31st Oct – SHABIs do Marlborough
Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Well the best laid plans of men and mice. It had long been planned for a SHABI trip to Wales and the guide had been booked and there was much excitement. LBD had even been insured to drive the van and Big Ring had booked himself into the Penhros Hotel. The locals were aghast.
Then Covid occurred and the trip was cancelled. There was crying and gnashing of teeth. However, cometh the hour, cometh an alternative suggestion to ride from Marlborough.
The planned route issued by Smashie required extensive use of mapping gadgets and both Faff Cheeks and Captn Frackbladder Bah stepped forward to assist. In true SHABI tradition, Captn Frackbladder’s gadget just said “NO” and Faff Cheek’s gadget said “Yes” but only for 20 minutes due to a small battery. From this point you can tell it was only going to end in triumph but not in the way anyone expected.
So the RV was Marlborough Town Hall at 10:00am. In true SHABI tradition there was delay and lateness as the certain members of the Peleton topped up their Cholesterol levels in the local café.
So we gather outside the posh Estate Agents by the Town Hall sheltering from the driving torrential rain (described as “Heavy Dew” by the ever optimistic Smashie who was RM).
A quick roll call revealed Covid compliant SIX riders including; Smashie RM, TsJ, Slumpy and his carer Tonka, Whoops a Daisy, LBD, Dobbie, Captn Frackbladder Bah, Slasher Giles and Faff Cheeks as DRM.
Then as we are about to set off, something occurred that will warm the hearts of any SHABI rider who things are getting a bit “sensible” these days. Slasher Giles decided to put the “i” in idiot by undertaking a pre-ride Risk Assessment and Health and Safety bike check before departure using the “kick the tyres” methodology pioneered by Faff Cheeks in his contract with HM Armed forces. However in “kicking the tyres” our hero kicked the inflation valve which promptly snapped off leading to near instant deflation of the rear tyre.
Now imagine you a posh Estate Agent hoping for a bit of passing trade on a wet, but busy, Saturday morning and all you can see out of the shop window is the fat lycra clad arses of Smashie and Slasher fixing a tubeless mountain bike tyre pouring sealing fluid over the pavement and generally causing consternation to the barber waxed jacket pedestrians. The Health and Safety officer has to get involved and it nearly kicked off but luckily the tyre was fixed and we head off in some very heavy dew.
Despite the heavy dew which is falling even more heavily now, with rivers running down the road, we head up to Marlborough Hospital and into the Savernake Forest.
We enter the forest and mechanical no1 for Tonka after 100m. We start off again. Tonka has another mechanical after another 150m. Progress is not good but despite the foreboding everything seems sort itself out on Tonka’s bike and we make excellent progress. So much so that the RM fails to read his gadget properly and we overshoot our way point. There then follows a bit of “RM’ing” by guesswork and although the RM is lost and the DRM’s gadget agrees that “yes the RM is lost” no one really notices, either because they are trying to stay on their bike in the mud or are wondering at the beautiful forest or looking for little red riding hood. Slumpy refuses to progress further and his carer has to read him a bedtime story or a tantrum was definitely on the cards.
Finally we find ourselves again and we reach a monument to King George. Oh those happy days when you could just bribe your way to the top.
Here is some history; The Ailesbury Column is enclosed on three sides by marker bollards (listed grade II). The column was erected by Lord Bruce in 1789 following a visit from King George III, and is dedicated to him and Lord Bruce's uncle, Charles, Earl of Ailesbury and Elgin.
Then we set off again through more beautiful broad leaf forest and head for the Kennet and Avon Canal along the old GWR railway track bed. It is muddy.
Then onto the canal towpath and a world of tranquillity with autumn leaves and reflections on the canal water. The riding is gently down hill but again very muddy.
We bimble along enjoying the scenery and staring through the windows into the many barges moored alongside. Some are beautifully appointed but others are clearly belonging to someone who has adopted an “alternative” lifestyle.
At this point Tarmac St John has a great suggestion. Why not deploy his new 35 tonner scraper and widen the tow path to dual carriage standard with and tarmacadam the lot. You could put wheels on the barge’s and everyone’s a winner. We discuss this at length and Captn Frackbladder bah offers to do a feasibility study using his best colouring crayons.
It gets ever muddier
The landscape opens up a bit and open countryside is visible with the “white horse” down visible to the north … or is it west?
The mud is still terrible and as lunch approaches there is growing disharmony as the Peleton begin to suspect that no pub is ever going to let us enter the building.
We arrive at the Barge Inn and Smashie hot foots it inside to see if we can be admitted (if the answer is NO, then at least he would have a head start as the Peleton try to lynch him). Surprisingly we are shown where to secure our bikes and are welcomed inside. Then we settle down to great food and drink. In fact we enjoy ourselves so much we forget the time and having arrived at 13:00 hrs we do not leave until 15:00 hrs. This would have serious ramifications later on.
So after a splendid lunch and I mean splendid with a capital S, we go and find our bikes that are sulking in the yard and set off again along the canal. To be fair the canal was getting a tad boring but surprisingly the RM actually knows where to turn off and start the ascent to the top of the Pewsey Downs. It was, to be fair, a bit of a slog but we get a great photo opportunity at the top.
We meet a group of young women out for a walk so Captain Frackbladder leads a synchronised “falling off the bike in a dramatic fashion” to find favour …but wisely the average modern young woman is no longer interested in this sort of age old gallantry (stupidity) and we head on our way and along a super descent into the hamlet of East Kennett.
Whoops a Daisy is now feeling the effects of 10 pints of local beer consumed at lunchtime and has to dig deep to keep going. We head over the A4 and onto the Ridgeway heading for Marlborough. The weather is now looking ominous and the wear and tear of 25miles of riding in various depths of mud and consuming 10pints of beer at lunchtime is taking its toll on everyone. It starts to get dark and being idiots – no-one has thought to bring their lights ..except the Health and Safety Officer – well done Slumpy.
We pass through the Sarsen Stones and Whoops a Daisy gives us all an in depth geological tour of the origins of these weird and wonderful boulders. Such is the length of his lecture and such is the rapture of his audience, it is now dark as a Witch’s black cat on a black night.
Here is a brief summary of his informative discourse:
Sarsen stones are sandstone blocks found in quantity in the United Kingdom on Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire; in Kent; and in smaller quantities in Berkshire, Essex, Oxfordshire, Dorset, and Hampshire. They are the post-glacial remains of a cap of Cenozoic silcrete that once covered much of southern England – a dense, hard rock created from sand bound by a silica cement, making it a kind of silicified sandstone. This is thought to have formed during Neogene to Quaternary weathering by the silicification of Upper Paleocene Lambeth Group sediments, resulting from acid leaching.
The word "sarsen" is a shortening of "Saracen stone" which arose in the Wiltshire dialect. "Saracen" was a common name for Muslims, and came by extension to be used for anything regarded as non-Christian, whether Muslim or pagan.
Fyfield Down NW of Marlborough, has the best assemblage of sarsen stones in England. The stones are known here as the Grey Wethers, for their likeness to sheep when seen from a distance. They were noted by Col. Richard Symonds in his diary for 1644: "They call that place the Grey-wethers, because a far off they looke like a flock of sheepe." They support a nationally important lichen flora.
An alternative name for this natural rock feature is Mother's Jam.
We arrive in the outskirts of Marlborough as it was getting even darker (if that were possible) and we form a long line for safety calling a final body count by the Town Hall. All present and correct, if a tad muddy and tired.
An epic 30 miles for everyone. Man of the ride was Whoops a Daisy for suffering for so long and still remaining chirpy.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this ride so very enjoyable.
I love you all