September 18 – Lymington to Hythe
Another glorious day of blue sky and sunshine as we packed up, loaded up and got back in the saddle again. We pedalled out through the streets of Lymington and then we were on one of the main roads that travels through the New Forest National Park.
It was pretty busy, with lots of cars whizzing past us, but the drivers continued to be brilliant, passing at a distance or sitting behind us until they could get past with enough space. We rode past the ever present ponies, grazing beside the road and even with the busy traffic and a bit of a headwind, it was great, riding along on a sunny morning, under a vast blue sky, looking around us at the heathland.
We turned off the main road for a short out-and-back detour to a historic site, the old Beaulieu Airfield. During WWII, there were twelve airfields in the New Forest and Beaulieu was one of the largest. It has quite a history, having been a coastal command, a D-Day fighter base and a helicopter experiment site. The RAF flew from there and the U.S. also flew fighters and bombers from there during the battle for Normandy. At its height there were three runways, two hangars, ammunition dumps, accommodation blocks as well as a cinema and a gym.
We pedalled on along the road until we arrived in Beaulieu, another pretty little New Forest village. We decided, since we were in a nice village and the time was right, we would avail ourselves of a tearoom for elevenses. We found one nearby, up a street and down a little lane, where we could park the bikes in sight and we enjoyed another perfectly English elevenses of a cuppa and crumpets.
As we were leaving, the morning rush began, in the form of a four-legged foursome. A group of donkeys came walking down the lane and up to the tea room. From where we’d seen them by the lake as we rode in, they had to walk a fair way along the road, around a corner, up a street and down a lane to find the tea room, so they either know the place well, or were just on a long random roam around the village. There was a bowl of water outside for dogs to have a drink, but the donkeys decided that the drink they’d just had at the lake wasn’t enough and they set about draining the dogs’ water too, then got a bit cheeky in the doorway.
Back on the road, we pedalled along with the traffic until we were able to turn off and take to one of the many gravel paths that traverse the national park. It was a little slower going with the loaded bikes, compared to the other rides we’d done on similar paths the last few days, but it just meant we had more time to take in the surroundings, enjoy the morning and ride along peacefully through forests again.
We passed the occasional walker and happily bumped along in the gravel and pot holes, up and down some hills, including some real “roller coaster” hills with a long downhill into a dip before chugging up the long climb on the other side.
After a little more road riding, we were back on the forest trails, which was fabulous. Traffic-free, amongst the trees, bumping along on the gravel. Through a couple of gates and we were pedalling on merrily when Steve stopped.
“We’re off course. I’m just going back to the gate to see if we can get through another way on the route we’re supposed to be on.”
We both rode back and as I was closing the gate, Steve was making his way into some trees. I could see there was a small wooden barrier close the the ground that Steve was having to lift the bike over.
“Are you sure?” I asked, “are we allowed down there?”
“It’s a bridlepath,” came his assurance.
I rode over and sure enough, there was a bridlepath symbol on the gate post, but still, it looked very much like a track for horses and not so much like a path for bikes. Still, this was apparently the route.
We rode along the narrow track, through the trees and then had to turn off down a gravel hill. This was steep, with deep erosion ditches running through it, which were filled with thick gravel, the sort that buries bike tyres.
“Are you sure?” I asked again.
“Yes,” came the reply.
Steve edged his way down and I put my feet on the ground, for extra stability as I eased down, braking steadily so as not to skid too much. We successfully made it to the bottom, where gravel was exchanged for a muddy track and then that muddy track became a deep, muddy bog. We stopped, unsurprisingly!
This boggy mud continued on to a corner, so we couldn’t see how far it continued, but there were hoof prints along the edge, sinking into it, so we had a good clue how deep the mud was and it would easily have covered my ankles. Steve began to walk towards it.
“No!” I said emphatically, “we’ve been here before!”
“When have we been here before?” questioned Steve, not yet twigging that I wasn’t speaking literally.
“Hundreds of times,” I said hyperbolically, “all those times when we’ve come to a dodgy path and instead of stopping, we keep going and it gets worse.” I was thinking if we kept going here, we would just keep digging ourselves into a deeper navigational hole, not to mention digging into the deep mud!
“We’re on a cycle route though,” said Steve, “we’re on the Lepe Off Road Cycle Route.”
“Surely, we’ve learned by now,” I continued, “that when we are in situations like this, we shouldn’t keep going, it’s better to just go back the way we came. I don’t think we should keep being as stupid as we’ve been in the past.”
Steve looked at the map on the GPS. “We can go back but we’ll be on a road.”
“That’s fIne,” was my reply. Off road may be better than road, but clearly not this time!
The next challenge was that steep gravel hill we’d just eased our way down. Now, we had to haul the bikes back up and riding up just wasn’t an option. It became a two person job, with Steve pushing from the front and me pushing from behind and all I could think was, after all this time on the road, we are still getting ourselves into these situations!
We made it to the top of that hill, rode back along the track, through the gates and lifted the bikes back over that barrier and then stopped to consider our onward route. We’d planned to ride south towards the coast, but Steve looked at the time and looked at the map. “I think we should just cut our losses and head straight for Hythe,” he said. Yep, that sounded like a peachy new plan to me. We rode through Langley, on a reasonably quiet road and then we had a cycle path all the way into Hythe. Bliss! After wrong turns and dodgy paths, a cycle path that was on solid ground and guiding us in the right direction, so we really couldn’t go wrong, was very welcome!
We arrived in Hythe, a little town by the water and found our pitstop. After a post-ride cuppa, with the sun still shining magnificently, we went for a stroll around the streets to gather supplies. We briefly passed through Hythe on our last trip, just off the ferry and through the town and we hadn’t really seen any more of it. We walked by the marina, where all the houses have their own private berth for a boat, then through the town with its cheerful bunting hanging above us. We also discovered that Hythe was part of the Titanic’s maiden voyage, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) once lived there and it’s also the birthplace of the Hovercraft. A small town with some big stories to tell. It was a pleasant stroll in the sun, through another lovely little town.
Today had a distinctly déjà vu feel about it. Just when I think we’ve become more seasoned bike travellers and we’ve left our dodgy paths, wrong turns and faffing about behind us, we have moments like today! Still, I’m glad we learned our lesson, learned from our past doofus decisions and realised that turning around and going back the way we came is a perfectly fine route option! Especially if it means we don’t trudge through ankle deep mud for an unknown distance around a blind corner! It takes us a while, but we gradually learn! Tomorrow is another day and even after nearly six months on the road, we still know…anything can happen!
Distance ridden: 34.2 km
Time in the saddle: 2 hours 35 minutes
Weather: Sunny ALL DAY…AGAIN! We are delirious with joy! 20C