Tag Archives: martinsell

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!

Kate’s Super Savernake and Martinsell Meander

Kate Davidson leads this mixed ride, which combines the trails of Savernake Forest with the ups and downs of Martinsell Hill. Expect beautiful views from the hill and varied terrain, including splendid woodland singletrack, byways and bridleways, country lanes and a cracking, grassy descent down Martinsell Hill.

We’ll meet at Postern Hill campsite carpark, on the outskirts of Marlborough, and head into the forest. Those of you who came on my Savernake Spins earlier in the year will be familiar with some of the route; if not, you’re in for a treat! From Savernake, we’ll head across to Ram Alley following byways, bridleways and country lanes to Martinsell Hill. There’s a narrow, rocky/rooty section once we get on top of the hill – feel free to walk this if you’re a root-hater – but at the end of this is a long, grassy descent which is terrific fun and you can take it at your own pace – bat out of hell, or steady as you like. We’ll then ride along Mud Lane, cross the road back into the forest and ride back to the campsite.

The route will likely come in at between 25-30 miles. There is nothing overly technical or particularly scary – the climb up to Martinsell Hill is short but very steep, and some may prefer to walk it; there’s the rocky bit of singletrack at the top – and the descent, which can be ridden as fast or slow as you like. This will be a social ride at a sensible pace, which will hopefully be a lot of fun. Although not listed as a ‘Novice-friendly’ ride, everyone capable of riding around 30 miles is welcome, and no-one will be left behind.

I am looking into the possibility of incorporating a stop at Crofton Beam Engines for coffee & cake or lunch, which I will confirm after my recce. In the absence of a cafe stop bring anything you feel you may need such as water and snacks, dress for the weather and make sure you bring anything you may need such as spare tubes, etc. 

Photo credit: @ElcotCreativepic.twitter.com/ifedAhBCDE

Ride report: Martinsell 1st September 2103

A Ride Less Ordinary
Words by Tim Norris (from his blog) / Photos by Daniel Smee and Kristian Price


It was supposed to be a Novice Friendly ride. Richard Ford was leading his first ride for the club and was concerned that he wasn’t going to deliver something that people would enjoy. The ride went via West Woods; this was going to be a ride people would remember!

The mysterious location somewhere along the Wansdyke, known as Knap Hill, had been the cause of some discussion on the run up to the ride – one person seemed to think it was a two and a half hour drive from Swindon! The stigma of getting lost, being the last one there and keeping everyone waiting meant that a few were cautiously early. None more so than myself, though – I had polled Facebook earlier in the week for estimates as to how long it would take me to ride the 12 miles to the start point, and got answers ranging from 45 mins to 2 hours! I arrived with 40 mins to faff about and 20 mins ahead of the next people, Nigel and Rafe.

By the time Richard arrived, the riders had gathered in their masses! MB Swindon Novice Friendly rides unsurprisingly attract new riders and this was no exception, with 4 first timers by my recollection out of a total of 26 for the ride. Eventually we all set off east toward Golden Ball Hill.

The pace was pretty good and the first bit of fun started as we descended towards Gopher Wood. The sudden braking as we all got a bit carried away and nearly missed the turning was the source of some amusement and the singletrack through Gopher Wood itself was so good some of us used the misfortune of someone’s puncture to ride back and have another go!

The scenery along the Mid Wilts Way can be breathtaking and we had perfect weather that gave us some blue sky but not too much sun. However, within a few minutes of the ride some riders were removing layers as the short climbs and grassy tracks helped to warm us up. My rule of thumb is that if I’m a warm in the car park then I have too many layers on; better to feel the breeze and be a little cooler in my experience. Once you start pedalling the body generates its own heat.

martinsell3kpThe ride continued on through some more singletrack past Oare Hill and onto Martinsell. We stopped for a breather, trail snacks and to take in the 270 degree view from the edge of the hill fort.

A grassy descent down to the road from the fort dropped us around 60 metres and we all enjoyed racing down the hill. The race continued for some along the road to Clench Common and then we got into single file and hit the short stretch of road before heading into West Woods.

It didn’t take long for the laughter to start. No sooner were we in the woods than we came upon an obstacle that caused a bit of a hold up. It was nothing serious, just a branch across a narrow bit of the track. Just the other side were some ruts and low hanging branches. It really wasn’t anything that required a mass of skill but it caught a few out and even “the housewives’ favourite” and king of the Novice Rides had a little sit down in the bushes! Proof that inconspicuous trail obstacles can unbalance a rider with years of experience.

martinsell4dsAnyway, we were now in the West Woods and it was play time. The short down hill runs here are great fun, and there was something for everyone. A bunch of us rode down a few, some slower than others and a few decided to watch from a safe distance as this little diversion was a little more than they bargained for on this ride. Unfortunately – and I will take some of the blame – the little party lasted longer than it should have and at one point we were being hunted down by some of the more sensible members of the group and told it was time to leave. This wasn’t before Phil Allum went over “the big wooden jump” – check the video evidence (though it was a lot more scary than the GoPro recorded.)

One final bit of fun in the woods resulted in a puncture or two as we rode fast and straight down a particularly loose bridle path – pinch flats on the large loose rocks was the only explanation we came up with.

This brought about the end of the fun and it was truly undone by the nettles. We rode a long the edge of the forest back to Gopher Wood through and endless trail of nettles and brambles. Those who had removed long sleeves and coats earlier on the ride wished they had kept them on as we battled stinging undergrowth that was right up to the arms and even the shoulders of most of the riders. A frantic hunt for dock leaves and thorough rubbing session followed for those that had been stung worst or had particular reactions to the toxins.

martinsell7ds martinsell9dsStill tingling and with many tiring from what had been quite an adventurous and eventful Novice ride, we made our way back to the start point and car park at Knap Hill. A few of us made the short steep climb up Knap Hill itself to provide us with a blast down to the car park and one unfortunate rider got another puncture at the gate at near Knap Hill and had to push the last few hundred meters to the cars.

It was a long ride, considering the distance was only 12 miles or so. But a group of 26, including a few big kids, can be tough to manage and keep on track. Richard did a great job and with the help of Tom Scott’s whistle we all stayed together and arrived safely back at the car park. Richard Ford will lead another ride one day, as this was a resounding success: we found some new singletrack, many were introduced to the wonders of the West Woods, but most of all and above all else, he will do it again because, “No one died…”

 View the route: OS Map    GPX – right-click and select “Save As” to save to your computer

You can read more of Tim’s MTB adventures here.