Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Shipwrights Way

Waking under a canopy of oak leaves, I watched the sun slowly rising and the small glade begin to fill with light. A dry and still night just off the trail but in sight of the sea meant that now warm and cosy in my bivi bag I could spend some time reflecting on the journey so far while watching dawn break over the pebble beach. We’d left Bentley station at the start of the shipwrights way the previous morning around 10am and followed the trail forty miles to the south coast and Hayling Island. As routes go I was impressed with the diversity of trail and scenery; routes like the downs link are very consistent in the terrain you are cycling on, with no major hills to navigate and are quite busy and well used. In contrast I think we only saw a handful of people on the first 30 miles of the shipwrights way, following the distinctive blue and white markers that mark the trail to the coast.

Beautiful villages to pass through

Travelling at a leisurely pace we’d taken time to photograph statues, admire the views and stop for lunch in the small village of Liss. The route so far had been gravel paths, muddy tracks and some small road sections and we’d both commented on how suitable the route was for mountain bikes rather than hybrids or road bikes. The route is still unfinished but we managed to find suitable connections though there were some areas where additional signage would have helped. 

At Buriton the route takes a sharp upwards turn with a steep off road climb to a car park for Queen Elizabeth country park (QECP) followed by another rocky climb through the park before plunging to the valley bottom, turning left you then climb again to a point not far from your original entry point into the park, a shortcut that decided to utilise on the journey home which saved some long hill climbs.

Couldn't resist

Having not ridden any sort of distance since the gravel dash in May, I was concerned about my fitness and the beginnings of a cold did not reassure me that I was ready to take on a long trip. I’d underplayed the distance having decided it was well within my capabilities, instead choosing to focus on the adventure and given how I felt the next morning I think the approach worked well.

In the run up to September we’d agreed that weather would be the deciding factor on which weekend to make the trip, and a favorable forecast had sealed the trip for the last weekend in September. We were duly rewarded with glorious weather throughout. Having packed for the colder evenings we both felt we were too warm in our down bags and I had to strip off a few layers until the early hours when the chill descended and we reminisced over the first few trips in the colder months.

A fitting end to a great day on the trail
Saturday evening was consumed with checking out the beach and scoping out ideal bivi and fishing spots and after a hearty dinner of fish and chips we were tucked up early and taking advantage of the shorter evenings to secure some much needed sleep, it’s been a long time since I had 11 hours of sleep but felt it was much needed. The night passed uneventfully with only the moon waking me due to being very bright and full, our little glade was flooded with moonlight and despite the odd passer-by we were undisturbed.

Awaking before dawn we rose gradually and packed up ensuring we left no trace of us ever being there before heading to the main beach for breakfast and the convenient public toilets. 

Enjoying breakfast on the beach
My cold was beginning to take hold and a few flue tablets were needed to help alleviate the effects. We cooked up our porridge while scanning the horizon for ships and basking in the early morning sun before heading to the old ferry point to try our hand at fishing the incoming tide.

A spot of fishing
The tide was racing in and there were several fishermen in the area as well as a several smaller boats floating with the tide. With no fish caught we detoured past the local Tesco  to fill up our water bottles before heading to the other side of the island to try an alternative spot. Although again unsuccessful I enjoyed just relaxing and taking in the scenery, a real chance to relax.

The return journey was smoother, as now familiar with the route we were able to cover the ground faster without having to navigate as much. The shortcut around QECP was a blessing as my cold was impacting on my fitness and any unnecessary hills were willingly avoided.

A hearty Lunch in Petersfield and then a steady grind back to the car at Bentley saw the return journey dispatched in just four hours which meant I still managed some family time once I was home. I’m looking forward to another trip soon and hopefully will have a chance to try out my new Alpkit frame bag and hopefully get some weight off me and onto the bike.

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