I can’t remember the last time I rode my mountain bike off road, so my husband was both surprised and delighted when, last weekend, in the spirit of setting up this website, I agreed to a 19-km (12-mile) ‘get-back-in-the-saddle’ pedal through Hampshire countryside.
Starting from New Alresford (one end of the Watercress steam railway line – the other end being in Alton), he assured me it was a grade 2 (easy/moderate) ride that would ease me back into mountain biking
Described in Nick Cotton’s Hampshire & The Isle of Wight Cycle Tours book as “an easy exploration of the wide tracks that criss-cross this part of Hampshire,” what he didn’t share was the caveat that followed: “… after a few days of heavy rain, it will take you twice as long, with big puddles, lots of mud and potentially slippery smooth chalk.” Hey, guess what? We’d just had “a few days of heavy rain”!
Fortunately – for my husband – we completed the ride without major incident. Yes, there was mud (but where’s the fun in mountain biking without a little mud?), and yes, there were several deceptive puddles that turned out to be a lot deeper than they looked(!) And, yes, I did fall off into a clump of nettles after unsuccessfully navigating my way around one particular gate post – painful in shorts! But, oh what a wonderful way to explore this charming downland landscape.
For 3 hours we cycled along a gently undulating route (so for every uphill grind there was a downhill whizz) of shady bridleways overhung with berry-laden trees and quiet green lanes scattered with crunchy beech mast. We stopped frequently for me to catch up, check the map and enjoy the views. Breaks in the hedgerows revealed sweeping vistas of arable farmland, interrupted by compact islands of uncut corn. Every so often we plunged in and out of small pockets of broadleaf woodland where beech and oak trees were still just about holding onto their summer greenery.
I highly recommend this 15+ minutes of green. Full details of the route can be found in the Cycle Tours book (link above). So, if you’ve got a mountain bike, and you’re in the area, give it a go. Hampshire County Council also produce leaflets that outline a number of off-road routes here.