24 Westward Ho! to Folkestone England (south) Other

Maps 185 to 187 – Stonehenge Inn to Capel: an English Feast

Across the road from the Stonehenge Inn is a miniature replica of the real thing. I have visited the famous big version before, once back in the days when you were allowed to get right up to the stones (you can’t any more); but if you want a really personal experience of an ancient stone circle, go to Avebury (as featured in my previously mentioned White Horse Ultra in 2021). You won’t be disappointed. Today I made do with the free-to-access Spinal Tap version next to the pub car park. I needed an early start because I really wanted to get all the way to Capel, near Dorking in Surrey, before dark. For all the usual cycling reasons, of course; but also because I would be staying with a dear friend, Sandra, who I hadn’t seen for several years, partly thanks to poorly timed COVID incidents. So the bike and I descended together at an impressively decent hour from my bedroom above the pub and we set off across Salisbury Plain in the morning sunshine. It was another lovely day. I seem to be blessed by great weather.

Stonehenge Inn mini circle

Salisbury Plain is a large area of Wiltshire that lends itself very well to military exercises. It is sparsely populated, rolling upland country that allows soldiers to drive about in tanks and fire deadly weapons at targets. Today all the red flags were flying, so I stuck to the road and kept an eye out for said tanks crossing my path. I saw several open areas of land that looked for all the world like golf driving ranges. Only these were not for golf!

Salisbury Plain: a warning

An obligingly placed Tesco at Tidworth Camp provided an express meal deal breakfast, and I forged ahead past more red flags without any obvious signs of military army action. After that I dropped downhill and began a section of the route that strung together a whole series of quite delightful villages that broadly followed the River Test valley and its tributary streams. As a sample of rural England, it was about as good as you get. Every village was made up of a mixture of thatched and half timbered cottages and handsome brick houses, some with flint mixed in to create stories or chequerboard patterns in the walls. There were roses blooming and fuchsias in full colour and it felt anything but the end of October. Except for the lovely autumn colours all around on the trees. Each village seemed to be trying to outdo the one before for chocolate box cuteness. And everywhere was wonderfully peaceful. I felt happy with the world.

Thatch everywhere

I crossed Hampshire and threaded my way through the green space between Winchester and Basingstoke. In fact, I somehow managed to complete the whole day without going through a town, which is quit a feat for any part of England, and especially one that crosses Hampshire and Surrey. I suppose a few miles from the end I technically went through Cranleigh; but I remember being told once that this is the largest village in England (ie it is a town) so my claim is debatable; however it was pretty late afternoon by then and it felt like the ride was almost over. But otherwise, it was a long series of genuinely lovely and obviously affluent villages joined together by pretty lanes and surprisingly wooded, hilly country, which was perfect for enjoying the autumn colours. Sadly, I saw no cafes to stop at. Happily, I saw some lovely pubs instead and enjoyed lunch in one in the lovely village of Micheldever. I had one tricky moment where I had to hoist my loaded bike over the central reservation of a dual carriageway to get to the lane opposite; but that was surely better than actually riding along it with the hoards of cars. The lane in question turned out to cross a ford, and it was surprisingly deep after the overnight rain.

I just achieved my objective of arriving before dark and fell easily into the warm and generous hospitality to which I have become accustomed on this trip. Catching up with so many wonderful people really has been a highlight for me. That alone has made all the cycling worthwhile. But the cycling has been superb as well. All three days of this English coast to coast have been along delightful roads, mostly free from traffic, and through country of the highest quality. One to go – could it possibly be four out of four?

An English idyll

2 replies on “Maps 185 to 187 – Stonehenge Inn to Capel: an English Feast”

Comments are closed.