This ride began in a manner I’ve long avoided: in the car driving to the start of a ride.
It would certainly be massively easier than what I currently do to drive to the edge of my current max square, ride around for a bit picking up new squares and then drive home again. The squares-per-ride-ridden would certainly be higher too! However this feels a little bit too close to cheating (not that there are any rules) for me for the time being. Maybe when I get to 50×50 I will switch to this mode as the uncovered squares will be just too far from home to reach in the time available but for now I intend to stick to circular rides from home or train-out-cycle-home rides.
But today I made an exception. With the family arriving for a Boxing Day booze up but me still gutted at having mysteriously lost three squares, needs must.
I parked up in Lewknor (near the Old Leathern Bottle, a reasonable pub just off the M40). After a couple of warm up miles along the B road into Watlington it was a left turn up the well-named Hill Road for the climb back up the Chilterns Ridge. This climb, to Christmas Common, is one of the best up. It is a good roof surface without much traffic and at 1.2 miles at 6% is never sickening steep but tough enough to reward an effort. My time today of 6.58 compares favourably with my first ever climb up the Chilterns 4 years ago (10.41 on the same segment) but rather badly with the KoM of 4.35 ( Strava segment ).
After Christmas Common I drop down the other side of the ridge a little into Northend and slow down looking for the next junction. My target is the unvisited square to the north that blocked my max square on its north side. The entire square is enclosed by the Wormsley Estate – home of the Getty family. Until recently I was convinced there was no public access to this square and I was expecting to have to buy a ticket to the cricket matches held there next Summer in order to get access. However idiotically I had only looked on the Oxfordshire definitive map. Wormsley is big enough to be in two counties. When it finally dawned on me to try the Buckinghamshire map, sure enough there was a bridleway right through the estate!
The bridleway is not signed at all off the road and only sign-posted by white arrows painted on trees when you enter it properly. But a solid green coloured metal plaque near the entrance (pictured) makes clear the right of way does exist. To get into the square I had just shy of half a mile on this track. On the road bike it was mostly rideable initially and would be absolutely fine on an MTB. The last few hundred yards were down a steep muddy path. The bike was on my shoulder but it counts for the square. Going back up was a bit of a nightmare, but I was elated. The sun was just coming up, the surroundings were stunningly beautiful, there was nothing to be heard but birdsong and I HAD FINALLY DONE THE WORMSLEY SQUARE! It really didn’t matter that after the Christmas Common climb and this walk, my average speed for the ride so far read 7mph.
Looking across the estate to the Stokenchurch BT Tower on the horizon. The white paint on face indicates the right of way.
Back out on the road and having scrapped enough mud away that my brakes and gears mostly worked again, it was time to get a move (family boozing starts at Christmas). South-west down the ridge was great – the south-east will never compete with the Lakes or the Dales but the Chilterns at this time on a clear day are super. I am always rubbish on flat-but-fast sections relative to the average and this 3 mile segment to Nettlebed was no exception. I’m ok on the hills so maybe everyone else just rides in a group.
A quick “nubbin” recovers one of the deleted squares and a swing round through Highmoor Cross picks up the other. Then it is down the ridge at Nuffield – a headwind so nowhere near my previous top speed of 45mph down here – and through RAF Benson.
In the Oxfordshire plain I thread through Brightwell Upperton, Brightwell Baldwin and Cuxham to pick some more squares out to the north west of my max before swinging back south east to Lewknor. In this section I was relentlessly earmwormed by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers’s duet of Islands in the Stream the way. No idea why.
Current max square size: 38×38
New squares: 9 (inc 2 “undeleted”)