Category Archives: Ride Report

Ride Report: Exploring the Vale

Words by Kate Davidson – Photos by Kate Davidson and Gary Palmer

After a blisteringly hot summer that seems to have lasted forever, it was a bit of a shock to wake up to heavy rain on the morning of our Vale ride. The recce two weeks before was similarly sodden, and I was hoping the sun we’d all been so used to for the last six months would grace us with its presence, but alas not.

However, MB Swindoners are nothing if not a hardy bunch, and soon the car park was filling with familiar faces, with others heading across the campground towards us, having ridden all the way from Swindon. Some, like Gary P, had driven even further afield from Gloucestershire! It’s great to get a decent turnout when the weather’s good, but even more gratifying when the weather is filthy. We headed off, 14 strong, into the forest; the rain kept falling but spirits were high as we set off. 

This route was a little different and headed in a new direction, over towards Pewsey, where I grew up. The hills around the Pewsey Vale comprise chalk – and the first big descent, from Fyfield Down, reinforced what all mtb-ers know: riding down wet chalk is like riding on ice. Luckily, with varying degrees of speed and finesse, we all got down in one piece and rode on towards Pewsey and, hopefully, tea and cake.

Praying that my proposed café stop, The Applecart,  would take pity on us, we promised a healthy tip if they would accept a big group of soggy riders – they were happy to welcome us, and couldn’t have been more accommodating and kind. After a refuel (during which we soaked the floor so much they had to put out yellow hazard signs!), we headed out of Pewsey towards Oare. 

Originally, the ride was to be around 30 miles long but at this point, I took the decision to cut it a little short due to the sharp drop in temperature and incessant rain – the long route could wait for another day. We cut across to Sunnyhill Lane and the base of Martinsell Hill and trudged up the short, but deceptively steep, track up onto the hill fort.

There’s a well-hidden, but fun, sunken bridleway a little way along from this – in fact, the minute I mentioned we were due to turn sharp right shortly but couldn’t remember precisely where, the bridleway appeared suddenly, causing some of us to skid to a stop! This bridleway leads to the top of Martinsell Hill and the ever-popular grassy descent to the car park, which is always a hoot. From here we crossed the road into Mud Lane, still riding well despite the wet conditions, and back towards Savernake. Once back in the forest, we rode for another couple of miles or so and back to the start, dripping wet and chilly but pleased to have braved the elements. 

Cold, wintry rides are a real test of people’s commitment – but if this first ride of the autumn season was anything to go by, hopefully we’ll have some healthy turnouts over the next six months!

Ride Report: Super Savernake and Martinsell Meander

Words and photos by Kate Davidson

Leading a ride can be a daunting prospect – what if everyone who promises to turn up doesn’t show? Here, though, the opposite was true – dozens of people I wasn’t expecting arrived, and they just kept on coming! What’s more, we had three brand new attendees in the form of newcomers Mark and Ruth, and our friend Mike – it was lovely to see Adrian again, with Ian also arriving just as we set off. We numbered 23 in the end, a superb turnout which I was thrilled with. Our big group snaked its way off through the forest with Dave acting as my back marker.

The Savernake trails are as familiar to me as the back of my hand, but it was so nice to share them with other members of the group. I’ve been adding various bits of singletrack to my forest explorations over the summer and this felt like one of the best routes so far, with a lovely flow to it.

Stopping briefly at the column, we then rode down through Durley, crossed the Burbage road and up Ram Alley to the byway which took us to Wootton Rivers. I wasn’t sure how the diversion to Wootton Rivers would work, as it wasn’t on my original plan and had to be shoehorned in at the last minute due to a pesky fence going up, but everyone seemed to appreciate the stop-off at the pub. After our break, we picked up the canal towpath for a mile or so, then made our way past Broomsgrove Farm and on towards to the road climb to Martinsell. This is a nasty, short little climb and, as is usually the case, most people shot past me. 

We huffed and puffed our way up the hill to the car park, and along the track to the very top of the hill to enjoy the far-reaching views and have a drink and a snack – you can see for miles across the Pewsey Vale from here. The descent down Martinsell is a lot of fun if the cows aren’t in the way (and luckily, this time they were well out of it), with a chance to get some air over the humps and bumps, and that’s exactly what some of us did! Everyone seemed to like this bit and there were lots of smiling faces at the end.

We then headed across the road to Mud Lane – the start of this bridleway is a bit rough and brambly, but it soon opens out to a long, flowing track of around two miles long, and was another highlight of the ride – you can really get a decent speed up. Cutting through Hat Gate picnic site and crossing the road back into the forest, we turned left at the column and headed down the fire roads back to Postern Hill campsite. Luckily for us, an ice-cream van was blocking in many of our cars so some of the group felt obliged to have one! 

I was grateful for the brilliant turn-out – thanks all for coming!

Ride Report: Ladies BMB Ride

Words & Photos – Kate Davidson

This stunning summer weather has made riding a pleasure – long hours of daylight make it perfect for exploring, no dirty bikes to hose off, and no muddy clothes to chuck in the washing machine. Places that in winter were an icy, slippery quagmire, or a gale-lashed hill, are magically transformed in the summer months into a picturesque rural idyll.

Arriving at Barbury Castle early on Saturday the car park was almost full, with mums dropping off nervous-looking kids about to set out on a team-building mission. I bumped into Michael Duller, who was out on the road bike, and we chatted about the amazing Land’s End – John O’Groats ride that he, Graham and Gary from MB Swindon had recently completed. 

Debbie was the first of my ladies to arrive, followed by a welcome new (old) face in the form of Fiona, an MB Swindon member of old, proudly showing off Celeste, her new Giant full-sus. Trudy, Amanda, Sarah and Caroline soon followed, and off we headed down to Smeathe’s Ridge.

The long, grassy run and far-reaching views from here never fail to lift the spirits, and we bounced our way happily to the gate at the end, Fiona using all her cattle-wrangling skills to move a herd of young cows out of the way. We followed the Ridgeway through Ogbourne and across the main road, picked up the old railway path and headed to Marlborough.

Stopping off at Mercer’s café for food and drink, we sat in the sun and ate vast slices of cake – it’s one of the better café stops, and always reliably good. 

After refuelling, we made our way down the High Street, up Hyde Lane and past Marlborough Common, turning off to ride along Manton Down and on down the track to Rockley. There’s a nice little bit of single track, with some small jumps and drop-offs, in Rockley woods, and some of the girls had a bit of a play here – some light relief before everyone’s favourite (!) climb up Four Mile Clump  back to Barbury Castle.

There’s nothing for it here but to settle in and ‘love the hill’ and enjoy more of those gorgeous views. The temperature by now was well up in the high 20s, and there were some sweaty brows by the time we arrived back at the car park! 

We did a leisurely 16 miles – thanks to the lovely ladies who attended. See you next time!

Ride Report: The Lakes at Leisure

Words by Debbie Davies    Photos by Debbie Davies and Rafe Aldridge

I have led ladies-only rides for the last four years but this one was going to be my first ‘open’ club ride and, as befits that event, it was preceded by a sleepless night. The MB Swindon Facebook page showed there were three people going (and one of those was me!) so I thought it would be a nice gentle introduction, and ideal for anyone new.

The weather suggested sun most the day and as I set off to the meeting place it was already warming up. I’m happy to say that the ladies’ ride weather appears to be transferable.

Mountain bikers in a car park.

There were cycle helmets visible from the trail as I pedalled towards the car park so someone had turned up; in fact, ten turned up which was lovely but a little unexpected. Everyone signed in and we took a quick group photo before we set off down the track towards the road that links both parks. It’s a shame there is no off road section to cut out the tarmac but we split into two groups to keep everything rolling and were fairly quickly at the first part of the cycle way.

The Thames path had been impassable for a part of the winter with the usual flooding – with some very deep mud sections – so we attacked the area from the opposite side. With a brief warning about the churned up track, we instantly lost one to it.  All well and no damage done, we rode into the nature reserve and whizzed along the gravel path and then out through the kissing gate at the far end with some nifty gate handling skills.

We headed along to the café stop where we took over two picnic benches in the sun. Ladies’ rides usually involve cake; this mixed ride seemed to be a bacon-fest. Rafe demonstrated his ‘flying trivet’. Apparently it wasn’t a standard drone, but it did a good job of photographing us and we spent more time relaxing in the sun as we watched it fly.

Turning out of the café, a short paved section led us back to the old railway line and a straight return back to the Cricklade Sports centre. Those speedy ones amongst us took the front and pushed for a Strava section; the rest of us just chatted in the sun as we pedalled. A slightly longer detour, agreed by everyone to take us off the busier road and via a lovely country lane, took us finally back to the car park.

Many thanks to the four ladies and six gents that joined me on the ride and especially to Sarah for back marking for me.

Ride Report: Savernake Sisters’ Spin

Words & Pictures – Kate Davidson

Riding up through Savernake Forest on Saturday morning through a fairly thick mist, it was with trepidation that I headed on up to Postern Hill Campsite. Winter seems to have lasted forever this year, with endless rain and cold, and parts of the forest were still looking pretty muddy.

However, when I arrived, the sun was trying its hardest to poke through the cloud and when the first ladies Jane, Hazel and Sarah arrived, the campsite was starting to brighten up – and by the time everyone else arrived, we were bathed in warm spring sunshine. Eleven ladies in all turned up (special praise goes to Hazel, Sarah, Debbie, Sharon, Hilda-May and Trudy, all of whom rode from Swindon to Marlborough, Hazel all the way from Lyneham!) – a great turnout and a real boost to me leading my first ride. 

Heading out of the campsite down to the Grand Avenue, we crossed over the Avenue and picked up some lovely, mostly dry singletrack through the woods. Coming out at Amity Drive, we whizzed along the fire road for a mile or so, then had to negotiate our way around a fallen tree and plough through some pretty boggy bridleway leading to the next section of fire road, and then onto a lovely long tarmac track which gave some of the ladies a chance to build up a bit of speed, taking us to the far end of the Grand Avenue.

From here we headed back into the forest to make our way towards the Column. The latter part of this track was particularly soupy, some of us just about managing to get through it, and others simply having to give in to the relentless mud. Footings were lost, feet got muddy, wheels were spinning, and much swearing was heard as we inched our way forwards.

Eventually we emerged at Column Ride, and shortly after stopped for a bite to eat and to admire the beautiful Ailesbury Column, built in the 1760s to celebrate the recovery from illness of King George III. It was here that Sharon was treated to the arresting sight of my bare bottom, after I headed into the woods for a quick wee without noticing her. I did say I’d treat the ladies to new sights on this ride!

After our quick pitstop we rode up the charmingly named Lover’s Lane, and down through Durley to the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath. After stopping to look at the beautiful inscribed 19th century and modern replacement stone plaques, carved by Lloyd of Bedwyn, on the east portal of the Bruce Tunnel, we rode along the towpath (in places pretty off-camber which could catch you out) to the Grade I listed Crofton Beam Engines – the oldest working Beam Engines in the world – where we stopped for a well-deserved lunch and a spot of sunbathing. Hilda-May got horizontal; cake, sandwiches, coffee and tea were ordered and after a seemingly endless wait, we eventually got our lunch. 

It would have been easy to stay all afternoon in the sun, but we made our way back and rode up through Crofton Farm, after which came the muddiest part of the ride – huge, deep tractor-wheel sized ruts filled with thick, gloopy water, and the only option was to get off and push. Eventually we made it through and rode on to St Katharine’s, stopping to look at the church, before riding a short way along the road back to the Grand Avenue.

At the start of the Avenue, we turned left onto the Gallops Track, a nice, sweeping piece of old tarmac trail, then turned off at eight walks, riding past the old Christmas tree nursery and arboretum. From here we bounced down a muddy, rooty little chute that spat us out at a grassy clearing, and made our way back to the campsite. 

The blissfully sunny weather helped to make the ride special, but I was thrilled that so many ladies made the effort to attend my first led ride – I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. 

Ladies’ Tracks and Trails Ride

Words and photos by Debbie Davies 

After last month’s somewhat wintery weather for our Ladies ride, I was paying lots of attention to the TV forecasts in the run up to this month’s event. It wasn’t looking too horrible. It said cold but dry with sunny spells. Despite that, I wasn’t expecting a very good turn out as there were so many colds and bugs hitting our riders.

I cycled to our starting point at the Croft Trail car park in plenty of time and waited to see who arrived.  It was lovely to see some of our past riders joining us again – the urban ride has been held every February for the last 3 years and it just seems to work for people when the trails are thick with mud and the days chilly.

By 10am we numbered 8 and were nearly ready to set off when Sharon discovered that her helmet wasn’t where it was supposed to be. A protective bobble hat was donned and a phone call to home to see if the helmet could be delivered to the café stop soon had everything sorted and we were on our way.

We made our way to Lydiard Park and the café via the cycleways and quiet roads around Swindon. We are very lucky to have so many linking routes and each time the urban ride has been done it’s been a challenge to find trails that not everyone knows. I’m pleased to say that, apparently, I managed it again.

Ladies mountain biking

We got to the café to be met by Nigel with the helmet and the amazing Mr Turnip in tow. Mr T is a Bull Terrier with the best ‘feed me I’m starving’ eyes. He helped me with my donut before we set off again. The weather was sufficiently nice that we all had refreshments outside.

We left the café (and Nigel and Mr T) and rejoined the route using the mud free cycle paths until we reached the off road cycle path towards Peatmoor Lake. Trudy and I had ridden this route the week before and it was a bit damp; now it was under water! Riding through it was the only way, so I went through first expecting the others to wait and see how deep it was before getting wet feet. I seems they were all more intrepid than that and followed me through.

We made our way around West Swindon and back onto the Old Town railway track. The mud and puddles came thick and fast at this point, and my bike seemed to be a magnet for all of it.  As we rode down into Old Town and towards Coate Water, the weather was changing and the wind had picked up. The sun had left us and it looked as though it might even snow. Time to push and get home.

Ladies mountain biking

At the exit to the park, we became seven as Mandy left us to take a short cut home. We turned into a headwind and made our way back to Croft Trail via the golf course and straight into more mud. Julie had come on semi-slick tyres and here it proved just a bit too much for them, so walking was the best way at this point. She showed great skills getting back along the bridleway to Croft Trail though, as we picked our way down the well-trampled paths.

We reached the car park, where bikes were loaded hastily into cars and most of the ladies went home to get warm. Three of us stayed chatting in the car park until a hailstorm ended our social and sent us scuttling for our cars and home.

Many thanks to Trudy, Julie, Kerry, Caroline , Mandy, Sharon and Sarah for joining me, and double thanks to Sharon and Sarah for being my back markers for the ride .

Ladies ‘Cake Burner ‘ride – 21st January 2018

Words and photos by Debbie Davies

The Ladies rides have the reputation of always being on the best weather days. This ride bucked the trend well and truly.

I sat in Coate Water car park, far too early for the agreed meeting time, watching the rain hammer down on my windscreen, driven by the increasing winds. It was going to be foul. I was fully prepared for the wet, having packed suitable jacket and waterproof shorts, waterproof gloves and a helmet liner to keep out the draughts. I did put out a warning on the ride details to makes sure to wear enough as the Ridgeway can be a bit blowy in the winter so looking at the spare clothes in my car I appeared to have heeded the advice.

Sue was as early as me, parked at the other side of the car park. Soon after Trudy arrived and finally Sharon who had run and ridden the day before and for some daft reason thought she needed more exercise.

We rode out from Coate via the motorway bridge and had our first indication of how cold it actually was. The rain was going to be variable throughout the day and at this point it gave us a little respite, enough to reach the byway and the mud. The ride was designed to avoid the worst of the heavy going but this was seriously sloppy, it was going to be a messy one.

We carried on up towards Hackpen Hill battling now icy rain, stinging our faces as it was pushed by a crosswind. We briefly stopped to adjust our Buffs over our noses, highwayman style. It looked so comical in the awful conditions that I had to take a photo of us all. There were comments about whether this was normal behaviour.

The route after Hackpen has a lovely descent into a dip before a climb out towards Fyfield Down. By now the visibility had gone and the usual views were just a memory …it was seriously wet and very cold. It was then we realised we were the only people up there, mountain bikers seem to be a different breed.

We resorted to walking part of the byway as it had turned so slippery, ably demonstrated by Sue who had her front wheel wash out and unceremoniously depositing her in even more water and mud as a result. Fyfield Down is a glorious area, but not this day, we were now all cold with numb fingers …my waterproof gloves leak, and frozen toes. There were the smallest signs of a mutiny in the ranks at this point, with talks of short cuts but the draw of cake was stronger and we pressed on to Marlborough.

The Café had become a sanctuary from the bitter cold, it took us all a few minutes to be able to operate fingers to remove helmets and open purses, to the amusement of a few diners. Finally cake and tea was ordered and we sat warming our hands around hot mugs and slowly defrosted. The café staff were wonderful , they wouldn’t let us mop up as we left and even provided us with latex work gloves so we could put back on our now dripping cycle gloves  more easily . We promised we would go back in the summer, clean and dry and buy more cake.

We made our way home, feeling much happier at the prospect now we had thawed out. The old railway path we were going back along was sheltered from the wind and the rain and I think we actually enjoyed the final leg, chatting most the way. The last 10 miles passed quite quickly now there was no headwind and very soon we were back at Coate car park. Sometimes we chat before we move away, this day we had already said our goodbyes before we even stopped the bike wheels moving and hastily packed up saturated kit and muddy bikes. The lure of a hot bath was very strong.

The ladies of MB Swindon always support their rides and make them special …this one was in a different category, many thanks to Trudy , Sue and Sharon for turning up at all  to ride in that weather and then sticking with it to the end.

 

 

Ladies Christmas FoD gathering

16th December 2017

Words by Debbie Davies

Debbie

Photos by Debbie Davies and friends

A little idea came into my head one day last February. Just before Christmas Kat and I had held a club gathering at the Croft Trail for our club and it occurred to me then it might be fun to do just a Ladies one. The idea kept popping up all through the summer until in August I decided to action that idea. I contacted other Ladies from local Ladies only groups and asked them what they thought, it seemed to be a winning plan. So on it went. From the original 8 ladies I contacted the numbers spread via FB to 17, spreading the word amongst their riders. In September the date went in the calendar. We were now official.

Helen from Dame Forest of Dean group had arranged to have mince pies and mulled wine ready at the end of the ride, Tinsel and club shirts were part of the dress code so we would all know what clubs we were riding with . The ride organisation was gaining momentum and before we knew it we were now being offered lunch too. Ladies just kept adding their name to the event list and my idea of a little social with maybe 20 ladies attending was, all those months ago, was now a staggering 77 ladies.

The week before like great chunks of the country, we had snow. Not masses near Swindon, but that was not the case in the Forest of Dean. They were covered in the stuff, enough that the trail centre had to close for a couple of days. When they were able to open again the trail pixies and Forestry Commission had been hard at work to make the trails usable after all the fallen trees, we were lucky it still looked good to go, the trails were ready. Then came the message that the family trail, that we were using for the morning social, was still impassable due to fallen trees and frozen icy snow blocked tracks. A hasty change of plan took place and along with it some cancellations. The weather was starting to have an impact on another week it seemed.

I set off with a friend to The Forest of Dean, the early hour still very much swathed in darkness, to make sure I had enough time to organise everything. One of the Ladies had got there even earlier than us, unsure of what the local roads would bring. An hour later, and expecting a considerably reduced gathering, we were set for MB Swindon’s first mass Ladies club event. However, despite the weathers best efforts, we seemed to have amassed 72 Ladies, ready to hit the now amended route of the Verderers trail. With Helen at the helm to keep the pace steady due to some icy trails, we set off. It was an amazing sight to see so many riders winding their way up the trail with tinsel bedecked bikes. Malvern Maidens made a big impact with their Unicorn themed shirts and Unicorn fairy lights. We had Father Christmas, Mother Christmas, several Elves and a great many Father Christmas hats all pedaling their way around the now sun washed trails. The usual photo stops, regrouping pauses and just general chat stops made for a wonderful atmosphere and there was the usual encouragement for those who were new to the trail centre.

2 hours later and with everyone safely back without incident, we made our way to the café and the room set up for our mince pies and mulled wine, hard to miss as the winter spice smell permeated the area as soon as you entered . Pedalabikeaway and the café staff had done us proud. The mulled wine was well received as it was still very cold on the ride despite the winter sun, and the pasta lunch was just the perfect meal to top up energy supplies.

In the afternoon we all set off to do our own thing , some riding other trails with Katy Curd as their guide , others headed for the skills loops and the red trails and some Ladies headed home having made the very big effort to travel from as far as Taunton and Kent.

10 months ago I had this little idea, on the 16th December 72 Ladies made it a reality. Many thanks to all those Ladies who made the day very special, who gave up their time to support other riders , who made the day such a fun and memorable one for me especially , it only ever started as a small thought …Thanks too the Staff of Pedalabikeaway for all their work in making sure we were fed and watered so well .

 

 

 

 

Ride Report: Carry on Rafe

Words and photos by Tom Scott

The weather forecast was bad: yellow wind, loads of rain, snow, hail, forest fires, the works! Rafe could not make it so I stepped in, eager to fit in as many ride leads as possible before my self-imposed sabbatical starts at the end of this year.

In the 24 hours before it was due to start, the ride was on, then kind of off, then on, then almost certainly maybe off, then definitely on.

Then it snowed. Lots of it.

I was so excited that I left the house at 8.30 for a 10 o’clock ride! It started off well – fun, fun, fun! But by the time I got to Croft, I was regretting my decision not to wear my big coat, and my gloves were soaked through.

After a ride round the car park to the pavillion I saw a vision in yellow – Steve had turned up. ‘Yay,’ I thought, ‘I won’t have to go home and have a cup off coffee, a hot bath and some Hobnobs…’ Then Sean phoned to say he was on his way and whilst waiting for his van I spotted Nathan Buck, so we were four.

We set off, and after a mile Sean announced that he had forgotten his phone, so we went back to the trail. We set off again, up towards the Marriott, to Marlborough Road, then joined the Old Town railway track and rode down to John Lewis. It was 11 o’clock by this time!

We then rode back through town, up Commercial Road, Victoria Road, down Marlborough Road and Pipers Way, and back to the trail. That took us three-quarters of an hour!  I was home by 12, freezing and well overdue for a brew. The ride was only 8 miles, but it was a great laugh and I couldn’t have chosen a better three fellas than Nath, Steve and Sean to ride it with!

Ride Report: Barbury Beast

Words by Tom Scott – Photos by Gary Palmer and Richard Ford

This ride had been advertised as the Barbury Beast, with 50 miles of roots, rocks and ruts and 4,000 feet of climbing.

No-one put their name down, so I decided to devise a route which called in at the starting point at the 30 mile mark, and popped a cafe stop in the middle of the first loop.  Hey presto! There were 13 of us at Barbury for the start!

We set off across the castle and down the grassy slope, and ground conditions were okay! Amazing!  Then a quick blast down the gravel and a tarmac slog over to Liddington Hill kept us warm and toasty.

Up the hill, down the ruts and suddenly we were at the radio mast.  I was intending on going down Snap hill on the road to try and break the Ogbourne land speed record, and come back up Earthline, but a kind soul pointed out that Earthline would be gopping and flying down a road isn’t really mountain biking, so we went down to Whiteshard Bottom instead, did the loop, then down the speedbumps descent to the road and turned left.

We all made it down Rickety Bridge without incident, then took the railway line to Marlborough where we had a cafe stop.  We had a puncture (Steve) and broken mech hanger (Sean) on the way out, so we were behind schedule. For the sake of safety, we had to leave Barbury for the second loop by 2pm at the latest, and having been delayed we did not get to Marlborough until gone 12, so I reluctantly announced that the second loop was cancelled.

Everyone was disappointed, so I added a little bit extra on the way back. We did the long road climb from Marlborough and descended into Rockley, up by the church and round the block to the fun bit.

Then it was up towards 4-mile clump.  When we got to the Ogbourne St Andrew turn off we went right.  Gary Y, Sonny and Fordy were on their last legs and knackered by then so they went straight back. Debbie, Hazel and Sharon kindly agreed to escort them up the hill, they were so worried about the lads.

The remaining Magnificent 7 (Me, Gary P, Gary A, Ian, Sean, Steve and Nathan) then dropped down to the barn, down through Ogbourne and back up the 3 mile slog we know as Smeathe’s Ridge.

In summary, it was a great ride; good weather, fine company and the ground conditions were not too bad, all things considered. Pity we didn’t have time to do the full route, but we will be back in the summer when we have more daylight. This was a good example of a ride where there is a bit of flexibility with the route, some people can miss out a loop, or ride up, or take a short cut. In the end, everyone was happy with what they did, which is the most important thing.