A friend was getting married in Marlborough and I’d started looking at how to get there (remember, no car). Public transport would involve a laborious amount of buses and trains, and I thought I could make it a bit more adventurous. It’s only 40 miles from my house, walking it would take 2 days which I thought was a of an over-commitment, but cycling was perfectly feasible. After all, I’d cycled through Marlborough a couple of years ago. How hard could it be?
Step 1: Hotel
I’d booked a hotel room for the Saturday night, so was going to use that to store my bike and have a shower before the wedding. I contacted the hotel to check that bikes were okay, and to ask for an earlier check-in time.
Step 2: Route
Strava is your friend. I started the route at my house, then clicked on the high street in Marlborough, and it made the route above. Obviously, check it’s not sending you down any big A roads, or off-road sections, but it makes the route based on heat maps of other riders, so it should pick good roads. The first 15 miles to Pusey was a route I’d done many times, so I knew that would be fine. Following the rest, it’s all on little B roads, then there’s just the small task of getting up the hills in the North Wessex Downs.
Step 3: Navigation
I don’t have a fancy Garmin that will show me turn by turn directions, and whilst my memory is good it’s not that good. I knew the first 15 miles or so as it’s the end of a route to one of my favourite cream tea stops, but beyond that it was new to me. I wrote a list of the villages/towns I was going to go through and any key turns, then taped it my top tube. I would also have the route on Strava on my phone to check.
Step 4: Luggage
I dislike riding with a backpack as I get so sweaty but unless I was going to put a pannier rack on my road bike, it was the only option. Maybe I need a touring bike! Besides the usual bike stuff I thankfully had a rather minimal outfit (1 summer dress, ballet shoes) so everything fitted in.
The big day
I left slightly later than planned, and the first 5 miles was just getting out of Oxford. Cumnor hill is an old friend and it never gets too step, so it was a quick spin to get the heart rate going. The first 15 miles may be a route I’ve done plenty of times, but it’s always been in the opposite direction heading back towards Oxford. I had to keep glancing behind me to see if I recognised the road in reverse!
I found riding with a backpack worse than expected – around town it’s just sweaty, but after 20 miles or so my back was aching quite a bit. I stopped for a few minutes to take the load off and then was fine to resume. I passed some Condors on their return from Dragon Hill so waved good morning.
There was a bit of a pull up to the B4507, which turned out to be a rather nice, if undulating, balcony road with great views out to the north. An improvement that I’d make to my taped directions for next time would be to add the mile markers for each town. With my Garmin watch I could see how many miles had gone, and it would have been reassuring to know I hadn’t missed a turning.
The nastiest climb of the day was up Hatchet Hill to get up onto the Downs. At one point it was so steep I got that horrible feeling like I was about to pull the handlebars over my head and fall backwards. Legs and lungs bursting, it eventually flattened out.
I then got a bit of downhill and went under the M4, with a great sweeping back road down to Aldbourne. It was hotting up and the pastoral valley was acting as a heat basin, radiating it back to me.
After an initial jerk up out of Aldbourne – which has a segment on Strava called ‘Stock Lane (That bit that hurts)’ – it was another 2 miles of climbing before I got to whoosh down the long descent. I had to stop to ease my back again, but then it was only a few miles along the valley floor to Marlborough and to find my hotel.
My bike got put in an old snooker room of the hotel, but the early check in I’d confirmed a few days ago seemed to have disappeared, so I had a quick drink in the bar. After explaining the situation to the barman – that it’s frowned upon in polite society to turn up to a wedding sweating and head to toe in bright pink lycra – my room wasn’t ready but they let me use it to shower and change anyway. I’d forgotten shower gel, and the only thing in the showers was Dove for Men, so I was going to smell manly for this wedding. No hairdryer, but it was so warm out my hair was mostly dry by the time I got to the church anyway!
The day after the big day
With festivities going on until the early hours of the morning, I felt somewhat worse for wear on the Sunday, and not particularly enthusiastic about cycling 50 miles home. Checkout wasn’t until 11am but I needed to be back in Woodstock by 2.30pm to help with clearing up from a road race that the Condors were running.
I felt a bit better when I woke up for the second time, and went down the High Street for a late breakfast (wearing my dress rather than bib shorts) then checked out and retrieved my bike from the store. It was almost over before it began, as the turn off for the road out of Marlborough is a right hand turn across a steep cambered road which I had to stop on, and then almost fell over trying to start again. I hurriedly unclipped and ran across to the side to start again.
The first big hill (the long whoosh down yesterday) almost finished me off. I swear it hadn’t been that steep on the way in. 7 hours of dancing did not give me strong climbing legs.
From the long descent down to Aldbourne and back under the M4, I decided to try and cut around Hatchet Hill by continuing straight through Foxhill then swinging a right to Hinton Parva, gambling that it was less steep than the way I’d come. It was still undulating, but it missed the really steep descent, which I dislike more than really steep ascents!
A string of cyclists with numbers zip-tied to their handlebars passed me in the opposite direction, who were doing the White Roads sportive. There were more gorgeous views as I followed the edge of the Downs back round to Uffington, before pausing for a back-break.
I stopped on a bench at Shellingford for a snack and to re-tape my directions as I was now back on roads that I knew, but didn’t know the route to Woodstock, so had written them on the back of yesterday’s directions. After a couple of minutes a man came out of his garden to check I didn’t have a mechanical and wasn’t in need of assistance. I thanked him, and assured him I was just hungover.
The route to Woodstock was pretty straightforward, but I was flagging somewhat and when I passed a caravan park about 10 miles later that had an ice cream sign, I did an almost emergency stop. White magnum for lunch it was. The nice lady at reception also filled up my water bottles, which I’d almost finished in the heat.
I made it to the race HQ in time, and after helping with de-signage I didn’t refuse an offer of a lift home with the bike in the back of car…
Whilst I’m probably not going to cycle to events like this weekend regularly due to the logistical faff, it was a much more fun alternative to buses and trains, and I got to explore some new countryside!