Two Weekends in Britain

Dusty hardpack. A sea breeze. Blue skies. Inquisitive wild ponies. Skinny(ish) tyres. Ploughman’s lunch. Yellow heather. Golden light. Long shadows. Strong socks. Evening beats. Iced coffee. Ice cream. Roasted hog. Local ales. Massive campfires.

Steely skies. Soggy peat. Nosy sheep. Sharp slate. Wet socks. Mud-streaked backs. Soft, fat rubber. Impenetrable forest. Wheel-swallowing puddles. Fire-cooked sausage. Drying wrinkly feet. A deserted bothy. Hidden horizons. Whisky nips. Tea and cake.

Two consecutive weekends in Britain.  In some ways they couldn’t have been more different; in many ways, they were completely the same.

After the sociableness of riding in Baja with nearly 100 other people (for the first day, anyway), I decide that I really need to do more group riding back home, and so start to throw a bunch of dates in the calendar for the coming spring and summer.  The first is Brother in the Wild… a free event put on by Brother Cycles. This is Brother’s first event and is deliberately kept pretty small. On a beautiful Saturday in April we collect in a field in the New Forest, set up camp, and then ride a 30 mile route out to the Solent and back.

We feast on a hog roast and drink ales from the lovely Bear Beer bar that evening.  Jimmy’s Iced Coffee’s amazing converted Mercedes Vario provides music and lights into the night, and a roaring bonfire and fire pits keep us warm. 

After a chilly sleep, some porridge and coffee, we follow dirt tracks for 40 miles around the forest. We end up riding with the guys behind Boneshaker Magazine for the day, which is a pleasure.

I spend a lot of the time this weekend wondering why on earth I’ve never spent much time in the New Forest before.  There are seemingly endless off road tracks, a pub lunch, and ice cream.  Surely, summer is here!

Of course not.  A week later, the venue is deepest mid-Wales for the Welsh Ride Thing, and summer has definitely gone.  For nine years now, riders from around the UK have descended on Stu’s farmyard on a Saturday morning for tea, a weigh-in on the infamous scales of truth, and a raffle, before departing on a self-planned route around some, all, or none of the set of grid references that Stu sent out a month previously. 

There is a little corner set aside for the Lonely Hearts Club (LHC) to meet – not some niche dating circle, just a group of folk turning up on their own wanting to ride with other people.  And a lot of different bike set-ups to peruse.  Many conventional, some less so.  Mostly fat tyres, some not so much.

And then off we set, invariably uphill. Every direction is uphill from Stu’s.  The great thing about the WRT is that no one cares how far you ride, how many of Stu’s grid references you pass through, or where you sleep, just as long as you return to the farmyard for tea and cake, two days later.

Over the next 48 hours a group of six of us ride around 100 miles in mainly grey, slightly damp conditions, largely off-road but with some stretches of tarmac thrown in for practicality at times.

We camp in the woods on the first night, and then on a misty, tussocky hillside on the second, struggling to find flat spots on which to sleep before darkness falls. Each night, Simon builds a proper fire for cooking the supplies of fresh meat that he is carrying, making my dehydrated chilli a little less appealing.

Nant Syddion bothy provides a little excursion on the second day, but it’s too early to stop for the night, so we just have a nosy around.

Alex somehow manages this whole route on a skinny tyred cross bike with a big backpack, although there are a couple of incidents involving his front wheel, face and a big puddle.  On the final day, the sky really closes in as we complete our loop of mid Wales and roll back into Stu’s place just before lunchtime, tired but satisfied.

Two very different weekends, but two weekends with many similarities:  Great people. Sleeping outdoors. Riding bikes.

Here’s to a ‘summer’ of more of this!

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