‘The Ridgeway’ is described as Britain’s oldest road. The National Trail which follows part of the route is 87 miles in length. Although it is possible to complete the whole route on foot it is not officially possible to complete it on a bike as a number of sections are footpath only. This is why we, as a family, decided to cover the challenge in our own way. You can cycle The Ridgeway from its starting point at Overton Hill to Streatley which is 42 miles. After Streatley you start to hit footpaths which, as we all know, are for walkers only. For this reason, as well as the logistics of getting to the start and getting back from the finish, we came up with a plan. We would cycle off road to the start of The Ridgeway, cycle The Ridgeway from Overton Hill to Streatley then cycle home as much as we could off road. We would have an overnight wild camp (well that was the plan!!) and as long as the entire bike ride was longer than the length of The Ridgeway then we felt it was a good, hard challenge especially for a 10 year old.
The wild camping plan was as follows. We do not have particularly small camping gear, or the panniers to carry with us on the bikes so I had to come up with some sort of plan and it suddenly hit me. Our friends Kate and Andrew plus their three lovely boys live at Foxhill which is minutes from The Ridgeway. I asked Kate if we could possibly bring our tent and sleeping gear to her house in the car before the ride. Then when we arrived at their house on our ride we could carry it the short distance on our bikes to a wild camping spot. We would then pack it up in the morning, cycle back to Kate’s house, leave it there and collect it in the car at a later date. What a great plan! The only problem was Kate and family were house sitting elsewhere and would not be home! I asked if she had a shed or cover where we could leave the gear and just grab it and go. She told us this was fine. She did ask if we wanted a key to get in the house for anything and we told her we would be okay without. Dan took the camping gear over a couple of days before whilst I did a quick service of the bikes and we were all set to go.
On Friday 17th August at 7.15am we left the house ready to take on day one. The weather was perfect. Sunny but not too hot and no wind. Our first part of the journey took us all the way along the canal from Newbury to Wootton Rivers. This was a really nice 21 mile stretch of easy flat riding. We enjoyed the view, and a few little fuel stops along the way, before having a proper cake stop (as you do!) at Crofton Pumping Station cafe 16 miles in. It was nice to take in a little bit of history from the area as well as enjoying some good cake!
What I always love about being out on my bike, whether on the road or off, is the amazing countryside you get to see. We certainly were spoiled with some beautiful scenery and just before we stopped for our break at the pumping station we played pooh-sticks on the bridge that Maisie is standing on in the above photo.
Our break at Crofton Pumping Station was very interesting. Maisie enjoyed going under the railway to get to it, as well as getting her bike back over the canal lock. The chimney was impressive especially in the sun, and so was the history inside the building.
Maisie thoroughly enjoyed her red velvet cake and I think the ‘E’ numbers may well have got to her!!! Unfortunately I was unable to post the video of her after her cake but trust me it had an effect 😉
After our stop we had five miles to go before leaving the canal and heading through the village of Wootton Rivers towards the start of The Ridgeway. We had some great on and off road sections as well as a killer hill but it was worth it for the fantastic view at the top.
After 28 miles we finally reached the start of The Ridgeway. At this point it was well past lunch time and we had promised Maisie we would find somewhere to eat. We cycled along The Ridgeway for a couple of miles then headed into Avebury for a late, much needed lunch.
After refuelling we got back on to The Ridgeway to complete the last 15 odd miles of day one. Although 15 miles didn’t sound like a huge amount it seemed to take a long time. I think it is very easy to underestimate just how much off road cycling takes it out of you…..especially when you are ten years old!
The weather continued to be kind to us as we took on some more amazing scenery before arriving at the top of the village of Ogbourne St George. The Ridgeway passes through part of this village and this is where I messed up. I was ahead of Dan and Maisie and it was a long downhill in to the village. Unfortunately I did not see the signs for The Ridgeway mid way on the down hill through the village and I whizzed all the way to the bottom. When Dan and Maisie caught me up they told me I had missed the sign – not a huge problem! We decided at this point that we would get back on to The Ridgeway by heading along the road for a while. Little did we know that we would have to climb one mighty hill to get back on track!! At 40 miles in one ten year old was not impressed having to climb a hill with a 17% gradient….but she battled on and made it up 😉
After the nasty big hill we had five miles to go to our overnight stop. Kate had been in contact with us over the day. She told us she would be at the house at some point so we might see her. It had been a long day and Maisie was starting to get a bit teary. Kate had offered to come and collect her but I hadn’t seen this message as my phone was so low on battery that I could hardly read the screen. We finally got off The Ridgeway and only had about a mile to Kate’s house. It was a great relief to arrive and it felt great to see Kate. Our wild camping was still the plan but when we arrived Kate changed all that. She said ‘You are very welcome to use our house. You can sleep in the beds, have a hot shower, make a nice cup of tea and help yourselves to anything in the cupboards’!! Immediately Maisie said ‘YEEESSS’!!! She looked happy and relieved and who were we to take that away from her. For a ten year old to do 46 tough miles off road plus a 17% incline I think she well and truly deserved a good nights sleep in a comfortable bed in a warm house. I must admit I was just sold on the nice cup of tea. We did cook the food we were going to eat had we wild camped so I decided we could call it ‘wild glamping’………and very glamorous it was too 😉 We can save the wild camping for another time. Kate did also offer the wine in the fridge. I had one glass and it tasted so good. We also gave Molly the cat lots of love and attention so we felt like we had an important role in the household. We got a good nights sleep as we had another big day ahead.
We got up feeling refreshed, had some breakfast, tidied the house and headed out for day 2 at 7am.
There was a bit of a climb up to The Ridgeway but it was a good warm up. The weather wasn’t as good as day one but it was dry and not too windy so we were happy.
We enjoyed the first number of miles as they seemed to pass quickly and the weather remained dry. We stopped off at White Horse Hill at Uffington for a Trig point photo before carrying on.
We began to hit the odd patch of fine rain which made one part of The Ridgeway particularly slippery!! I felt a bit like Bambi on ice trying to stay on my feet in my cycling shoes with the bike. It was definitely a case of walking up and finding any place with traction!!
Before we knew it we had arrived at Streatley and completed another 25 miles of The Ridgeway. At this point we would leave the trail and make our way towards the canal to head back to Newbury. But first things first – a much needed lunch. We headed to a cafe I had been to before in Goring on Thames called Pierrepont’s Cafe. It is a fabulous place and although we hadn’t booked we seemed to get our timing just right and manged to get a small table inside – perfect. We rewarded ourselves with a fabulous lunch and great cake. This was just what the doctor ordered!
Feeling content we hopped on our bikes and tackled the worst section of the two days. It is impossible to get back on to the canal from Goring by taking an off road route so we had to do a few miles on the road. Maisie had been struggling with her gears slipping, so we pulled in to a safe spot just before Pangbourne. I had a good look at all things gear related but couldn’t spot anything obvious. Then as I turned the pedals I noticed a big bend in the chain!!! We though we might be able to straighten it if we could get the right tools but we were unable to source any so Maisie battled on with a wonky chain!!
We travelled along the A340 from Pangbourne towards the A4 – not the best road, but again – we didn’t have much choice. It was good to leave this busy road and head through Theale where we picked up the canal at Sheffield Bottom Lock. It was good to be off road again. We only had 13 miles to go and we knew this stretch of the canal fairly well. Maisie was on a roll and decided some track stand practise was in order!
We really enjoyed the last few miles back towards Newbury and planned on a celebratory drink at The Rowbarge in Woolhampton. As we got closer we could hear loud music and when we arrived there was a beer festival with live music in full swing. This would have been perfect on a different occasion but not today. We just wanted a quiet drink where we didn’t have to queue to get served, so we continued on. Maisie decided to practise her ‘winners pose’!
We decided to stop at The Swan in Thatcham for our celebratory drink and it tasted good.
We finished our last couple of miles and on returning home I was really please to see my ‘Rideforcharlie’ big bobble hat had arrived – perfect. 96 miles over two day incorporating a great section of The Ridgeway. A tough couple of days, especially for Maisie but filled with fantastic memories x