After a great four day road trip with friends ripping up 5 of the 7 Stanes in Scotland some non-driving long rides were needed. A 2 day slot and some good weather had me setting out big from home,loaded up to wildcamp. It was ace and on reflection this story rambles on as long as the ride, so grab a cuppa and read on, you have been warned 😉
Pouring over the tracklogs maps I decided on a South Westerly direction, partly to check future plans to link up to great trail areas down there without the need for driving/trains or road riding.
The route planning is something I love, geekly keeping a database of tracks from magazines yet rarely doing any, does give me an idea of rideable tracks around the country. It has to be said you don’t see many for the Midlands, but there are plenty of long distance waymarked trails if just keeping off roads is your aim.
Living on the doorstep of the 3 Shires Way, I tend to avoid it for local rides, but it was the perfect way to travel for this plan. The TD-1 was loaded up….does it really weigh 48lbs…..gulp! and I set off chasing the sun. The mainly field edge tracks were hard packed and rolled well, and Santa Pod soon came into view. I’d planned a mock drag start picture under the start line, (bridleway cuts right by the track) but the place was heaving with people clearing up after a big event so that stopped that.
Next target was the M1 and the realisation that this really was an off road bonanza. I was intending to log all possible food stops on the way, but I didn’t spot many, I guess the secret is to know the little jems that are just off track with a slight diversion, pub opening times mess things up though. As for water, especially relevant as the mercury hit 20 degs, I had a water filter packed, not really relevant with carefull planning but it was another piece of kit I wanted to test.
Passing under the M1 at Gayhurst the 3 Shires seems to end while the Midshires way starts competing with the Swans way for my attention. I should have stopped at a nice quiet pub in Haversham, as before I knew it the Milton Keynes concrete jungle appeared. Getting through MK was one of the challenges I was looking forward too, on the OS map there’s little help but the cycle friendly city actually makes it pretty easy. It feels really strange crossing a city without using a single road, past the concrete cows, under tunnels, through many parks, even some bridleway sections alongside cyclepaths! When finally spat out the other side at Tatenhoe I’d still not passed any food/drink stops. A Sustrans (route 51)enhanced firm track whizzed me into the countryside before re-joining the Mid/Swan before Winslow.
Now into the Aylesbury Vale district, I was beginning to eye up Cattle water-butts as the only possible water source without diversion, my chosen route sure was peacefull. Dropping into North Marston passing the 50 mile mark, relief a pub…..shut damn!… then just round the corner an Oasis, The Shop. A recently built log cabin run by Volunteers, they could not wait to tell me about their stock of inner tubes and energy bars thanks to local star racer Jenny Copnall (who bizarely I bought a bike from once) I could not hide my disappointment of their lack of coffee machine though.
To make up they did fill my camelbak and after I bought a mountain of snacks to eat outside, they supplied me with a free cup of Tea from their own kitchen, result. So if your down that way visit The Shop, they should do drinks by then.
Then it got very lumpy, and very hot, but suddenly we have great views over the chilterns. I was elated, arriving here under my own power, to a proper mountainbike area on my road to nowhere ride. It’s a good job I was on a high as crawling up the hills loaded up was a tough test, one managed on the 2 ring setup at the expense of aching thighs and bizarrely very warm feet! Before long I hit a converted railway trail, the Pheonix way out of Thame.
For the briefest moment I considered phoning Troy who lives in Thame, it would be anti-social not to pop in and say hi, but I know I’d have weakly ended up kipping on his floor with a hangover. So Right turn it was; into familiar territory, Princes Risborough. Well I say familiar, its probably 10 years since I did a few Trailquests in this area, hadn’t forgotten how steep it was ouch, 77 miles, time for camp then.
I picked a low spot mainly because I was lazy and set about putting the tent up and boiling some water on a lovely still night. Not much of a view, but the moon rising over the trees as the sun went down was cool. It was surprising how much air traffic was around though, Luton I guess, but plenty of light aircraft as I imagined looking down on my home for the night.
Fried Potatoes and Bacon followed by plenty of chocolate and Tea from the impressive Blaze Titanium stove, a great bargain buy.
A beautifull morning, not cold and little dew, Coffee and Oatie bars for breakfast and back onto the Ridgeway.
This trip wasn’t just about A to B riding, so I went for a play on Pulpit Hill and other trails before Wendover. Some big climbs which was a good indication that I could cope with lugging this kit up steep stuff in places like Wales, happy I never walked once despite not having a granny ring, it was close though. The TD-1 proved ace for the job, not doing my usual full mental on the downs, it was still fast enough to have fun despite being rigid.
This area was a good test of the bags too. Once I’d tightened the bar bags straps after settling from the mornings packing it was all good. The whole distribution of weight works brilliantly and the bike remains flickable, if a bit limited when having to pop the frontover steps.
Off the Ridgeway at Tring, a short piece of Icknield Way linked onto the Grand Union Canal. Now this leads all the way back to familiar trails in Leicestershire so I was keen to see just how bike friendly the towpath was. The answer was very, in the urban areas the tracks well made and in others firm grass track. Flat and dull as far as a challange goes but plenty of interesting characters and sights to see on the barges you pass. Another benefit is the water taps for the barges to refill, and the large amount of cafes and pubs en route. I stopped at one for a second breakfast and chill out after I frankly got a little bored of the flat trail.
Watch out for the aggressive Swans though, this pack of Cygnets were on the track and the Guardian didn’t want me to pass while they made their way into the canal.
I did about 15 miles on the canal, Impressed by how nice it was as it passed through Leighton Buzzard, and great to see a community enjoying this great facility. I turned off at Old Linslade heading for Woburn, met fellow racer Richard Wood out for a ride, had a chat, and then enjoyed some ace singletrack riding into the woods around Woburn Sands.
This area is brilliant and time for another play, adding some diversions. I’d forgotten about some serious climbing in these parts, the heat and loaded bike made this tough but I was still sad to leave Aspley behind as I crossed the M1 back into familiar territory. I stumbled onto the Clay way trail, not on the maps but one that’s had some surface work done to it, some arrow straight fast field tracks, great with the wind behind me. It appears to head off to Bedford over the old brickwork pits so might be worth an explore in future. Splitting off on the John Bunyan trail homeward bound this worked out to be a shorter return route, one I think I’ll return to for sure.
Over two days I’d travelled 160 miles, and was blown away by the whole experience and adventure of riding out without really having to stick to an agenda. I linked places together proving I don’t have to drive to get there and that the journey can be as good as the destination. Going round in circles in woods is less appealing now.