Mud and Biryani – Netley to Amberley

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.

Overton SDW 2014-05-25 024We welcomed warmth and sunshine after several days of deluge. The weather forecast mentioned light showers, nothing of any significance.

There was a little mud to begin with.

Meths, water and goodies in the wildcatThough Dan kept smiling as we made our way into the woods.

Dan smilingMy bike got off a little lightly.

Sally got a little bit muddy

Little pic of me smiling too, as I’ve lost the main images. Whoops!

I was smiling tooSo it’s back to pictures of Dan’s arse. This time rolling through a wheat field.

Wheat fieldAnd a bit closer!

South Downs Way close up dans arse

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.

Hirsute caterpillarsI hadn’t noticed this hill the first time I rode the South Downs Way, because I was too damn tired.

Winchester HillMini me admiring that big hill and taking the big picture.

Tiny pic of Old Winchester HillThe 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)

Camping at the Sustainability Centre

Next morning, we had tea and porridge.

Tea at campThen I found this wee hut in the woods.

Compost Toilet

Inside compost toiletA queue formed.

Dan waiting his turn for compost looDown on the ‘official’ completely full campsite, campers appeared to be more civilised.

Sustainability Centre official campsiteOnce the tent was dry enough to pack we started off on the next leg and took a short break at Buriton Chalk Pits.

Buriton Chalk Pits 2014A year ago, this looked very different.

Buriton Chalk Pits 2013

Now there is a cool sculpture.

Sculpture at Buriton Chalk Pits

It was another warm and sunny day. An Ice cream vendor tried to tempt us. We stayed strong.

SDWI looked down at this village, hoping that Dan would stop and eat ice cream.

Village on SDW

Near CockingThere was mud. This time chalk mud that clung like treacle.

Muddy chalky wheelReally thick mud.

Thick mudHalfway down a hill, we stopped for lunch. Onion bhajis never tasted so good. I took a nap while waiting for the water to boil.

resting on SDWWe rode past pretty wildflower meadows. Dan fell off. He had deep lacerations from razor sharp flint. I did my best Florence Nightingale impression and patched him up.

SDW 2014-05-25 019There was a bit more pushing.

Pushing on the SDWWater topping stations along the South Downs Way.

Water on SDWWe found a nice resting place and watched a fox plan an early evening hunt.

resting bench sdwWe 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.

camping near amberley 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.

breakfast sdwWe made tea for the walkers and boiled water so the girls could eat Pot Noodles. We didn’t need water or fuel, we were cutting the trip short.

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.


Meraid Griffin

Freelance writer, adventurer and public speaker. Descibed in the Sunday Times as a 'modest explorer'. Nothing modest about me.


  1. Just love this blog post , engaging , informative , funny .It’s really not often I actually read a whole blog as normally lose interest so a huge thanks for keeping me entertained but not so big thanks for making me want onion bhaji’s 🙂

    • Meraid Griffin

      I was writing it this last night Sue and I felt an urge to go to the freezer and find some onion bhajis for a late night snack. Thank you for such a delightful and encouraging comment.

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