 5 to go.
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