Up On The Downs

The 9th saw an uneventful couple of hours on the road; all reasonable enough but if you have any choice at all in the matter, avoiding weekend rides is a good idea – most roads are so much busier, it makes a big difference. It’s interesting to see the very different types of rider you get out on a Saturday or Sunday as compared to during the week; I’m starting to think about some kind of classification. The various types of rider – me included – all have their comic element if you look at them the right way. Just the same as the rest of humanity. Maybe that’s one to pursue.

Today was a very different cycling proposition. Billed as the last unseasonally warm day of the current run of it, it was perfect for a trip up on the downs, starting and finishing at Aldworth and taking in part of the Ridgeway.

‘Up on the downs’. You could be forgiven for thinking I’m just writing gibberish. I wonder if other languages have such on-the-face-of-it nonsense.

It was a hot enough for shorts if a bit windy (though hazy in the distance), and from up high we had the enjoyable sight of a bank of clouds off to the far west of us – the direction the change in the weather is coming in from. It reinforced the feeling of it being ‘a take the chance when you can’ day, and it always feels good when a chance you take pays off.

A view from the Ridgeway

A hazy view from the Ridgeway, with the ancient forts of Wittenham Clumps in the distance


I say ‘we’ because I went out with Charli. I don’t know if I’m daft or not, but it can be relatively remote up there, with not many people around, and some of the terrain is a bit lumpy. It would be easy to fall badly enough to not be able to ride and to be there for some hours – or longer if you were really unlucky – before anyone found you. So, for Ridgeway rides and similar, I don’t like to go out alone. That may be stupidly pessimistic; it may just be prudent. I’m not sure.

As it was, over and hour-and-a-half we saw three horse riders out together, and three individual walkers, and that was it apart from a car near the start. If I’d been alone and fallen in some parts of the ride, I’d have been there for a while.

The wildlife was reasonable – plenty of rabbits, unknown-to-me downland birds and more common varieties, some orange tip butterflies. I don’t know why but the Red Kites don’t seem to have spread over in that direction – or at least not yet. They’re scavengers so perhaps the easy pickings of areas where there’s plenty of road-kill are more appealing. There were also a lot of bugs around – I guess because there was a fair bit of muck-spreading going on in some fields, and also I suppose this first spell of hot weather will have brought them out. It wasn’t too bad – just keep your mouth closed.

Insects in the face does reinforce the fact that you should always wear (plastic, shatter-proof) glasses of some sort. If you’re not being hit by bugs then there’s always a fair amount of dust and grit to ward off. I think I’m right in saying that before the pro cyclists all took to wearing glasses all year round, conjunctivitis used to be a big problem for them – just because of the amount of miles they ride and thus dirt they’d get in their eyes.

If you need corrective lenses like me then you can get your prescription made up into a pair of clear plastic lenses that clip in to a frame that holds interchangeable tinted lenses as well. That gives something safe and wearable all year round, bright days or dull. The pink lenses for dull days are surprising for how well they improve clarity. The system wasn’t cheap – it was well over a £100 I think – but that was some years ago and they’ve proved very robust. Money well spent.

A good ride up there on the Ridgeway, on a weekday with few other people around, in decent weather and in good company too; I found myself thinking it was a real shame that so many people won’t ever experience it.

Yes, I am aware that if everyone was doing it, the peace and quiet would soon evaporate. I guess that demonstrates the central and completely unresolvable tension underlying any urge to share a privilege.