Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Blewbury Snowy Circuit, Added Anglo-Saxon Walls and Hills

A New Year's Challenge, Part Deux

A technical and emotional note about the reasoning behind these blogs.

After sucessfully negotiating the challenge to video my bike ride yesterday by @russwillis, I thought I'd raise the stakes and add in some further hazards. Again, I do the honour of sharing such an adventure, albeit on the same level as navel gazing. (No, that's not boat spotting.)

Since yesterday, with a degree of ice melting and further passing traffic, the side roads have become a lot more awkward on two wheels. Paths seemed to be the way forward, so my route was carefully planned.

The first section took a gentle route through the village past one of our historic monuments. The thatched Cob wall (appearing at 35 seconds) were partly built in Anglo-Saxon times and are thus over 1000 years old. I do confess that for that period it's like the old "I've 'ad this broom for 20 years, 3 new handles and 4 new brushes" joke. But, they are pretty rare and majestic, and there are several sections in the village.

After the wall, turning up a side road to the pub. Ah, many a happy teenage hour spent in there. Rarely get there now, just one day a year usually: Boxing Day (see Walk).

One last slow corner into Watery Lane. Why, did I choose to come down here? Lethally slippery mud and ice combo with the added attaction of falling off into freezing water. And on a sharp bend! What was I thinking? Then, I clearly lost sight of my marbles and rode across a two-plank wide bridge with very little to stop a slide to either side. Megatastic, not 'arf!

Well, that's where my camera decided it was too cold to work. Having charged the battery so I could get some of the fantastic off-road experience down, the card refused to get any acknowledgement from the machine. What did you miss? Well, quite a bit of fun.

After discovering the joys (and surprising ease) of offroading in the snow yesterday, I thought I'd up the ante. I thought I'd try the hill path to the chalk pit. Having seen the cob walls (and a lot of the cottages) are made of chalk, I'm now going to the place where they dug that chalk out of the ground. This is a haven for adventurous children. I spent many a happy hour (prior to the pub being an interest) performing stupid stunts down the steep sides of this place and up and down the path that goes there. I still venture there now in the summer, but tend to head onwards as it's not that far and coming off a bike brings a lot more bruises and pain than it did aged 10.

The path itself is a bit of a madness. It's just about as steep as you want it both going up and down. As it's in chalk and having had 100s of tons of chalk taken down it, the path is worn into the hillside up to about 10 foot deep. That means for much of the route, visibility is restricted to up and down only. Additionally, as a nice, out of the wind place, it's a great spot for small trees and shrubs to grow. This means the actual path is barely 2 foot across with a lot of scrub around and above. In a couple of places the small path makes it's way up the side of the scar leaving a nice drop into a muddy gully in case of lost footage. Of course, when ending the path and reaching the top of the chalk pit, the view across the Vale of the White Horse is the massive 180 degree view, unfortunately including the "delightful" Didcot Power Station.

Anyway, back to biking in the snow. Needless to say a lot of the path was a case of "push down on pedal, back wheel turns round full cycle, bike goes 1mm further foward, rider topples to left or right ranting mercilessly about the futility of it all". See, told you it was fun!

Actually, it was worth the ride up. I did manage to ride some of it but it was pretty hardpacked by the hundreds of children's feet who'd made the pilgrimage I used to make, with sledges. And also, it was worth seeing the incredulity on a sledging family's face as I made the past the last corner pedalling away in bottom gear!

Getting round the pit really didn't happen in the saddle, but from the top it was onto leather (well, modern plastic, I'm sure) and slide downhill with the brakes full on. Weee! A drop of 20 foot on one side and a barbed wire fence on the other. What could possibly go wrong? Actually it was the straight ahead that went wrong and a nice sideways slide with a flurry of snow as I hurtled towards the sledging family trying to get our of the pit. I dismounted gracefully* and let them have their right of way (* possibly read "shrieking"). The offered me the path for the entirely sane reason that they didn't want me behind them.

The path was a similar joy. A foot off a pedal pretty much all the time with the option of just putting the bike on the side and me ending up sliding down on my feet. The normal dip and tuck around the bushes and ditch that I'm used to down that path replaced with a plough and slip-slide just avoiding* the bushes on either side (* possibly read as "going through").

After that it was back to the normal flat path along crunchy snow until home arrived in view. But with a feeling that a hearty gin might just sort me out for nerves.

From Christmas Eve. I managed to get the camera to work for the trip up and down. Here they are.

The fun of up, including just a bit of walking.

The view is great, even if not sunny.

Then the joy of down. Feet did touch the ground but not entirely in a walking sense.

Then, the short path home.

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