The day began with a breakfast of porridge, raisins and a banana. This was a nice bit of fuel for the ride ahead and helped to warm me through on what turned out to be a really cold ride. A call at 9.15 from Stuart meant that my local ride company were ready and waiting. We set off up through Cherhill and Yatesbury and made our way to meet the rest of the MB Swindon riders to start the Bronze Age Epic route set out by Phil Allum.
Much like Silbury Hill itself, no one really knew why we were gathered in the sub zero temperatures at this mysterious location in the middle of nowhere this morning. Some say there was promise of cake, maybe a visit to a pub, others hinted at a possible epic bike ride across Wiltshire; at least one of us was wondering if he would be home in time for the rugby.
As much as Silbury Hill looks like it was built to climb and ride down, it is supposedly very unsafe and is listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest anyway. The site is unique in that its slopes have 360-degree aspects, allowing comparison between growth of the flora on the differently-facing slopes of the hill, its been there since about 2400 BC, and just a few years ago an archaeological survey was conducted and an enormous Roman village had been dicovered surrounding the site. Today it is mostly surrounded with water, which both prevents too many tourists exloring the area and makes for a nice photo!
I am not sure if was my previous study and public presentation of the faffing phenomenon or the fact that it was so cold, but we set off at 10.05. Everybody was rearing to go and from Silbury Hill we rode the short section of rode to Beckhampton and the Waggon and Horses pub which everyone looked longingly at; wondering what time we might return for a drink and a warm by the fire! We then pedalled directly south from Beckhampton up some downs, Horton and Allington Down (to be precise) and made our way to the Wansdyke. The views were pretty good from this point, but a blue sky would have been nice. It was full of light snow and clouds, with the constant threat of it turning into heavy snow.
And so we continued to follow the Wansdyke along to Martinsell Hill, site of an old fort. On the way there was a great trail through a wood at the top of Oare Hill. This provided us with opportunity to weave through the trees and hop over some roots, a really nice bit of single track. We stopped on the edge of Martinsell Hill to admire the view and then decided to hit the nice little descent down to the car park for a lunch stop.
After refuelling and scoffing our various sandwiches, malt loaf and cereal bars we hit the road. While the breather was welcome it allowed us all to cool off somewhat and the restart was cold and the wind made it even colder as we rode the Tarmac to Clench Common and then the West Woods. We followed the track along the south edge of the woods, picked up the Wansdyke again briefly and then onto a section of road down to Clatford.
After crossing the A4 we climbed up past the Manton gallops to Fyfield Down (why are they all called DOWN? We must have ridden it the wrong way) and then through the Valley Of Stones. It was getting tough by this point and the pack of riders had thinned out a little, with me bringing up the rear. A tactical volunteering manoeuvre to be the rear gunner as I knew a 36 mile ride was going to be hard on me.
Finally we reached the Ridgeway which meant no more climbing, and we headed down to Avebury. At this point I left the group to head off home the way I came.
Today really was an epic ride and if you cared and stopped to think we passed through some historic places and saw sights that many people travel from other parts of the world to see. I will reserve judgement just yet if actually ‘enjoyed’ the ride today but it was a great day with some old and new friends from MB Swindon. As with all club rides no one was left behind to struggle and there was plenty of assistance when a few of us had punctures.
Well done Phil for scouting this one out and leading us along a truly epic ride around some of Wiltshire’s most famous Bronze Age sites.
These can now also be found on the MB Swindon website under news: