Wet Wiltshire Ride

Grovely Woods Wiltshire

While having a clear out of old MBR and MBUK magazine, my son and I cut out all the route guides and I “filed” them for future use. Spotting a ride in Wiltshire I immediately began to think of using it as a club ride. Some research into the area made what looked like a pleasant woodland ride into something a little more interesting so I pitched the ride and set about amending the route found in MBR to explore the woodland further.

I knew the map like the back of my hand. However, I had not been able to do a recce of the route, my summer holiday was coming and the day of the ride was looming closer. Much research had been put in to locate the infamous Handsel Trees and the munitions bunker so I felt I knew the route and the location reasonably well. But in accordance with club rules, a ride leader must have ridden the route to check for any major changes in conditions, likely diversions, fallen trees etc and to generally make sure it was safe and suitable.

Perhaps a little late (or in this case early) in the day, I decided to do the recce ride on the morning of the ride itself! Getting up extra early and being greeted with dry conditions I had high hopes for a great day out and 2 laps of the trails.

Handsel Trees
Handsel Trees

At around 6.30am I set off from Wylye up the road to Grovely Wood with the sun rising behind me. With a copy of my route in hand I set about following it and investigating some additional single track discoveries on the way. Everything was going according to plan. The Roman Road through the forest was indeed very long (over 4 miles) and straight, dropping off and on to it on various forest tracks kept it interesting and fun. As I had hoped the 2km section down Hadden Hill in to Great Wishford proved to be a thrilling descent. First in the woods and then out into the open with great views of the South Wiltshire downlands.

A pedal up the parallel road/track back into the woods and I was loving the ride and feeling a huge amount of satisfaction that it was all going so well. Then came the hunt for the bunker – how could the ride be complete without the Warhead section of the title?

Much research had been done to find the bunker – later discovered to be a Stanton Air Raid Shelter – and I was sure I would find it. Well, I didn’t. I was very disappointed, as this was going to be one of the highlights of my ride!

My research consisted mainly of this website – http://unusual-encounters.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/not-so-secret-bunkers.html

Onwards and upwards – I got back on track and continued to enjoy the woodland trails and downland views. It even looked like the rain was going to hold off. Then suddenly BOOM!

Thunder. Or was I on Salisbury Plain and being fired at? Nope, that was thunder and here comes the rain. Heading straight for tree cover, why wasn’t there any tree cover? I was in a forest! The rain was so heavy that I think I was soaked through in about 2 minutes. Deciding to keep my coat dry I I left it in my bag, pedaled on in my T shirt dripping wet.

I found the Handsel Trees. These gnarly old beech trees eerily stand out among the firs in Grovely Wood and supposedly mark the graves of 4 witches bludgeoned to death and buried in the woods for cursing the nearby village of Wilton in 1737. 132 people died from an outbreak of small pox in the village soon after the sisters arrived from Denmark – so they must have been to blame! The area has a subsequent reputation for paranormal activities and is said to be haunted – if you believe that sort of thing of course.

I followed my planned route back to my car, changed out of my wet clothes, made a cup of tea and awaited the arrival of the days riders.

Base Camp - featuring Alpkit stove and Mytimug
Base Camp

It was 10am and there was no sign of anyone in the village. I wasn’t surprised, the weather was rubbish and waking up to go and ride in this weather is not what we like to do. We talk about manning up and “Rule number 5″ but in reality who really enjoys doing this, and chooses to be dragged around a wet muddy woodland on a Sunday morning?

Just about to give up and go home I spot 2 unfamiliar faces readying bikes. My heart sank – “I’m going to have to do that all again now…” But I was buoyed by the enthusiasm from these guys who had journeyed an hour in the pouring rain to venture on to their first MB Swindon club ride. There was also some relief and pleasure in knowing that someone else was going to get as soaked as I was.

Grovely Wood has some great little trails running through it and even in the wet, muddy conditions we had a great time with the added challenge of judging the depth of puddles and rapidly filling ruts!

I billed the ride as a Novice ride – it was possibly a stretch but Matt and Dave were more than capable of the task. The location and trails are such that changes could be made on the fly and I did make one or two because of the weather, not rider’s abilities. Chalky downland descents in the wet are treacherous and after one with a few lucky escapes, I made the call that we would miss out the others. Water was gushing down the hill side tracks, loosening stones and gravel and adding a slick finish to the nice chalky bits. I opted to leave off the final off descent in favour of a much safer tarmac road where the 3 of us finished the 20 mile ride with a blast at 30 mph back to the village of Wylye for a pint in the Bell Inn.

The woodland will make a stunning spot in the Autumn (and the Spring for that matter) and I plan on returning and with some additional research we will find that air raid shelter!

Final word or thanks and much kudos for Dave and Matt for making the effort in the awful conditions and joining me on the ride. Hope to see you guys again soon.

This ride was an MB Swindon club ride with maps sourced from MBR magazine, originally mapped by Tom Hutton.

If you want to learn more about the Handsel Sister try these links:




The four Handsel sisters were of Danish origin but they had moved to the Wilton area. Coincidentally, an outbreak of smallpox in 1737 killed 132 people. The local people became convinced that the sisters were responsible for the deaths and accused them of witchcraft and an alliance with the devil. Without an official hearing the sisters were taken to Grovely Wood, murdered by being bludgeoned over the head, and buried a little way apart from each other so that they could not conspire against their murderers. There are four gnarled beech trees associated with the sisters; because either the trees were planted to mark their graves or they mysteriously grew on top of the unmarked graves to remind the locals of their dreadful deed. Sightings of the sisters have been reported over the years. There is a hollow at the back of the largest tree where people leave offerings. The trees are located approximately 50 meters away from the Roman road some ten minutes walk from the Wilton end of the wood.

Rapid Racer Products – NeoGuard

Rapid Racer Products – NeoGuard

Rapid Racer Products - NeoGuard

Its about the simplest and one of cheapest add on you will buy for your mountain bike. So why has it taken me 3 years to get one!?

The Rapid Racer Products NeoGuard is simple and effective. As your wheel spins forward, the muck and water that doesn’t get sprayed straight up between your legs gets flung forward and upwards in front of you. That’s OK I hear you say. Well yes it is if you are pootling along at a snails pace, but anything other than this and the spray of mud and water, dirt or even tiny stones will be presented neatly in front of you fo you to ride straight into!

For around £15.00 this is a must buy especially here in the UK.

They come is different sizes to allow for different fork travel and can be fitted in a few minutes by a some velcro fastenings. Don’t even think about this any longer, if you haven’t fitted on to your bike yet go and order one online or pop into your LBS right away. I need to get one for my second bike and one for my son.

For more details on the sizes available take a look at the official website – http://www.rapidracerproducts.com/NeoGuard.htm

I must have a screw loose

Shimano SPD Screw Missing

The plan today come rain or shine was to ride around 15k to join another ride, do that ride and then ride another 15k back home. My wife thought I must have a screw loose!

An ambitious plan to ride 50k considering the conditions and my current level of fitness.  The plans to have some company on this ride failed and for various reasons (mainly the poor weather) meant I set off on my own. I should have gone with my instinct which was to have put the kettle back on, have another cup of tea and watch the ladies Slope Style in Sochi.

The rain was cold and the short steep climb out of Heddington was as tough as its felt in ages. Though after the climb the fun starts as you get to the cheeky bit of single track and the descent in the woods on the Roundway.

At least the fun was supposed to start here!

When I got to the top of the climb I was ready to keep going but decided t o stop to put my glasses away safe as I couldn’t see through them anyway (misted up and rain soaked)! At this point I realised I couldn’t detach my right foot from the pedal. With a bit of wiggling I managed to free it to find that I had indeed set off with a screw loose (see what I did there?)… The cleat was swiveling in the shoe and this meant I couldn’t rotate my foot to get it out easily.

With some tightening of the remaining screw and checking the other shoe I decided it was time to turn back. I didn’t want to damage the shoe or risk a dodgy dismount because my foot became stuck again.

The first ride, albeit short one, in the Shimano AM45 shoes was hardly a test but they were certainly easier to take off than my others and overshoes.

Congratulations to Jenny Jones by the way on the Bronze! – http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/winter-olympics/26056289

pic courtesy of the Telegraph
Jenny Jones wins Bronze

Endura Deluge Overshoes

Endura Deluge Overshoes

Endura Deluge Overshoe

I may have looked like a lost scuba diver today out on the Witshire downs but my feet were dry and warm.

The last few weekend outings on the hardtail with the Shimano SPDs and the Specialized Primo shoes have resulted in a cold feet. While the SealSkinz socks have kept my feet dry the sock and shoe has managed to hold plenty of cold water and this has meant my feet were encased for much of my ride in freezing water. This week I bought a few new Endura items to keep the cold at bay.

Endura Deluge Overshoe / Merino Socks

I decided to ditch the SealSkinz today and put my faith in the advice form my LBS (www.bertiemaffoons.com of Marlborough) and Endura. The BaaBaa Merino double thickness socks had already been put to use yesterday when I went to our local Christmas lights switching on and had to walk and stand around in the cold for a few hours. But a few hours on the bike was going to be the real test – and they stood up well to the task at hand.

As a rider who prefers to wear baggie shorts and flat shoes I won’t deny thinking I looked a bit silly with the overshoes on, but after a damp, cold ride today I am more than happy to wear them now knowing they serve a very good purpose. The combination kept my feet warm by keeping the freezing water away from my socks and shoes and insulating against the cold sub zero wind chill. The current trend is to have a one piece construction removing the weakness of velcro or zippers. This means they are a little more water tight but it is tough to stretch them over your shoes. It was all worth it though as once they were peeled off at the end of the ride (as you can see below) the shoes underneath were still dry. This was £28 well spent as it no only kept my feet warm and dry, it will also prolong the life of my shoes.

Endura Deluge / Specialized Primo

If you ride clipless (still don’t fully understand that term) then I would totally recommend you try overshoes for wet and wintery rides.

Here’s the specs from Endura:

  • High Stretch fabrics provide zipperless access
  • Superstretch waterproof thermal neoprene upper heel/cuff
  • Tough Nylon faced neoprene upper front
  • Reflective logos on heel/toe area
  • Reflective heel pull tab for easy access
  • MTB and Road Cleat compatible sole
  • Stretch abrasion resistant sole/heel
  • http://www.endura.co.uk/

Autumn is almost here

Its almost Autumn as we call it – not Fall. I am happy with and like the word Fall, but we call it Autumn and as this is my blog mostly about mountain biking I would like to avoid using the word Fall if I can help it! Its not something I like to associate with biking!

Fall or Autumn – What does this mean? Well it means some changes to your bike set up, lubes, tyres, cleaning, clothing etc Here’s a few things that I will be changing over the coming month or so.

Mud tyres – Last autumn/winter I barely rode my full sus bike so never changed the tyres and have been running wider rubber more suited to downhill and trail centres. My hardtail has Specialized Storm Control fitted and these worked really well to cut through the mud and wet. I have just bought some Maxxis Beavers for the Giant and will see how they work for me.

Lube – Time to start thinking about the wet lube now. As the mud and rain becomes more regular its important to have lube that is designed to operate and keep the chain moving freely in this sort of weather.

Cleaning – Wet lube and wet weather will mean a stricter cleaning routine of the bike, in particular the chain, cassette etc.

Clothing – Might sound obvious but wrapping up a little and getting some waterproofs on is a must. My SealSkinz gloves and socks will be out soon enough. Keeping the fingers and toes warm are top of my list! And a good base layer!

Do you have any tips or routines for winter riding?