The first task of the day had been to climb the hill I had not fancied at the end of Day 17. The climb itself was pretty straightforward but I was not prepared for what I found at the summit. The tarmac disappeared and it soon became a dirty, slippery chalk track! Had I attempted to do this last night, to bridge the final 10km gap to my chosen campsite, I would have been in a right mess. It would have been almost pitch dark by the time I reached the summit and I would never have been able to negotiate the unpaved track in the dark. Whatever it was that convinced me to wild camp last night, had obviously helped me make the right choice!
Something which also became apparent, as I cycled along this track, was that a two-wheeled Burley Nomad trailer, which I had initially convinced myself to get, would have been an absolute nightmare to pull along here. I was in deep ruts and the panniers were barely above the ground. As it was I was pretty much on slick road tyres, rather than cross-country ones, so the following hour sliding along waterlogged chalk paths, in torrential rain, certainly made for one of the more "interesting" mornings so far! I never went over though I am glad to say. One thing I have learned when cycling in mud and slop, is to never stop pedalling!
Once out of the quagmire and back on tarmac, the going was a little easier but, needless to say, my pace today was not high and my spirits were not only getting dampened but well and truly waterlogged! As this was the final day of my mini UK/Ireland tour, at one point I almost considered catching a train and putting an end to the misery early. I happened to be passing Great Bedwyn railway station and had the wait for the next train not have been almost an hour, I may well have done just that. But I reminded myself that I have to take the rough days with the smooth, so I pressed on.
Along with a change of clothes, I needed a change of attitude. So I dug deep into my panniers and found both. At the summit of another small climb I changed into a fresh/dry set of clothes, swapped my light cycling jacket for my proper waterproof one and changed my drenched gloves for the pair my friend had lent me on Day 4. I consumed a couple of the gel sachets that @BruunLoss had given me on Day 13 and I set off again. Almost immediately my energy levels and my spirits were lifted and would you believe that the sun came out briefly? I kid you not. But it didn't last!
More torrential rain fell for the next couple of hours. I passed more wonderful churches and no doubt, more glorious countryside which I couldn't see properly but then the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (there was no rainbow of course because there was no sun, but you know what I mean) appeared in the shape of The Cricketer's Arms at Tangley - they were open and food was still being served. I parked myself in front of the fire and began to warm up as I ate and drank for a couple of hours. I also chatted with one particular patron who had cycled to Spain in his teens, which I estimated to have been at least 50 years ago. Hopefully that was my first of many encounters with fellow cycle tourists :)
Having eaten very little all day until lunch, the two pints of cider I had in the pub went straight to my head. As I cycled away at afternoon closing (just as the rain returned right on cue), the aches and pains I had in my arms and legs had mysteriously disappeared. I found I had much more energy that I had in the morning and I pressed on at great pace to Winchester. Again I passed close by the railway station and with home only 30 minutes away by train, I once again considered a speedier mode of transport, but the cider and the food were still working their magic so I pressed on for the final two hours and arrived home just before 18:00.
My mini tour was over! My head was full of thoughts from the trip, along with the things I needed to address before the next stage, and my shoes were full of water! My panniers were a little damp inside at the very bottom, but considering I had essentially thrown then in a river over the course of the day, they faired as well as I had hoped they would. The heating was on in the house and the water was already hot. Sheer bliss! As I wheeled the bike into the garage and experienced another moment of joy - my trailer had arrived!
|The track towards the location of my first ever wild camping site last night.|
|I set myself further back from the track than this photo appears to suggest...|
|...and spent an incident free night nestling among the rows of trees.|
|The first task of the day was the climb, en route to Marlborough, which I had neither the time nor the energy for last night!|
|Another glorious church, this time at Fosbury on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border.|
|The Cricketer's Arms at Tangley in Hampshire offered welcome relief from the relentless rain.|
|A couple of pints of cider, some good food and a couple of hours warming up in front of the fire, were a most welcome respite.|