I had a couple of weeks to kill before starting a new job and didn’t want to spend all that time mooching around the house. I also didn’t want to have to spend a huge amount of time planning a trip abroad, booking flights, organising who to go with and so I decided to spend some time on the bike. The idea of just packing up my bike and heading out the front door really appealed to me, and when a friend suggested trying to reach the highest point in all the nearby counties then the plan was set.
In reality of course, this did involve quite a bit of preparation including buying a new bike so it wasn’t really that simple, but still I’ve got a new bike in the shed which is always good.
The aim was to travel as light as possible. When I’d cycled to Aberdeen a few years previously I’d just taken the one Brompton pannier, but on that trip we stayed in B&Bs and carried no food. On this trip I was hoping to camp a decent amount which meant carrying a lot more kit and food.
The first destination was Pilot Hill and Walbury Hill, the highest points in Hampshire and Berkshire and conveniently about 4km apart on the same ridge. The route from home was going to involve a bit of navigation, getting round Basingstoke and through the back roads before the final stretch on the bridleway along the ridgeline. The bridleway was the only part I was really worried about, would the heavily laden bike be able to cope with the rougher ground?
Getting up to Aldershot and on to the Basingstoke canal was easy enough, and I had a pleasant ride through to Basingstoke. Getting round the outskirts of Basingstoke was a little more tricky but finally I passed the town and was onto the back roads looking for the turning for the wayfarers walk. I’d scouted this on Google street view before leaving and the turning was where it should have been. Turning up the bridleway was the moment of truth: if I could stay on the bridleway then it was a fairly straight shot up to Pilot and Walbury Hill; if not then it would be a lot of back and forward on the back roads. The bike had coped well on the canal towpath apart from the panniers jumping off every now and then on the big bumps, and it coped well on the stony bridleway. It was great to get off the roads and very quickly feel that exciting isolation.
I got up to Pilot Hill and after asking a passing dog walker I found the trig point in the middle of a field.
By now it was about 6pm and I was getting pretty tired and in need of somewhere to pitch a tarp. The ridge was quite a bit more busy than I was expecting with lots of dog walkers and runners out. I pushed on to Walbury Hill and then continued on to find a place to camp. There was a strong wind coming over the ridge from the south so a bit of shelter would be nice. The trouble with camping on hills is that they are generally pretty exposed, and not always flat. I’d tried camping on the side of Ditchling Beacon before and had woken up tangled up in a fence having slid a fair way from where I went to sleep. It didn’t make for a good night sleep.
Trees are generally good places to camp, they block the wind and rain and you can be very inconspicuous in them. But they tend to grow on the sloped parts of the hills and I hadn’t packed a hammock. I carried on from Walbury Hill and spotted a flat piece of ground sheltered by a little ridge that looked like it would be perfect. There was a car parked right near it and I would be in sight of the carpark so I decided to stop there for a little while and see if it quietened down enough for me to feel comfortable getting the tarp up. There was a car parked right up near the gate with a middle-aged couple in it doing nothing, they didn’t move so I decided that I’d probably move on. However as I went past them they spoke to me and it became clear that they wouldn’t be trying to move me on if I did camp there. I’ve got no idea what they were doing up on the hill but I was carrying a knife and could always turn down any dogging advances and I was too tired to try and find somewhere else. So I went back into the field and got the tarp up.
I cooked up some dinner using my supercat stove which worked great. I had slightly misjudged my water requirements though and there aren’t any rivers on the top of hills, this made for a thirsty evening. I slept ok although I could have done with tightening up the lines a bit more. Paracord will sag when damp and this made the tarp more flappy and noisy than would have been ideal. Some sheep passed in front of me and some people came to inspect the gibbet near midnight which was creepy but I was very snug and cosy in my bag and went to sleep pretty pleased with how day one had gone. The forecast for day 2 wasn’t great and I had a fair distance to cover to get to Glastonbury but I had a B&B waiting for me at the end of the day. Plans of reading the kindle or writing anything were abandoned in favour of getting my head down.