I swung my leg over my fully laden bike and looked up to check the bedroom window was secure. I felt like I was going on an epic trip, one that would last for months, possibly even years. Leaving the house under my own power, no car, train or ferry needed to get to the starting point. The beginning of a proper adventure. From Netley to Amberley by bike.
We would join the South Downs Way and ride to the half way point, missing out the first few miles from Winchester. Two days of riding and mild camping in the rolling English countryside.
There was a little mud to begin with.
Little pic of me smiling too, as I’ve lost the main images. Whoops!
We stopped for a decent rest at the railway line near Exton in the Meon Valley and ate some home made flap jacks. Turning right onto the SDW, lay a path of thick sticky mud. We rode as much as possible, but gave up early on then trudged through the gloopy wet mess slowly. Time slipped away and the deadline for our overnight campsite was looming. Two mountain bikers swore when they saw the brown sludge but followed us anyway. For some reason only men can understand, Dan found new wind and moved quicker than before. He was sweating and panting and pumping away on his single speed like he was in a race! A few more swear words spilled from the biker’s lips, and they seemed to lose ground. I was doing my best to keep up with Dan and keep the boys behind us. It was important to save face I gathered. We lost the lads and sat down before we had a coronary.
‘Looks like those riders turned back.’
‘Aye,’ I gasped, ‘Couple of light weights.’
I was over the moon they’d disappeared, I couldn’t have kept up that pace for much longer. Once breathing had returned to near normal we carried on.
This hirsute caterpillar had a lucky escape. I’m pretty sure it’s a Drinker Moth caterpillar, but if you’re a caterpillar expert, please let me know.
The last couple of miles to the Sustainability Centre campsite were killers. Pushing, slipping and sliding over wet chalk, I fell hard on my knee, so hard that I was unable to speak and resorted to sucking air through clenched teeth.
We arrived shortly after 7pm, to be told that as we didn’t have a booking, they had no room. No room? I wanted to yell, but didn’t. There was enough room for a thousand tents if this was Glastonbury! I considered begging, then crying. In the end I simply stood there – waiting – until the manager would change his mind, and he did.
With the tent pitched, and the rain pouring, we sheltered under a big scout style tent. We sat on a couple of logs and selected Vegetable Biryani, Vegetarian Korai, poppadoms, naan bread, pilau rice, onion bhajis and chips from an Indian take away menu. You had to spend 15 quid to have the food delivered. It seemed like a lot of food but we were very hungry.
Now, it was a pretty weird experience for me to have an onion bhaji and a biryani whilst sat beneath a bush. We ate and ate and made no impact on the amount of food. We watched the glampers chink plastic champagne flutes whilst smelling burgers burning on the BBQ. We could eat no more. I wrapped the bhajis up for lunch the next day and put the leftovers in a bin far away from camp. (There might have been bears, though more likely rats)
Next morning, we had tea and porridge.
Now there is a cool sculpture.
It was another warm and sunny day. An Ice cream vendor tried to tempt us. We stayed strong.
We were understandably hungry by the time we reached the chocolate box village of Amberley and rode a couple of miles out to The Sportsman’s Inn where we’d stayed and eaten well on our previous ride along the SDW. They didn’t serve food on Sunday evenings, so we drank lemonade and lime and shared a bag of crisps.
The bar lady told us to go to the Bridge Inn, so we rode back to the village and out the other side. I had scampi and chips and topped up our water. The sun dropped low over the plain and I put on another layer. My legs didn’t seem to be attached to my body as they almost gave way when I got up to leave.
The road was steep and my belly full, I pushed my bike and turned right onto High Titten Lane. Not far up the hill, we spotted a tent in a clearing on the left. We’d found the informal campsite. Three other tents were already there and we pitched camp as well. Two lads walking the Way in one corner, two girls on the run from a gang of drug dealers and their standard poodle in another and us as far away as we could from all of them. The walkers had no water and the girls had no cooker. There was a covered shelter and a room where you could bivvy if the weather was atrocious. Grid Reference TQ 032. There is no running water.
Our worries of being woken in the night by a crazed drug dealing gang did nothing to ruin a peaceful sleep. Rain fell during the night and continued as we ate breakfast. We sat in the shelter to cook and eat our porridge.
We hung our tent from a line strung across the rafters of the stone shelter and wrapped up our gear. We rode straight to Amberley Railway Station and stepped aboard the train.
‘It’s nice to be going home.’ I said, as we sat together in a warm dry carriage. I was already thinking of a hot shower, baking a cake and curling up on the sofa with a good book.
Sometimes a weekend is long enough for a bikepacking adventure.