Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pedal & Steam Power

Well thrilled at the prospect of a weekend at home & not having to drive hundreds of miles, I planned absolutely not-much. Of course, a couple of rides figured in that not-much - it having been a month since my last adventures off road & that shoulder op getting closer. Saturday's was not at all ambitious - I headed to the diametrically opposite side of the Forest & followed some of the marked cycle trails (wide double track & some road, with plenty of walkers out). There were scruffy looking ponies in abundance as usual.

Just to prove that not all of the New Forest is beautiful, I think I stumbled on its secret ugly corner. It was bleak - low scrub, a dim day, sand, mud; I wonder why I didn't see many people out there. But I was out on my bike pushing the cranks around & it was good. With twenty clicks under the wheels, it was a pleasant hour & a bit out stretching the legs.

The local MTB club (New Force) had a fortnightly ride on Sunday, northeast of Winchester. So I dragged myself out of bed & went & joined dozens of others. We split into three groups & ours proceeded on a long anticlockwise circuit along bridleways through rolling farmland. While it was dry overhead, there was plenty of moisture in the ground to deal with - the mud was draining & a good technical challenge, especially on any long descents. In fact a bit of road was sometimes welcome for the respite it provided. I'm not sold on these club rides, I thought mountain-bikers were generally friendly. Perhaps the English are just over people from all over the world - four hours & I hardly got a word out of anyone, I miss riding in North America. That's beside the time when our group got split in two - who leads rides & doesn't wait at big intersections?
Did see this good looking flag randomly down some country lane.  Actually, I'd much prefer it were a silver fern on black.

The day was salvaged by a big plate of cheesy chips (not quite poutine, but good enough), Somerset cider & then stumbling across a steam train near where I'd parked my car. I wandered up & down the platform a bit checking out the hissing engine & beautiful old carriages with the fascination one would expect of a history & engineering fiend. It occurred to me that I had no real reason to get home, so I paid my pounds & was issued with a quaint stiff cardboard ticket for the last return journey of the day. I had no idea where I was going, but that was just part of the fun.
We headed east under the setting sun across more green pastoral land, with plenty of cuttings to climb up a couple of hundred metres. The Mid Hampshire Railway, also known as the Watercress Line due to its predominant market-gardening commodity in the nineteenth century, has been restored since the '70s & now runs the ten miles between Alresford (where I embarked) & Alton (which I'd never heard of) on many days of the year. They have a surprisingly large fleet of steam & some diesel engines & all sorts of old rolling stock stashed on various sidings along the line. With all the staff in period dress & the engine chugging in to the fast approaching evening, billowing smoke swirling down to cover the carriage windows it was all good fun - not to mention the first time I've been pulled by a proper steam engine in I-don't-know-how-long.

It was easy to see all the signal control wires running alongside the rails.

A pleasant end to the day - even if I was a little tired from the mud-riding & got told off by the guard for almost falling asleep on his train.

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