All Roads lead to Rowlands Castle

There must be hundreds of cures for a hangover, I wonder how high up going out for few hours winter ride is on that list? My head hurts as I wedge Ready-Brek down (Company do the night before) and soon the Sunday morning drizzle joins me as I spin my hangover away. Gavin is already waiting, hopping from foot to foot and as we are talking Pat joins us, his GPS chirping.

Pete (Younghusband) circles vulture like and as we roll off tags along.

The miserable rain forms beads on exposed cloth, like a fine mist that feels heavy to breathe, but at least my hangover is clearing.

Conversation soon picks up, it has been a few weeks since Pat and I have been out. Pete accelerates on the hill coming out of Denmead.  Gavin tries to bridge across but I gently remind him to keep his powder dry.

Its going to be a long ride, without Pete forcing the pace..( he is  lightweight anyway as he always buggers off early).

Roads hill (that sharp little kicker up from Catherington Down) splits our merry little band as Pete stomps off in the big ring, Pat and I shift down and stay in the saddle barely pausing our conversation. Gavin does a perfectly executed ‘reverse attack’ and rolls off the back.

We pause to regroup, and despite my three times “turn left just after the school” they still miss the left turn, obviously confused by the two horses ambling down the road..

The main road is empty as we fly off towards Horndean.

The short climb through Blendworth splits us again, Pete off the front, Gavin acting as a sweeper behind.

The fast hill onto the Finchdean road feels greasy. With the trees clear of leaves, I can catch a glimpse of the valley to the right, before concentrating for the sketchy bit near the bottom.

Chalton village is quiet, though this early there are no food smells emanating from the Red Lion. Pat pauses to put on his rain-cape as Pete and I dawdle up over the rise to the east of the village. Pete recounting tales of derring do about training in bib-shorts when it is 2 degrees.

A fast ’squirelly’ descent puts the grin back on ones face, and after passing a road spanning puddle we start the long climb up to Ditcham School.

Pete does his own thing and is soon a small figure up ahead. Gav repeats his reverse attack move and is soon dropped as Pat and I climb together.

I feel snotty , but here’s a good tip..Try a drop of Olbas oil on the snot wipe of your glove..

The climb from the south is enjoyable, 1.7 miles long and gaining 115 meters, the gravel strewn section at the bottom, with the aggressive speed bumps, soon passes and, with no changes in gradient, it allows each rider to find their own rhythm and stay seated.

The woods are quiet and empty, I notice the roots and rippled tarmac that caused my nasty 2006 crash have got worse, even the yellow paint markings have faded, like the scars on my arm. Pat and I circle a grassy island and head back down to meet Gav,

We didn’t have to go far, he certainly had picked up a bit and after 100 metres we were turning around again.

Pat does a classic Fifth Cat (twat) move, rolls over and tries pedalling with his bike in the air, I am not sure if he couldn’t unclip or the edge of the road gave way under his front wheel, either way a few sarcastic hoots and a sheepish curse from him and we are rolling again, I take a hefty swig from the crusty bidon, before the descent starts.

Gav and I chin wag about starting racing and cycling with kids.( ie offspring not getting beaten by Josh in a sprint for a village sign). As the road steepens near the bottom concentration returns. The greasy road demands respect and my rims grate loudly as I feather the brakes.

I almost catch Pat up as the gradient slackens and even contemplate going off piste down the short bit of green lane that cuts the corner off.( the muddy puddles dissuade me otherwise)

At the main road, Pete circles as we regroup and we push on the South Harting, I drop back with the plan to pace Gav back on so that he can practise a sprint for the Harting sign, but we are too far back to make it.

On the road to Elstead we drop into a familiar pattern, Pete well off the front , Pat and myself mooching along in the middle and Gav a few metres off the back.

Elsted church was trashed in 1893 when a tree fell through its nave, we take a lane directly opposite, and drop towards Treyford, the road is rutted and covered in a skein of cow shit and rainwater, these lanes sure helps improve your bike handling skills.

This is a rolling section, back in my Maestro race days we labelled it Flanders and no matter what the weather is a fantastic little section of quality lanes.

Just as we approach Bepton Pete executes an abrupt u turn, right n front of us..

A stunningly shit move and I laugh at the Time Trialist mentality of it..


“Oh well I have done exactly 2.5 hours.. I now go home…”

or maybe

“ S**T I have left the cooker on”


“ I need to go home right now because I need to lay a cable”

I don’t know what it was, but I rabbited on for a minute or so after taking the Mickey out of his quick departure.

It makes me think; for me the ride is all about the route, where it takes me, the character of the roads, vistas and the hills that punctuate such travels. The people that I am with, experiences.  I couldn’t possibly just u-turn half way along and go home simply because my clock told me so. I suppose that’s the difference between riding and training, I suppose there is a selfishness, self absorption, when you are training that doesn’t quite fit in with my riding style.

With a certain smugness we press on and before long we are ejected onto the A286 at Cocking.

I have a real Roubaix road that would normally take us up to Graffham, but today I opt for a short section of ‘A’  ( stands for “Agoraphobic”)  road. Can you hear me baulking at the thought? A right turn takes us back onto silent lanes, the roads in this section are smooth and rolling, excellent for a group ride. Houses, smugly set back from the road and normally hidden by the leafy tree lined avenues, are now blinking in the drizzle, bared to all passers by.

We pass Heyshot green, renowned for its “Harvesting the Old fashioned way” festival in September and head north towards the Polo fields in Ambersham.

Something catches in my rear mech and I am lucky to stop pedalling before any repeat of last weeks damage can be done.. I pause to sort it out and soon the three of us are off again.

We pass through a nature reserve, which has such luminaries as the Dartford Warlber, robber fly, Bog Pimpernel, and even glow-worms on summer’s nights.

sand covers the road in places, washed from the heath in the recent heavy rains, we are together as we climb towards an atmospheric natural ‘tunnel’



A short section of the A272 rudely awakens us as the traffic feels far too close for comfort.

Somehow Pat manages to miss our turn and disappears off, so I leave Gav to climb in his own time while I go back for Pat and within ten minutes we are accelerating up the short drag. Either the impatient car behind me , or Pat so easily gapping me, pushes my legs just past comfortable and I am soon glad to pause while Gav remounts.

A short descent takes us through Lodsworth. Some where here EH Shepard, teh illustrator of Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows, lived and is buried in the churchyard with Winnie the Pooh and Piglet engraved on his grave.

There is also a hidden sacred well that pilgrim used to visit to cure eye ailments, not bad for such a tiny place..

A wide road takes us through the valley to the fantastically named Lickfold. Up to our left the mast on top of Bexley hill is shrouded by low clouds and as we pass the village green we swing off left onto Highstead lane to start the climb.

Gav is soon dropped, and as the road kicks up a bit by the farm, I drop behind Pat. Each of us climbs at a comfortable individual pace. It’s a hard hill, you have a brief respite about halfway up, but then a violent kick before you finally crest. The line up the right hand side slightly easier than inside line. If you can breathe in the rarified atmosphere you might notice a small cave formed by erosion around a trees roots, which adds to the atmosphere.  Pat, looks far too fresh as he waits for me at the top.

I lean my bike against the sign and clack off on foot downhill to take a few photos,


Gav soon appears and is obviously suffering, I offer to push his bike so he can regain his breathe. Bexley is done, her reputation is intact.( no one has said ..”That was easy”….)

The descent off the back to Easbourne is a great match; a smooth road with predictable carving corners allows you to regain your composure before regrouping at the main road again.

I take cover in a bus shelter to finally succumb and don on a rain cape.  A £7.99 Aldi special, matches my impeccable Assos kit perfectly… oh the irony..

A series of grubby back lanes punctuated by a few rolling rises takes us westbound again. Gav grateful to finally be homeward bound.

We take advantage of the tailwind that has finally swung in our favour, but the rain takes the edge off any conversation.

We barely notice Woolbedding and the roads deteriorate the further west we ride. The climb through Hammerbottom (!) is made difficult by a thick mush of leaves mingled with mud. I stay seated to keep my rear tyre in contact, weaving in and out of potholes. A hesitant BMW driver forces Gav and I to courteously stop, the young driver narrowly missing some railings.

A short descent takes us through Iping, where HG Wells “ Invisible Man “ starts, the picturesque humpback bridge increasing the impression of speed.

The next few miles are a straight road, and assisted by a tailwind, we push on for home.

Ahead of us the Downs roll back into view, the low cloud torn on the slopes. I think Gavin is seriously suffering by now and is not able to stay on a wheel so I ease back to take a few pictures.


Trying to get a portrait of Pat, the Flahute. The short hill into Elstead proves too much and he has to resort to a quick stroll. I practice track stands at the top, almost falling off (Like Pat did earlier) when my balance passes the ‘unclip’ window ..(I get away with it..)

The green spire of South Harting beckons with that little stinker Short Harting hidden behind.  Pat presses on to make a birthday party on time (jelly as a recovery fuel?), and Gav and I are left alone.

I grind up, desperately missing my 26 on the back as Gav resorts to another quick stroll.

A huge flock of pigeons take off in unison like a celebratory flypast as we roll past Upham house. The wind in the back and such a wide road, I rather enjoyed it.

Compton Down is our last obstacle and Gav graciously accepts a gentle push to help the last few metres,

I talk a bit about Idsworth as we roll down the final valley, hoping that the anaesthetic properties of my constant prattling will help take the tiredness away from his legs..

The Rowland’s Castle sign comes into view and I cant help myself but gently edge ahead to claim it, maybe a bit unfair, but hey… I think I deserve it..

A brief pause opposite the café in the village and we part ways.

Chapeau Gav.. Hope you got back ok…

Going out and getting smashed is all part of riding… it happens to everyone at sometime or another no matter whom.( have a read of some of my other posts on ) Eventually you will be able to survive, then start pushing.. but don’t forget these roots, the building blocks, the long circuitous rides,  the hand in the back from a team mate, because one day you may be called on to return the favour.


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