Sunday, 24 August 2008

Walbury Hill

After bailing out at Great Shefford last week, there was a 30 mile gap left in my coverage of the Round Berkshire Cycle route. So today I decided to complete the loop. West Berkshire is undoubtedly the most attractive part of the circuit, so it could be said that I left the best until last.

There are a few bits of the circuit (like alternative routes) that I want to go back and fix, but now I've plotted all of the main path on Open Street Map. It won't be rendered until later in the week, but when it is, I'll post a link here.

When I woke up the weather was somewhere between raining and drizzling, but the forecast promised that it would clear, so I set off anyway. I wanted to start and finish in Newbury, and since First Great Western was operating a replacement bus service to Newbury today, I stuck the bike in the back of the car. By the time I passed Reading the rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to turn blue. For the rest of the day there was occassional rain, but nothing to make it worth getting out the waterproof.

After parking at Newbury station, I followed the gentle climb back up to Great Shefford to restart the circuit. On the route itself, up to Lambourn, and then to Membury the climb gradually gets steeper, but the scenery in this part of Berkshire is pretty special, and after a lot of climbing, the descent from Membury to Hungerford was very welcome: through some lovely woodland.

I had a break in Hungerford for coffee and a sandwich, then crossed the Kennet valley. This is really pleasant, fairly flat riding, along narrow country lanes, but after Inkpen, the steep climb up Walbury Hill defeated me. This is the only part of the whole circuit where I've had to get off the bike and push.

Walbury Hill is said to be the highest point in South East England at 297 metres (Leith Hill in Surrey, at 294 metres, makes the same claim, on the basis that either Walbury Hill is not in South East England, or because there is a 20 metre folly on Leith Hill, taking the total height to 317 metres, or 1,029 ft above sea level). Having climbed it, I'm siding with Walbury Hill. In any case, the view from the top is pretty spectacular, and almost makes the climb worthwhile.

After Walbury Hill, it is pretty much all downhill back into Newbury, and with a following wind, I finished this part of the route at a cracking pace.

My total distance was just over 40 miles; but with all those hills, my total time, and average speed will remain a secret between me and my cycle computer.

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