[Many more photos on Flickr]
Friday 15 April
At Brighton station the first grouping comprised Fred, Jenny, Jim and Joyce. All safely boarded the Southampton train without hindrance from any railway rule-slaves, and Tessa joined us at Hove station. Conversation ranged over AV and what to say to LibDem canvassers on the doorstep, ha ha. Throughout the journey, status updates were received on a minute-by-minute basis from the London contingent on the other train (Amanda, Angelika and Nick) concerning the number of bike spaces likely to be available when we joined them. We received pictures too, showing a man apparently asleep in the bike bay. What would life be like without all this technology, some of us wondered – and not for the last time.
At Sway we posed for the obligatory group photo, then set off … for all of 150 yards before the first food-stop of the day – at Sway newsagent’s to buy supplies. Nick emerged with the soon-to-be-traditional packet of chilli-flavoured Monster Munch, which no sensible cyclist should travel without. Before long we left the lanes and headed cross-country … for all of 50 yards before we glimpsed our first pony and had to halt for photography and prolonged exclamations about cuteness: ‘Ooh look, there’s a spotty one!’ The New Forest’s fragrant piney woods and stands of silver birch soon gave way to miles of open heathland wildness, studded with gorse in full yellow flower and smelling unexpectedly of coconut. The weekend’s first undulations were walked up before we arrived at Burley Youth Hostel, having taken a leisurely hour and a half to cover just over seven miles.
Dinner was at 7.30 at the Queen’s Head, Burley, where we were joined by Angela, Colin, and Helen. The food and the service were excellent, and the debate over AV began again and became a bit heated – fingers were wagged. Angela and Jenny were staying at the Burley Inn so only had to cross the road to their beds, whereas the hostel-dwellers had to walk a mile up a track in the dark, with only a mobile-phone flashlight app and a bicycle rear light between them. Technology to the rescue again.
Saturday 16 April
A cool, dry morning – perfect cycling weather. We were joined by Annie and Terry, bringing our number to a baker’s dozen. After a slightly raucous photo session in the Queen’s Head car park we set off after our leader Jim, determined to keep out of the way of the hundreds of more serious cyclists who were taking part in a sportive and a mountain-bike challenge over much of the same route. Those we did come across greeted us with great friendliness and didn’t seem to mind sharing the road. After all of 5.5 miles we made our first food-stop of the day – at Crowe Farm Shop for tea and biscuits, and a rest in the sun from our brief exertions.
Onwards, and we found ourselves on the Castleman Trailway, a former railway line named after a railwayman called Mr Castleman, which is now a renovated off-road route that links Ringwood to Poole*. It runs alongside the river Avon upon which were swimming a very great number of appallingly cute ducklings – long pause for photography and more exclamations about cuteness: ‘Ooh look, there’s a yellow one!’
Our route soon drew us alongside the noisy and smelly A338, and we were glad to turn away from it towards the river and a ford that was marked on Jim’s map. However, we found only a wide, fast-flowing, reedy-banked stretch of water that none of us was brave enough to venture into, despite a passing local assuring us that he’d seen cyclists wade across in the past carrying their bicycles over their heads. We of course chose the cowardly but drier option, and retraced our steps – even though this meant climbing the long hill down which we had so optimistically hurtled only moments before. We paused at the entrance to a ski-slope (unlikely, I know, but ’tis true – we could see the winch for the ski-lift turning up above) before rejecting it as a lunch venue. The sudden appearance of a scarily low-flying aircraft overhead, coming in to land at Bournemouth International Airport, alerted us to the presence of a café at the Flying Club there, so we adjourned once more for food. To be charitable, the food was very good when it finally appeared. To be honest, none of us could remember ever having to wait so long for orders to arrive, or staff being quite so reluctant to admit there was a problem. Cyclists deprived of food for longer than necessary can become quite surly, as we all know.
After a further 2.5 miles our leader Jim shepherded us into the car park of the Avon Causeway Hotel. Surely not another food-stop … and so soon? But no, this was the pre-arranged rendezvous with the entire Clarion Dorset Section – all three of them (Ben, Bill and Sean), who were passing the time waiting for us by taking beer as is customary. We learned that the hotel was the old Ringwood, Christchurch and Bournemouth station at Hurn, which was closed in 1935 more’s the pity. Here Terry said goodbye and headed home, as he had a violin-making workshop to go to the following day – the finest excuse for leaving a ride early that any of us had ever come across.
We soon set off again, but it became apparent that Colin was finding the going quite tough, being a relatively new and inexperienced cyclist. He was far behind us, and walking, so a plan was hatched to go back to Burley for Angela’s car and pick him and his bike up. Before this could be actioned he was spontaneously and kindly offered a lift by a passing motorist. We learned of this through the medium of the useful technology I mentioned earlier. Messages flew to and fro, some quite confused, and Angela and Ben sped off to find out where Colin had ended up. By the time the rest of us were nearing Burley, Angela had reappeared to say that, in an act of truly impressive fellowship and friendliness, Ben was gently encouraging and guiding Colin – a stranger until an hour or so before – over the last few miles. Ben, we salute you and thank you for your kindness. Nick almost broke out the chilli Monster Munch in celebration in the Queen’s Head that night.
Sunday 17 April
Sunday began with transgressions and tellings-off. Joyce had agreed to lead the by-now traditional early-morning qi-gong session at the youth hostel. A carefully mown expanse of lawn nearby was chosen as a venue, which turned out to be part of the Burley Golf Club’s demesne. As the Clarionistas were gravely disporting themselves in an effort to get their qi moving, a woman strode over to remonstrate that people ‘paid good money’ to belong to the golf club and did not wish to be distracted by this kind of thing. The qi-gong session continued regardless – Clarion 1, golf club nil. Shortly after this, our second transgressor Helen was advised that ‘you can’t park there’ – but in a spirit of revolution Helen parked there anyway, and incurred no penalty. A clean sweep for the Clarion then.
The day’s ride was mostly on gravel tracks through woods and heaths, warmed in the sun. The first food-stop involved an ice-cream van at the deer conservation area, where we did see a few deer grazing in the distance. Fred’s humorous aside that, in this country, the deer all have fangs was overheard by a small child whose father laughed at first, then had lot of difficult explaining to do. We moved swiftly on to a pine plantation where we stopped in a woodland glade to eat sandwiches, accompanied by the rustling of countless huge wood-ants mooching around in the leaf-litter carrying small things to and fro.
Today’s was only a short ride, just the two food-stops, as most people were heading off home in the afternoon and needed to conserve their energy for the ride from Burley back to Sway station. As I remained in Burley for another night I cannot report on their journey, nor on the number of pauses therein for food and photography, nor even on whether the club’s bag of pulverised chilli Monster Munch was finally ritually shared on the train. As far as I know, all returned home safely after a truly wonderful Clarion weekend full of food, beer, hilarity and quite a bit of lovely cycling too. Thank you so much, Jim, for all your hard work in organising everything, and for your unrivalled cat-herding and whistle-blowing talents. Where would we be without you?
Postscript from Jim
Thanks for your kind words, Jenny. I can reveal that not a trace of the Monster Munch was seen on the way home; Nick kept it far too close to his chest, or possibly even closer to his stomach. But he made up for this lack of fellowship by alerting Tessa and me to the presence of a tea trolley in the rear half of the train, using that same technology to which reference has already been made. Our group of five had split up at Eastleigh, for reasons far too complicated to go into here but connected with the length of the platform at Clapham Junction, and Amanda (who was travelling in that half along with Angelika) had sent a message to him, five carriages ahead, enabling Tessa to get us some refreshments before the rush following the eventual on-train announcement. (One of the advantages of organising a ride, by the way, is that people keep buying you things – thanks Tessa!) Later we also received intelligence that Fred had got home safely thanks to a lift from Helen. And in case you were wondering, Angela and Colin also drove home, and Joyce got a lift with Annie after both their bikes were successfully installed in the back of Annie’s car in a triumph of precision engineering and collaborative effort.
At Clapham, Tessa and I took advantage of one of the brand-new lifts – thankfully the one taking us up onto the bridge – though the downward journey was made by the stairs as the platform 15 lift was still out of bounds. We then squeezed onto an incredibly overcrowded Brighton train, packed with spectators and tired participants from the London Marathon, and Gatwick Airport passengers with their huge suitcases. Heavy overcrowding like this often brings out the worst in people, and Tessa unfortunately witnessed an unpleasant (racist-motivated by the sound of it) incident in which a woman was forcibly ejected from the (stationary) train. This called to mind the explosion of unprovoked anger that we had seen on the golf course that morning. Not a nice note on which to end this report, so instead I’d like to thank all those who came, and indeed all those who come on any of our rides, for being such lovely people and making these rides so enjoyable for everybody.
[* Go to http://homepage.ntlworld.com/ron.strutt/rrcor2.html for a good description of
the old railway route and its history – Jim.]
See a report of the last time Clarion stayed in the New Forest.