On Friday, just for a change I took myself out on my Kona Kula mountain bike on an off-road circuit that I havent ridden for a good few years. It is of the cross country racer type, not the full suspension down hill type so there isnt a lot of it. I knew it was going to get a bit messy because of the damp weather and shortage of sunshine we have had lately.
The route took me out of Olney on the ‘Three Shires Way’, an off-road route on the type of track known here as a Bridleway because it is for the use of horse riders and more latterly mountain bike riders. Pedestrian are also allowed but they also have the use of footpaths to which the other two are not allowed. At this time of year the path becomes quite churned by the hooves of horses and so therefore quite a messy prospect from the bike riders point if view. It is not a made up route, just natural footpaths dating back hundreds of years that were the communication routes between villages for pedestrians, and horse transport, either carts or riders. They are just worn in by the feet of humans and horses aand latterly the tyres of mountain bikes. However not too many cyclists ride this route. Below is signpost on to the Three Shires Way’ from a road near to Olney.
The route from Olney is accessed via the meadows to the south of the town. I rode through the edge of the town and out onto the meadows and I was than off-road and would be so for about 15 miles altogether. It is a very quiet and peaceful route to take and the only people I saw on the off-road bit was a couple of horse riders who seemed quite surprised to hear my shout of warning as I approached them.
Above is a typical type of bridle path but sometimes they just go around the edges of fields. I pedalled on and eventually reached the back of the Santa Pod Raceway, a drag racing strip on an old war time airfield near to Podington. The public right of way, that is the bridle path goes right along by the side of the track so if you disguise yourself as a walker and can read a map its cheap way to watch drag racing, if that’s your desire ! Its situated where it is because it’s in the middle of nowhere and so the noise isn’t a problem.
As I approached the edges of it, which has seen an outcrop of little workshops and yards appear over the years it was quite spooky as it was quiet and there was an autumnal mist over everywhere, it reminded me of some of the scenes in the movie ‘Deliverance’. I expected to hear the sound of duelling banjos at any moment. This was compounded about half a mile later after passing the old airfield control tower I approached the edge of the woods and came across a gathering of 4-wheel drive pick up trucks and SUV’s and their owners with their guns all getting ready to go off on a hunting party. I hoped they would be hunting for pheasants, deer or rabbits and not wayward mountain bikers.
Needles to say I didn’t hang around there and shot off up part of an old runway until I broke off back on to the trail into the woods. The next part of the trail was a bit different it was what is called a ‘Byway ‘ or a ‘BOAT’ ( Byway Open to All Traffic) which is open to all the afore-mentioned walkers, horseriders and cyclists but also available to off-road vehicles. When I rode this part previously it was a nightmare to negotiate, deeply rutted and churned up and and VERY muddy but I was relieved to see there were barriers at either end of the section to keep the vehicles off it so some kind of byelaw must have been passed to prohibit the use by vehicles. Maybe it is still in use on an occasional basis for the offroaders to play though as the barriers were in the form of gates so maybe there are just restrictions on its use.
However even though most of the mud has gone, the ruts still remain and quite difficult to negotiate. I had to muster up all my old mountain bike skills to keep control of the bike and also the traction, in the ruts and mud, which I mostly did. However over the course of my journey off-road my bike had accumulated a fair amount of mud around the brake area so I had to clear that a couple of times.
After that everything became much easier. I entered onto an almost made up track that was access to a farm and it got progressively better as I headed down the hill towards Odell. I then had about half a mile of road riding until I entered the back of Harrold Country Park. It was about a mile through there and then I exited the park and out onto the road again and through Harrold village. A couple of miles after the village I was back off road again until I reached Cold Brayfield. I then was on a path around the back of the manor house, down to the river, across a narrow bridge and out into the village of Newton Blossomville. (If you click the link you can see one of the bridges)
I rode through village and on leaving the village I rode along the route of the old Bedford to Northampton railway line to Clifton Reynes, then up the embankment by the side of the railway at the bridge, through the hedge and out onto the road again. Next a ride down through the village to the Robin Hood pub and up the track to the top of the hill overlooking Olney over the other side of the river, down the grassy bank and over the river then back home again..
A nice ride away from the madding crowds and traffic, more than a little muddy but thats OK, it goes with the territory. A shade over 20 miles and I am guessing at least 15miles completely off-road altogether.
I expect over the course of the winter I will be taking some more off road rides so watch this space…