One of the greatest things about staying in any Irish or British hotel is the sacred tradition of a fry-up for breakfast. None of this continental breakfast nonsense! No, what I want in the morning to set me for a full day of cycling is a heart-attack inducing plate full of grease and various fried foods.
So, I was delighted to see a massive fry-up being put in front of me in the hotel’s pub for breakfast the next morning. I savoured this, and a couple of cups of coffee, taking in as many calories and as much caffeine as possible, loading up on each due to the tough day of cycling that lay ahead.
By the time I had finally eaten and packed, it was already 09:30 a.m. when I was leaving the hotel. I set off out of Reading, carefully navigating the junction of the previous day – giving a wide berth to any wayward taxis – before turning onto a series of quiet canal paths. These wound southwards out of Reading, passing by rows of beautiful houses with their gardens leading right down to the water’s edge.
After ten kilometres of relaxed pedalling on canal paths and cycle lanes, I was leaving the outskirts of Reading firmly behind, and was back in the midst of the English countryside. For the next forty kilometres, I followed the route along country lanes and little bits of woodland singletrack. Despite my back and arse struggling badly, I was truly enjoying the beautiful journey I was being sent on through the charming English landscape.
Farnham passed in a blur as I navigated cycle lanes and public parks on my traverse through this busy town. On one of the few occasions where I did have to cross a busy road, I was nearly taken out again, this time by a young gentleman who decided to speed erratically off a roundabout, nearly taking me out.
And not far out of Farnham, I faced another near miss as I came around a corner to find a boy racer coming against me at speed on my side of the road. The standard of driving in this part of England, and the aggressiveness of the drivers was pretty shocking. It really made me appreciate that I was able to tour this part of the country while keeping mostly off-road or on country lanes.
Outside of Farnham, I continued along more woodland trails until a sign materialised on the roadside in the most unlikely of areas advertising craft beer and wood-fired pizzas. This was in the middle of nowhere really, in the midst of some sparse farmland, so it was the last thing I would have expected to find out here.
Needless to say, I stopped in for a nice break. I met another couple who were bikepacking the King Alfred’s Way here and had a brief chat with them before they sped off ahead of me never to be seen again such was their speed compared to mine.
I had a craft beer and a chocolate muffin here and sat down to rest my aching body. It was at this point that I remembered that I had ibuprofen in my bag, and I wondered why in the name of hell I hadn’t taken any earlier.
Back on the bike again, this combination of ibuprofen and beer ensured I felt better than I had since starting this trip. The aches and pains all over my body were suddenly gone, and I felt an amazing elation as I churned the pedals with far more power than I had in days.
My back and saddle sores had decided to stop sending pain signals, so I could just focus purely on the cycling and the landscapes again. I was now pedalling through a beautiful heathland, tackling a fun and challenging off-road trail consisting of sand and roots. I relished the challenge of this and felt in my element as I carefully guided my bicycle over and around the various obstacles.
After navigating the sandy trails of Frensham Common and a few more woodland tracks, I arrived at the entrance to Hankley Common, a nature reserve and military training area owned by Britain’s Ministry of Defence.
Here, I bumped into a local ultra runner and had a great chat about various endurance events and outdoor sports in general. He was wondering why, seemingly out of nowhere, all these bikes with bags strapped to them had suddenly started appearing in his local woods a year previously. I was able to finally put this mystery to bed for him by explaining the strange but wonderful pastime of bikepacking and the creation of this new route a year previously by Cycling UK.
Once inside Hankley Common, I enjoyed some more challenging trails of deep sand as I ascended towards the top of the Devil’s Punchbowl (a large depression in the local landscape that almost resembles a punchbowl). On two inch mountain bike tyres these trails were great fun, and I really enjoyed pushing myself trying to ride each section clean without putting a foot down or getting bogged down in the sand.
Before long, I was climbing out of Hankley Common onto a narrow tarmac road, rising towards the Devil’s Punchbowl. This turned into the most beautiful of dirt tracks, and I again relished in the wonder of this route, cycling through woodland that felt like a scene straight out of The Lord of the Rings.
The sandy climb to the top of the Devil’s Punchbowl was tricky at times, but again I really enjoyed the technical challenge. It always felt rewarding to clear difficult sections of trail, and as I cruised into the village of Hindhead at the top of the climb, I was left wondering why in the name of hell I hadn’t tried bikepacking sooner.
I ended the day at the Devil’s Punchbowl Hotel as planned, feeling a lot more energetic than I had expected due to the mixture of ibuprofen and alcohol which was still masking my aches and pains surprisingly well.
My original plan had been to wild camp in the woods beside the extended climb to Hindhead, but I had no regrets as I took a much needed shower to clean out my saddle sores, and then lay down on the bed to stretch my back out. I knew that successfully completing this route was very much touch and go due to these issues, so I had to do whatever I could to ensure I had the best chance of completing the route in four days as planned.
For dinner that evening, every single establishment in Hindhead was closed (due to this being a Bank Holiday Monday), so my only option was to order a Domino’s pizza from another nearby town to be delivered to the hotel.
When this arrived, I sat down to watch the Formula 1 race I had been avoiding the result of since Sunday afternoon. After a hard day of cycling I was really looking forward to just sitting down to watch this grand prix with a hot pizza in hand. I noticed that the video file I had downloaded was four hours long, so I was expecting an absolutely epic grand prix, full of unexpected twists and turns and unfiltered drama. I realised, however, an hour into the video file that the grand prix had never actually taken place due to heavy rain and that I had just spent the entirety of the day downloading four hours of drivers sitting under umbrellas waiting for the rain to stop!
I fast-forwarded the video file just to make sure I missed nothing and then went straight to bed, hoping to get a much needed good night of sleep to prepare me well for the final 82-kilometre cycle back to Winchester the next day.