Sunday, 26 March 2023

First bike ride of 2023


I feel like I should do more writing, or at least, some writing. I’m always thinking about it. I find that a lot nowadays with my middle-aged mind. I think more than I do. I have been reading a lot this year and been inspired by various books. I am probably reading more due to the fact that I am unable to go running at the moment. To be honest, I’ve been feeling pretty miserable over the last few days. Plantar Fasciitis in the left foot, a back injury from work, intercostal muscle ache, a strained tricep from climbing and a few niggles in the right knee from an old meniscus tear. Admittedly, I feel I have been overdoing it slightly.


Anyway, I decided to take my mountain bike out of the shed and cycle to Keith in Totton at Perfect cycles once more for some bike maintenance. I have probably spent more money in repairs than I have on the £400 bike that I bought in Cornwall when I was living on an Alpaca farm in 2018.

£26.99 later, the bike wasn’t making horrible noises any more. Don’t ask me what they were, as I know nothing about bikes apart from how to replace an inner tube when a puncture occurs.


I am currently working part-time but clinging to my last days of freedom, as I go full-time after the Easter holidays.

I decided to go for my first proper bike ride of the year and fit in a couple of errands in the process. A man who thinks he can multi-tasks?

I checked the weather forecast and picked the favourable Wednesday over the not so good looking Thursday. I had a plan.. Cycle one of my old marathon/ultra training routes. 20-30 miles should do it. Pop into the bike shop in Lyndhurst and buy a cycle helmet, have a coffee and drop some documentation off to Garmin for HR.

        A few checks and I was ready to leave. Water bottle, Coat, hat, gloves, Kindle, Wallet and Mobile phone. I left the house and cycled along the busy Romsey road towards Nursling. While the cars whizzed past, my mind was on the route. Which way would have the least amount of mud? Through the lakes or the farm on the Testway? Which way would be more scenic and have fewer dog walkers?

Ok, the Testway it is. Onto Lee lane and the sun was shining and the Chiff Chaffs were singing away. Hurray, it’s springtime! I always thought Chiff chaffs were all migratory, flying off to West Africa every August but it turns out that a lot of them are residential nowadays. Getting lazier these younger generations. I guess they just choose not to sing in the autumn and winter because of Seasonal depression?

Not to be confused with the not so common Siberian chiff chaffs that arrive sometimes of course.

Anyway, an observation made me realise that when the Chiff Chaffs are singing away at the top of their trees, the Chaffinches sing even louder. I was loving this. Why didn’t I cycle more often? Just the bird song, the sunshine and an otherwise quiet lane. I had a slight diversion due to a floodle. Is that a word? The road was basically underwater and I didn’t want to get wet feet only 4 miles in. 4 miles in, is that all I’ve done? My legs were starting to ache a bit already. 

Onto the Testway and over the river test. I stopped to take a photo of the river and my bike in rare working order. Two mallards flew either side of my head over the bridge. A bit like a Red arrow display but not really. How rude of them!

I got back on the bike and pedalled onwards towards Manor farm and that hill. It’s not a big hill but I’m quite unfit on the bike. Amazing how you can have great running fitness but poor bike fitness and vice versa. I managed to prove this when I was cycling everyday on a 1000 mile bike ride but could barely run a 25 minute parkrun due to lack of running miles and anaerobic fitness.

      My thoughts were soon diverted when I saw two horses up ahead galloping around. I don’t think they are in a field. I slowed down a bit as I drew nearer. Ah, they are in a field. I carried on when I thought I was going to get bulldozed by a horse.

One of them was in a field and one wasn’t. I’m guessing he jumped the fence and escaped. I got off my bike and walked. The horse galloped right up to me, suddenly halted and just started eating the grass next to me. I just stood there staring at him while he heavily panted away, ripping up the grass. I took a photo and walked on just in case he decided to kill me in a temperamental outburst.


Here we are at Hillstreet and I am at the hill. Attack! I got great momentum and then I could feel the turn of the pedals getting harder and I was constantly dropping gears with my right hand before I was in the lowest gear and cycling like an octogenarian on a Sunday morning out to get the newspaper. I eventually made it to the top and was breathing like that horse at the bottom of the hill. I didn’t have time to rest though as there was now a van behind me. I pedalled again and after a while, happily pulled over to let him pass and more importantly catch my breath. 6 miles, is that it?   

      A nice descent down the other side of Hillstreet and onto the dodgy main road where cars only drive at 80 mph. I’m not on this road long though and turn left into another lane. Then right. Up another hill into Loperwood and then into Winsor passing Tatchbury mount.

It was getting so warm now that my coat had to be removed and put into my rucksack. As I stood at the crossroads a van blared its horn aggressively at me. I can be quite short tempered on these bike rides and have been known to transform into an angry madman. They call it road rage I believe. I was just about to swear rather loudly when I realised that I knew who it could be. It was my old mate Mike or his wife Holly. I couldn’t tell which though. Maybe I shouldn’t be on the road without my reading glasses on?

        Past the Compass inn, the gluten free and dog friendly pub and onto the main Cadnam road. Another sketchy crossing across the main road and down into Bartley. A right turn and a nice stretch of quiet road leading up to the A337. I nearly got trampled by a herd of deer here once. I was slowly cycling along minding my own business when I heard dogs barking on a farm. The next thing you know, about 15 deer come charging across the road from one side of the woods to the other, I had to slam my brakes on to avoid contact. It was quite exciting at the time.

I always look out for the White stag on this road too. A local lady once showed me videos of it here on her phone. She says he passes through quite a bit. I’m yet to see him though.

      Another dice with death as I cross the speedy A337. I hate this crossing, it’s dangerous but worth the risk when you get back into the New forest and location of Shave Wood. Quiet once more. The birdsong continues and a few New Forest ponies grazing nearby. I used to call them horses because they look like horses right? But I’ve been corrected enough times now. I tried to google some information on this subject but the results are very conflicting. One article even suggested that Ponies are a lot more intelligent than horses. They can also have wiry hair and a horses’ can be thinner. Etc.. Etc.. Etc.. I don’t think anyone knows the difference, a bit like spotting a Marsh tit and a Willow tit. It’s only the sound and the environment its in, that gives it its identity.

 Should I do London Minstead or just Minstead? I pondered as I rode towards the sign. Then remembered that London Minstead is just a mile uphill extra with more mud. I wanted to look presentable and not covered in too much mud when I dropped my documentation off at Garmin.

  I chose wisely and cycled to Football Green. This brought back a funny memory of running here with Kev Willsher. He tried to short cut through the field. I knew better from a past mistake and went around the roadside. That field is always flooded and you can’t always see it. I laughed as he tried to dodge the pools of water but he inevitably got wet feet. Maybe he learned the same lesson as I did.

 Into Minstead where a vibrant looking old lady in rainbow colours passed me on her bike smiling away “Beautiful day” she said. “Sure is” I replied with a smile. I wish there were more happy people in the world.

If you didn’t know, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is buried in the Minstead cemetery. Sometimes on his grave there is a Pipe, maybe a looking glass and sadly sometimes someone will leave a Pompey scarf there. If you don’t know who he is, maybe you should do some detective work and Google it.

Anyways, I didn’t bother visiting today. A left turn takes me downhill into Fleetwater. All the times I’ve done this route and didn’t know that this bit was named “Fleetwater”. The sign has always been there though. I lifted my legs as I reached the dip of the hill. There is often water here. I don’t think you can call it a Fjord but it is a small river passing at the bottom of the hill. Then it’s back to pedalling fast and then changing down the gears as my legs struggle with the tension in my pedals as I go uphill again.

        Still very quiet roads. 12 miles in. My calves ache a bit. I should be in Lyndhurst in 5-6 miles? The wind has picked up a bit now, the sun has gone in and it’s colder. Not cold enough to get my coat, hat and gloves out of my rucksack again though. Left and into Acres Down. Now there are a few other cyclists coming in the opposite direction. The Lycra type cyclists with the posh bikes and garish clothing. Don’t these people have jobs? What are they doing on my roads? Some say Hello and smile, some are way too cool with their airs of arrogance.


Another climb to come at Emery Down. I don’t like it when I see the “Road ahead closed” signs. A couple of cars turn around and retreat. I’m going to see if I can get through as a pedestrian at least. Onto the pavement and up the hill. I reach the apex and see another cyclist pedalling upwards towards me. Good news, I can squeeze through the orange barriers.

They are resurfacing the road. I have to get off my bike and snake around the parked work vans. I slip on the mud but manage to stay upright but during the slip, brambles get entangled around my foot and lacerate the skin. It’s painful but I put on my most manly face as I nod at the workmen who are staring at me. Maybe I can have a cry when I get around the corner? Left turn onto the Christchurch road, up another hill and we hit the horrible one way system of Lyndhurst. Always a pleasure in the summer, especially when the New Forest show is on. I am of course, lying.


Now it is busy. Such a contrast from all the quiet country lanes that I’ve been on. Human life form is abundant and chaotic. I get to the lights and decide to walk with all the pedestrians. Always a lot of tourists in Lyndhurst. I weave my way through while people stare into shop windows and decide on what flavoured ice cream they would like. I make it to the Bike shop at 16 miles.


I lock my bike around the side. I’m not really sure it’s safe there and I don’t feel comfortable sitting inside for a coffee. I decide not to bother and drink some water from my water bottle instead before entering “The Woods Cyclery” shop.

About time I bought a cycle helmet. I looked around a bit before deciding to enquire about helmets and pricing. It kind of reminded me of that scene from the film “The Big Lebowski” when they go to get an urn to scatter the ashes of Donny. “This is our most modestly priced receptacle”.  £60 was pretty much the cheapest helmet that they sold. This seemed a lot to a man who only paid £400 for his bike, 5 years ago. I decided to “Give it some thought” and maybe I’ll come back when I have more money.


After sneaking out of the bike shop, I had to wait about 3 minutes to cross the road on the one way system. During this time, a man was tailgating a car in his van and then a car behind that beeped the tailgater. I try not to get irritated by these types of impatient city folk but I couldn’t help yelling “TWATS”. Maybe I just have a mild form of Tourette syndrome. Onto the A35 and the boring cycle path from Lyndhurst to Ashurst passing my friend Adam’s house who didn’t look like he was in.


Into Hounsdown, which I often get confused with Hounslow. My friends frequently think I’m in London.

Onto the Marchwood bypass and into Garmin. I head for reception and hand my stuff over. I realise that I should have probably used a new A4 envelope and not just reused the envelope they gave me. I tried to argue with myself that it was better to reuse and recycle, and this would be a valid point if I hadn’t sellotaped a smaller envelope over the top of the big envelope to cover up the original address that they had written out to me. Oh well, it’s done. She’s probably just going to think I’m a weirdo. No harm done.


Last 4 miles home. I was really tired now and my legs were aching and my bum was sore. Luckily I didn’t choose a 50 miler. I would have been crying in a lay-by somewhere by now. I was also starving so I stopped at Greggs in Totton for a Vegan Sausage, bean and cheese melt. Sadly, the queue was massive and I didn’t want to get my bike nicked. You can see why I’ve had this bike for 5 years right? Because I won’t leave it anywhere outside apart from the climbing gym.

I cycled home and completed 25 miles. I ate lots of food and needed an instant nap. I was properly warn out on a 25 mile bike ride! It was fun and I’m sure my fitness will improve with more cycling miles. Maybe next week I will buy that cycling helmet. In the meantime I am using my woolly hat to keep my brains in there. Sorry I didn't take more photos but I couldn't be bothered. Haha. Thanks for reading.. xx

Friday, 3 March 2023

Bristol to Bradford-on-avon


      A few years back, I had this idea for a personal challenge. How about running from my house in Southampton to either Exeter or maybe Cardiff? I was thinking of averaging 30 miles a day for 5 days. Obviously I would have to build some endurance for it.

       Stuff happened though. The biggest thing was a bike accident that left me with broken ribs and complex meniscus tears in my right knee. I was barely walking for 6 months.

I then moved to Cornwall. From there I moved to Devon. I came back to Southampton and ran shorter distances. I was loving running faster again and getting the pbs.

Then a move to Wales and then came the dreaded lock down and covid. I moved back to Southampton again and here we are, 6 years later and still no challenge.

   I have however, run and cycled parts of the course as recce’s. I decided that I would run to Wales as the Exeter route had more busier roads to navigate and I wasn’t keen on cliffs or coastal paths.

I have run from mine to Salisbury. I have run from Salisbury to Warminster. I have cycled the route up to Longleat and Frome. And now, I write about my last adventure.. running the opposite way from Bristol to Bradford-on-Avon.

        I got up pretty early and took a bus to the train station. It was a cold February morning. Did I have enough stuff to keep me warm?

I bought my return ticket to Bristol Temple meads, then headed over to Costa for a coffee. There was a queue. I had the privilege of listening to a Father and son conversation behind me. “Dad, can we sit down for 20 minutes, I’m tired” said the grumpy sounding teenager. “No, we’re getting take out” replied Dad abruptly. “Are you getting the breakfast deal?” The son inquired. “No” came the quick reply. “You may as well, it’s only £1.25 for a croissant”… “But I don’t want a croissant”. It felt a bit too early to be listening to this conversation but eventually, I got my coffee and was back at the station.

        Of course, the train was delayed. Not by much though. I found a seat and noticed that my GWR train didn’t have a table. Where was I supposed to put my coffee? First world problems eh?

I went through the screen shots on my phone of my various research. Train times, maps, road names etc.. I usually plan pretty well but it doesn’t mean that I don’t get lost a lot still. But, as my friend Laure used to say.. “You’re not lost until you want to go home”.


    It was almost a two hour journey as the rain poured down. I was thinking that I probably hadn’t picked the best day for it but I told myself that I had nothing else to do today. My arms were too achy to go climbing again. As the train came into Bristol, the sun appeared and was shining brightly to my delight.

    Ok, here goes. Backpack on, start watch. It’s still only 10am. Plenty of daylight left. Did I eat too much on the train?

Turn left and then left again over the river etc.. It wasn’t long until I got lost. I always find that getting into and out of towns and cities, the hardest to navigate. Too much choice of routes I guess. I didn’t read a sign properly and before you know it, I did a two mile loop and ended back at that same sign. I laughed at my stupidity and was glad when I found the Bristol to Bath railway path. From the NCN3 to the NCN4. This should be easy now right?

I had planned a route which was about 22-23 miles but you always have to add excess mileage on, just in case.. I was well aware that this could end up being a 30 miler.


    I had noticed that I hadn’t taken my longer shorts off. I had my running shorts underneath. Maybe I’ll wait until I get a bit warmer. This first bit of the Bristol to Bath path was a gradual climber I noticed. I overtook another runner and pointed out that this was all uphill. He just grunted in reply. There were a lot of unhappy looking commuters about today. I was like a happy Forrest Gump on my little adventure, saying hello and good morning to people with a broad grin. A lot of them just ignored me. City folk eh! I looked at my watch and worked out that about 3 miles of it had been climbing. If I ever get around to my 150 miler, at least this bit will be downhill into Bristol I thought.


I then passed Fishponds. My cousin used to live here and so did my friend Caroline when she was at Uni. A popular student area I guess. I got very drunk and played skittles in a pub, that’s pretty much all I remember. Onwards to Staple hill. I made it to be just over 7 miles until I got to Warmley. Obviously with my 2 mile detour, I could do the simple maths of 9 miles until my arrival.

     I loved the signs on the path. “Please ring your Bell”. “Toads crossing”. “Stay to your left”. One thing I observed with Bristol is.. Everything is either Grafitti’ed over sticker’ed over. Which is fine and adds character, but not when they do it to useful signs that are no longer legible. There were stickers of the infamous blue and red NCN4 signs on the lamp posts too. This one sticker looked like it was sending me off the main path to right though. I stopped in front of two dog walking ladies who were chattering away to try and squint at the sign on the lamp post. This caused a silence between them and their attention was now on me. “I’m trying to get to Bath. Do I go right here?”. “No, carry on love. Someone has put that sign on at a funny angle”. “Thank you”. I smiled and carried on which seemed like the obvious route anyway.


    I got to Warmley. It was just over 9 miles. There was a big tea room/cafe at an old dis-used railway platform. I used the toilet (which was a Dr. Who tardis) and decided that I would rest for a bit and enjoy a hot cup of tea. I was sweating but it was still pretty chilly out. I took some pics and tried to find my cousin’s phone number. She who once lived in Fishponds was now married with children and living in Warmley. To my surprise, I didn’t have her number and I couldn’t find her on social media either. I hadn’t seen her for about 3-4 years? It was a reminder to get in contact with her and pay a visit. I couldn’t help notice that I was near the Pomphrey hill parkrun course too. Maybe I would squeeze that in on a visit.

    I sat there drinking my tea in my longer shorts when an elderly lady walked by “You must be cold blooded!”. “You got the first bit right” I said. I now had my running jacket on again. “I’ve been running” I told her with a smile. “Maybe I should do some running?” She laughed.


  Not long after, I decided to do some more running. I figured that stopping every 8-9 miles would be a good idea to rest and take some fuel in. I had only taken a gel so far but ate on the train anyway.

I got to one of the dark tunnels, or so I had thought. I messaged my old mate Mike Mattingly the previous night to see if he had ever done the two tunnels. I was wondering if I needed a headtorch for these tunnels. He advised that I take one anyway, even if not sure. I put my head torch on and ran about a quarter of a mile through to the other side. Probably didn’t need the headtorch for that one but I read the bigger tunnel was just over a mile long! Would I get claustrophobic?


   I passed a few old railway stations including Oldland Common, Bitton and Saltford. I seemed to be struggling a bit here. I was about 12 miles in. The path was high up and it was long and straight. You could just see far ahead. A change in scenery was needed maybe? Maybe a few hills?

There were quite a few runners on this stretch. A girl doing her speedwork reps, a young boy marathon training? I caught up with this elderly running man. We struck up a conversation. I asked if I could run with him for a bit. It would help me take my mind off the tired legs.

He was a lovely guy. I think his name was Pete. He was 62 and started running at 50. He was training for Manchester marathon and had a PB of 3.27. It’s amazing what you can learn about a person in such a short time as we exchanged stories. His son also runs a 2.17 marathon. I thought I had misheard.. “I’m sorry, did you say TWO seventeen?”

    All the talking had left me not concentrating on my route. I was just telling Pete how easy this route was to navigate, so straight forward. You can’t get lost! We got to a road and I stopped him. “Am I going to right way?” I asked. “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” was his reply.

“I’m heading towards Bath”. He didn’t look sure. “I think you may have missed a junction back there, but I’m not sure”.

I said goodbye and wished him luck. I retraced my route where I saw a NCN4 sign. Looks like I went too far.


   About a mile later, I got to a sign heading back the way I came. I ran back to the NCN4 sign and realised the arrow was pointing the way I had already come from leaving Pete. I really should wear my glasses more! I hadn’t gone the wrong way at all and added on another two miles. 22-23 miles was looking more like 26-27 miles at this moment in time. It didn’t matter, I was in no rush and the conversation had left me in a much more upbeat and happier place. The legs and mind felt strong again.


   Anyway, I got about a mile and a half from Bath where I needed to leave the NCN4 and cross the river Avon onto the NCN244. Named the Two tunnels Greenway.

I wasn’t sure if I was running the right way for a bit, until I Stopped a runner. I slid in some mud when I came to halt and nearly fell over. She said to keep going. The tunnels route is straight ahead, “you can’t get lost” she added.

    On went the head torch again. I didn’t expect the two tunnels to be so far apart! It was a disappointment that the tunnel was only about a quarter of a mile long again. It was then that I worked out that the previous tunnel wasn’t even part of the two tunnels route! So, in fact, the two tunnels aren’t even on the Bristol to Bath railway path that I had thought. They were just on a short route called the Two tunnels Greenway. The short tunnel was called “The Devonshire tunnel” and the longer tunnel was called “The Combe down” tunnel. The Combe down tunnel was indeed over a mile long. It was dark but there were runners, cyclists and walkers going through with no lights or hi-visibilty clothing which I thought was a bit mad.


    Halfway through the tunnel, I heard the creepy playing of a violin. It was dark with a cold wind. You could just hear the odd drop of water hitting the pavement and my footsteps, but now this eerie violin.

It was coming from the walls and further down I could hear some percussion now accompanying the violin. Pretty neat! I didn’t get claustrophobic either. It was such a unique experience, running in the dark for 8 minutes. The light sure was bright at the end of the tunnel as my eyes squinted and adjusted to the light again.


Now I knew where I was. I had cycled to Combe down and Bradford-on-avon before. The tunnels were done and I would now follow the NCN24 for 5-6 miles to Bradford-on-avon.

 I was now desperate for water. I only took a litre bottle with me. Just before the Combe tunnel, I tried to urinate and my wee was very dark.

I was badly dehydrated. I didn’t want to be wee’ing blood so I needed water as soon as possible really. I needed to keep my kidneys happy!

I had also realised that 21 miles in and I had only had one gel and a cup of tea. I stopped at a pub in Monkton Combe. I couldn’t find a local shop but I enjoyed the warmth and rest of the pub.

I was held up at gunpoint. The landlord eyed me as I was looking down both barrels of his shotgun. £3.70 for half a cola and a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. I’m sure I was being robbed but smiled and sat down. At least I would get some tap water for my water empty bottle.


  The battery was getting low on my phone. I need a new phone. The battery life is rubbish nowadays. I had an email from the giant company ‘Walls’ saying they had sent me some vouchers in the post after I had found some cardboard in my Vegan Jumbo roll a few days earlier. I put my phone away but then I could hear it vibrating. My phone is always on silent and I hardly answer it. It was an unknown number but for some reason I answered. “Is this Dean Jones?” A woman asked. “Yeeees” I replied slowly, guessing it was probably a marketing call of some sort. “I want to offer you a job interview at Garmin”. Well, I wasn’t expecting that. I arranged the interview and ran on through the village of Monkton combe. There was a buzzard perched on a fence high up. Hey, I thought, she was there last time I came through last year. Then the penny dropped. It wasn’t even a real buzzard. It had a wooden block for legs! How could I not notice this. It made me laugh as I continued. Maybe time for another eye test.


    You go right through a college and onto a private road. I had just realised that I got lost here before. I didn’t see how, it seemed so straight forward and obvious. Probably did an extra 3 miles last time when I was cycling this route. The route takes you onto the Avon and Kennet canal path at Freshford. It was easy from here.

    It was only easy because I got so confused before at Avoncliff where you need to go under the bridge, cross the river avon and follow the path behind a house where it continues towards Bradford-on-avon. This section was muddy last time with lots of puddles to dodge. Today was no different. I had kept clean up until this point. The rain then came and it poured down pretty heavy for about 10 minutes. I was enjoying myself though and had just passed the marathon distance and was feeling good.


    I had a final stop in mind. The Mill cafe. They sold records and did nice Vegan cake the last time I visited. On arrival though it looked very dark inside the windows. To my disappoint it was closed. On closer inspection, it was only closed on Wednesdays too. Typical, I thought. It was a trip to the Co-op instead where I got a protein shake and some food. I should have really rushed to the train station as I was getting cold and had nearly an hour to wait for my train home due to me sitting around.

I was wondering if I had packed too much stuff to carry with me but now I wasn’t running, my body temperature dropped and the long sleeve and short sleeved extra t-shirts really helped. Along with the hat and gloves. I had also bought along a power bank to charge my phone but I had, of course, forgot to charge the phone bank and it was flat.

      It was a great adventure though and I loved it. I sat on the train heading home and reliving those moments in my heads as I watched a beautiful sunset from the train window in my sleepiness.

   Next time it will be Severn Tunnel Junction to Bristol. I will look into the route and hope to do it soon.

I did 28.6 miles in 4 hours but nearly 6 and a half hours had elapsed with my stops and all my photo taking. There was only 666ft of elevation on this route too. Thanks for reading. xx