20 November 2012

Ride report: The New Forest 200 audax (Permanent version)

Audax is all about self-sufficiency, and it also involves (or can involve) lonely sections. On calendar events (i.e. rides that are properly organised and attract a good number of people) it is easy to hook up with other riders and have a social ride, if you want to.

One of this years aims (or well, continuation of!) is to get a "Randonneur Round the Year" award. You can get it as long as you register a ride of 200 or more km a month, for twelve consecutive months. Nothing too challenging one might think, but with the winter colder months coming up ahead of us, I am not too sure I will manage.

I could not find a suitable ride for November, so I screened the "permanent" rides on the AUK website. These rides are put up by local people and can be ridden any day of the year. Lucy has already given up on the idea of longer rides in the colder months, so off I was, for the first time on a 200 km ride, on my own.

One of the rides looked appealing: the New Forest 200 km. We've already been in the New Forest, though on mountain bikes, and quite enjoyed the flatness of it. I'd heard good things about the lanes over there, particularly off the busy summer months. At 5:30 am, on a Saturday, I found myself on a quiet train headed for the southwest coast of the UK. To my surprise, there was another audax guy on this service, heading somewhere in the southwest as well.

London, 5:15 am
The weather had been quite promising all week, yet the latest forecasts predicted light rain all morning, clearing up by mid afternoon. Temperatures around 10 degrees C, so not too cold for this time of the year. By 7:20 am I got my receipt and headed East towards Lepe Beach.

The first 20 km of the ride were on quiet lanes, very easy going and helped by an slight tailwind. My stomach had been playing up already, and I was relieved to find a toilet by the deserted beach. The views of the Isle of Wight were quite nice, as was seeing the sea.

Leafy lanes at the start of the ride

The Isle of Wight in the background from Lepe Beach
I ate some snacks and retraced my steps back into the depths of the forest, heading North. The roads were quite nice and still quiet, yet at some point I managed to go on the wrong section of A road (A326) which was not pleasant at that time of the morning, with plenty of white vans and heavy goods vehicles. After I left that road, it all became nice and quiet again, although got busier with the infamous New Forest wild ponies. 

The bloody ponies, although cute and all that, blocked off the roads on a number of occasions, and I had to wait patiently behind them. They did not seem to be bothered at all by either me or other vehicles. I had to go off road a couple of times, and with the muddiness of the autumn, my skinny tyres got clogged up with mud which needed clearing a few times.

Waiting for the ponies to decide what to do and where to go
At Ashurst I went through one of many information controls (i.e. obligatory passing points to prove you did not take shortcuts), and soon afterwards I made my way down South towards Lymington. The roads were very pleasant and had good tarmac, yet appeared a bit more lumpy that I had anticipated.

Nice isn't it?
When going off the main roads, which were quiet past lunch time, you were often presented with not only ponies, but fords (luckily dried!) and plenty of cattle grids. I had read many reports on rides through the forest in heavy rain and massive floods, and I could only imagine how bad that would be when I saw some of the signs by the fords...

Can it actually get that bad?
Once in Lymington, I headed briefly into the High Street for a receipt to use as proof of passage. While having a much needed sugary coffee and cake, in true British style, lots of locals asked me where I was headed, about my GPS, why so many flashing lights and so on. The usual stuff. Luckily no one was asking how many miles I had planned for the day!

From Lymington, it was a long and windy way, first to the West of the park, then up North through Ringwood and eventually Cranborne. It was much more ups and downs here. As I had not had any proper food since I left home, I started to feel tired and hungry and looked forward to eating something hot at Cranborne. I was keeping a close eye on my watch, as I had a train back to London at a fixed time in the evening, that I could not miss. A flat tyre, the first time ever on a audax, added to my frustration and increased the need of getting somewhere with hot food. Just after 2:30 pm I got to Cranborne and headed straight away to the Garden Centre, the suggested control...at 160 km into the ride. Once I got there I had the feeling they were not serving food (everyone was having tea!) and this was confirmed by the waitress. It really was not my place either - it seemed way too overpriced and the crowd was at least twice my age and in nice clothes - not smelly lycra. 

Nice lanes to Cranborne
I retraced back to Cranborne High street and controlled at the local grocery shop, where I got a plain baguette, a can of coke and some gross crisps. It was past 3:30 pm by the time I got back on to the bike. The GPS indicated sunset in less than 45 min, so I turned a few of my lights on for enhanced visibility.

The lanes back through the forest were really nice, and as the sun was coming down, I enjoyed one of the best sunsets I've experienced in the UK. It was still relatively mild, clear skies, and no traffic at all. Just me, the bike and the lights. The colours were spectacular, but the pictures do not do justice. I recommend everyone to cycle at dusk on a clear day - it is the best time of the day for riding in my opinion.

Lights on - into night riding mode

It cannot get much better than this!
With 25 km to the finish, I got my last info control, this time in another post box. I was happy I had filled all the controls now - all I had to do was ride leasurely back to Brockenhurst for my train back to the Smoke, into the night.

Last info control, sunset in the background

Funny sign
I pulled into the finish line with one hour to spare before my train was due, so headed to a pub for some food and a pint of local ale. It had been a superb ride with plenty of nice lanes and light traffic. Much lumpier than I had anticipated, yet by no means hilly.

I may make a return to this area sometime soon - perhaps throwing in a bit of wild-camping as well, with a crossing over to the Isle of Wight maybe?

The stats were as below.


  1. Great autumnal shots, and loved the description of your ride. Now enjoy your winter miles......!

  2. Many thanks Frank. We've enjoyed a very warm autumn with plenty of miles under our belts. It really is the best season for cycling in my opinion. Not looking forward to the proper winter miles though...!