I am not sure what brought 16 riders out on Saturday: was it the sun, maybe it was my extensive marketing campaign in the form of photos and videos of the ride? Perhaps readers of my blog wanted to meet me in the flesh – nobody asked for an autograph.
Having rode to the start point along some less than official routes – church steps and such – I was suitably warmed up / already worn out (delete as appropriate) and ready to lead my first ride with MB Swindon. Strangely I felt a bit nervous. Had I built this up too much? Was my idea of a good ride the same as others? How many people were going to turn up?
The ride was graced with the presence of the MB Swindon Club Chairman, Phil and 15 others some from Calne who like me rode to the start. They were all about to be introduced to my local playground!
Those that know me will know I like to do more than just pedal cross country and while I am no expert or Red Bull Rampage rider, I like to drop and jump a little when I can. Mostly I like to have fun when I’m out riding and today I was going to show these guys (and girls) my back yard.
It started off pretty tame on a short road ride out to a farm track that forms part of NCR 403 and then beyond that on to some single track behind the local land fill site. It’s actually quite interesting, and smelly on a hot day! This led us to Compton Bassett and the rock garden I had hyped beyond all recognition. The climb started off well until a few people started to slip on the damp rocks, this resulted in a bit of bike pushing as riding any sort of incline on slippery rocks is not easy and dangerous.
This rocky bridleway has a number of short but steep drops and a number of the group had a go at some, while the rest watched and laughed a little at a few scrapes and last minute bails and applauded those that had a go and didn’t fall off. This section also included a nice little gully that is great for pumping in and out of. Its unfair of me to judge anyone as I ride these obstacles regularly – but it is amusing watching someone stop half way up a bank, scrabble for traction, reach out to grab a branch and call to the rest of the group to catch them!
Off we went along another bridleway and then some road through Yatesbury and headed up towards Windmill Hill. The rutted route gave us a few puddles to dodge or gamble with the depth and at the end of this section we stopped for a breather while a puncture was fixed.
After a quick burst down a narrowing and overgrown track we reached Windmill Hill. Another puncture was repaired on the bridleway while a few of us rode and pushed to the top of the hill to admire the view and to pose for a photo with our bikes in the air. Then it was time for a play on the roots. I actually wondered at this point was this really a feature worth riding down, but it turned out to be a bit of fun and some had a number of runs at it.
More bridleway, over the A4 and a climb brought us neatly to Beckhampton and Knoll Down. I have to say I really enjoy riding at this spot with its rooty tree drops, jumps and bomb holes it’s a great spot to try some simple trail riding techniques without putting yourself in real danger. Again everyone had a go at something here and we probably killed 20 mins or so trying to get some air off the banks and baiting each other to have a go at the various obstacles and drops.
I could and have stayed there for an hour playing around and it took someone else to nudge me into moving everyone along – so we headed off in the direction of the Landsdowne Monument and Cherhill White Horse. The track that runs parallel to the A4 has a few dips and jumps, and with speed there are some doubles you can either try and jump or pump through. We had another stop just before the climb to the Monument – the latest of my play things which I was again really pleased to see people having a go. The almost vertical drop into a very short little bomb hole is great. It probably takes you 1 second to drop in and out, you go through it so quick you haven’t got time to think. As soon as you hit the bottom you need to lift the bars to come back out the other side.
It was getting warm and the climb upto the top of the Oldbury Castle resulted in some getting off and pushing. Before heading down the rides highlight descent there is a cheeky little route around through the old fort ramparts, unfortunately some missed this in their eagerness to get to the Monument.
The chalky descent was not new to some of the riders. We have ridden up it on a previous ride; but down is so much more fun. Rain water has created many little channels for you to fight your wheels in and out of as you descend the side of the hill as quick as you dare. There are a few little bumps and drops but mostly its just a great straight descent down to the A4.
From here we were back over the road and linking up with the rock garden again, this time to ride down it. There were some fun moments as chains were rattled off and Phil tried moving some rocks the size of footballs with his rear wheel! Some caution had to be taken as the rocks were slippery in places. From here we dropped down the last piece of single track quickly through the nettles to finish off a great ride. The journey back into Calne was uneventful though we did actually come across a guy on a mobility scooter of the trail at one point!
Back at the start, a few set off and a number stopped for a cold drink and recollected the rides highlights. We rode around 18 miles on Saturday, though the extra trail feature sessions probably made this feel like more as some of us used up additional energy to ride some of the fun bits over and over.
Feedback was good – some of the local guys had never ventured where I took them today and I hope I showed that a simple cross country route with out too much in the way of hills can be made real fun with the addition of some challenging technical features.