With plans to leave the house by 10.30, I tightened up the Sunday morning routine. Tea in bed, followed by first breakfast at the table, then a cooked second breakfast. The clock was ticking. The thermometer was still registering sub-zero and snow dust fluttered from the sky.
“What shall I wear?” I moaned.
You see, I’m kind of new to this mountain biking malarkey. I don’t even have a mountain bike. I have a hybrid – that’s a sort of cross between a commuting bike and a mountain bike. And I’m more of a gutter bunny than a bunny hopper. Dan bought me a new suspension seat post and knobbly tyres, so there are no more excuses. Except the clothes!
“Wear something comfortable”.
“Hmmm!” I grumbled, as I scoured the drawers for something suitable.
Pink three quarter length thermal leggings and pink knee-high ski socks, teamed with a vest, a merino wool top and a fleece to get me started. I needed something to protect my bottom, I learnt this on my last MTB expedition with my broken suspension seat post and the odd way I’d walked the following day. Dan suggested I wore a pair of his cycling shorts. So I did. I chose a teal green pair (I’m trying to make them sound flattering) and tried to ignore the big nappy/lady pad staring up at me from the crotch. I yanked them up and pulled a pair of yoga pants over the top. I had another fleece, a jacket, a woolly hat, a neck warmer and gloves packed. Hand cream, face cream, a flick of mascara and some pink lip salve completed the look.
Within forty minutes we arrived at Bolton’s Bench Car Park in Lyndhurst, the starting point of the ride I’d chosen from the book ‘A Mountain Bike Guide…Hampshire and The New Forest’. My fingers almost froze to my bike frame as I wrangled it from the car. I forgot to mention that the heater fan stopped working last week and the car was as cold on the inside as the outside. I gulped down a banana and stuffed a few muesli bars in my jacket pocket. “Toilets Dan?” I asked as I put one hand in front of my crotch and the other under my bottom, attempting to make the padding comfortable.
There weren’t any nearby, but I was grand for the moment. I read the route directions – Step 1. Follow the narrow metalled road…
I looked all around and could not see a metal road or one that maybe was bordered by metal.
“This way Meraid.”
“What about the metal road?”
“This is the metalled road.”
You learn something new everyday! We cycled along a sandy path with lots of bumps and jumps. Surrounded by heathland, with fabulous views across the New Forest. Wild New Forest Ponies nodded as we whizzed past. A wooden barrier with a No-Cyclists sign blocked the way. We checked the OS Map and the guidebook. We were definitely in the right place. We continued on our way, ignoring the warning.
Inside the forest, I dismounted and moseyed off for a pit-stop. I was about to drop the many pants when two walkers appeared from nowhere, so I reached into my pocket, pulled out the camera and began to take random pictures. At the bottom of the steep hill, Dan was waiting. Wet, muddy bog lay before us. He set off through the bog and I followed. I was going along, getting in the zone, dealing with the mud and deep water pretty well, only a few dabs when suddenly I hit mud, which sucked at my front wheel like a brake. I did a sort of forward wheelie, peed myself a little and landed on both wheels. Thankfully, I was wearing the nappy pants and missed the mud dive. Ankle deep in something that can only be described as the colour of a breast-fed baby’s pooh, I wrenched the bike from its captor and tackled the bog again. A patch of gorse afforded me the privacy to relieve myself properly. We passed a pond, crossed a stream and took a detour to find the ancient Royal Hunting Ground site. Dan taught me a few technical skills – bunny hops and kick-outs as we searched in vain for the hunting ground.
After a bit of gear mashing and crunching in the granny gear, we came to the pretty village of Minstead. We propped the bikes up against a picket fence in front of the Village Shop & Tea Rooms. We lunched on veggie pasties and tea followed by a scrumptious slice of coffee and walnut cake. In among the jams and cakes, they sold Pony Pooh! Across the Village Green and up a hill we found the cemetery – where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was finally laid to rest.
“Excellent!” I cried.
“Elementary,” said he.
We took quick tour of the 13th- Century Church of All Saints (at least part of it is very old) with its oak triple-decker pulpit and double level gallery. The main gallery for the musicians with the upper gallery added to house the poor. Mr White’s gravestone was quite a find! There is a space cut-out before the word ‘husband’ where it is said the word ‘faithful’ used to be. The wife got wind of some village gossip and had the unsuitable word removed. It was getting cold again as the sweat cooled on our skin, so with a last grab of my crotch to make the padding adjustments, we made our way towards Lyndhurst for the most dangerous and scary part of the ride. Through the streets of Lyndhurst to the car park!
That evening, as I reflected on our New Forest Bike Ride in Winter, I discovered we had broken a very serious law when we entered the Kingdom of No Cyclists. If we had been caught by the Verderers, we would have been faced with a fine of ₤500 each. So using a guide book which dates from 1997 is not such a clever idea.
Note to Self : Get a new guide book!