Sunday, 24 Mar 2019

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle

Berkshire

“Best 100-Mile Bike Routes”

Chris Sidwells

This ride looks at the western Chilterns, the section that’s in Oxfordshire and only brushed by the Chilterns 100-mile ride. It also explores some of the adjoining and much more open Berkshire Downs, and the racehorse-training country around Lambourn. Finally, it pays homage to a classic 100-mile cycle race that used to be one of the most prized in Britain. Reading is the start. It’s a busy place, but after crossing the Thames you ride through the leafy suburb of Caversham. You also start climbing, because it’s a long pull up to Cookley Green on top of the Chilterns, by which point you’ve gone from Thames level to well over 200 metres and mastered a steep intermediate bump called Shiplake Hill.

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle - photo 1

Berkshire

A sharp descent leads to Watlington, and then a gradual downhill trend ends in Wallingford for a run south by the River Thames. Jerome K. Jerome, author of Three Men in a Boat, lived near Wallingford. He must have known this stretch of the river well. You cross it in Goring, where the Thames flows through the Goring Gap, which separates the Chilterns from the Berkshire Downs. That’s where you’re going next, up the killer climb of Lough Down and into an upland area very different from the Chilterns. Geologically they are the same, but there are more roads and settlements in the Chilterns and many more trees. Until 1974 the Berkshire Downs were all in Berkshire, but now they’re shared with Oxfordshire.

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle - photo 2

Berkshire

The Downs are a famous place for racehorse training, and you start passing their prepared gallops in the Compton area before a final dip into Oxfordshire at Wantage, where one of the greatest ever jockeys, Lester Piggott, was born. Hackpen Hill leads to where Piggott began his career, riding the horses his father trained at their stables at South Bank near Lambourn. The Lambourn Downs are beautiful, wide open and laced with gallops. Seeing the horses training here is a joy. The Downs inspired J. R. R. Tolkien, and his descriptions of open hilly grassland in The Lord of the Rings are based on the landscape here. Your Berkshire Downs passage is interrupted by the River Kennet, and you follow it into Hungerford, where the Kennet and Avon Canal runs.

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle - photo 3

Berkshire

The route then does a loop south, squeezing between Newbury and the fearsome Inkpen Hill, on the edge of the Downs, to head through Thatcham and cross the A340 just south of Pangbourne. This was a hallowed place in cycling, one of the villages on the Bath Road 100 course, which ran from Reading to Abingdon, then south to the A4 – known as the Bath Road before it was given a number. Until a transition period in the 1950s, time trialling was the mainstay of cycle racing in Britain. Riders competed over standard distances of 25, 50 and 100 miles, and to see how far they could ride in 12 and 24 hours. The Bath Road 100 was a prized victory, a fact that saw the best compete in what were often very fast times by any standard.

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle - photo 4

Berkshire

In 1958, Ray Booty of Nottingham, having cycled 100 miles from his home to Reading the previous day, became the first cyclist to go under four hours for 100 miles. He stopped the clock in Pangbourne Lane, which is just off the final part of this ride, at 3 hours 58 minutes and 28 seconds. Cycling wasn’t as big then in Britain as it is nowadays, but in the cycling world Booty’s performance was seen as being as important as Dr Roger Bannister’s first ever sub-four-minute mile a few years earlier.  Go north, pick up the A329 and cross the Thames on Caversham Bridge, following the A4155, to turn left onto the B481. Follow this road to the top of the climb at Cookley Green, and go left onto the B480 to Watlington. Turn left onto the B4009 to Benson, where you turn left onto the A4074 and fork right after the second roundabout onto the B4009 to Goring.

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle - photo 5

Berkshire

Turn right onto the B4009 to climb Lough Down and follow this road to Hampstead Norreys, where you turn right to go past Compton, under the A34 and through West Ilsley and Farnborough to turn right onto the B4494 to Wantage. Turn left onto the B4507, then left again onto the B4001, and follow this road to Chilton Foliat, where you turn left onto the B4192 to Hungerford.  Follow the A4 through Hungerford and take the third right to go through Kintbury to West Woodhay, where you turn left, then right to go through Ball Hill. There, turn right to go through Woolton Hill, across the A343 and the A34, and then turn left to Burghclere and go through Bishop’s Green to Thatcham. Turn left onto the A4, then first right, and go through Upper Bucklebury to Bradfield. There, turn left and go under the M4 to Upper Basildon, then turn right and cross the A340 at Tidmarsh and continue on this road through Sulham and Tilehurst back into Reading.

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle - photo 6

Berkshire

Start and Finish. Berkshire: Reading.

Getting There. Berkshire: Reading is right next to the M4, served by Junctions 10 to 12. It also has good rail links with London and the rest of the country.

Bike Shop. Berkshire: AW Cycles on Henley Road in Caversham.

Cafe. Berkshire: Caversham Cafe in St Mark’s Precinct, just after the Thames bridge you cross going out of Reading.

Local Delicacy. Berkshire: Six Point Berk pork.

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle - photo 7

Berkshire

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle - photo 8

Berkshire

Berkshire. Exiting Traveling by Bicycle - photo 9

Berkshire

 

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