John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

Cycling to Southampton

Following up on my trip to Brighton, yesterday I set out for Southampton. With my LEJOG trip drawing closer, I need to get some practice at longer distances. This also gave me an opportunity to test a theory: am I over-planning? I got there, and set a new personal best for daily distance and max speed. However, there were a few glitches.

For LEJOG, I have 5 documents that I'm working on (aside from the online route):

  • Summary, e.g. daily mileage and where I'm staying each night.

  • Kit list. Each time I forget something (e.g. GPS batteries), I add it to the list.

  • Cue sheet. I have at least one page for each day with detailed instructions, e.g. "take 1st exit at the roundabout, continue for 4 km, then turn right onto B1234".

  • Explanation of choices. I've had to make various decisions about the route, e.g. LEJOG vs JOGLE, and sometimes I can't remember why I'm doing it in a particular way. Being able to refer to past notes saves me wasting time by repeating myself.

  • Other notes that don't fit anywhere else.

The cue sheet is based on the online map, since I won't be able to refer to that while I'm cycling: the idea is that I can put it into the convenient plastic pouch on top of my bar bag, and only refer to the OS maps if I get stuck.

For my Southampton trip, I kept things a lot simpler:

  1. NCN 20 from Carshalton to Woodmansterne

  2. NCN 22 from Woodmansterne to Rowledge

  3. NCN 224 from Rowledge to Medstead

  4. NCN 23 from Medstead to Southampton

Along the way, I hoped to visit a few locations from the British Cycle Quest. I also planned to meet up with someone who lives in Winchester. According to my rough map, this should be 125 km altogether. Unlike Brighton, I wouldn't come back the same day. Instead, I booked a room at Premier Inn. That meant that I could join in with a local ride today, organised by the Southampton Cycling Campaign.

In theory, following NCN roadsigns is a bit like following a satnav: you don't need to know where you are, because they'll guide you at every junction. In practice, they're not always as obvious as they could be, and in some cases they seem to be completely missing. I lost NCN 22 near Tattenham Corner, found it again at Dorking, then lost it again. When I went through Rowledge, I couldn't find NCN 224 at all, and that's not exactly a huge village. I also didn't see NCN 23 until I was on the edge of Southampton. So, I wound up improvising, based on my OS map and a few pages that I tore out of my road atlas. (I didn't want to carry the whole book because it's hardback and weighs 1.5 kg.) Partly because of this, my route wound up being a bit longer than I'd estimated.

The related problem is that I set off later than I'd intended. I left my flat at about 12:40, and reached Box Hill at 15:30. I took a brief break there, to sort out my first (ever) BCQ checkpoint. There's a "view point" on the side of the hill, which has some places/distances carved into it, e.g. "Gatwick 5 miles" along with an arrow pointing in the relevant direction. I have to answer a question to prove that I've visited each location, and in this case I had to look at all the distances then write down the place that's furthest away.

Once I'd done that, I moved on. I stopped briefly at a pub in Dorking for a pint of Coke and a bag of peanuts, then kept going. I reached Farnham at about 18:15, and stopped at another pub. They didn't have any soft drinks on tap, and the only Coke/Pepsi they had (in bottles) was the diet version. Aargh, no, need sugar! I settled for a pint of lemonade instead.

Croydon to Box Hill was 34 km, and Box Hill to Farnham was a further 37 km, so that's 71 km altogether (44 miles). I've covered that distance before, so it's not too demanding. However, I hadn't stopped for a proper meal since I'd set off, and I was conscious that I only had 2 hours of daylight left. At this point I considered my options. In particular, I could catch a train to Winchester rather than cycling the rest of the way. However, it turned out that I'd already gone past the stations on the Winchester line, i.e. I'd have to backtrack. My intended route would take me through Alton and Alresford, which both have stations, so I decided that this would be a better shortcut.

I reached Alton at about 20:30. By this point it was getting dark, and my arms were starting to feel a bit cold (I only had a short sleeved jersey). I'd done a further 24 km (95 km altogether), and I was still capable of cycling (physically and mentally), but it wasn't really fun anymore. So, I decided to "bail out" and catch the train. Unfortunately, I then discovered a new problem: the line between Alton and Alresford is a steam railway. I quite like steam trains, but it only runs during the day. So, I had to backtrack and change lines: it took me 2 hours (and 3 trains) to get from there to Winchester.

I reached Winchester at 22:30, and had to get to Eastleigh from there. There were two options:

  1. Take the train, then cycle a short distance to the hotel.

  2. Cycle the whole way there.

I'd have to wait about 10 minutes for the next train, then it would be another 10 minutes for the journey, and 2-3 minutes at the other end. Meanwhile, I'd phoned my friend in Winchester and told him not to wait up for me. He said that he'd cycle down to Eastleigh in the morning to meet me at the hotel, since it's only a 20 minute ride. Based on that, there wouldn't be much difference in time either way.

My previous "record" for daily distance was 97 km, and I wanted to beat that: in particular, I wanted to hit 100 km. The snag to cycling is that I wasn't 100% sure about the route. I have a Southampton A-Z, but not an equivalent one for Winchester. The pages from my road atlas give a rough idea of the roads between Winchester and Southampton; it also has a helpful hint saying "Town plan: Winchester p221". Unfortunately, I didn't notice that while I was ripping the book apart, so I didn't have that page with me. (Possibly this was some kind of karmic punishment.) Anyway, I figured that if I could aim in roughly the right direction then I'd be able to look up the relevant street names when I got close enough, and home in on the exact location. So, I set off on the bike.

There were road signs in Winchester that said "Southampton (M3)". Obviously I didn't want to cycle on the motorway, but my basic plan was to follow those signs and then peel off at the last minute. When I reached the final roundabout, I saw a road name that I recognised from the road atlas: "B3335 (Twyford)". The thing about roads is that they usually lead in two different directions. So, this might lead me towards Southampton, or it might take me in the opposite direction. Sadly, I had no idea where Twyford was. Still, I was low on options so I hoped for the best. When I had a moment, I pulled out my compass and verified that I was heading south, so that was encouraging.

In the end, it took me 1h10m to reach Eastleigh, including a 5 minute break when I stopped off at a kebab van to buy some chips and a Coke. (Desperate times call for desperate measures!) So, I finally got into my room just before midnight. I ate my chips, although I didn't feel particularly hungry: I didn't feel full up, but I was so tired that this pushed any other discomfort aside.

My total distance for the day was 110 km, and my top speed was 56.9 km/hour: those are new achievements for me, which is good. Equally, I'll only find out what my limits are by trying to exceed them. I also ticked 2 BCQ checkpoints off my list: Box Hill and Shere (not Khan).

However, the most important lesson of the day is to get up early! If I'd set off at 9am, I would have had time for a proper lunch/dinner. According to my rough map, it's 25 km from Alton to Winchester, which I could cycle in 2 hours, so I didn't really save any time by taking the train. I made the same mistake when I was going to Brighton, and it will be more of an issue when I'm doing LEJOG. On the flipside, I need to keep an eye on my escape routes, and know when to bail out. In this case, I went through Aldershot (before Farnham), so I would have been better off heading north/west to Fleet so that I could catch a train from there.

Anyway, I slept well, and got up fairly early this morning (07:30). My legs felt quite stiff, probably because I didn't do any kind of stretching/cooldown after I finished last night. Premier Inn have an "all you can eat" breakfast menu, and I think I got my money's worth: 3 veggie sausages, 3 fried eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, toast, cereal, and orange juice. They also let me keep my bike in the laundry room overnight, which is more secure than locking it outdoors. The main snag to staying there is that they don't have single rooms, so I had to pay the double fee by myself (£60). However, if you're sharing a room with someone else then I think it's quite reasonable.

After that, I met my friend, then cycled down to meet the other people for the SCC ride. They said that people should arrive at 09:50, ready to set off at 10:00, and I arrived there at 09:52. However, I couldn't see anyone else. I double-checked my A-Z, and I was definitely at The Broadway. I then double-checked my handwritten notes, which said "The Broadwalk". Oops. Fortunately I wasn't far away, so I arrived in time.

I didn't know anyone else there, but they're a friendly bunch. There was a range of abilities, so it was a nice relaxed pace, and my legs stopped aching after I'd been riding for a while. We went out to Westwood Local Nature Reserve, cycling on quiet roads and through the woods. The off-road sections were still flat/solid enough that I didn't have any trouble on my touring bike (i.e. I didn't need a mountain bike). This ride was specifically timed to fit in with the bluebells flowering, and they made an impressive sight. I used to live near the Bluebell Railway (down in Sussex), but I haven't seen them in years. Similarly, I saw some dandelion clocks, and I can't remember the last time I saw one of them. I live surrounded by concrete, but things like this remind me that I'm still a country boy at heart. I should also say that the Westwood cafe sells very nice cake!

A couple of people had mechanical problems while we were out: a puncture and a broken chain. I carry a puncture repair kit and a spare inner tube with me, but I don't have any tools to deal with a broken chain. I should address that, though, to avoid getting stranded. When it happened today, we were in a town rather than the middle of nowhere, but the local bike shop was closed (Easter Monday), so I can't rely on outside assistance.

The ride finished at about 14:00, so I caught the train back to London: I wouldn't have had time to cycle back. I kept yawning on the train, so I think I'll sleep well tonight. Anyway, all in all it was a good weekend.
Tags: cycling, food, lejog

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