WHAM BAM! Bivvy a Month-February
I’ve been scouting about for new bivvy spots since our last bikepacking night out back in January. When I say scouting, what I really mean is that I’ve spent time sitting at the kitchen table squinting at OS maps and drinking tea, then opening the laptop and zooming in on Google Earth. One day, I took the car, parked somewhere lovely and then did an actual real life recce of a place that showed promise.
When Dan came back from his work trip to Majorca, he suggested Saturday 18th February would be good for our Bivvy a Month. I couldn’t wait to tell him about the place I’d discovered. I even showed him pictures of where we could camp.
‘We can be there in under an hour,’ I said.
’Very good,’ he said, showing little enthusiasm. ‘I’ve been working on a new route. Would you like to see it?’
I boiled the kettle and made us both a cup of tea.
‘Go on,’ I said. ‘Show me.’
Dan reached for a couple of maps and opened the first.
‘How many miles?’ I said with a heavy sigh.
‘About twenty. Our usual route along the railway line and up onto the South Downs.’
‘Oh that’s alright, I said. ‘That’s handy enough.’
Then he told me about his plans to come home via the Shipwrights Way.
‘Will we take the train home from Portsmouth?’ I asked.
‘We could,’ he said. ‘Or we could ride the whole way home. It’s up to you.’
Here’s What Happened At My Bivvy A Month-February
It was a sunny afternoon when we set off. I was cheery and full of energy as we rode from our home near Netley Abbey. We’d only ridden a few miles when I noticed the loveliness of riding familiar sections repeatedly. Each month brings a new view. And February flowers were in bloom – crocuses, snowdrops and some early daffodils.
I had to push through a muddy section of Whiteley Woods. Mainly because my Maxxis Ikons tyres are not suited to thick slop. Dan didn’t fare much better as he fell over onto his left side and into the goo when he came to a sudden stop and forget to remove his feet from his pedals. That’s one reason I ride with flats.
As we skirted a vineyard, I noticed how hard the vines had been pruned and vowed to give my single grapevine similar treatment. At the bottom of a large garden, a man fed twigs and sticks into a wood chipper, releasing the sweet smell of Applewood. Moments later, that fragrance was replaced by silage.
Once we’d joined the Meon Rail Trail, we had 10 easy miles ahead. A deer sprang from the scrub, crossed in front of us and bounded up the banking on our right. We stopped for a few minutes to have a snack, not too long, as the evening was drawing to a close and it was getting a bit nippy.
We slowed down to peer into the house that was once Droxford Railway station. Back in June 1944, Winston Churchill spent the weekend in a train with his war cabinet in a nearby siding. And it was on this train, that secret documents were signed and the decision made to delay D-Day by one day, due to bad weather.
The Shoe at Exton wasn’t exactly on our route, but we dropped in to top up our water and saw that the pub had been refurbished since our last visit. And now they sell fancy bread!
A young couple walked in and cosied up beside the fire.
‘Sometimes I think it would be nice to be like a normal couple. You know…’
Dan gave me a puzzled look.
‘You know… Go for a walk, have a few drinks, talk shite and go home.’
Dan said nothing.
I went to the loo and looked in the mirror at my messy hair and mud freckles.
‘Ready?’ Dan asked.
‘I only think like that sometimes,’ I said as I climbed onto the bike. ‘I can talk shite anytime I like.’
Dan pedalled off and pretended not to hear.
We pushed both bikes up a steep track to get to the top of Old Winchester Hill where we scurried about looking for the best place to pitch our tent. In the end, we agreed on a spot near an Iron Age barrow.
Our pitch was shared with sheep, which was handy, particularly if we were to have trouble sleeping. One or two made deep throaty baas and a dozen more lined up and stared.
Old Winchester Hill is a nature reserve and listed as one of the best spots in the South Downs for star gazing. The park was given International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2016. And by chance, we’d chosen to sleep out during the Dark Skies Festival. However, the stars were screened from view by a thick fog and after eating our Bombay Biryani, Dal Tadka, cheese sandwiches, and flapjacks, there was little else to do but go to sleep.
‘Did you hear that?’ I said.
‘Voices. People. Listen.’
Torch light flooded the tent.
‘A couple of mountain bikers camping out,’ said a man.
Dan opened the zip and saw two men who were dressed like they were on a night hike.
‘Hello,’ said Dan. But the men walked on as if they hadn’t seen or heard us.
We zipped up and snuggled down for the second time.
‘Do you know what we forgot to do?’
As if he could read my mind, Dan reached for the hip flask and said, ‘A nip.’
We downed a few mouthfuls of home-made sloe vodka and went to sleep.
Sunday Morning on the South Downs
Dan was getting the porridge ready when I saw him flick something away.
‘What did you throw away?’
‘A slug,’ he said. ‘It was inside the breakfast bowl.’
‘Noice,’ I said in my fake English accent.
We ate, packed up and set off on our journey home.
The day was grey and cold and I was almost glad there were hills to climb before an exhilarating descent down Butser hill to Queen Elizabeth Country Park for second breakfast. We had an egg sandwich, bacon bap and a couple of lattes for a shade under a tenner.
And we ate the Roo’Bars that we’d brought with us for dessert. Weird things – over-priced, over-hyped mushed dates and chia seeds – baby food for adults, I thought. Though in all fairness, pretty healthy ingredients.
Cycling the Shipwrights Way
There was a bit of forestry work going on the park so we made a few unplanned detours to follow the Shipwrights Way. Dan stopped to fix a puncture then we carried on.
About an hour into the ride, somewhere between mile 31 and 32, we came upon St Hubert’s Church, Idsworth. I’d read about this little church in a field with its 14th century mural. Determined to see it for myself, we lugged the bikes over the closed gate and rode up the field to the entrance.
Moments later, I spotted the real mural on the north wall of the chancel which was completely unlike the modern mural commissioned to celebrate the millennium.
The ride was generally downhill to Havant, mostly along well signposted cycle paths and from there we rode to Hayling Island, stopping at a BMX park along the Hayling Billy Coastal Path. It was my first time at one of these parks and I aced it. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway.
After a cup of tea and a pasty at Greggs, I prepared to ride the last 13 miles to the Pink Ferry from Warsash to Hamble. When I got there at 4.15, I read the sign that states that the last ferry is at 4pm.
So we cycled the long way round making our trip 70 miles in total. That’s 113km in new money. Next time, we might take my route.
Further details of this route, which we’ve named South East Hampshire Bikepacking Route can be found here.