Named mischievously for the bike club, Willesden CC, which organises this 200 km audax ride, for many aspirants it heralds the start of the 2019 Paris-Brest-Paris qualification series.
The Wattmeister was accompanied on this auspicious adventure by the redoubtable Bethan Lloyd, and by none other than Old Grey Socks, formerly known as The Rider of Donkey.
Starting in the dark at 07.30 a.m from Chalfont St. Peter community centre near Amersham, it stayed dark all day. We headed off into the gloom via Gerrards Cross to our first control point at Pangbourne, 52 kms away to the west.
The weather for most of December and January had been mild, dry and bright. On this day, Saturday 19th January, we were treated to a capricious mixture of bitter cold, persistent drizzle and a strange twilight .
Nevertheless, once we had escaped the clutches of the M25, our route led us through Henley, Gallowstree Common and Whitchurch via some sweet if rather waterlogged lanes to the first control at Costa Coffee in Pangbourne. Old Grey Socks bought me a regular coffee and I duly soaked my freezing toes in the ginormous cup. Bethan ate some rock hard nougat. Her teeth can cut diamonds.
We pushed on to the next control at Hungerford, another 53 kms away. We climbed up to Yattenden and followed more quiet byways to Hermitage, Leckhampstead before entering the Valley of the Racehorse near Lambourn. Racehorses are dear to The Wattmeister’s heart, having spent many years working on the racecourses of southern England in the bookmaking trade.
In Hungerford, time flowed through our fingers as we lingered next to a tepid radiator in the café. But eventually we decided to tackle the second half of the ride. It was only 2 p.m in the afternoon, but all the riders need to activate their lights.
This section of the route to Winnersh, near Reading would have been the most picturesque part of our outing….but to be truthful, the loveliness was obscured by a mantle of murk.
We plodded on through Ball Hill, Burghclere and Bramley…..every village name began with a ‘B’, before getting stuck at a level crossing when finally in full flow. Eventually we pitched up at the 170 kms control in Winnersh. A big bowl of soup at the Java Café hit the mark….Old Grey Socks and Bethan preferred hot chocolate, Kit Kat and chips….these rides are a culinary conundrum.
With only 38 kms to go to the finish and wearing every item of clothing we could muster, we continued in cold, quiet darkness to Bray, away from the Thames and up Berry Hill, passing National Trust owned Cliveden House, before a rapid last few kilometres to the finish in Chalfont.
Thanks to the many riders whose smiles lit up a lugubrious day, and especially to Old Grey Socks and Bethan for such wonderful company. Apologies to Bethan for stealing a couple of chips when she wasn’t looking.