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Tour de KAW day 2

By Sam B

Day 2.  The queen stage.  Today was the day with all the scenery, history and awesome riding.  We all awoke on time, met for an early Premier Inn gourmet breakfast, quick bike faff, then back on the trails. The day was pretty much going to be the same sort of effort as the previous days ride.  Big distance, big climbing, soaring temps.  As we left the Premier Inn, the morning was glorious, the sun was already in a cloudless sky, and everyone was looking forward to the sights we would be passing on route. First up was the quick stop at Old Sarum, the Iron Age stone fort. A quick lap of the fort was completed, then it was back on the bikes and the short dash over the the big attraction, Stonehenge.

The dash from Old Sarum to Stonehenge

Rather than risk the dash over the A303, we took the longer, safer route up towards Larkhill, west along Fargo road, and then south down the byway to the Henge.  This byway was an entertaining ride, as the roadside was filled with a variety of camper vans and tents, all inhabited by various people/druids basking in the stones powers.  As confirmed by the security guard, its totally free to walk/ride around the outer perimeter path at Stonehenge (The view is exactly the same as that if you pay and walk inside the ropes).  It really was an amazing experience.  We were there early, so the site was empty, the sun was out, the sky cloudless. It was hard not to find something magical about the place.  The photos had to stop at some point though, given we still had 120km to ride.  That said, we made it about 5 minutes up the road before having a stop at the Stonehenge cafe.   Here we got talking to a young traveler on his bike, aiming to ride to Seville. It seemed ambitious.  His bike packing gear seemed to consist of an old bike, and a whole bunch of Ikea bags strapped to it.  He was in good spirits, and we wished him well on his journey.

Stonehenge in the early morning sunshine, magical

From Stonehenge it was a long but enjoyable push through the remote countryside.  Fields of golden corn, yet more sea blue skies and awesome gravel tracks rolled past.  Its fair to say at this point, that bodies were starting to ache.  Everyone was suffering from some degree of saddle sores, not ideal when not even half way round the route yet.  Despite everyone being in the same painful boat, it didn't stop the amusement of seeing someone get bumped off their comfortable saddle position time and time again, to then watch them fidget around looking for the most pain free position again.  Any stops to top up on Sudocream running repairs were soon abandoned as the cream had turned into a white liquid in the heat of the day.  Salisbury Plains was not as bad as we had all feared.  Many of the reports seem to focus on the conditions when its wet and muddy.  We rode through it in hot, dry and dusty conditions.  It was great, we flew along for the most part.  The only negative is the lack of shade out there. 

A brief woodland section at Tilshead gave some relief from the baking heat of Salisbury Plains

Around Market Levington the trail becomes a gravel paradise.  We had absolutely prime conditions for ripping along it.  The two gravel bikers got on their drops and rode away from the mountain bike crew.  They were truly in their element.  Little did they know that this would not last.  More on that later.  A group of slightly faster riders came up behind us on their dirt bikes.  With a bunch of friendly waves and beeps of horns, they vanished into the distance letting us literally eat their dust.  After a good long stint, we were all getting low on water, needing a serious refuel and some time off the saddle.  The planned stop was at a pub in Avesbury.  When we got there it was heaving.  The wait for food was going to be over an hour, so we decided to make use of the friendly village shop and bought just about as much food and drinks as we could carry.  Lunch was eaten in the shade by Avesbury stone circle, and we watched competitors pass by in a ultra running event called Race to the Stones.  If we thought we were having a tough day, these folk were in a different ball park.  The scorching temps, lack of shade, and need for water must have made this ultra run horrendous.  Despite the conditions and task at hand most of those we rode past (we were going in the opposite direction) still had smiles on their faces and exchanged pleasantries.  

The girls dropped some watt bombs but it wasn't the fairest of races across Salisbury Plains

Leaving Avesbury took us onto the ridgeway.  Depending on where you do your research this is either a great off road trail, or a nightmare from the gravel gods.  The truth I think is somewhere in the middle.  In wet, wintry conditions I can see it would be pretty miserable.  But even in the height of summer, it was far from pleasant.  Its a mixture of things. Most of the trial was wildly overgrown.  This makes it narrow with constant bits of foliage hitting your arms and legs.  Being overgrown, its hard to actually see the trail you are riding on.  Its mostly dual track and you just pick your side, left or right.  But with the grass overgrown you can see about 3 inches of track at most.  Then there are the ruts.  Oh the ruts.  They are deep, and go on for ever.  And this is my view, from the comfort of a full suss MTB.  Remember the two gravel dudes dropping us across Salisbury Plains? Well they did not enjoy The Ridgeway at all.  A minor detour of the KAW took us to Waylands Smithy, a Neolithic long barrow from 3500BC, definitely worth the small detour to visit.

Team photo at Waylands Smithy

The group was once again low on water and riders were starting to flag as a result.  What water we had left was shared around, and attention turned to the rumor of a drinking water tap being located further up the trail.  A slow ride along a hedgerow, finally took us to said tap.  Whilst there is a sign that politely asks people not to bathe in it, we took full advantage and treated it like a shower, with clothes on.  This was a life saver, as we would have had to do a significant detour off the route into one of the towns to get drinks without it.  A quick stop at Lord Wantage monument, we pushed on towards our overnight at The Swan in Pangbourne.

Lord Wantage Monument gave another excuse to stop and rest

With fear of death due to heatstroke/dehydration a thing of the past, talk turned to the nights lodgings.  The five of us staying at The Swan could not wait to get there and check into the luxurious hotel (well compared to Premier Inn it was anyway).  In contrast David was staying at the Youth Hostel and wasn't quite so keen to get to his lodgings.  This was tempered slightly as only a few miles from the hotels, we came across a number of Thames Water trucks handing out water at a golf club.  We were then informed that Pangbourne was out of water.  This did not go down well with 6 hot, dry, dusty, dirty bike riders.  We all agreed that at worst, we were jumping in the river, so pushed on for the last few kms.  This also seemed to be the final straw for David and his youth hostel, who promptly cancelled his reservation there and checked into the Swan with the rest of us.  Once we figured out which part of the hotel was actually serving food and drink, ice cold beers and incredible food were consumed. Bedtime was calling, and then tomorrows' baby stage of a relatively flat 100km to home.


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