Rolling on the Ridgeway

Partly-inspired by my trip home the other week, and partly-inspired by a great ride with my housemate last year, I decided I’d head out for a long-ish explore/hill-climbing ride in the Chilterns last weekend.

The last time I’d done a proper ride out this way I’d been super fit, coming off a summer of doing little else but cycling and climbing every hill I could find in the South Downs. This time, however, I was heading out after a lacklustre start to the year, but determined to get some hills in and shock my body back into fitness (because that works, right?)

The loop in the Chilterns; from Oxford follow the B480 and then signs to Watlington.

My route took me out of Oxford via Cowley Road and, after a fifteen mile blast on dull B-roads, to Watlington and the first of six proper climbs on my route. I make a point of taking a detour out to Garsington/Denton if I cycle out this way: you don’t avoid much of the B480 but there’s a few short sharp climbs to warm your legs up and the descents are pretty fun too.

Watlington Hill itself is long with a real kicker at the base that makes it hard from the get-go. Once past the first corner, however, things ease up a little and it’s easy enough to spin the restChris Froome style (the cadence, not the speed). The views on the way up are pretty nice though there’s no vista to greet you at the top.

A quick descent on the other side, however, takes you into the Chilterns proper and its beautiful scenery. Following Holloway Lane, I descended down the other side of the ridge before taking a sharp left onto Grey’s Lane — which looked more like a farm track than a road at first glance. Pretty soon after Watlington, the climb was pretty grim but probably my favourite find of the day. Loose shingle on the road and a max gradient of 22.7% (average 9% over 0.7 miles) made it a real test of balance and willpower. Shout out to the cyclist that cheered me on near the beginning, I now realise you were conserving energy for what lay ahead!

At the top, I took a right and followed the road round before coming out onto a lane that had the most incredible views of the Chilterns. High up on the ridge you could see rolling hills for miles. The photo below doesn’t do the view justice, but the area is fast becoming one of my favourite places to cycle.

Up on the ridge after Grey’s Lane.

The next twelve miles and two climbs — Shogmoor Lane and Hambleden Hill — had me going up and down the ridge, winding my way along a series of lanes through field and forested areas alike. With Spring finally making an appearance, the mix of sun and shade was welcome! The wind was a brisk 15mph that day, so in a summer jersey and long-sleeve base layer I was just about OK — a bit chilly coming down the hills, but certainly too hot when climbing to wear anything thicker! For the first time this year, the sun was actually warming as I cycled along.

At about mile 33 I was back on familiar roads and approaching another sharp climb I’d done once before: Dudley Lane. By this point I knew I had the legs to get me home and took my liberties a bit, trying to beat my PB from last time. Like Grey’s Lane, it’s gradient is 22% at its steepest and it has a prolonged double-digit section that goes on for about .2 of a mile. I’m definitely not as adept at climbing as I was, with my back wheel was skidding about on the steepest sections. In the end I was a woeful 18 seconds off my best!

After the long, shallow climb up Pishill it was a quick whizz down back to Watlington village via Howe Hill and then the slog back along the B480. All in all, I covered 60 miles and 3700ft of climbing in just under three and a half hours. Factor in the strong winds this weekend, I’m pretty happy with that. A good morning’s cycling, and a ride I’d definitely recommend to others.