The winter holidays are just not the same without our yearly pilgrimage to Stonehenge to celebrate Winter Solstice!
If your ever considering visiting Stonehenge the solstices (both summer and winter) are by far the best time to go! Unlike the remained of the year when guest must pay £15 each and get nowhere near the actual stones, each solstice is free and full access is permitted! The only catch is this just covers sunrise between 07:30 and 09:00. That’s an early start however you look at it!
To add a bit more ‘excitement’ to our late night adventure the weather forecast was not looking very favorable at all! In fact the met office was busy issuing weather warnings as we prepared to depart!
This led to a fair bit of talk about the dangers and stupidity of riding a total of 72 mile on our fixed gear bikes, through the night, in the middle of December, with lashing rain and high winds. However, after consulting with the clubs spiritual adviser, Chopper Reid, and checking the rules sense prevailed and we all had nice warm mug of TTFU before setting our alarms for 1am and turned in!
We woke to the sound of wind hammering at our window and with the advice of our house mate made the decision to at least give it a go was made. With are waterproof jackets and warm layers at the ready we braved the outdoors and headed down to our local bike shop, bikeUlike, to meet up with the rest of the guys. On route we passed a number of disheveled, half-cut revelers stumbling home after their last Friday night drinks before Christmas.
|Cliff bars and Marigold gloves #CyclistsBestFriend|
At the shop we met Arunas, Ingrid, Joe and Ben and with organic banana fuel coursing through our still very tiered bodies we set off into the night. Now if any of you have never been riding in the wee hours I strongly encourage you to give it a go! The usually over congested, grid locked streets of Portsmouth were empty, save for the odd taxi, and we took full advantage riding as a unit as we left the city behind.
Our route was split into two main sections. The first was mostly along the A27, which is a more main road with almost 100% streetlight coverage from Portsmouth all the way to Southampton. As we cross the M27 and leave Southampton behind the streetlights go out and we must rely solely on our ‘To See’ bike lights.
Unfortunately there were no photos taken during the ride itself. Due to the horrific weather conditions all electrical equipment was double dry bags and tuck safely away.
The first planned stop of the night was around 22 miles in at the 24 hour McDonald in Swaythling, Southampton. Where we attempted to dry off and warm up, much to the amusement of other customers and the surprise of the staff.
|Sheltering from the rain|
Back on the road we soon left the city behind once more and headed off down country lands, cycle paths and through a lot of puddles! There were periods where the rain seemed to almost stop and protected by trees the wind was not to bad, but then the fields opened up once more and we had to hold on tight in order to just remain on our bikes. My buff and cap came in handy throughout the night for protection from stinging rain and the extremely dubious nature of the ‘road grime’, especially when passing farms!
On one particularly dark and winding section of road I had the uneasy feeling that my back wheel was suddenly feeling rather soft. Upon inspection my fairs were confirmed and I had picked up what would be the only flat of the ride. We made out the shape of a bridge ahead and thought it best to take shelter under it while we fixed the flat. Upon reaching the bridge we were meet by a flooded road with no way around. Not willing to walk through the water I hopped back on and in a few quick strokes was on the other side. Where, as luck would have it there was a nice flat driveway and wall we could use as our pit stop. As Arunas and I set about replacing the tube the guard dogs for the property soon alerted their master and a very unhappy chap shouted at us to find out what exactly we were up to. With the dogs continuing to bay for blood we got back on the road as fast as people with no feeling in their hands, limited light and soaked though possibly could!
Our second scheduled stop of the night was Tesco in Salisbury. Where I am still not sure who thought who was more crazy, the people doing their Christmas food shopping at 6am on a Saturday morning or us for riding through the night!
|Ben taking advantage of a rare opportunity to dry out|
The ride from Salisbury to Stonehenge took us along a section of National Cycle Route 45 and is one of the most picturesque 10 miles you could imagine. Although we were right on time for arriving at the stones for 07:30 and Sunrise was not due until 08:10, viability was defiantly improving. We were treated to a fantastic site just before reaching the last turn prior to our final destination when on an empty road, overlooking a river and rolling hills the sky shone red with the first light of day. Moments later we crested a hill and had the stones in our sight. Our sense of achievement was only dampened when, due to the new road layout around Stonehenge, we were forced on to the A303 (worst road of the ride). We had originally thought to go and see the brand new and just opened visitors center, but hadn’t realized just how far past the stones it was (1.5 miles). We opted instead to hop a fence and go down a side road full of converted vans, cook fire’s, tents and some extremely interesting and friendly people! For the £25+million spent on the new visitors center I was hoping for better bike parking facilities to be honest, but as none seemed available we commandeered a street sign for the purpose securing our bikes.
Upon entering the stone circle we were greeted by protesting druids chanting ‘Honer the ancestors, bring back the bones’ in relation to the refusal by English Heritage to return the remains of ancient human remains excavated from within Stonehenge several years ago to their rightful resting place.
Despite the warmth and energy felt within the stone circle we remained soaked through and physically shivering from the cold.
|Ingrid ringing out her gloves, not for the first time that night|
In an attempt to regain some level of circulation we danced to the sound of drums in the build up to sunrise, but when it did come it was unfortunately obscured by cloud.
|Stonehenge was packed out despite the weather|
We didn’t hang around to long after and swiftly got back on our bikes. The 9 miles or so back down cycle route 45 to Salisbury was lovely and we were treated to some fantastic views, previously hidden form us.
Against all the odds and after several doubtful moments we had made it and all before breakfast! We headed off to the nearest pub for a well deserved breakfast beer and fry-up, but not before drying off and changing into the fresh clothes we had carried with us all the way in our carradice saddlebags. The feeling of putting warm dry clothes on was priceless and put a smile on all of our faces!!
The rest of the day was spent celebrating our achievement before we wearily headed home by train for a warm shower and early night!