Callum Robertson18th February 2023
Although I was born in Scotland, my formative years were spent in the south of England.
I grew up in New Milton, an unremarkable town close to the beaches of Barton, Milford and Highcliffe to the south with the New Forest to the north.
A few miles away is Lymington, the nearest access point for the Isle of Wight. On foggy days we could clearly hear the mournful tone of the fog-horn of the Needles lighthouse.
I went to 6th form college in Brockenhurst, the largest village within the New Forest. In those days in the early 1980s I wasn’t into cycling and although only about 6 miles from door to door my journey to college would be by train or by car, particularly when I was learning to drive.
I still have friends in the area and this weekend a college reunion was planned. It would mean missing the Sunday club ride but the New Forest being renowned as a great place to ride I thought I’d head down earlier than necessary to do a loop of the forest before the evening do.
I had planned a route myself but then thought about seeing if there were any local cycle clubs who ran social rides over the weekend.
New Forest Cycling Club came up, unsurprisingly, after googling ‘New Forest cycling clubs.’
I checked out their website and saw that they do have social rides on Saturdays and Sundays. Perfect. I reached out to the secretary to check if it was OK to tag along and got the thumbs up.
Their Saturday ride is equivalent to our longer Sunday rides and is regarded more as a training ride. Sunday’s ride is shorter with a gentler pace and is more social. Both are no-drop rides.
The starting point is Brookley Road Car Park in the centre of Brockenhurst. The car park conveniently has conveniences. It’s a reasonably priced car park – compared to Epsom prices, but is limited to four hours. I parked on the nearby street, The Rise, which has free parking and is not time limited.
The meeting time is 8.50 for 9.00 departure. I arrived in good time and made myself known to Barry, the ride leader. The route had been posted on the website a few days before and I already had it loaded up in my Garmin. A 60-mile loop to the northern and western border of the forest.
The average speed of the Saturday rides was given as 17-19 mph, which made me a bit nervous. It’s been a while since I’ve done a ride of that length at that speed. But, I thought I should be able to sit in the wheels and could always drop off if it became too hard as I had my own back-up route as well.
There were 15 riders in all who Barry split into two groups – a fast fast group, which I didn’t join, and a not so fast, fast group.
The quick group shot off and shortly we did too.
They ride as a disciplined group, strictly tight two-abreast but singling up when necessary.
It was a windy morning with a stiff breeze from the south west accompanied at times by persistent drizzle which, luckily, never really turned into rain.
The first thing to say is that they are a very friendly and welcoming group and I was soon chatting away with various members while still concentrating on trying to keep the tight formation. It was interesting to hear about their time trials along forest roads rather than dual carriageways but also noted that they had experienced the same drop-off in participation as we have experienced in the past couple of seasons.
The New Forest is incredibly beautiful. There are many lovely roads with good tarmac as well as more familiar pot-holed lanes. It’s not particularly hilly, there are no real climbs of note although there are a few punchy rises topping out at about 10% for very short distances and some longer gradual inclines. It was when we came to the first of these that I realised I was going to be OK on this ride. As soon as the road went up, half the group dropped back but I was able comfortably to keep pace with those in the front. We stopped shortly after the top of the climb to let the group re-form before continuing. A pattern that was repeated a number of times throughout the ride.
Although it’s a forest, there are a number of areas of plains which are not tree-lined. This means you are very exposed to the elements with no protection from the wind. With a tail wind, this is great – we were rocking along in a tight group at 20-25 miles an hour in a number of places. A pace that slowed somewhat when inevitably heading into the wind.
Many forest roads are not particularly wide and the area is incredibly popular with visitors and tourists. This doesn’t always make for a happy relationship between cyclists, motorists and locals. There are a couple of popular sportives in the New Forest but the members of the club I spoke to are not fans of these. They attract large groups of riders, not always well-disciplined, which inevitably causes traffic hold-ups and frustrations for locals and impatient drivers.
It’s one reason why NFCC splits their ride into groups of around 8 and encourages tight disciplined group riding. We had maybe one careless overtake by a motorist which caused an oncoming car to brake sharply, but generally it was an all round courteous ride with riders and drivers showing due consideration and respect for each other.
Another hazard to watch out for is horses. And I don’t mean horses with riders like the ones we come across in the Surrey Hills. There are those too, of course, but the New Forest is well known for the ponies and donkeys that roam free and think nothing of chilling out in the middle of the road.
At around 35 miles we reached the welcome coffee and cake stop at the Potting Shed Cafe in Hyde. We met up with the faster group who were shortly to head back out.
There was a tempting array of cakes and snacks and after being suitably refreshed, we in turn headed off for the final 25 mile run back to Brockenhurst.
We had averaged a comfortable 15.9 miles an hour on the way to Hyde but perhaps fuelled by caffeine and sugar we set off at a much faster pace and I did begin to wonder if I would be able to keep up, the carrot cake sitting slightly heavy in my stomach. But it was OK. I gradually made my way through the group to the front and did my share of the pulling. There was a bit of a climb before a long fast descent on a good road which had the challenge of traffic-calming pinch points with alternating priority. This called for a fair bit of concentration to time correctly in the face of on-coming traffic.
The last few miles passed at speed and we arrived back in Brockenhurst with the average pace for the 60 miles now 16.5 mph.
Notwithstanding the less than ideal weather it was a great ride with a very friendly group in the beautiful environment of the New Forest. For me it was a bit of trip down memory lane as well as I was reacquainted with an area that I had spent so much time in over 40 years ago.
Thanks to the NFCC for being so welcoming. I can thoroughly recommend riding with them if you fancy a trip around the forest. Thanks to Barry, Phil, Stuart, Emma and the others whose names I either didn’t catch or that have slipped my aging mind.
2192 feet elevation