Words and Photos by Richard Ford
Despite the the weather forecast the night before being for fog, I woke to brilliant sunshine. Leaving a sleepy Swindon behind I drove past an army of joggers in Wroughton and then on to the ride start point in the Vale of Pewsey. Despite arriving 30 minutes before the ride, Tony was there waiting for me. As we chatted, more riders arrived, including eight that had taken Graham’s offer to ride from Swindon to the start of the ride (nutters). Eventually 20 riders arrived. I was delighted that our numbers included six ladies (proving that the novice rides are for all, not just the boys).
We set off by taking the climb up Goldenball Hill (hence the name of the ride) to the gate. I puffed up the hill with Steve chatting to me about how wonderful the scenery was. Steve rode ahead to open the gate three quarters of the way up. The hill steepens markedly at this point. I chose to push up the rest of the hill. A lot of riders put me to shame by riding up.
After stopping to let everybody regroup and get their breath back, we headed along the escarpment to Gopher Woods. At this point Gary managed to prove my warning about the tyre cutting properties of flint by having a puncture.
The singletrack through Gopher Woods was possibly the highlight of last years ride on this route. Unfortunately this year it was a lot muddier. This meant that in places you had to pick your line to avoid getting bogged down. Most of the riders managed to do this successfully with some having to dab a foot in places.
At the bottom of Gopher Woods we waited while puncture number two was fixed. This was followed by a short climb that was rewarded by a descent down a farm track to the road at the top of Oare Hill. Everybody safely over the busy road we climbed up to our next bit of singletrack along the surprisingly dry Mud Lane. I always enjoy riding this section of this route because its possible to get a bit of speed and flow along the trail.
Mud Lane ends at Martinsell hill. I got a few groans when I asked the group to ride to the top. I think I made good on my promise that it would be worth it. Martinsell has one of the best views in Wiltshire. We stopped for a breather whilst taking in the view. Spirits raised I then gave the group the next bit of good news. We were riding all of the way down the hill. At the bottom of the hill I was met by a lot of smiling faces and folks asking if we could ride it again. Phil was so keen to do it again he abandoned his drink half way down. Hazel very kindly rode back up to retrieve it for him.
The next part of the ride involved a bit of road riding through Clench Common to West Woods.
The riding in West Woods can be fantastic, but it also can get very boggy. On my recce ride I had to abandon part of my original route as it was unrideable. This meant that I had to take a slightly different route through the Woods to the one that I know best. Thankfully I managed to remember the route to the track that leads to the downhill runs in the woods along some muddy in places tracks. During our journey through the woods we paused to repair the third and final puncture of the ride.
Last year I had to virtually drag some of the riders from the downhill runs. This year’s group were not interested in such silliness preferring to head on back. We started our return journey by riding a stony bridleway descent that most of the riders enjoyed. Although Chung looked a bit shell-shocked at the end of it. We rode out of the woods to a track that last year was christened nettle alley. This year thankfully there were no nettles to be found. This led back to the bottom of Gopher Woods and the final climb of the ride. A draggy grass climb up the side of the woods that is surprisingly hard on the legs. Most of our number made it up the climb to be greeted by the site of a couple of paragliders flying over Goldenball Hill.
We then rode back along the ridge line to descend down the first climb. Based on the grins on the riders at the end I think everybody enjoyed this part of the ride. Kat then topped off the ride by offering everybody some yummy homemade apple cake.
I’d like to thank Hazel for being such an excellent tail gunner on the ride and eveybody for being such great company.