Words by Tom Scott
You know those rides that link single track (ST) and roads? Well this was not one of those – it turned into a full-on XC epic. The luxury of a rest on black tarmac was rare, and in its longest section was a 20% climb. Arriving at Steven Dunn’s house it was clear: we were in MTB country, with lots of woodland all around. What awaited was a very varied and enjoyable ride with Gary Palmer making up this friendly trio of gentlemen.
We set off and were soon climbing through the trees and past Stephen Redgrave’s house, then across a very rare sight that day – a B-road. Down some fast ST, then a climb and then down a steep flinty drop that requires your attention. You catch the drift? Nothing is flat around here.
Woodland trails (with steps!) and ST brought us to Freith and then a local favourite – Adams Wood, with a fast descent that greets with a lovely Chiltern Valley view as you break out of the woods )if you are brave enough to take it in.) It brought smiles all round, and those smiles stayed all day.
A little twisty technical section took us into another valley full of ST and out near Ibstone, reached by… yep, you guessed it, another steep climb. But the motto of the day is: every steep climb brings up a happy descent, and we get from Ibstone down to Turville via a sweet technical bridleway with jumps and gulleys. Steven said, ‘Enjoy the views,’ but are you kidding me? You need full concentration down here, especially as you take a tight, deep bermed corner that was probably just a rut in its former life, and then more twisty ST onto Turville.
At Turville (aka TV’s Dibley) we stopped for a rest. These three fine examples of XC whippets got out their sandwiches and grub and took in the scenery: the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang windmill and a buxom jogger. Up to now, we had hardly seen a soul – all those empty trails just for us? It continued that way. We crossed a field section with views of the Hambleden valley and a climb up to Kimble Farm that included a rest point at about 15 feet up a tree. As we reached the top we found a young girl with her dog and a puppy – the dogs taking an instant interest in me – and we realised that this was our first meeting with humanity today.
Turning right into the Stonor estate, we descended the steepest and fastest section of the day. You can feel the compression as you reach the bottom bringing out the broadest of grins in all of us. A temporary respite as we rode on the road (yes, really we found a bit of road) but looking up we saw a climb into a heavily wooded area. ‘Hmm,’ I thought, ‘I know where Steven is taking us.’ Just before cresting, we turned onto the Oxfordshire Way and yet again we could see trails everywhere. Woods and descending make a great combination, especially when you have occasional views of (yet another) valley and this descent went on and on… and on and on..
Then we hit our longest road section which included a 20% climb up to Fawley, but I imagine you can now guess what followed? (It involved woods and descending.) After tackling a steep, rocky, bumpy and very technical section (that Gary decided was best taken at speed on a 29) with much aplomb, we stopped take in views of the River Thames at Henley in the distance and finally we met someone old enough to hold a camera. Cue a group photo session. On to Hambleden and a tea stop. Or make that cake, bacon and egg sandwich and the finer dietary requirements of the middle aged MTBer. From there I saw only hills, so the only way was up – off road, of course.
No sooner were we on a country lane than Steven said, ‘Sharp left in a moment,’ and we were in a Nature Reserve. Twisty ST brought us to fast downhill and to a right turn at the bottom where Steven used all his finesse to grab a lot of rear brake and literally drag the wheel round the turn. On to a long straight section through to uh… another valley! The only way is up! This area was Marlow Common, a favourite area of Steven and his local mates and I could see why: endless twisty ST. We turned off at a local stables and the ST was both narrow and dark as the foliage was so dense. Another cracking technical descent and we seemed to still be in the middle of nowhere. Steven then took us along just 3 trails in this area and I could see why he refers to it as a playground… never a dull moment.
With over 30 miles completed, it was now time to head back. As we exited the woods onto the road, you might think that the fun was over, but no, we turned off and down another great sweeping, descending woodland trail where the serenity was only spoiled by someone’s squeaky brakes. Steven said ‘One last climb,’ and it was a bugger – no so much the steepness as the loose rocks under wheel. Eventually we got to the top – but remember the theme of the day! – and down again through woods where locals had created some ramps to get air (though we missed these because lots of areas were fenced off due to the Rock Bottom concert taking place). While the band was playing we cycled along the top and down the side; it was a surprisingly big stage but the smell of burgers and sausages made us all feel a tad hungry.
How do you end a day like that ? You ride to the Brewery about 100 yards from Steven’s house, where we parked up our bikes, went to the guest bar and just poured ourselves some refreshment – well deserved after a totally awesome day on the MTB.
When is the next ride ?