Not Riding the Gridiron
For the last few years I've cycled over to the New Forest in mid October to ride The Wessex CTC Gridiron ride. I was all set to do this again. I'd entered well in advance, made arrangements to meet clubmates at the ferry, the weather forecast was looking good. Well, it was until the middle of the week when it went rapidly downhill. The balmy autumn day that was originally forecast turned into a warning of gales and heavy rain. Emails arrived from my erstwhile companions who had now had second thoughts. I would like to say that I am made of sterner stuff, that I don't mind riding on my own all day in the pouring rain. However, while I don't mind the rain for a while, the Gridiron is a long day involving a fair amount of hanging around waiting for ferries. I like to enjoy the autumn colours, the wandering donkeys, ponies and pigs not put my head down for a 12 hour sufferfest. I too dropped out.
The early morning wasn't too bad so I joined the usual Sunday morning Wayfarer ride. The turnout wasn't great and 3 of the 6 riders on the normal ride were already making their excuses as to why they needed to leave early! We set off along the cycle track that runs from Sandown to Newport. Just before Newport, and just as it started to rain, Brian punctured. Three people immediately scarpered. Brian changed his tube and replaced the wheel only to discover that he also had a broken spoke! He would have to limp home. We remounted and then immediately dismounted. Andy also had a puncture! We then walked to the end of the track to find a more sheltered spot to fix it. An adjournment to Wetherspoons was suggested. It seemed like a pretty good plan but I left them to it and headed off into the rain, happy to be home for lunchtime. It tanked down all afternoon.
Tuesday was a glorious, sunny, autumnal day. I normally work on Tuesdays but, as luck would have it, not this week. Time to go to the New Forest! I originally planned to ride the Gridiron route but Dennis also fancied a day out so I worked out a shorter route taking in Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst, Beaulieu and Lepe to make it more interesting for him. He set off along the main road to Brockenhurst while I wiggled my way there along narrow lanes passing a group of sunbathing donkeys.
I continued on through Brockenhurst and up Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, so called because it was planted with specimen trees. Many of these are conifers but the beech woods were looking beautifully autumnal and large flocks of chaffinches were feeding on the beech mast beneath them. There were also all manner of strange fungi along the roadside and under the trees. It was very pleasant to be riding here on my own, able to stop and look at whatever took my fancy, rather than riding in a group or as part of an event.
My route took me under the busy A31 and across the open heathland before looping back to cross the A31 again. I'd not been on this road before, I couldn't think why, it was lovely. I'd gained quite a bit of height and the view stretched out over Wiltshire. A herd of Fallow Deer raced across the road, well away from me but uncomfortably close to a cyclist coming the other way. I was just thinking what a great road it was when it abruptly came to an end! The map showed it continuing on the other side of the A31 so I assumed there would be an underpass or a bridge but there wasn't, just a slip road onto 4 lanes of fast moving traffic. I could see the road I wanted directly opposite me but there was no way of getting to it. I considered legging it across to the central reservation in the middle of the dual carriageway but it was fenced off to prevent such a manoeuver. I thought of riding a little way up the road in search of a crossing point but soon realised that would be cycling suicide as an endless stream of trucks sped by. I couldn't believe it! This was the New Forest National Park, there must be some way for a cyclist to get from one side of the road to the other! Then I remembered seeing a cycle sign a little way back down the road. I'd ignored it as it pointed down a rough track. A muddy track is not my idea of fun but as there was no alternative I followed it even though it did seem to be taking me away from where I wanted to go. Eventually it veered off in the direction of the dual carriageway and led me to an even muddier underpass and out on to a track on the other side which again seemed to be going in the wrong direction. I was beginning to despair of ever meeting Dennis in Minstead as planned when a horse rider appeared and assured me that I was only a couple of minutes from the Minstead road. Excellent!
I passed a couple of foraging pigs on my way into the village. As soon as I got the camera out one disappeared down a ditch while the other buried his head in the vegetation. As soon as I gave up and put the camera away his head came back up, I'm sure he was playing with me! I saw them again after I'd stopped for lunch, trotting happily down the road and passing me rather too close for comfort. I couldn't help thinking of a line by Ted Hughes
'Their bite is worse than a horse's. They can chop a half moon clean out'!
Continuing on through Lyndhurst I passed the 'Penny Farthing Guest House' and Roberta insisted on posing against the giant replica outside.
A long straight road across open heathland led to Beaulieu and then the rather less scenic route to Lepe beach with the towers of the Fawley oil refinery getting ever closer. As you near the coast the road seems to be heading deeper and deeper into farmland and there is no hint of the sea until you finally pop out onto the beach at Lepe. Its a popular spot and the coastline is very pleasant with views across to Cowes.
The return route to Beaulieu is a lot more pleasant following quiet lanes past Exbury gardens. I was now on the last section of the Gridiron route back to Lymington. It was a bit of a shame not to have ridden the actual event but my pleasant meander round the forest on a perfect autumn day more then made up for it.