Birthday ride round the reservoir - with pictures

A writeup with a difference. After my foot becoming as twisted as the singletrack I attempted, a more relaxing ride awaits me at Alton Water Reservoir in East Anglia. The easy pace meant time to take some pictures to complement the descriptions.

I’ve done it thrice before on a rented bicycle, but this time I make amends for the 8.2 mile loop with only a 24" muni with 150mm cranks as my weapon of choice.

I’ve seen how busy the main car park gets at weekends, so it is a pleasant surprise that only one other car is there at 8:30am on this warm summer Friday morning. After getting everything out apart from my knee/shin pads which aren’t needed for this non-technical ride, I mount and practice hopping on the spot for a bit on the uneven tarmac, before riding off past the café building.

Crossing the road that accesses the yacht marina and I pass the sign “checkpoint 1” to a starting straight, a sandy coloured rough track that is easy going. It is open-air, a fence with bushes behind on my left. On my right is a vast expanse of grass dipping down into the reservoir. The first half-mile or so of it is pretty straight and level with the occasional shallow bend to the right. Every now and then some grass bushes obscure my view of the water on the right.

On a little uphill gradient with a bend to the right, and I see a lady coming the other way on a mountain bike. As always I try to avoid eye-contact by pretending to scan the ground, completely unnecessary on this path if it weren’t for her gross lycra shorts. The plan works, she says nothing. My first accompaniment going the same way as me are the occasional dragonflies, air dancing about perilously close to my spokes.

After passing a diversion path that leads to a wooden hide for the birdwatchers, I reach the shade of the first of tiny woodlands encrouching the path. Here it gets a little up and down, but nothing requiring any significant effort. The path begins to meander a little, but nothing to slow down for. The shade disappears, and now the view of the water on the right is obscured completely by thick trees, little grassy paths offering opportunities for walkers to get to the water. A man and woman ahead are on a mountain-bike each in single file and pass by me, again no words are exchanged.

Taking it steady for a few gradients, the surroundings otherwise don’t seem to change that much. The tree cover on the right side gets more occasional again allowing for more views of the water, but ahead of me is a ginger-haired lady wearing a hat walking her two dogs. She collars them over to the side and I thank her, but her response is a single word sounding like “hi”, or “bye”, or “ride”, or “right”… too slurred and insignificant as she presents a glared unimpressed face for me to remember.

The trees close in again for another shaded section, and as they open out again the track turns from brown to dark grey with slightly bigger cobbles, a low wooden beam on my right preventing any vehicular access from people parking in this tiny, well hidden car park by checkpoint 2. Across a little access track and into a further shaded area, the track forks into a T junction with a road, which I don’t remember.

Getting terribly confused I dismount and have a look at where I should go, not left as there is a metal gate closed so there’s only one way to go. I “rewind” back to just before the fork, remount and take the transistion from gravel track to grey road with a little TLC. A short way down a bicycle sign directs me left back onto further gravel track, which for a short time opens out and runs parallel to a wooden bar fence, separating the gravel track from the road. A turn to the right away from the road, a little more shade.

Again the shade opens out and I see the water again. Pausing to take a photograph of a distant earth bank somewhere on the other side where housemartins are coming to feed, a gentleman passes me with a joyful “Good morning”. I prepare to remount and a black and white small dog takes an interest in my legs before beginning to trot along back to it’s owner. As I get going the dog doesn’t seem bothered, in fact he trots next to my wheel playfully as I slowly pass the gentleman and then accelerate away.

I catch sight of a solid white metal railing in the distance, the edges of a road bridge crossing the water on the most northerly part of the route. I approach a lady walking two identical brown curly-haired dogs, after doing a fake cough in the deliberate intention of attracting attention she collars them over as a farmer approaches the gate on the left. As I ride away he bursts out laughing for some reason. As the gravel track ends and turns into pavement an attempt to photograph the road bridge on the move fails and somehow I UPD on the smoothest surface, the first UPD in the 3.1 miles up to checkpoint 3.

The ride across the bridge is fast and easy with the potential audience of a passing car or two. After a kerb drob I sharply turn right through the car park, past checkpoint 4 and further onto the brown track on the eastern side of the reservoir. After a short time the track turns to tarmac for the first of the mean short, but very steep uphills on this side. I take it slow and get all the way up it to a view… of the checkpoint 5 sign. Despite not being worn out I dismount and take some time to eat a banana.

end of part one

part two

The scenery changes. There are still fields to the left, but the tree lines are gone ending all prospects of sun-shaded areas of the trail. Technically the reservoir waters are still on the right, but these are the furthest corners of the boggy and weedy sections of the grand lake. The track is smoother, but narrows significantly to a couple of foot wide with grass standing tall either side. A lone red rose standing from the grass on the left brings a tiny feeling of beauty, but a kamikaze fly decides to divebomb into the corner of my eye. Scratching my eyelids trying to cure the itch is no use, thanks to my gloves.

After passing a lady and her big black poodle canine, the track widens just in time as the second uphill awaits my potential unknown stamina. It is shorter, but very very steep. The smooth fast crank spinning turns into bursts of slow revolutions as I pull hard on the handle, and the hard work means I slowly rise. Up up up I go, slow, making it three quarters of the way before a sudden covering of powdery sand gives way, slipping my wheel and causing a UPD. Since I know there will be further hills like this I decide not to rewind and try it again, but I’m still proud.

Further on and the track quickly returns to narrow. It doesn’t really qualify as singletrack thanks to it’s stoneless, rootless, smooth looking caked brown, but the very occasional depressions bound my tyre up and down. Another lady and her dog are ahead who seem at first to decide the narrow track is theirs. Eventualy the lady steps aside into the grass but her dog is not willing to do so. Despite slowing right down it is only at the very last second that the lady can persuade this stubborn canine to get out the way onto the grass. My tyre narrowly misses the dog’s tail by a couple of inches.

A tight bend to the right is signalled by checkpoint 6. The track spreads wider which looks good, but less than a minute of riding on and it quickly narrows again, and an unseen deep depression on a left turn causes the third UPD at about the fifth mile. Completing the turn greets me with a third wide short steep uphill. Despite the overhanging flexible tree branches I manage to make it up, my only audience being a rabbit sitting in the middle of the trail who leaps away in plenty of time. That effort is rewarded by another similar gradient hill… going down. A somewhat scary but medium speed descent rewards me with a fourth uphill, which I get three quarters of the way up before I stall because the cranks didn’t go round all the way. I don’t yet feel tired, but I don’t rewind this bit to try again.

The track holds more surprises as it turns to brown loose stones, while staying narrow. A little effort is needed to stop the tyre running around into the grass, the fourth UPD happening here. I take time to look at a large grand red house opposite the water, realising that since checkpoint 6 I have seen nobody else. As I get back moving a couple of blue dragonflies dance around my spokes.

Just as I begin to think about how soon I’ll complete the circuit, a fifth short steep uphill damps the hopes. Unlike the previous ones the track doesn’t widen for this one. I UPD just before it and have a sudden attack of freemount amnesia. I spend the next three minutes mounting about ten times in various ways. Static mount before riding off. Rollback mount. Static mount into hopping. All of those fail in various ways, not helped by the tall reeded grass. Eventually I do get back on and start to power up, but this time I only get half way up before an unseen mini slope stalls my wheel. Avoiding further frustration I walk up the rest and remount.

On a sharp left turn I see a couple of fishermen sitting at the waters edge, who don’t notice me. Ahead of them on the other side of the reservoir I see the main car park again for the first time. The track is at its narrowest yet, the width being about the same as the length of my shoe. It doesn’t last long before opening to a vast expanse of brown land, the last of the mini car parks. Just after it is checkpoint 7, the sign saying that the last section is the longest at 2.3 miles but my recollection of the remainder of this track is solid. No more hills!

Just like the last two checkpoints the track widens only for a brief period then narrows, back down to the shoe-length hairline. My arms feel like they’re about to sunburn, so I am relieved when the occasional tree tunnels return providing occasional shade. The lack of sharp turns and the tiny up and down gradients make it like the first section, despite the hairline track.

The lack of technicality means it doesn’t seem very long before the trees disappear completely revealing the dam crossing ahead of me. The track stops and I’m left to ride on the grass towards the dam crossing. It appears to be like a grand finishing straight, except the surface I’m riding on appears to be a grid of concrete resembling a big potato waffle, with grass earth mounds filling in the squares resisting my wheel somewhat.

On the other side of the dam and over a brief bit of grass, I kerb drop onto a pavementless tarmac road and ride past the yacht marina, passing a 10mph speed limit sign. The road bends to the left around the café, just before this a pavement starts on the left of the road and I hop up onto it. Opposite the checkpoint 1 sign I turn to the left too sharply and UPD, much to the amusement of a couple of people who appeared to walk the route the opposite way and are approaching. I remount, ride to the car and put the muni in the boot as quickly as I possibly can. Only three other cars and a motorbike have appeared since I left 1 hour 40 minutes ago.

I sit outside the café with an ice cream and a cold drink. As I devour those I hear a customer inside saying things. Although I don’t hear his conversation, somehow my ears catch the word “unicycle” on two occasions.

I just sit in silence, keeping to myself the fact that his instigation for his subject matter is sitting only feet away…

Nice story! Also nice pictures, they were beatiful!

Lovely write-up. Great pictures.
Don’t forget the sun-tan cream next time! :slight_smile:

Happy Birthday Gavin! Nice write-up, and nice photos. That looks like a fun ride.

Good to see you are starting to rack up the miles on your KH.


What better way of celebrating your birthday. Congratulations. Nice write up and pics.


Happy birrthday. :slight_smile: Nice write up.

How did you get all those photos of yourself riding? Do you carry a tripod, or do you waylay passers-by and bribe them? :thinking:

…although I did have to drive about 100 miles to his house, then another eight or so to the reservoir so he could do that.