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The Final Thursday


The final springtime Thursday Training ride saw eight brave souls set out for the Greenham Common Control Tower and its museum about the airbase and the cold war, not to mention its coffee, cakes and breakfast baps. Nev had to leave us halfway, but seven of us did the round trip of 37.8 mi, making it our highest cumulative mileage (264.6 mi) so far.

The busy climb from Thatcham to Upper Bucklebury was one we probably don’t want to repeat, but there were compensations with lovely descents to Thatcham, and from Bucklebury Common to the Pang.

The six Thursday rides ranged in length from 24 mi (The Blackbird) to 47 mi (Stokenchurch), taking in five cafes not normally open on Mondays, and one that does open Mondays but which none of us had been to before.

On a personal note, it was great to have the company and encouragement to assist with my training preparations for the Audax Challenge ride next week. The training has gone pretty much to plan, with the notable exception of the last week in March, when the weather took a serious dive back into wintriness. Fortunately this coincided with a need for some serious bike maintenance.

 My rule of thumb from previous years of cycle touring is that one should get 500 mi in the legs before embarking on a tour, so this bodes well. I did one ride (just) over 70 mi, so I know I can do it, now I’m just hoping for decent weather on 23 April. 

(This Could Be) The Last Time

It’s likely that this Thursday training ride will be the last I organise, at least for a while. Thursday next week is only two days before my challenge ride, so subject to the purdah that real athletes refer to as “tapering”, recreational cyclists as “taking it easy”. As well as the lack of incentive to carry on training after The Ride, it’s also the beginning of the boating season, when a volunteer’s thoughts turn to lockkeeping, and Thursday is my regular day.

Shorter and not as hilly as last week’s outing to Stokenchurch, it’s another opportunity to bag a café that is not open on Mondays.

Getting the Wind Up

This week’s Thursday ride was the longest training ride for which I’ve had company, and very welcome it was too.  Special thanks to Phil, Chris, Alun and Steve for the craic. There’s no scenic picture to grace the top of the blog post, as the most salient feature of the day was the wind, for which the Met Office issued a Yellow Warning 35 minutes after we set out.

Normally  you only notice when the wind is against you, not behind you, but today we felt the benefit of it pushing us up from North Stoke, and from Ewelme all the way along the Chiltern foothills to Postcombe. After bidding farewell to Phil near Watlington, we had a good view of the Stokenchurch telecoms tower ahead of us. Steve E said it reminded him of Mount Ventoux , the way it looms up ahead but never seems to get any closer.  The A40 climb from Aston Rowant up through Aston Wood may not compare to the ascent of Mount Ventoux, but it has a feeling of the long steady climbs common on the continent. Climbing for 1.8 miles at around 4-5%, it’s good mental training as much as physical.

From the top of climb, the next 10 miles to Hambleden Mill were nearly all downhill, largely still with the wind behind. After our stop at Coffee On The Green in Stokenchurch we said goodbye to Chris, who went off to High Wycombe to find a bus he could fold his bike into for the journey home. Turning westwards at Hambleden for the journey home via Henley we were into the wind, but much of the route was sheltered by the leafy Chilterns. Approaching Henley Bridge, at least one of us was still alert enough to notice one of our Olympic heroes, Sir Steve Redgrave, emerging from the Royal Regatta building.

Home at last and time to put our feet up after 47.2 miles, and a 2022 PB for Alun. Chapeau!


Coffee On The Green

BJ (the bike) is looking shiny and ready to go after last week’s sojourn in the garage away from the snow and north winds, with a new chainset, cassette and tyres. Hopefully the motor is also showing the advantages of a week off.

The hilliness of rides can be assessed by measuring the amount of climbing relative to distance. Gromils rides vary from the low 30s (Tour des Clumps is 34) to over 80 (Twin Peaks of Streatley and Whitchurch is 80, as is Catsbrain and Gatehampton for a much shorter ride). This ride checks out at 33 ft/mi, at the flatter end of the range.

One of the best types of road for cycling is a former trunk road that is not bypassed by a motorway or dual carriageway, as it tends to be wide, well-surfaced (at least formerly) and relatively quiet. In the case of the A40 from Postcombe to Stokenchurch it’s also a well-graded steady climb, much easier than the Kingston Blount ascent parallel to it.

This week’s Thursday ride heads to a café that was popular with Gromils before it stopped opening on Mondays – Coffee On The Green in Stokenchurch. This was formerly known as the Back Street Café, before it moved from a back street to The Green. It’s a 40-something mile ride that takes in one of the easiest climbs up the Chilterns Escarpment and one of the most delightful descents on the dip slope. From the junction at the top of Kingston Hill to the bottom of the Hambleden Valley there’s 10 miles of near-continuous downhill. The route takes full advantage of the forecast westerly wind for much of the distance, with the final stretch sheltering in Chiltern lanes from Henley to Goring.

For those not wanting to do the whole distance, return by bus from Stokenchurch is possible with a bus-friendly bike. Alternatively you could return by train from Saunderton, a mere 6.5 miles from the café. You’d need £37 for the fare though, and it could be quicker to cycle. There’s also the options of bus or train back from Henley.


It’s also about the bike

One of the key training principles that fitness experts trot out is “Listen to your body”, so you give it adequate rest and don’t overtrain. After setting out for what could have been a 50+ mi training ride in the cold, cloudy gloom of yesterday morning, my body said it wanted to go to Stoke Row for a coffee rather than drag itself up to Bledlow Ridge and beyond. And a lovely coffee it was, enhanced by a slice of Simnel cake and a chance meeting and chat with Steve E.

It’s not just your body you need to listen to. When the chain started chattering a couple of weeks ago, I measured it and found it had stretched to the recommended limit for replacement. I had a spare in stock, so fitted that. The chattering continued, as did the unique cycling phenomenon of chain suck, where the bottom of the chain stays attached to the chain ring and attempts to make a second circuit. This is a sign that the bike wants to have a shiny new chainset and gear cassette. Checking the maintenance log, I found that the bike had done 7,400 miles since I last replaced the whole drive chain, which experts reckon should last at least 4,000 miles – so definitely overdue.

Finding a 3-ring chainset and 9-speed cassette for a 20 year old bike is not straightforward, but eventually I sourced one via the internet, even if it came with the warning “Due to new regulations imposed by the Brexit trade agreement, your package may take 3-5 working days to clear customs checks in the UK.” Customs must not have been very interested, as it turned up today.

Meanwhile I had casually mentioned to the female cyclists in the family that my rear tyre looked quite worn, so I was planning to swap it with the front, to even the wear. They were both adamant that I did not want to have a puncture a long way from home, so should replace both. SJS Cycles in Bridgwater had the legendary Schwalbe Marathons in stock, and they’ve now been sitting in our garage for a week or so.

As luck would have it, the weather forecast for tomorrow is 1C at 8 am, rising to 4C at 2pm, when there’s also a 60% chance of rain. In other words, an ideal day to give the bike some TLC. Let’s hope all the bits fit.

Training Update

The sunny March weather means I’ve been able to get some miles into the legs, ready for the Audax Challenge ride a month today. I’ve also managed to increase the distance each week by 10 miles or so, so that today’s ride was 53 miles and feels like decent progress (apart from the aching legs). This distance is long enough to get beyond the normal Goring Gap Cycling stomping grounds – beyond Wantage in fact, to a pretty village called Childrey.

The attraction of Childrey for a cyclists not the pretty village pond, but rather the village shop and cafe which does a very good cappuccino and flapjack.

The route outward to Childrey is hilly, bouncing along the dip slope of the North Wessex Downs in sight of The Ridgeway. Streatley Hill is optional. I opted out by taking the back way via Stichens Green, adding two miles to the ride by giving the legs an easier warm up. Most of the homeward half is slightly downhill, following the Vale of White Horse towards the River Thames. This is a delightful ride on a day when there’s a steady westerly wind pressing on one’s back. On a day with a March easterly it’s a different story. Like banging your head against a brick wall, it’s nice when you stop.

One we’ve not done already

As a bit of a change this Thursday, here’s a ride to a new cafe, but one that is also open on Mondays. The Gromils have not been to it before, because we didn’t know it was there. I found out about it when I met some other cyclists at the Bucklebury Ford, and we got to swapping notes on where we had come from etc.

As with rides we have done to Bramley, the route is fairly flat apart from getting over Gatehampton (outwards) and Upper Basildon (homewards). At only 27 ft/mi, this route is even flatter than the Tour des Clumps (34 ft/mi), making it an easy way to get used to some extra mileage. The cafe is actually only just over a mile from Bramley Bakery, where we have been before. The return leg of the route passes within half a mile of Bramley railway station, making it an option for anyone wanting a shorter ride or an earlier finish.

Thursday Three – The day we went to Bagnor

Distance today51.3 mi
Distance since 1 March320.0 mi

Thanks to the good weather, training has been going quite well. The longest ride this week was 40+ miles, to go with 30 something last week and 20 something the week before. The additional miles have increased the appetite, but not yet had a significant impact on the second part of the power to weight ratio.

As with the last two Thursdays, I was happy to be joined by some cycling friends (aka the Goring Gromils) to seek out a cafe that is not open on Mondays. Today’s cafe was Honnesty at Donnington, near Newbury, which has to be one of the smallest venues in the Honnesty stable. Cunning route planning enabled me to offer a round trip that was less than 40 miles. The figure of eight shape of the route also enabled those who wanted to do the first quarter of the route followed by the last quarter. It gave a shorter journey, but missed the best scenery.

Thursday Two – Touring the Clumps

Distance today51.3 mi
Distance since 1 March320.0 mi

One of the places on the list of cafés not open Mondays is the Crazy Bear Farm Shop at Stadhampton. Conveniently this is just off the route of the Tour des Clumps, a favourite ride from Mondays. It has the distinction of being one of flattest 30 mile rides one can do from Goring. This makes it a good choice for springtime, when you feel like you ought to go further but don’t have the legs to go steeper.

This was the winter version of the tour route, taking the pavement cycle path along the busy A415 from Clifton Hampden to Dorchester, rather than using the bridleway across the fields from Day’s Lock. The Wittenham Clumps themselves are visible on the right much of the time when tackling the route clockwise, giving an encouraging feeling of accomplishment as you look across from the higher ground between Ewelme and Ipsden on the home stretch.

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Thursday Training

Distance today51.3 mi
Distance since 1 March320.0 mi

What better way to get in some training miles than to spend it on a ride with some friends? A ride to one of your favourite cafes, that’s what.

I usually go cycling with local friends every Monday morning, and The Blackbird at Chapel Row used to be one of our favourite destinations – until it stopped opening on Mondays. Just now Storm Eunice has indirectly stopped me cycling on Mondays, as it took the roof off my granddaughter’s daycare centre. Now my wife and I have been (very willingly) pressed into service to cuddle and care for the darling one-year old. Ironically the target for the daycare to be fixed is roughly the same date as my Audax ride at the end of April. So now it’s Training Thursdays, with friends welcome and a hit-list of local cafes that don’t open on Mondays.

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Audax Challenge for Launchpad

Back in 1982 I was living in Canada. No email or social media, so I used to get those flimsy blue airmail letters from my parents. In one of these my Dad told me that he’d celebrated his 70th year by going for a 70 mile bike ride. He seemed quite please, and I was very impressed, even though I knew he’d been a keen amateur cyclist in his younger days.

Dad in 1947

Fast-forward 40 years and it’s now my turn. Although I’ve never been a competitive cyclist I do enjoy it (when it’s not raining!) and think it’s a great way to keep fit and healthy. So when I saw an advert for an Audax fundraising challenge ride for Launchpad Reading , I thought this is something I should do.

Launchpad is Reading’s homeless charity. Originally founded in the 1970s by students as a soup kitchen, it’s now evolved to provide a comprehensive service of advice and support for homeless people. None of this comes cheap, of course…

I worked in Reading for over 20 years and often saw homeless people huddling in doorways and begging for cash. The wise advice was never to give cash as it would likely go on drugs, but to help them via a suitable charity, which is where Launchpad comes in.

Audax is not a term familiar to many non-cyclists, but it’s been around for over 100 years. It’s a non-competitive form of cycling in which participants attempt to cycle long distances within a pre-defined time limit. I’ve done Audax rides in the past, but not usually more than 100 km, which is the distance I’ve signed up for on this challenge ride. The last one I did was five years ago, so some serious training is called for.

The challenge route is Caversham to Farmoor (near Oxford) and back, which is advertised as 110 km, and will probably turn out to be about 70 miles in practice. Less than 8 weeks to go and the furthest I’ve ridden so far this year is 28 miles.

To donate to Launchpad Reading, go to my JustGiving page.

For details on the ride itself (or even to register and come along as well), go to

To follow my training progress, click here to get updates via Email.

Looking for Bluebells

With Covid restrictions still at the “Rule of Six” stage, the seven Gromils riding did so in two groups. This April is likely to be one of the driest on record and also the coldest since the 1970s, providing ideal conditions for off-road riding. But not so much for seeing bluebells. Whether the weather meant they are not as good this year, or just that they are late, the result is that the display was not on a par with last year – or perhaps it just felt that way because of the temperature.

The two groups had different interpretations of the route to take. The A team of Andrew, Phil and Steve (so named because they were first to depart) had the advantage that Steve had plotted the route and had the map on this handlebars courtesy of ViewRanger. The B team of Alun, Chris, Neville and Simon took a more intuitive approach, including a turn around Collins End. No reports on whether Collin objected.

Last year: in the Satwell Woods
This year: Team A at Kingwood Common
This year: Team B somewhere

Baker’s Dozen

Next week we celebrate (?) our 13th lockdown ride. It’s also the week closest to Midsummer’s Day, so how about a 43 mile ride to Bramley and back? We should be able to get sustenance at the Bakery and there’s likely to be socially-distant seating available at the railway station.
The planned route goes out via Gatehampton, so anyone who’d find it more convenient could meet at Goring station at 9:35 as an alternative to Phil’s at 9:30.

Twelth of Never Results

As lockdown eases, groups of up to 6 are allowed to gather outside at least 2m from each other. Chris, Mick, Phil and Steve gathered at Phil’s house at 9:30 on Monday – almost like old times. Traffic on Streatley Hill was still relatively quiet, but the hill was still as steep. We were met at the top by Alun and Simon, then proceeded on the planned route, stopping in the churchyard at Hampstead Norreys, where those that wanted could buy take-away refreshments from the shop next door.

As Alun said “My first picnic in a graveyard”. Neville turned up while we were there, as did Andrew and Thomas.

Five of us carried on via the planned route down the Pang Valley, others taking shorter options. Just below Hampstead Norreys there was a magnificent display of poppies in fields that a couple of weeks ago were blue with flax.

Chris showing off his balance while the poppies draw a “crowd”.

The Twelth of Never

With the possibility of gathering for a bit of social distancing, this week’s suggestion is another foray into the Berkshire Downs, with the opportunity for a coffee and chat at Hampstead Norreys.

Suggested timings are:
Dep Phil’s house 9:30
HNVS 11:30 – 12:00

The route as mapped is 36 mi, but there are many options for shortening or lengthening it.

Elvendon Eleven Results

Alun and Breeda

“We decided to do ride today (Sunday) instead of tomorrow. Can confirm that ride is definitely undulating but lots of cyclists having a go. We got as far as Sprigs Alley but decided to avoid off road on return. Went into Chinnor instead then Kingston Hill and directly home. Photos are Fingest Church and Cowleaze Wood for picnic on way home.”

Congratulations Alun and Breeda! Not only your longest ride on Strava, but almost certainly your hilliest! Those of us plugging our way to Goring along the Ridgeway below the escarpment thought that climbing Kingston Hill on the way back was definitely above and beyond. Your 994 m of ascent is equivalent to 3261 ft – Goring to Portsmouth has 3260 ft.

Neville, Chris, Simon and Steve

“Chris, Steve, Simon and I (Neville) cycled the route, using the Ridgeway on the way back. As you can see it was reasonably smooth.”
“Looks a bit ridgey to me…” – Mick

“Worse than ridgey here” – Steve

Chris started the route in Ewelme, so we said goodbye to him here on the way back, and had a demonstration of Moulton origami (strictly not, as it doesn’t fold).


“I was busy this morning (Monday) but managed to do some of the route this afternoon. After Cookley Green I went down Britwell Hill and on to the B4009 then turned off on to the road to Britwell Baldwin and joined the return leg of the route.”


“The Force wasn’t with me to do to 40 odd mile route do I did the short route below. Thought I might have a coffee and cake at Stoke Row shop but it was packed out so didn’t bother. I did buy some stamps from the mobile post office – a first for me. Also saw Breeda running on Gatehampton Road.”

Ten Weeks After Results

With the easing of the Government’s Lockdown came the opportunity for us all to see each other for the first time since March. Those who wanted could even have a socially-distanced coffee at the Maharajah’s Well, either from a flask rattling around in the bottle cage on their bike, or from the Stoke Row Village Store across the road.

For a brief while, various sub-groups enjoyed reminding themselves what others looked like and catching up with news. We then went on our ways in a variety of variations on the published route.

Alan and Breeda demonstrating serious social distancing to the others.

Alun and Breeda
“Breeda and l followed a clockwise extended route via Cholsey, Benson, Swyncombe Hill, Cookley Green, Park Corner, Nuffield, Stoke Row and South Stoke, all on road 52.5 km. Lovely ride and great to meet everyone in Stoke Row.”

This was possibly the longest version of the route, and the earliest, with a 7:41 am start.

Of the people who did the anticlockwise route, Mick may have been the first back home, taking the on-road version throughout.

“Good to see you all!”

Phil (plus Neville, Simon and Steve)

Phil followed the off-road route, accompanied by Neville, Simon and Steve, though Steve stayed on the B481 from Park Corner to Cookley Green, having done the bumpy Swyncombe Estate bridleway last week.


“What a wonderful Monday, great to see all well at Stoke Row, and my extra off-road bits were easily ridable, if very slow (back at Goring 14:30…) Total 30m.”


“Tom and I did a modified off-road route; up past Braziers Park to Stoke Row then via bridleways from there towards Nuffield and then to Ipsden. A really beautiful day and lovely to see people at the Maharajahs Well.”

Ten Weeks After

Looks as though we’re keeping right up with government policy, with groups allowed to meet from next Monday. The plan is for those who want to buy coffee from the Stoke Row Village Shop and take it across the road to the Maharajah’s Well, where there are benches for suitable social distancing. Suggested target time is 10:15 – 10:30.

The ride turns off at the bottom of Witheridge Hill to take a mixture of bridleways and tarmac farm roads to Nettlebed. Beyond Nettlebed there is a restricted byway parallel to the B481 that is quite narrow, twisty and bumpy, but not as bumpy as the bridleway through the Swyncombe Estate. Both these off-road segments can be avoided by taking the B481.

Feel free to take a break for home once you know where you are if you want a shorter ride, or extend the ride through Wallingford and beyond if you want a longer one.

Nine Hills Results

Not being available to do the ride on Bank Holiday Monday, I did a version of it a day earlier.

I followed the route as far as the top of Burnt Hill, where I diverted to Hampstead Norreys and had my first coffee since before Lockdown. The lady who served me told me very firmly but politely that it was takeway only- I wasn’t even allowed to sit at a picnic table in the courtyard. So social distancing in the churchyard it was then.

I enjoyed Neville’s Easter Eggs, and even felt motivated to document some of them.


A magical ride over the Downs, a struggle up Streatley Hill but after Rotten Row I was flying.
– Isn’t that cheating? [Mick]


Headed out with Breeda at 6.30 am. Fine sunny ride to Stanford Dingley Some navigational difficulties there when we inadvertently climbed up to Chapel Row before we realised our mistake and turned back.


Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun! Met Ron outside Rotten Row and went as far as Upper Basildon with him.


Did the route this morning/afternoon (Monday). Very scenic and some roads I haven’t been down before. Like Alun & Breda I had navigation problems.

I had navigational problems and found myself in Southend (not Southend on Sea unfortunately!). The first time I’ve used Viewranger to navigate.


After a test ride on Sunday, felt OK for the hills (but with no quest for speed) A few aches, but otherwise strangely fit! And yet another beautiful day.


Lovely day, thanks for the route; Tom and I cycled to Stanford Dingley but avoided Streatley Hill and took a few short cuts including off road from Ashampstead towards Yattendon and back from near Bradfield to just before the long hill up to Captain’s Gorse, Upper Basildon (I’d always wondered about that bridge over the M4).
Met Phil near Rotten Row and Simon very public spiritedly strimming nettles on the path from near his house to the river bridge (he’d cycled the route previous day).

Thanks to you and Nev for a wonderful, intricately crafted route through villages and roads invented for the day. The mercifully brief Tutts Clump hill and wonderful countryside was a real treat and the mileage seemed at least double – but in a “I’m really enjoying this” way.

Sorry to keep missing the tutorials. My home study is progressing but very slowly.
Dist       25 mi
Time     2.10
Av Sp    11.8
Elev       1675