Sunday rides had always been about 25 – 30 miles long, but weakened from wine one Friday night, I suggested a longer route. Netley to Hurst Lighthouse and back again.
Dan fiddled about with the garmin and said, “It’s about 55 miles.”
“That’s what I expected. I can do it. It’s mostly flat. We get a break on the ferry too. And the forecast is warm and sunny.”
We agreed on an early start, as we do for every trip though it never happens. We get up early, but time ticks by with tinkering, coffee, tea, cake, breakfast, one last cup of tea or a final last minute wee. That morning I was determined to get moving early and I did.
We tootled off towards the shores of Southampton Water via the village of Netley and followed the waterside cycle path.
This was a good time to cycle – before the dog walkers, runners and children came out. We rode through Woolston and then up and over the Itchen bridge into Southampton for the ferry to Hythe. I have at last mastered the art of slip streaming making the climb over the 800m long bridge much easier (for me). It’s an automated toll bridge with free crossings for cyclists and pedestrians, though owners of high motor homes beware. It’ll cost you £25 each way! Scandalous especially as it used to cost 50p before March 2013.
It was a pleasant ride aboard Great Expectations and this time when we disembarked, we rode along the carved wooden boards of the pier following the example of a couple of older riders. Completely different to the first time we came this way.
Rolling into the New Forest past ponies, highland cattle and other early morning riders was delightful. (The other riders were travelling in the opposite direction otherwise I wouldn’t be passing them). Before long, we arrived in the beautiful village of Beaulieu.
I made a grave error on remounting Sally; I tried to change gear under heavy load; from a standing start, I tried to ride over a ridge. Clunk! My chain flipped off the big ring and I had to fix it. Not that I was too worried. This had happened before when I’d made the same mistake in Morocco. I knew what I had to do. Take a quick look for the connex link and if I couldn’t find it, I’d put on the spare.
“Dan, I need the bag of spares,” I called. “I’ve broken my chain.”
When he told me he’d taken the link and spare brakes out of the bag I felt ill. I was essentially standing in a field of grass, covered in donkey poo and grass mowings. I paced up and down a few times from where I’d started and several people including the lady who was eating her lunch offered to help. Not knowing what they were looking for they soon gave up and slipped away. Dan suggested he would ride home and bring the car while I waited in a tea shop.
“I always find things.” I answered defiantly. “Four eyes are better than two!” I began a fingertip search and very quickly uncovered one half of the link. I marked the spot with a broken twig and made a grid from other twigs.
“Hooray!” I yelled, holding the final piece aloft for all to see. No one was that interested really and I quickly put my chain together. By now we were both hungry and went to a cafe for coffee and cake.
We crossed the Lymington River to follow the Solent Way and the coast to Keyhaven, the half way point. All along this stretch of coast are wetland Nature Reserves. Serious birdwatchers, photographers and twitchers flock here with lens lengths I’m sure have phallic significance. I asked a few guys if anything interesting had been seen that day, they told me, “No.” One guy let me hold his ‘telescope’ to check for myself.
The Solent Way goes all the way to Hurst Lighthouse which is reached by a shingle spit over a mile long. The gravel was almost impossible to ride as it had been replaced after the Valentine’s Day storm. We sat on the beach and rested halfway along. It wasn’t worth trudging out just to trudge back again. Besides, my tummy was rumbling.
So, we considered eating in the sailing club but opted for The Gun Inn and chained the bikes to the bike rail out front. They have strange opening times so do check if you plan on visiting some time. We sat in the garden at the rear and Dan went inside to order lemonade and chips. When he came back, we chatted about the possibility of wild camping in the area, then he casually mentioned that there had been a man with a parrot at the bar.
“Yeah,” he said. “The parrot was on the bar and the man was finishing his pint. I think they were about to leave.”
“You should have told me right away.” I said, dashing off in the direction of the bar, clutching my camera.
Both man and bird were gone by the time I got inside, so I went outside and ate my chips.
The day seemed to fly by and it was time to turn homewards. We agreed to ride to Beaulieu for a break, a ride of 12 miles (a shorter route than we’d come).
A donkey threatened to eat my bum bag and the last piece of homemade apricot and nut flapjack. I felt rested enough to press on to Hythe where I could rest again on the ferry before the last blast home and a proper meal.
The air was thick with midges and I knew to close my mouth. But talking is difficult when your lips are sealed and I swallowed a few unsuspecting insects.
I was glad to arrive at the gates of Hythe Pier but dumbfounded to see them shut. The man behind the gate said, “Are you looking to get the ferry?”
Dan and I answered, “Yes,” in unison. “If I had a pound for every cyclist that’s missed the last ferry…”
It wasn’t yet six o’ clock! The ferry was on its way to Southampton, without us! I looked at Dan and he looked at me. ” I need tea.” We ordered a pot of tea in a nearby pub and pulled out the map. There was no train station. No choice but to ride the extra 15 miles that the ferry saved. Dusk had arrived and I was really hungry. If we stayed to eat then goodness knows what time we’d be home, so I said that we should cycle on and promised not to mention food until we got home.
We set up the lights and proceeded along the minor roads towards Totton. I was terrified riding in the dark as traffic didn’t slow despite our lights. The road was narrow and dark. A Maserati roared past, almost touching me. My legs shook and I walked on the small grass verge for a few hundred metres. I knew it would be midnight before I was home if I didn’t get back on the bike, so I manned up and rode in silence. At last there was a cycle path and I relaxed. Southampton sprawl is bigger than I thought and I seemed to be riding forever before Southampton Central Railway Station appeared.
There was no point in getting the train. We can ride as quickly as the train and we would probably have to wait as our nearest station is served only once an hour from Southampton. As we crossed the Itchen Bridge, I felt the chill of the night air as the sea breeze filled in and we cycled along Southampton Water. My hands were numb. I heard the whirr of wheel spokes as wind whipped through them. We got home around 9pm. I stripped off for a warming shower while Dan put the dinner on. Wrapped in a fluffy bath sheet and feeling human again I said, “70 miles! That was a ride too far.”