Thursday, June 12, 2008

To Exton and Beyond

The ride started well - Tee had popped down to Lotts to get some cake for the pre-ride afternoon tea to be advised that 1/2 a cake was cheaper than 3 slices - with all other riders crying off this week, it was left to Billy-Bob and Al to polish off the home made coffee & walnut cake on their own. Crippled by travel logistics and the early morning childcare routine Billy-Bob had not managed to pack his bike in the car that morning so, suitably loaded with carbohydrate, the fearless duo once again took the tandem out of it's pyjamas [I kid you not - click here, Ed.].

There had been heavy showers all day but the weather was finally clearing to leave a fresh, sunny evening. We pondered the itinerary for a while before deciding to take the well-worn route to Dundridge, dropping down to the Shoe Inn in Exton. We pushed off reasonably smoothly, although it took the pair a little while to both 'clip in'; Billy-Bob had found the shoes that were compatible with the Crank Brothers pedals fitted to the tandem. After only a few hundred meters we ground to a halt on the step ascent of Cams Hill. In the space of a couple of weeks Billy-Bob had forgotten one of the golden rules of tandeming - that both riders must agree on which foot to 'land' on when the bikes comes to a halt. Tee and Al favour the 'left foot down' rule and Al had done his best to instill the novice with this mantra. Billy-Bobs innate 'right foot down' approach was compounded by the fact that Al had already unclipped on the left, a rapid unclipping of the other foot was required to avert what would have been their first, and particularly embarrassing, off. Al had plenty of opportunity to once again provide a tutorial on the basics as they pushed the tandem up the remainder of the hill.

Mounting the tandem once again the pair enjoyed a pleasant ride which wound it's way through the country lanes of Soberton and Swanmore, and on up towards Dundridge. The ride was spiced up in places by sharp roller-coaster like dips which Billy-Bob skillfully guided the bike through. We were also treated to the sight of a juvenile fox on it's evening beat. Eventually Billy-Bob coaxed the tandem down the steep descent into Dundridge and pulled to smooth halt outside TCA favorite, The Hampshire Bowman. After considering their large selection of gravity-flow cask ales racked up behind the bar in their protective jackets we both plumped for a pint of Bowman's Swift One, enjoying what was left of the late evening sun as it dipped below the hedgeline.

Our very own Hampshire Bowman
enjoys a pint outside the eponymous pub

The beer was as superb as ever but sadly finished all too quickly. Even so, in the short time taken to sink our pints, several other people had arrived and taken up seats at the front of the pub. We fielded a couple of intelligent tandem queries from a chap who obviously had experience with this form of transport: The pressure was on to make our departure as smooth as our arrival since we knew our technique would be scrutinised. There was no need to worry - we are becoming familiar with the phenomenon that a pint or two seems to take the edge off the nerves and improves our coordination during the execution of such technicalities. We were on our way without a fuss, up Shepard's Down towards Sheep Pond Lane; our usual road route would have taken us down towards Soberton at this junction. We consulted the map, having a brief chat about how best to reach Exton; should we tackle Beacon Hill or drop down using the main road to Meonstoke and pick up the A32 for a few hundred meters? We had had our fill of climbing so we sat back and enjoyed the exhilarating descent to Meonstoke, touching 40mph on the steepest section, on our way to Exton.

Billy-Bob, Al and their fine steed
take a break in the Shoe's Garden

Exton is a delightful village and at it's centre is the picturesque Shoe Inn. The large beer garden is across the road from the pub and a crystal clear brook runs swiftly past the bottom of the garden. One might spot a kingfisher or grey wagtail in the overhanging vegetation and watch the trout lazing amongst the weeds in the stream while sipping a pint of real ale. Sadly the Wadworths beers, while perfectly acceptable, are never up to much and the pub has an air of 'prospective gastropub' to it rather than 'honest country boozer'. On this occasion there was an overwhelming smell of fish in the bar as we ordered our pints and we rapidly beat our retreat to the garden, which we had all to ourselves.

Pints out of the way it was time to pick our way back to Hambledon and the dinner that awaited. The tried and tested route follows the back roads through Meonstoke and Soberton returning via Cams Hill. Al was keen though to explore the untested direct route to the north of Meonstoke. While this was relatively pleasant for a couple of miles the road turned into a killer hill which took a concerted effort on the part of the two riders to reach the top without stopping. To make up for the exertion there followed a long descent back into the village which required very little effort... Al practiced his directorial skills.

On their return Tee prepared a delicious chilli while Al forced Billy-Bob to write up last week's ride. Dessert of clotted cream ice cream with home made strawberry coulis produced from home grown Hambledon strawberries was prepared by Al as Tee distracted Billy-Bob from his scribing commitments. Sadly there was only the latest series of Big Brother on the TV to entertain us but Billy-Bob still only managed a couple of paragraphs.

Route Map (Click to enlarge):
(Posted by: Al)

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At 8:16 am, June 19, 2008, Blogger simon said...

you know- its ALWAYS refreshing to read about TCA!

I did night ride yesterday 30k into the Wollemi National PArk... very spooky!

At 9:39 pm, June 22, 2008, Anonymous spm said...

Great idea putting the video clips on the blog. I can almost feel the wind through my hair - well rushing over the scalp!

I feel the need to get out to Buriton and East Meon with the TCA so let me know when you are coming north over Butser.


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