I’ve been thinking about this challenge for ages. A few years back, I cycled from Southampton to Bath randomly and visited a friend. We got drunk and I got the train home with my bike. I had got a bit lost on the way to Bath and ended up doing 85 miles. It was such a great adventure though. It felt like a big personal feat.
So, the challenge? I wanted to run the route. At first I thought about doing it over three days. Salisbury 25 miles from mine, Warminster is 50 miles from mine and then day three would be the hilly bit to Bath. It was just an idea anyway…
Lately, I’ve had a lot of free time in the week as I work part-time again now that the Xmas rush has passed. In fact, I am only working Mondays and Fridays. I get three days off in a row. I was thinking that I should be doing more things with this time. Visiting more places,people and seeing more of the U.K at least.
Anyway, it was a bit last minute despite it being on my mind for a while. The day before this adventure was the day that I decided to do it. I was going to attempt to cycle to Bradford-on-Avon via the NCN 24/NCN 4. This would skirt around the edge of Bath without going into the busy city. I am not really a fan of Bath. I am not keen on any city to be fair. I always loved Bradford-on-Avon though.
I once ran the canal path from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon the day after Chloe had put me on the wrong train home after running on the Cotswolds from Cheltenham. I got lost naturally and ran down a very busy road, but it was fun all the same.
The night before this bike ride, I had made a plan and I had checked the weather. The storms had passed and it looked dry for the Tuesday and Wednesday. After a bit of hesitation, I booked some accommodation and packed a rucksack. This was it, I had committed to this journey. In the back of my mind I did think that I could just not bother and lose the money I’d spent on the Shepherd’s hut where I would be staying.
The alarm went off at 6am. It was still dark of course as it’s still winter. Is this a good idea I wondered as I lay in my nice warm bed?
Breakfast and coffee ensued and I was ready. A bit of last minute map studying and I was ready. I didn’t leave until 7.30am but at least it was light out there now on this February morning.
Ok, it’s best to break the journey down. Let’s just aim for Romsey (5 miles) and then Salisbury (25 miles). I can get the train back from there maybe?
I knew the route pretty much all the way to Warminster as I had cycled and ran it before. I didn’t do the running on the same occasion though. I got the train to Salisbury once and ran from there to Warminster.
I had the route all in my head. I would be following the NCN 24 for most of it anyway. Not always well signed but I knew it from being lost before. I cycled the 5 miles into Romsey, it was nice and quiet because of half term. No giant 4x4’s taking up all the road space as they normally do on my work commute. Bloody things! I still had a woolly hat and gloves on. It was a bit chilly but bearable. I did think it was a slightly mad idea to be cycling a long way in the winter in shorts with a small window of daylight. Fears kept creeping in that I had set myself an intangible goal. I couldn’t quite work out the distance on Google maps. 80-100 miles to Bradford-on-Avon?
I left at 7.30 and it got dark about 5.30. Now, I am a very slow cyclist on my mountain bike. 10 hours didn’t seem long enough to me. I wanted to stop somewhere for lunch as well obviously and take a few photos on the way and chat to a few people to keep me sane. From Romsey to Belbins, Timsbury, Mottisfont and then the peaceful country lanes of Dunbridge, Lockerley, East Dean and West Dean. Cycling through East Grimstead I remembered getting a puncture here and having to fix it. Luckily again, I had brought my pump, a spare inner tube and my tyre levers.
A few thoughts of “Have you lost it Dean?” and “What are you doing this for?” came to mind. I told myself to stay in the moment and enjoy my surroundings. I knew I had that busy and fast Alderbury road to come into busy Salisbury and this was pushed to back of my mind.
It was all good though. The climb out of Alderbury and the descent into Salisbury. Past the parkrun course and past the cathedral. I was too far away to see the Peregrine falcons that often nested up there. Keep cycling Dean. Into town and then head to the train station. I didn’t really like this part, back amongst people and traffic.
I often stopped at the church in Bemerton and refilled my water bottles here. I didn’t need to today. I did stop though and eat a Vegan sausage roll in the sunshine. It was getting warmer now but the wind would pick up a bit from time to time. I thought ahead and worried a bit about the potential headwind on the Wylye valley. I soon brought myself back to the present and sat in the sun on the church wall. I was over a quarter of the way already.
On I went to Quidhampton and then the busy A36 to Wilton. It was soon quiet again though as I climbed up to Great Wishford and onto the Wylye valley. A lovely quiet route that runs parallel to the A36 and takes you all the way to Warminster. Very popular with cyclists in the summer but I didn’t see too many today. It can be very lonely and isolated up there. Miles of straight road. I was thinking to myself.. Would I really want to run this route on my own again? It would be really tough mentally and it was when I ran it before.
The sky had darkened. It was now cloudy and the wind had really picked up, as I had forecast in my mind earlier. I had to stop cycling to put my raincoat on. The rain then poured down heavily upon me. This definitely wasn’t a good idea. I should have waited until the spring. Head down, I pedalled hard. I wasn’t moving fast in the first place but now I looked at my watch and was averaging about 3mph. Should I get off and walk? Shut up and pedal!
I was struggling but one positive was on my mind. The ginger piggery. The Ginger piggery had a café. It was in Boyton. It was cycle friendly and did very nice coffee and you could sit indoors in the dry. I hope it’s open, it had better be open!
I cycled on occupying my mind with the village quiz game that I had invented. Was it Bapton and Corton or Wylye then Sherrington? Where was Stockton, before Boyton? Or was it Bapton, Boyton and Corton?
I got them wrong. The wind and the rain continued as I looked across the fields and over to the A36 down below in the distance. Looks pretty quiet over there I thought. There was the sound of my bike though. It had an annoying noise. I think it was the front disc braking rubbing. This had been a problem that often came and went on this bike. I tried to sort it out later on but it would stay with me and irritate me on the whole trip.
Eventually I got to Ginny’s café at the Ginger piggery. 40 miles of my journey had passed. I was wet already but the jacket did a great job of keeping my t-shirts dry. The only moisture was from the sweat on my back from the rucksack. I had made sure to put the extra clothes, phone charger, power bank into a carrier bag at least to keep everything dry.
Good news! The café was open. When I first came here, the only vegan thing they had was a cereal bar. I was pleased to know that now I could order a Vegan sausage Ciabatta and an oat milk latte. Always very friendly staff with a smile too. They are also happy to fill your water bottles for you as well. The café was quiet. I sat there staring out of the window at the rain pouring down as I cupped my nice warm latte while I waited for my food.
Another cyclist came in. He was from Amesbury. We chatted about cycling routes and places we had been. I am not a cyclist but know a lot of popular cycle routes and had studied a lot of maps in my time. There aren’t many places around here that I don’t know about I think.
I couldn’t sit here all day drinking lattes. I was tempted to buy another one. Nope, better get going. The other cyclist was encouraging. “The sun is due to come out soon” he smiled while looking up from his phone. I said goodbye to him and the staff.
Not sure why I locked my bike? Who is going to steal a bike out here in Boyton? One thing I did know, I wasn’t that far from Warminster. 10 miles maybe? I would pass Sutton Veny and then cross the A36 but instead of going into Warminster this time I would follow the NCN24 into Longleat. The signs weren’t very clear and I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way sometimes. I was ok up until this point. It had been about six years since I did this part and I wasn’t sure if I’d gone the right way then. I was on the right road though and stopped outside Longleat for a photo. It was exactly 50 miles. I was halfway and least, hopefully.
Longleat is a weird experience as a cyclist, especially for the first time. I had flashbacks of my first time. You cycle in the main entrance of the park and go past the paying booths but you don’t stop and pay. This had confused me the first time around. This time I cycled through and the woman smiled and waved at me as I confidently cycled in free of charge. Now the sun was shining and the wind wasn’t as bad either. It’s a big long downhill towards the massive house, what I would call a mansion but they call it a house. Past the fountains and then you’re climbing again on the road towards the safari park. You probably cycle inside Longleat for about two or three miles. Last time I panicked a bit and thought I was actually cycling in the safari park. I quickly scanned the land for hungry lions and cycled faster. This time around, I was wiser and more knowledgeable though, the safari park was still half a mile away as I cycled on through a small gap next to a closed gate and it threw me out somewhere near Frome.
The NCN24 now splits. I was feeling adventurous and also remembered that massive hill by Frome train station. I decided to got the other way. It wasn’t long before I was lost and had to get my phone out for directions. Good news was that I managed to avoid going into Frome. Less traffic and fewer people, yay.
There were a few uncertainties but I continued and eventually rejoined the NCN. Maybe it was NCN4 now? I can’t remember.
Anyway, I was going the right way and heading towards Great Elm. I had a bad experience here and I think I got lost or it may have been that I didn’t want to skirt around to Radstock which seems to add on excess mileage. There is a good reason for this though as I discovered last time around. I headed up into Buckland Dinham last time and it was a very fast road with lots of traffic. It was dangerous. This time, I would take the correct route onto the Collier’s way. At least this would be flat right? A disused railway line? Well, it climbed and undulated to my surprise. I could see an old railway line to my right the whole time and yes it was flat. The concrete path they had made wasn’t though.
I stopped on a hill and ate my second vegan sausage roll. I hadn’t planned to eat sausages all day but it seemed to be happening. I hope I wasn’t having Hot dogs in Bradford-on-Avon if I ever got there. I looked at my watch. Time was getting on. I would get into Radstock around 4pm. There I would stop at the Co-op and refuel once again. I was feeling a bit dizzy and light-headed to be honest. My ass was getting sore too. Then I remembered that I hadn’t done any sort of training for this and I only cycled 8 miles twice a week for work. Would I be able to cycle home again tomorrow?
I ate pineapple chunks, and a falafel wrap. I was so grateful not to be eating sausages. These were washed down with a sugary drink. I felt so much better now. I looked at my route. It looked like it would be about 80 miles to my Shepherd’s hut. At this point though, I didn’t know I was staying in a Shepherd’s hut, I was under the impression from the email that I was staying in a Gypsy caravan! It sounded like an unusual experience either way.
I followed the route towards Bath, through places such as Shoscombe, Wellow, Twinhoe, Midford etc.. It was hillier here but the views were nice. Lots of quiet country lanes and scenery of greenery. I was to leave the NCN4 at Monkon combe. I was tempted briefly to do the two tunnels route to Bristol but saw the little sense I had. I would now cycle though the campus grounds of a school and head to Freshford.
I was on a busy road but found the Avon and Kennet canal path eventually. It was starting to get dark now but I was nearly there. Just as well as I hadn’t charged my front bike light and didn’t know how much life it had left in it. The back light was battery powered so would last about six months. These USB ones only last a week! Hard to find a decent battery powered front light nowadays.
The canal path was not how I remembered it. I had run it previously on a hot and hungover summer’s day. It was now dark and very muddy with lots of puddles for me to dodge. Smoke came from the barges parked at the side of the canal. It sure was getting colder now that the sun had gone to bed. I didn’t get lost at Avoncliffe but it was a bit confusing for me. You had to get from one side of the canal to the other via a bridge and then there were a few directions you could go. I tried them all until I went the correct way, just to make sure of course.
I continued along the muddy path dodging puddles and the bigger twigs from the storm that lay strewn along the way. I stopped again to type in the address of my Shepherd’s hut. Yippee! Less than a parkrun to go. My bum was so sore now though. I cycled to Bradford-on-Avon and then a short way off the canal path up to Widbrook farms where I was staying in Widbrook. I got there about 6.30ish. I had done 78.78 miles. I was tempted to make it up to 80 miles but then decided not to be an idiot.
I buzzed the intercom and was let into the compound. I was greeted by who I presume was Dick of the Dick and Jane duo. It was a family run bed and breakfast. I always try and stay in these rather than giving my money to “the man” and the chains. I also found that these places were so much more friendlier and had a lot more character… and I was right. This place was based on cartoons from the 1940’s and 1950’s. I would be staying in the “Billy Bunter” lodge or shepherd’s hut.
Dick showed me around and told me that he also owned and ran the bike hire shop in Bradford-on-Avon. He had the room already heated for me and put my bike inside. It was such a lovely place.
I don’t usually stay for breakfast at the places I stay. There are two reasons for this: I want to set off early when the sun comes up to maximise my cycling time and often there are no decent Vegan options either. However, Dick had talked me into staying for breakfast saying that they could do me a cooked vegan breakfast with Potato fritters, mushrooms, spinach, beans, tomatoes and toast. There was also fruit and cereal. Brilliant.
I took a shower and did some stretching before walking into town and getting some more food. I ate a lot and slept very little. My legs were very achy that night but didn’t feel too bad the next morning. I went for breakfast just after 8am. So glad I did too, it was lovely and I really enjoyed looking around at all the odd curios on the walls and shelves. Funny signs, antiques, etc.. This place had so much character, I was in love with it and promised myself a revisit sometime in the summer for another run along the canal paths.
I didn’t want to cycle the long way home and had already left ninety minutes later than the previous day. The weather looked a lot nicer today too. The sun was already shining. The plan was to cycle back onto the canal path and get to Trowbridge, through Westbury and back to Warminster to rejoin the Wylye valley.
It was easy enough getting into Trowbridge. Memories came flooding back to me of the Trowbridge 10k race where I got a pb of 40.30 at the time. This would not appear on Runbritain or Power of 10 though as it was not a UKA licensed race. I cycled through the park where the finish line was and relived my victorious moment. I crossed the river heading for Westbury. I got a bit lost here but eventually found my way. I had a few choices to make. I knew these roads wouldn’t be pleasant anyway but today was about cutting down on mileage. After all, I still had the sore bum.
Not long afterwards I was back to the familiar ground of Sutton Veny. Could I stop off at the Ginger Piggery again knowing I’d only done twenty one miles so far? Of course I could. And guess what.. I had another vegan sausage Ciabatta. Today the café was packed though. Such a contrast from the previous day. There were more cyclists. Bloody fair weather cyclists! And others just chatting to friends and family.
I knew it was only forty miles home from here and it wasn’t even midday yet. I worked out that I would have saved myself eighteen miles but never would I cycle that way again! Too perilous and very scary.
Not much to tell after this apart from that I realised I was on a slow descent on the way home. So if I ever ran from Bath or Bradford-on-Avon to my house it would be the preferable way to do it. I could attempt it in two days by running Forty miles a day. I wonder if the Ginger piggery have accommodation? Probably not, that would be the ideal place to stop for the end of day one. The café wouldn’t be open though and I wouldn’t have any food or water either..lol.
Back through Salisbury and then the slog to Romsey. I decided to go through Awbridge and Kent’s Oak instead of Mottisfont for the change of scenery. I knew the way anyway and I thought it would be lovely to stop at “World of Water” garden centre in Romsey for Vegan cake and more coffee. My hands were really cold now and it was just after 4pm. World of water was closed. I was so looking forward to the coffee and cake. I cycled home instead.
61.3 miles later I was outside my house. Do I cycle another mile to make it 100k for the day. Don’t be an idiot Dean!
Anyway, it was a total of 140 miles in two days on my mountain bike. I did no training whatsoever. My bike fitness was awful! Not to be confused with running fitness. The difference is so vast if you didn’t know. I remember my 1000 mile bike ride around the coast. I could cruise up any hill, yet struggled to run a 25 minute parkrun due to lack of running miles.
Anyway, this is where the journey ends. Here’s to more adventures this year. Feel free to join me on one of them, even if it’s just a walk, a little bike ride or a 50 mile jog. x